Academic journal article The Hymn

What Is a Hymn Festival? How Is One Planned ?

Academic journal article The Hymn

What Is a Hymn Festival? How Is One Planned ?

Article excerpt

Hymn festivals are offshoots of worship: occasions of prayer and community where the central activity is singing. We know music-centered worship offshoots by different names and models. An old-fashioned hymn sing may consist of a pianist and a leader who says, "Call out your favorites!" At this event speech may be mostly titles and page numbers and the musical activity is almost entirely congregational. In December, by contrast, many communities offer another kind of hymn event, known as Lessons and Carols. This service centers on storytelling and leans more towards listening. Readings are central to its structure and while congregational singing occurs, musical responses may favor choral offerings. A hymn festival generally falls somewhere between these two types.

A hymn festival is a special event focused on congregational song, with intentional creativity and variety. It is usually sixty to seventy-five minutes of congregational songs, most often linked by readings, narrations, or prayers, typically organized around a central theme, idea, or occasion. Strong musical or scholarly leadership is often a featured element. Festivals often involve choirs or other musical ensembles of a church or churches. The amount of singing at a hymn festival is usually greater than at worship and spoken elements may be different in character or broader in range. As at worship, though, these elements work together. At best, these different elements are chosen, created, and arranged so that they complement each other, sharing common themes less by simple re-statement and more through their unique qualities.

A hymn festival's particular purpose usually summons a particularly eager congregation: they show up to sing. Their enthusiasm and curiosity mean that the musical net can be cast 'wide. New songs find a welcome; ways of singing and accompanying can be creative, experimental, inventive-even a little wacky at times. For lovers of singing, a hymn festival can be not only deeply moving but also great fun. Whatever the theme, a huge part of a festival's appeal is sheer delight in singing.

That delight, of course, comes not only from the deep love of singing but from the deep need for it as well. That need may be particularly acute in certain seasons of the year or in a community's hard passages; in these times, a hymn festival might fulfill pastoral needs, allowing the community to "pour out its soul" in lament, grief, confession, or repentance.

Because a hymn festival so strongly affirms singing as a congregational practice, it may have far-reaching implications for the festival congregation and for others. Those who participate may be energized to be strong and creative advocates for singing in their own communities. Learning new songs, people may come away with enthusiasm for weaving new songs into worship back home. Song-leaders of all kinds find new ideas for their home singing practices. Festival choirs, bands, or other ensembles may be able to involve children and youth as well as adults, offering multiple generations new windows into vibrant congregational singing. These ripple effects of a hymn festival may have benefits long after the festival itself has ended.

A hymn festival can raise our spirits; it can also raise eyebrows or questions. Both worship and a hymn festival can be hallowed ground, but a festival sometimes has the advantage of being more neutral territory and less sacrosanct turf. It might shake those of us who are song-leaders out of comfortable repertories. It can make room for bold theology and hard-hitting texts. It may welcome musicians and sounds that are not always included. Part of a hymn festival's ethos is to allow space for experimentation, so a festival may be a safe place to try various ways of singing. If singing from a screen or singing from a book is a new experience for some, a festival may be a way to sample a new format. These are also gifts of a hymn festival.

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