Way back when, later, and now (Easter songs)

In my youth, the quintessential “Easter Song” was #358–Christ the Lord Is Ris’n Today.”  I probably sang that song approximately 20 times (most of the Easter Sundays and a few other occasions) between my first recollection and heading off to college.  It’s a good song, but it doesn’t do for me what it once did.¹

At some point in my middle 20s, I came to know an Annie Herring song that was actually titled  “Easter Song.”  It begins, “Hear the bells ringing! . . .  They’re singing Christ is risen from the dead!”  In some arrangements, this song merits several listens, but it’s difficult for typical church members to carry off, and the musical mood is arguably a bit light — or at least stylistically dated, in a confined musical niche.²

In compiling the Cedars Sings  hymnal supplement for the first time during my late 20s, we included “Jesus Christ Is Ris’n Today”—probably a suggestion by my parents—from the Methodist Hymnal.  In my opinion, the marriage of words and music is slightly stronger here than in “Christ the Lord.”  The two songs bear similar affect and construction, but the more conservative melodic contour of “Jesus Christ Is Ris’n Today” allows for more sustained energy and dynamics through all the words, including the “alleluia” repetitions.  (Moreover, there are no instances of high F in the melody, so there is less soprano show-off screech.  Nothing kills worship focus like screeching and giggling.)

In my 30s, I became spiritually and musically compelled by the Bob Kauflin song “Hallelujah,” recorded inimitably by Glad.³  Not an Easter song per se, this “Hallelujah” is rather a deeply penetrating expression of worship to the One who accomplished the atonement.  Let us not forget that, although the resurrection offers promise and hope, without the atoning death, hope would be vacuous.

In the “way back when” category, Händel’s “Halleljuah!” chorus—which is  an Easter song, not a Christmas-season one—bears mention.  A few congregations can actually sing it, even sans  choir and organ.  My extended family has worshipped with that masterful creation.

George Doane’s third stanza from the (true) hymn “Thou Art the Way” is of high impact—expressed concisely and so richly.  Ignore the archaic pronouns if you need to, and please don’t miss this worshipful expression:

Thou art the Life:  the rending tomb proclaims Thy conqu’ring arm;
And those who put their trust in Thee nor death nor hell shall harm.

Six years ago on Easter Sunday, I posted here the words to “The Promise”—a profound poem-become-song.  Thank you, Rob McRay and Landon Saunders, for the poetic inspiration that comes from deep faith.

Today, I rediscovered these words, set to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”:

1. Sing with all the sons of glory; sing the resurrection song!
Death and sorrow, earth’s dark story, to the former days belong.
All around the clouds are breaking; soon the storms of time shall cease.
In God’s likeness we, awaking, know the everlasting peace.

3. Life eternal! Heav’n rejoices; Jesus lives, who once was dead!
Join we now the deathless voices; child of God, lift up your head!
Patriarchs from the distant ages, saints all longing for their heaven,
Prophets, psalmists, seers, and sages, all await the glory given.

Words by William J. Irons, 1812-1883

I’m writing this on “Maundy Thursday,” I just realized.  (If I cared what “maundy” means, I would look it up.  Jesus could very well have been crucified on Thursday instead of Friday — which would turn centuries of maunded tradition on its head!  The scriptures leave unanswered some questions about the timetable of Jesus’ last week, so whether it was Thursday or Friday probably ought not be a major concern for us.)

Anyway, perhaps one or more of these songs will be good for your soul tonight, tomorrow, and beyond.

– B. Casey, 4/2/15


¹ Part of the decline is attributable to generally decreasing congregational capability and a lower aggregate vocal range, which just won’t do for the melodic configuration of this song.

² I’m not being unkind here.  Much of my own music could aptly be labelled “niche” or “stylistically dated,” too!

³ Our a cappella performing group Lights had the written Glad arrangement; we modified it a tad and attempted to sing it.  The operative word is “attempted”!

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3 thoughts on “Way back when, later, and now (Easter songs)

  1. susanpeterson1945 04/06/2015 / 8:11 pm

    Admittedly, as an occasional soprano show-off, I have always liked “Christ the Lord is Ris’n Today”, partly for the pure pleasure of high notes, as well as the enjoyable melody.
    Another song forever linked with Easter for me is “He Lives”: “I serve a ris’n savior, He’s in the world today, I know that He is with me, whatever men may say…” We sang it every Easter I can remember, as I believe it was a favorite of the man who chose and led our hymn-singing. I think I would put it in the category of “stylistically dated” as well, though maybe that’s just me.

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    • Brian Casey 04/08/2015 / 10:13 am

      Ah, the memories and reminiscences. (And the admissions [“occasional soprano show-ff”]). 🙂

      I like the way “He Lives” begins, and yes, it strikes one as stylistically dated — not unlike a Sousa march, oddly enough. I’ve never been fond of the ending. I mean, it’s a nice thought for smiling Christians to sing around one another, but it’s not really much of a “proof” to say that I know He lives because I have this feeling in my heart. Maybe we could just skip the chorus? Nah, people would hate that….

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