Posted by: rcottrill | August 12, 2009

A Standard Hymn Book Page

Many hymn books have been produced over the years, and the pages are varied in their design and format.

  • Some have the words of the songs only, no tunes. Ira Sankey’s Sacred Songs and Solos eventually contained 1200 selections. The books that include both words and music are too large for easy handling. (They would not fit in most pew racks!)
  • Some have the tunes and words separated on the page. This was done in part because tunes were often used for many different hymns, and not associated with single sets of words.
  • One book, produced years ago, had the pages split in half horizontally, with the words on (I think) the top half of the pages, and all the tunes on the lower half. This way, singers could open the book to a particular set of words, and turn to the tune they wanted, so they could see both at once.
  • Some hymn books (such as the newer Celebration Hymnal) have the information about the hymn writers at the bottom of the page. But most traditional hymn books are set up as the one illustrated and discussed here.

The book you are familiar with may have a slightly different format, but you should be able to identify and make use of most of the following features.

Graphic Line of Hymn1) The topical heading
In many books, hymns are grouped according to category (here, it is THE CHURCH). This facilitates finding hymns about Christmas, or prayer, or whatever suits the occasion.

2) The hymn name and number
Hymn books vary a bit in the titles given to hymns, which can be a bit confusing. Often the opening phrase of the first stanza is used as a title, as in the illustration, but not always. The hymn My Saviour’s Love begins, “I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene.”

3) The tune name
Most of the tunes used for our hymns have names of their own. The name of the traditional tune used for The Church’s One Foundation is Aurelia. This information becomes useful if those leading a service wish to have the words sung to a different tune. (See the note in tomorrow’s blog on the Metrical Index.)

4) The music for the hymn
Usually, hymn tunes are arranged in four-part harmony (what is called an SATB arrangement–for soprano, alto, tenor and bass). Singing in harmony seems to be a lost art in many churches, but it can enhance the beauty of our hymns and enrich the experience of singing them. (More of this in a later blog.)

5) The author of the words
In the traditional hymnal, the author of the words is given in the upper left above the music. In the illustration, this is Samuel J. Stone. If the hymn was originally written in German, or some other language, the name of the translator will be given here too.

6) The composer of the tune
The composer of the tune is listed in the upper right above the music. Here it is Samuel S. Wesley, the grandson of hymn writer Charles Wesley. If there is a special arrangement of the hymn, for example an added obligato, or an added optional ending, the name of the musical arranger is listed in the upper right as well.

7) The Copyright data
Hymns that are over 75 years old are usually in the public domain. This means they can be copied and reproduced without special permission. Newer songs, and those for which special arrangements are provided, usually have a copyright notice at the bottom of the page. Permission is needed to reproduce them, unless you obtain a licence which covers most copyrighted material. A church licence for this purpose can be purchased for a reasonable fee from Christian Copyright Licence International.

Check tomorrow’s blog for a look at what’s found at the back of the hymnal.


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