Thursday, August 15, 2013

"Praise to the Lord, the Almighty" on mountain and hammered dulcimer -- breathing new life into a 17th-century German hymn

One of the high points of this year's Gateway Dulcimer Festival in Belleville was a duo performance of a standard mainline denominational hymn that has been part of the German Reformed and Lutheran traditions since the 1600s. Sarah Morgan of Knoxville, Tenn., accompanying herself on mountain dulcimer, was backed by Dan Landrum of Chattanooga on hammered dulcimer. Those of us who wished we could hear it again on Sarah's CDs (it wasn't there) now have it available on YouTube.

In her 20s now, Sarah breathes life into several traditions. She grew up in Union County, just north of Knoxville where Roy Acuff was from, and she blends "Appalachian roots with progressive inspiration" at dulcimer festivals and house concerts all over. Her website, at, is worth a look.

Also known by its German tune name of LOBE DEN HERREN (which just means praise the Lord), the hymn was written in 1680 by Joachim Neander, of the north German city of Bremen. Neander died at the age of 30, but wrote some 60 hymns and is sometimes known as the "Paul Gerhardt of the Calvinists," according to the Hymnal Companion to the Lutheran Book of Worship (1981). That's high praise, too, considering the source. Because Lutherans and Calvinists were often at each other's throats during the 1600s. But Bremen is in a part of Germany near the North Sea coast and the Netherlands where the two Protestant faith traditions influenced each other more perhaps than elsewhere, and Neander's tune served as the basis for Bach's Cantata 137 Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Ehren within 50 years of its publication. The hymn was translated into English in 1863 by Catherine Winkworth and now appears in 285 hymnals. has sheet music (in F) and detailed information at:

Both Neander (1600-1600) and Gerhardt (1607-1676)) are the real deal. They came of age during the Thirty Years War and its tragic aftermath, but they wrote out of a deep personal faith that transcended the confessional and sectarian divisions of the day. And they adapted lovely secular ballads and dance tunes for their hymns.

Neander has another claim to fame, by the way. The Neander valley (-thal in German) was named in his honor, and the first fossils of Neanderthal man were discovered there.

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