Academic journal article The Hymn

2008 Hymnic Anniversaries

Academic journal article The Hymn

2008 Hymnic Anniversaries

Article excerpt

What is striking about the list of 2008 anniversaries is the number of hymnwriters and hymn publications that mark turning points in the development of congregational song. Mechtild of Magedeburg wrote poetry in the mid-thirteenth century that Jean Weibe Janzen could adapt into congregational hymns in the twentieth century. Martin Luther placed congregational song at the centre of reformed worship, adapting the chorale form from the Roman mass to the Lutheran service. Orlando Gibbons, from an English family of professional musicians, adapted the structure of sixteenth-century madrigals and motets into congregational hymn tunes for one of the first English-language hymn collections, George Wither's Hymnes and Songs of the Church (1623). Three English poets developed Wither's initiative in congregational song: Samuel Crossman, George Herbert and John Milton. Nonetheless, it would be another 125 years before the Church of England would acknowledge hymns as part of the liturgy.

In 1708 Lyra Davidica challenged the prevailing use of psalm tunes by offering translations of Latin and German hymn texts, along with some original pieces. EASTER HYMN, a typical eighteenth-century song, imbedded "Jesus Christ is risen today" in the congregational memory bank. A Supplement to the New Version of the Psalms by Dr. Brady and Mr. Tate [1696], attributed to William Croft, provided imaginative settings of the psalms such as ST ANNE. By mid-century the singing master and book-seller, William Tans'ur, had added his A Compleat Melody, or, the Harmony of Sion (1734) to the growing body of congregational tunes, including BANGOR.

Congregational song flourished in the nineteenth century. In Pennsylvania, Unitarian printer John Wyeth published a collection of folk tunes for the use of Methodists and Baptists in the camp meetings and revivals of the second Great Awakening. Reginald Heber, from Yorkshire, adapted the successful Methodist hymn model to write hymns for the church year, a collection published posthumously in 1827 with the support of the Church of England. Nikolai F. S. Grundtvig countered the Rationalism of his era through his hymns for Danish Lutherans. Ira D. Sankey created a new form of congregational song that crossed denominational boundaries.

About 1875 American and British populations became predominantly urban, a demographic factor which would influence the shape of congregational song in the twentieth century. Lucy Broadwood and Ralph Vaughan Williams collected folk-tunes before such tunes disappeared along with rural societies. Charles Tindley adapted the American spiritual into an urban gospel song. In response to Vatican II, Huub Oosterhuis adapted the music of the Latin mass into a vernacular mass setting which incorporated congregational singing. Colin Gibson started searching for upto-date hymns and songs for New Zealand and Australian congregations in the mid-1960s, about the time that Erik Routley was leading the Dunblane consultations on church music in Scotland looking for new models of congregational song to meet the needs of inner-city and suburban congregations. The Dunblane consultations prepared the way for singing workshops in Glasgow in the 1980s, led by Graham Maule and John Bell.

Simultaneously, western missionary hymnody was undergoing a quiet transformation. Daniel T. Niles began writing hymn texts and tunes based on Asian sources for his E.A.C.C. Hymnal, while S. C. Molefe started adapting the Roman Catholic mass to Xhosa rhythms of South Africa. I-to Loh brought his knowledge of Asian hymnody to his graduate studies in the United States, which led to the Methodist publication of Hymns from the Four Winds. Returning from music studies in Europe, Pablo Sosa recognized a need to find a South American voice in congregational song to enable worshippers to sing in their languages: musical and verbal. Global hymnody, with its contagious melodies and rhythms, was taking root.

Hymnal committees meeting in the 1980s and 1990s faced an enormous selection task. …

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