carson cooman

Review of "Pray Then Like This"

Review of Pray Then Like This
by Larry Wolz, The Hymn (October 2004, Vol. 55, No. 4)

 
Pray Then Like This is the latest of Richard Leach's hymn collections and is unique among them in that he has collaborated with a single composer for the entire collection and has focused on a single subject: The Lord's Prayer. Leach has divided the prayer into seven sections, but he has provided two hymns for two of the sections and what he calls bookends on either end. So, there are ea total of eleven hymn settings. The opening hymn is based on the words of Jesus which introduce the prayer in Matthew (6:7-9), "We Will Pray As Jesus Taught." The first hymn from the prayer itself is "How Far Away Is Heaven," based, of course, on the opening phrase, "Our Father, who art in Heaven." This hymn introduces a second theme found in some of the hymns, the parable of the Prodigal Son. As is typical of Richard Leach's inspiring work, all of the hymns here are rich in scriptural reference and poetic metaphor far beyond the chosen subject of the Lord's Prayer. The Topical Index and Scripture Index for the collection (11 hymns) consume a full page!

It is interesting to compare the phrases with multiple settings: numbers 5 and 6, "And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors"; and numbers 9 and 10, "For thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory, forever." Here we find the poet, inspired by the same text, writing two very different poems. "The Hand that Closes Round a Stone" (no. 5) contrasts the sinner's clenched-fist sin with the open-handed love of a forgiving God. The other setting is, however, a more traditional hymn on forgiveness, focusing though on ultimate justice in that day "when keeping score of every debt will end at last." Simiarly, in the hymns based on the last phrase of the prayer, the poet focuses the first hymn ("Any Kingdom We Have") on the sinner and the second ("God of the King Upon a Cross") on the Redeemer. The composer has further emphasized the contrasts in the settings through his music. Numbers 5 and 9 are unison tunes and more folk-like. Numbers 6 and 10 are majestic traditional hymns (no. 6, the only one in a four-part setting.)

The composer, Carson P. Cooman, is one new to this writer, but he is widely published with over 300 commissioned and published works. Judging only from his work here, he is well-trained and thoughtful church musician, for he has written excellent tunes and harmonies for Richard Leach's texts. As alluded to above, his music for the collection is in a variety of styles. The melodies and harmonies have a natural flow that will make them easy to learn, but are in no way common or cliché. Cooman is an organist and some of the wide stretches in left-hand harmonies and some of the voicings were obviously conceived for that instrument, but all his music is easily adaptable to the piano as well.

Selah's production of the collection is a model of what we in The Hymn Society have come to expect for new hymn collections: the hymn printed as poetry on one page; the hymn text presented with music as it might appear in a hymnal; and a full complement of indexes.

In conclusion, this is an excellent collection by two masters of their craft. It could be presented in its entirety as a hymn festival, but all of the hymns can easily find a variety of uses separately as well. For example, Leach's closing "bookend" hymn, "Let It Be As We Have Prayed" (based on the "Amen"), would make a great general benediction for choir or congregation.

Larry Wolz is Professor and Head of the Department of Music History and Literature at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas and is book review editor for The Hymn.