Academic journal article The Hymn

The Adventure of Collecting Hymnals: A Beginning Primer

Academic journal article The Hymn

The Adventure of Collecting Hymnals: A Beginning Primer

Article excerpt

Some of us have a passion for collecting. It started as a child with rocks, stamps, dolls, or baseball cards. As lovers of hymns it is only natural that we would collect hymnbooks. Collecting hymnals is intrinsically linked to our joy of leading congregational singing, our sung theology, and our communities of faith. As we hold an eighteentli-century edition of Watts' Hymns and Spiritual Songs or Psalms of David, we join with the faithful of past generations to "survey die wondrous cross"1 and proclaim that God has been "our help in ages past."2 As we review the contents of a nineteenth-century gospel song collection, we are encouraged to "rescue the perishing"3 of this generation and share with them that "it is well"4 with our souls. As we examine the newest hymnal published by our denomination, we are reminded that congregational singing continues to be a vital part of our Sunday worship services. Collecting hymnbooks unites us with the past, present, and future of congregational hymn singing.

This article will examine reasons for collecting hymnals, types of hymnal collections, reference resources that help with collecting hymnals, and where to find hymnbooks. The word hymnal as used in this article includes the collecting of psalters, gospel song collections, oblong tunebooks, and other volumes of congregational songs.

Reasons for Collecting Hymnals

It is impressive to see a row of old leather- bound hymnals on a desk or in a book shelf. But there are reasons for collecting hymnbooks that are certainly more important than office décor.

First, "hymnals are valuable historical documents, for they tell us the hymns that were available for singing by congregations of various religious denominations through the centuries."5 We are a singing people. Believers worship God and express their theology through singing. A collection of hymnbooks forms a permanent written record of worship practices and theology.

Second, collecting hymnbooks from the past preserves a record of individual hymn texts and tunes. A collection can encourage and foster research on specific hymn writers and the broader historical context for the writing of their hymns. Hymnal collections are an essential tool for this kind of hymnological research. This information is then shared with congregations, enabling them to follow the apostle Paul's admonition to "sing with the understanding."6 Erik Roudey supports this reason for collecting hymnals as he talks about hymns written between 1700 and 1850: "But their value to modern congregations is greatly enriched if a word of explanation be spoken concerning the subtler meanings of their texts and the background of their authors."7

Although a growing number of hymnbooks are now available online (e.g., Hymnary.org, supported by The Hymn Society), institutional and private collections of hymnbooks continue to be a primary source for hymnological research. Because of their rarity, condition, and copyright limitations, not all hymnals are available online; therefore, finding a particular hymnal in a collection can become a primary resource for research. One important resource for library collections is Tina M. Schneider's Hymnal Collections of North America.8

Finally, worship leaders are always looking for new hymn texts that will challenge and meet the worship needs of their congregation. A personal hymnal collection is an excellent resource for discovering "new" hymn texts that have not been sung by the congregation. A newly discovered hymn text written three hundred years ago can still be relevant for hymn singing today.

Types of Hymnal Collections

Hymnal collections can range from a few specific modern volumes to several hundred books covering two or three centuries of printing. An individual's or institution's background, research interests, and denominational affiliation will usually set the parameters of the collection. Here are some examples of specific hymnal collections:

* Denominational Collection (e. …

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