Sunday, October 19, 2008

Tears of joy for "A Mighty Fortress is our God"

I got some cheap music CD's at the Dollar Store a while back, they were "Relaxation Music" to play during dinner. One of them was called "Spiritual Relaxation". It turned out to be Muzac versions of various Christian Hymns. Track number 9 was "A Mighty Fortress".

Pat thought it was an old Methodist Hymn. I recognized it as the theme music from Davey and Goliath, a claymation tv show for kids that they used to show Sunday mornings, sorta like Sunday School at home for church slackers. I was curious, so I did some googling, and found out some interesting stuff.

Starting in 1960, "Davey and Goliath" was a Lutheran clay animation series about a boy and his talking dog, that taught kids about "the love of God through everyday occurrences". The theme song in early episodes was indeed a stylized instrumental version of "A Mighty Fortress".

I read one blogger who remembers the show, describing it as "kinda creepy". I had to laugh! "kinda creepy" is what I thought of it too! That talking dog, with the low sounding voice: "Oh Daaa-veeey". But of course, when you're 6 or 7 years old, "kinda creepy" is also "kinda fun". Make no mistake, I'm not being snarky here, I did enjoy it. The pre-computer animation was really good, and was done by Art Clokey, the animator who did "Gumby", an important pioneer in the art of claymation whose work I've always been impressed with.

Here is a link to a clip from the series, adapted for a "Mountain Dew" commercial, I think: Sermon on the Mountain Dew. And here is an irreligious spoof of the show: Mad TV: Davey and Goliath II - Pet Cemetery. But what about the original episodes?

They were shown on TV up until the 90's. You can now buy most of them on DVDs. You can also see many full episodes from the show online at Youtube. Here is one of them:

Davey and Goliath: The Bell Ringer

Dick Sutcliffe, the producer who created "Davey and Goliath" and wrote the early episodes, died in May of this year due to complications caused by a stroke, at the age of 90, God bless him. The link is to his obituary. The show he created is still fondly remembered and loved by many.

But I'm digressing, back to the music. I had never heard the words to "A Mighty Fortess", so I googled the lyrics:
A Mighty Fortress

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

I could not conceive how these lyrics could be sung with the music. I found one blog by a Christian musician, who explained that "A Mighty Fortress" was not an easy song to sing, and should not be attempted by amateurs (like congregations), but only professional singers or choirs. He recommended a recording by Steve Green, as an example of it being sung correctly. So I looked it up, you can hear it at the link below:

Steve Green: "A Mighty Fortress"

When the song begins, it's just one man's voice. I was not very impressed. But it builds, and three minutes later, when it ended, I was in tears.

My glass of wine from dinner was still kicking in. Ok, it wasn't just that. You know, I don't call myself a Christian, because I'm not religious. But I am a christian culturally, and I have spiritual feelings. Good Christian music can move me. I can feel and appreciate the longing, the hope, and the joy.

The lyrics for the Hymn are a paraphrase of Psalm 46, written by Martin Luther in the 1500's. The music for the modern version we know today was written for it later by Johann Sebastian Bach.

Life today has it's hardships to be sure, but life in the 1500's was very hard for most people, and often short. If you remember that while you hear it, you appreciate it's poignancy. The Wikipedia page about the Hymn is here:

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

As a contrast to the Steve Green version, listen to this organ and choir:

Very different, but also very moving.



Walker said...

That last stanza... How politically incorrect!

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;

** I love how the song whacks down the earthly powers.

The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:

** God Sides With Us!! Oh nooooo! We can't say that.

Chas said...

Yes. And what about the emphasis on death of the body? In the 1500s, there were not hospitals or anything like modern medicine. People got sick, suffered and died all the time, even children.

In the modern industrialized world, we expect to live long, soft, comfortable lives. If you avoid funerals, you might even go through your whole life without seeing a dead body.

People now have so many more distractions and comforts than they did in the 1500s, where facing the reality of their mortality was an unavoidable, almost daily occurrence. Their religion, with hymns like this, was their comfort. Their faith in God, their "Mighty Fortress".

Walker said...

Great point, Chas.

It's only today when we face so little danger of health and hearth that we have an enormous "safety" industry, spending millions to tell you: Don't leave your stove burners on! OOOOOoooh.. Never thought of that.

I would have been dead at least three times over had I not been born in a modern age: Fever (age 6), Asthma (40), Appendix (50).