Academic journal article The Hymn

Research Director's Report

Academic journal article The Hymn

Research Director's Report

Article excerpt

In the hymnology course I teach at Emmanuel College, I have the opportunity of inviting guest presenters to share their expertise and knowledge with the students. During a recent occasion, Lydia Pedersen, member of the Southern Ontario Chapter of The Hymn Society, asked the class, "What is the difference between a hymn and a song?" Naturally there was a moment of silence. Some students opined that one was a subset of the other, others said there was no difference since they consist of both words and music, that they can be either doxological or introspective in nature. Still there were others who said they were different but could not really articulate why they are different. "Is it because one speaks of God and the other about human stuff?" or "Hymns are composed by Christians and songs are not?"

Indeed Lydia's thought-provoking question reinforces and reminds us of the task at hand for The Hymn Society as we move ahead with a new director for The Center for Congregational Song. Indeed members of The Hymn Society might want to know and be prepared to share their definition of the difference between a hymn and a song. Consider for a moment the words of St Paul when he urged his community to sing "psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs" (see Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16). Frankly speaking, what differentiates one genre from the other? At the same time, in explicitly stating these categories, was there any attempt by Paul to elevate one genre above the other as some have assumed? Or could it be that he was making the point that no matter what sort of music we sing, we are to get the outcome right: that it is to praise God with our whole being. Perhaps now is the time to look at congregational song as a music-making process that is more than just a sonic phenomenon that arises from a person's inspiration or a community's recreational activity but is something that actually has a significant but largely unspoken sociological message that is not necessarily about organized sonic pitches. …

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