Michael
You Got a Timetable on That?

The New Songbook

That last note of Make the Truth Your Own is one high, towering triumphant blast of a note....you climb as you approach it, and then reach way back in your lungs for every ounce of power to, not just belt it out, but sustain it. Each verse ends just that way, and then reverts into the chorus. On a recent rendition, Tom Whitepebble is ready. He bides his time. He waits for the song to come around. There! The moment has arrived. He nails that high note, with all his might!.....“believe what he tells you is truuuue.....!”

What the......?!  The note's been changed! It's no longer that high crescendo! Now it's just some low-key humdrum note! Worse yet....everyone knows it except him! He's hanging out there all by himself, and they all turn to stare! The new songbook strikes again! Whitepebble looks clear across the hall at me (who is merely minding my own business) and mouths “Why?!”

I know why, of course. It's on account of a woman named Pearl, who is the wife of Tom Pearlsandswine, and who attends the congregation across town, where I used to attend. She loves to sing....we have a lot of people who love to sing....but she really isn't that....um.....good. And when that final note used to come....that final note of each of the three verses, she'd let out a long piercing ape-like shriek that was enough to make you think “how come we don't have a paid choir, like the big churches do?” Moreover,  the way the song was constructed.....you held that last note, so there's no way anyone could ignore her braying in their midst.

I tell you, no one could keep a straight face. Worse, you knew it was coming....the verse built towards it.... so well before that climactic moment, snickering began. So, in the new songbook, they've changed that last note to some bland thing that any clod can handle. What else could they do?

It's not easy to write a review of the new songbook....we've been using it for ….what?....a year or two, now?.....because...because we're accustomed to praising anything we get as being exactly the food we need served up at just the right time, and don't think I'm about to break that tradition! Everything needs updating from time to time, we all know that. We'd used that old songbook for 25 years or so, as we had used the one prior to that. We had ample notice a new one was coming.  It wasn't sprung on us as a surprise. There was even encouragement to practice the melodies so as not to mess them up at the upcoming assembly.....you know how you'll sing a new song real anemic because you're not sure if the next note will be up or down. But, noooo....Whitepebble had to keep listening to his Bob Dylan CDs instead of the new Watchtower tunes. So it's his own fault.

The new songbook, “Sing to Jehovah,” is a substantial revision of the old one. It has 135 songs, of which 35 are brand new. That means 125 songs which didn't make the cut, since the old book featured 225. And many of the survivors have been reworked in word or tune, some to the point of being unrecognizable. Familiar lyrics are assigned to new melodies. Familiar melodies are given new words. It takes a while to get your head around it. Some of those new songs are beautiful, even hauntingly so. Others, though.....well, they might be if we can ever master the tune, but with 3 songs per meeting, and 135 to choose from, not that many opportunities arise. As to the 125 songs that vanished.....look, there was nothing wrong with any of them....nobody's saying otherwise. All of them were indisputable blessings from heaven. It's just that....well....we had to prune a few.

Of course, the instant I laid hands on the new book, I checked to see if "Dah da da da dah" was still there, a/k/a “We Must Have the Faith,” once song #144. It's still there, sort of. It's one of those which has undergone the scalpel, and only a ghost of the original refrain survives. That's too bad.

Our son was speaking by his first birthday. “Ball” was his favorite word, as I recall, and anything circular was a “ball.” Pulling out the MasterCharge card would excite him to no end, just like it does now for Mrs. Sheepandgoats, though for a different reason. But my daughter was not yet talking by her second birthday, and we began to worry. One day, however, Mrs. Sheepandgoats called me, all thrilled, to say she was singing the song.... “dah da da da dah”...the melody is very distinctive. I didn't believe her at first, but later on.....yes, I too heard it. Sure enough, she sang before she spoke (and when she began speaking, she quickly made up for all lost time). For the next few years, whenever that song played, she'd turn to us, eyes aglow, and exclaim: “It's Dah da da da DAH!” So we're not terribly pleased that they've messed with the song, but....such is the nature of progress.

I've even heard it said that they've “dumbed down” the songbook. That's unkind, isn't it? No, they didn't dumb it down!!! They just made it....um...uh....simpler in some places, dropping some lyrics that were absolutely untranslatable, you know, figures of speech and so forth that play well in one language but not another. Nobody, but nobody, translates material into as many languages as the Watchtower. Nobody comes close. By the way, they tell me that most of our translators in tiny backwater countries are youngsters in their twenties, since their parents tend to know the native tongue, but not any other. Another reason, I suppose, not to tax them with overcomplex vocabulary. Too, lyrics with any hint of “religiousity” have been dropped in favor of “plain speaking.” That's good, I guess, but sometimes I miss the old words. I mean, when you're singing some familiar tune, and suddenly your well remembered lines have been replaced, you find yourself grumbling “what on earth was wrong with those words?!” And there's a strange insistence on a few tunes that every note correspond to a syllable, a practice I find disconcerting.

