Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Hymnody Resurgent: Arizona

Page CXVI. Hymns. Gilbert, AZ: Page CXVI, 2009. mp3 audio download. $6.99. http://pagecxvi.com/ (H)

Page CXVI. Hymns II. Gilbert, AZ: Page CXVI, 2010. mp3 audio download. $6.99. http://pagecxvi.com/ (H)

Page CXVI. Hymns III. Gilbert, AZ: Page CXVI, 2010. mp3 audio download. $6.99. http://pagecxvi.com/ (H) 

Hymns are being rediscovered in American churches. This is a good thing!
Why the name Page CXVI?

The name comes from a reference to page 116 in our copy of The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis. It is a poignant passage where Aslan begins to sing Narnia into creation out of a black void.

It starts, “In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction is was coming. Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so beautiful he could hardly bear it.”
~ C.S. Lewis (publisher's website)

This review focuses on the first three albums by Page CXVI. As you can see, a fourth is one the way.

Hymns receive a similar treatment than that of David Potter and Man of Sorrows Glorious King.

You may remember that this Hymns Resurgent series of hymnody reviews celebrates the return of hymnody in Christian circles where praise songs have dominated for decades. 

An illustration of a fresh treatment of an old favorite is the lead track on the first album. "Come, Thou Fount," with its KJV language meets piano, female vocals, guitar, and drum set. Just when I was wondering if the drum beat would remain monotonous, it varies and even fades away.

"In Christ Alone" gets an unique Page CXVI treatment. This is more of a pop/rock setting with a driving beat in the later stanzas, leading in to a powerful treatment of "My Jesus I Love Thee" that I would consider more "road trip music" than for the sanctuary.

"Nothing But the Blood" (I, 5) appears to be a staple hymn in the repertoire of groups reviving and refreshing hymnody. The focus remains on Christ and His sacrificial atonement. I would love to hear new stanzas that concretely locate the delivery of forgiveness in the Lord's Supper. It would be a natural context to sing this resurgent hymn. 

"Solid Rock" and a pensive setting of "Joy" close the first album, with dissonance, tempo, and setting that confess the joy of Christ in the midst of life.

The second album kicks off with a very different tune (original to the band?) for "How Great Thou Art." It is singable, if not memorable, but supports the text and helps the singer/listener hear the text in a fresh way.

"Praise to the Lord" is a great arrangement of a well-loved hymn. Percussion is lively and appropriate. I'd love to hear the "unplugged" version.

I was unfamiliar with "Jesus I Am Resting, Resting." This arrangement is lively, uplifting, and encouraging. It sounds new, though it isn't.

"Rock of Ages" is given some different rhythms and occasional melody alterations (blue notes?). The piano chord progressions could have sufficed as a percussive accompaniment. "Abide with Me" gets a similar musical treatment and a slight ethereal echo.

The Church Militant is evident in "Battle Hymn of The Republic." As judges on TV singing shows say, the band "made it their own."

"Doxology" is a new spin on the classic text. It is a free melody that has melodic echos of the traditional tune. An appropriate finish.

Hymns III begins with "Be Still My Soul," "Be Thou My Vision," and "In the Sweet By and By." The tension of the first stanza of the first track resolves with soulful trumpet. Angelic vocals introduce the familiar Irish tune of the second track. The by and by of track three is supplemented with creative guitar chord progressions and a fresh take on the stanzas. All are hopeful and optimistic in feel.

A free melodic interpretation of "Holy, Holy, Holy" leads into a joyous and uplifting recording of "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,"  reminiscent of Michelle Tumes.

The closing tracks, "You Have Redeemed My Soul"  and "Divine Invitation" were new to this listener. Soaring vocals and inspiring melodies wrap up album three.

I am impressed by the hymn selections of Page CXVI evidenced by their first three albums. The hymn texts are rich in confession of the person and work of Christ. And they, as the song of the saints of generations now at rest in Christ, still confess the faith once delivered to all saints.

Hymnody is resurgent again. Good Christian hymns are filled with the comfort of the Gospel, solid Bible teaching, and are sung creativity. 

I wouldn't mind hearing Page CXVI until they release Hymns VI, Hymns XVI, and even Hymns CXVI. In the meantime, I'll ask for a review copy of Hymns IV.

The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, a member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.