Sunday, March 14, 2010

Learn Some Hymns, For Pete's Sake

I was looking through the copy of Lutheran Worship that we used to mark the dates when we sang the hymns in that hymnal.  I was surprised that from 1982 (or whenever it was introduced to this parish) through Pentecost 2006, we sang nearly every hymn in that book.  There were a few I did not try (I was not valiant enough to try "All Who Would Valiant Be" here but we sang it in New York).  In addition there were countless other hymns we used from other sources (the hymn collections of Jaroslav Vajda, Stephen Starke, Herman Stuempfle, Martin Franzmann, Timothy Dudley-Smith, Brian Wren, Fred Pratt, and especially GIA's Hymn of the Day book).  We sang new words to old tunes, new tunes to old words, new words to new tunes, and old words to old tunes.  When faced with several choices, we often sang both (such as A Mighty Fortress -- rhythmic on Reformation always and isometric other times).  We sang nearly every hymn and Psalm setting from Hymnal Supplement 98 as well.  I was amazed at how much ground we had covered.

It is a great thing to keep tabs on which hymns you sing.  I used to have my secretary write on the margin of one copy the dates when that hymn was sung.  Now we use a database -- although I miss the visual of looking at the hymn while perusing the dates they were sung.

When sharing some of this with another Pastor (also Lutheran) I was dismayed to find a different spirit.  He said that there were so many things that people complained about, he gave them the hymns they wanted to avoid giving them ammo for another dispute.  According to his facetious count, they sang about 12 hymns in alternation (with the addition of Christmas carols).  Boo Boo Boo

We have what, by all accounts, would be considered traditional worship -- sung liturgy, Eucharistic vestments, etc. -- but we have a very rich and varied hymnody from week to week.  I cannot understand the choice not to use new hymns.  I would say on average one hymn a Sunday is new or new enough so that people are not fully comfortable with the melody.  We just keep singing them until we have them and then they move from the new to the familiar.  I am amazed at how quickly some become beloved favorites.  I am amazed at how some never become favorites.  We use hymns from other cultures and we often use instruments from those cultures (who can sing Holy Spirit the Dove Sent from Heaven without thinking Mariachi Band?).

I challenge the congregations out there to learn some hymns, for Pete's sake.  Practice, rehearse -- we do before the service begins when we have one that will take some time to learn.  Use solo voices to sing them until they become familiar and then use solo voices to introduce a stanza or two so folks can hear the melody.  Use hymn-tune preludes and postludes that will reinforce the new melody in the minds of the hearers.

For Pete's sake, experiment with some new hymns.  Try a hymn of the month so that you sing it four Sundays in a row.  Give people a CD to listen to (nearly every hymn is on some CD collection or available in MP3 form on the Internet.  But learn some new hymns.  Keep track for a couple of months to see what you are singing and then break out and try some new hymns (even though they may be old in terms of history - if they are new to your congregation, try them).

Another time I will address HOW we pick hymns... but for now, open the door and venture out into the uncharted territory and explore the hymnal... Start there and once you have begun exploring the hymnal, you just might look at one of the collections mentioned above...  I must have 30 hymn collections or hymnal supplements that offer a variety of hymns -- mostly all tuned to a particular text or occasion to help you pick them out.  Buy the books, sing them yourself to try them out, but for Pete's sake, learn some hymns.


Anonymous said...

Again, I'm going to say it: it's amazing to me that everyone can quickly learn all of the new songs on the radio, as weird and unmelodic as they are, yet refuse to sing some of the most beautiful hymns in our hymnals which contain the words of our faith. Shame on the pastors who give in to that mentality of only singing a dozen or so of the hymns - talk about boring.

Lee said...

Hymn selection, Oh boy. Well, the imperfect but happy middle ground we have come to in the congregation I serve is that the worship committee picks the opening and closing hymns, I pick the pulpit hymn and the organist picks the hymns during Holy Communion. It is also understood that I retain "veto" authority if the hymns chosen simply do not fit the message. I use this authority sparingly, but I do use it when needed. I also "sneak" some different hymns in by using them as a Gospel Acclamation or Offertory. Like I said, imperfect, but it is a nice balance for us as we deal with musicians at different levels of ability and a sizable part of the congregation who comes from different backgrounds and different familiarity with hymns. Plus, when someone doesn't like a hymn, unless the hymn in question is the pulpit hymn, I can honestly say, "I didn't choose that one."

Michael Paul 白霈德牧師 said...

Thank you for the encouragement.