Ah well. Maybe it plays out according to tastes in other parts of the world. The time for considering only English speaking persons has past, as it should. What one person doesn't really care for is all the rage somewhere else. So one has to move on.

You know, it would have helped had Manuel Noriega been able to move on. But, as it was, the onetime Panamanian dictator was stuck as a lover of classical music. He hadn't moved on to appreciate the modern stuff. So when the U.S. military wanted to flush him out of his Panama hiding spot in 1990 (much as NATO would like to do today with Muammar Gaddafi) they blasted him night and day with rock music mounted atop combat vehicles until the poor fellow couldn't take it anymore and gave himself up. And, when mall owners want chase away unruly teenagers, they simply play Mozart over the loudspeakers. Old people love it, but the kids run for their lives. If only we were more flexible when it comes to music.

Flexibility is not the defining trait of the Sheepandgoats clan, however. Predictability is. Thus, social gatherings of the Sheepandgoats men (not necessarily the women) invariably end with a game of Scrabble. Every time. “They always do it?” asked an incredulous new daughter-in-law. Yes. Always. Plus, we have developed peculiar quirks that make us incompatible with even other Scrabble players. The house dictionary rules, for example, and so the character of the game varies depending upon whose house we are in. Playing at Pop's house is a real challenge. There, a set of 1964 World Book encyclopedias still grace the living room bookshelf, a relic from the days he vainly hoped to pound some sense into us. His dictionary is from that era, too. It wasn't easy to get him to accept even such common electronic terms as “fax,” (which go unchallenged in my house or anywhere else) and I was robustly shouted down when I tried to play “adware” over a triple word score, the 'w' resting upon a double letter square.

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Comments

Rosie

Lol.. this blog really made me laugh out loud! We've all beeng there - singing the note in our head instead of the "new" one in the songbook. My congregation tends to stick to its guns singing the familiar melody to the new words until maybe the last verse when they'll grudgingly acknowledge there has been a change and join the young ones and the newbies actually following the music.

Personally I've seen a few oldies but goldies that I'd hoped would be put out to rest but on the whole live in the present and don't mourn the hundred or so that are now sleeping in theocratic history. My brother hates that the songs have been slowed down and the pitch for many lowered but I don't find them excessively slow. some are so pretty you wish there were more than the standard two or three (or in one case 1 and a half) verses, some oldies seem to go on forever... As long as we can still finish the conventions with "We thank you Jehovah" and below that out like it was meant to be bellowed, I'm cool.

And as for the truly beautiful new melodies such as #111 and others they are nothing short of breathtaking. Listen out for a sole voice singing in the prison cells, I've learnt them by heart and will sing them during the tribulation.

I will of course take a solid beating from the guards but hey, when ya gotta sing...

I will be singing many from memory

Oraji

I’m from the Philippines. We also experience the same thing here in our congregation. That’s why when we sing a new kingdom song I try to sing louder so the brothers & sisters will know how to properly sing it. I can read musical notes. But sometimes when most of them still sing a new kingdom song the old way I feel like I’m in a solo performance and they are all doing the second voice.

tom sheepandgoats

I can visualize it.

:)

TC

I really did not want to jump in on this one as I am one of those , who ummm ermmm ehhhh ,

Are less than gifted in the Vocal section ...................

tom sheepandgoats

I can visualize that, too.

:)

You're not a friend of Pearl's, are you?

Rosie

lol @ Oraji, I read music too, and yes, it doesn't feel good when people turn and frown at you and YOU'RE the only one singing the right note...lol

We're getting better though, give it 10 or 11 years and we'll all be on the same page.

Oraji

Hi sister Rosie.

I guess the only congregations that doesn't experience these things are the sign language congregations. ;-)

We have one here. They are the other congregation that uses our kingdom hall. When I see them singing (signing actually) the kingdom songs it reminds me of how much we should appreciate that we are able to hear & sing the melodies of our kingdom songs. I told that to my 7 year old daughter and she now appreciate more the singing part of our meetings.

TC

Well Tom , I CAN do James Taylor's Fire and Rain moderately well ........

Sorta .......

Um , kinda anyway

Dave

Excellent subject Tom. I like singing at the hall. I'm growing to like some of the new songs too. Some of them I liked the first time I heard them, others I'm learning to like.

Song 111 is one of my favourites. Unfortunately I had the experience of trying to sing it while choking back tears at a very sad funeral earlier this year. What made it worse was I was trying to make a good impression on 2 police officers who happened to be standing next to me in full dress uniform (just visitors). It was 'standing-room only' in the hall and not a dry eye to be seen. It was rather a strange feeling.

Then there's the lighter side to singing at the kingdom Hall...

We have an old sister in our congregation who's stone deaf. She does her best to keep up with everybody but you can hear her screeching in between the verses. When the song finishes and the chairman starts praying, someone sometimes has to tap her on the shoulder to tell her stop singing (or howling, depending on your point of view). It's quite funny. You should see her in the ministry!

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