Posted by: rcottrill | August 13, 2009

The Back of the Hymn Book

In yesterday’s blog, we looked at the information that could be gleaned from a standard hymn book page. A little also needs to be said about what is often included in the back of the hymnal. Again, this varies somewhat from book to book, but the following are fairly common.

1) Selected Scripture Passages
Considering the many different English Bible versions in use today, it is difficult to have a unison or responsive reading of the Word of God. These selections are at least a partial answer to that, providing readings on a variety of subjects. There is usually an index of texts and of topics covered, to help you find what you need.

2) An Alphabetical Index of Tunes
Not every tune has a name of its own, but most do. (Sometimes an editor will arbitrarily choose a name for those without one, so that the tune can be identified.)

3) A Metrical Index of Tunes
Tunes are grouped according to metre. This can be useful information if you wish to sing a particular set of words to a different tune. Perhaps the tune assigned to a hymn by the book is unknown, or more difficult for congregational use. This index will suggest alternatives.

Each tune has a metre. So many beats per line, and so many lines. For example, the metre for the tune Aurelia above is 7.6.7.6D (“D” meaning doubled.) That tells us that each stanza of poetry has 7 or 6 sounded syllables, alternately, and each stanza has a total of 8 lines. For example:

The chur-ch’s one foun-da-tion (7)
Is Je-sus Christ her Lord; (6)
She is His new cre-a-tion, (7)
By wa-ter and the Word; (6)
From heav’n He came and sought her (7)
To be His ho-ly bride; (6)
With His own blood He bought her, (7)
And for her life He died. (6)

These words could also be sung to the tune Missionary Hymn or the tune Webb, among others, as they also have the 7.6.7.6D metre. More can be said about this in a later blog.

4) An Index of Authors, Composers and Sources
Sometimes it is useful to know which hymns in the book were written by a particular author. Here, the numbers for their hymns are given after each name. If you wanted, for example, to present a program featuring the life story of Fanny Crosby, or Charles Wesley, you could choose hymns written by the person from this list.

5) A Topical Index of Hymns
As well as grouping hymns in the book according to subject matter, most hymnals provide a more detailed topical index. It is a good idea to choose hymns for a service that relate to the Bible message. In that way, the whole service follows a theme. This index can be a big help with that.

6) An Alphabetical Index of Hymns
This is likely the most used, and most useful index of all. (Some books refer to it as the General Index.) Usually, a hymn is listed by title and also by first line. Many times these are the same. For example, There Shall Be Showers of Blessing begins with those words. In such cases, only one listing is needed. But the hymn Our Great Saviour begins, “Jesus, what a Friend for sinners!” so both will be included. Usually, the hymn’s title is given in all capital letters, (e.g. OUR GREAT SAVIOUR) to distinguish it from the quotation of the first line.


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