From: Preface to History Through 26 Hymns and Songs Book

Disclaimer

These hymn history stories provide numerous footnotes throughout for sources to enable readers to pursue topics of interest to them. Internet sites are emphasized over library books to facilitate ease of readers’ access to those sources for more information. The appendix provides summary points of the sweep of history during the past 2 millennia from Christ’s death to this century.

Any incompleteness or inaccuracies in these history stories, and the histories of the times that influenced the hymn or song, are of course my responsibility. Topics are identified where I did not find information. Readers are encouraged to bring any information available for such incompleteness or inaccuracies to my attention to facilitate updates for later versions of this book.

Comments for corrections/additions can be submitted via the comment page of the companion website, at https://tortoiseclimbing.net/contact.php.

Purpose/Goal

How Did the Book and Recording Happen?

In May 1998 mother expressed it would be wonderful for me to record an album of their (her husband and her) favorite hymns and songs dedicated to her husband, who had gone to join their Lord on Sept. 28, 1996.

This book presents the hymn history stories as the companion to that recording of these hymns and songs and provides the historical setting of each. The stories are organized in the order of the 26 hymns and songs on the companion recording, and that order is modeled after the cycle of life. Since the stories are not in historical chronological order, that results in numerous cross references within the stories to relevant historical information presented in other hymn history stories.

The stories include history information from the times surrounding each hymn commonly excluded from romanticized, concise hymn story books. The goal of presenting historical details is to enable a fuller understanding of the importance surrounding history had on creation of the hymns, i.e., to present the hymns within their shaping world events.

The premise is the surrounding history events likely influenced the writing and content of the hymns, because those events influenced the authors’ lives, and thus what they expressed in their hymns or songs. A method throughout for including related historical bits of world history is via inserted Editor’s Notes.

Writing these hymn history stories to accompany the Hymns and Songs for Living recordings was a more significant undertaking that initially conceptualized. It was a labor of love to find and amalgamate the many, fragmented, disparate often conflicting pieces of information.  It was particularly interesting developing the historical perspective for the two plantation hymns, which have no known publication information.

Researching and putting together the historical appendix from the beginnings of Christian music since Christ’s death was a journey into incredibly varied, often interconnected histories over many centuries of civilization. The journey documented many interrelationships current society seems to largely ignore. It was an incredibly valuable mental and educational journey.

New Awakenings

Prior to putting these hymn history stories together, my knowledge was vague of the historical information regarding the depth of social turmoil, violence, and loss of many lives throughout the centuries since Christ’s death, over disagreements regarding how to “properly” worship him.

Like many who grew up singing congregational hymns, the existence of hymns as part of Christian congressional singing was something I took for granted as a normal part of everyday church services. Most Americans have no reason to think about how hymn singing came to be a “normal” part of the services.

Congregational hymn singing was not always an “everyday normal” event in church services!  It evolved from the earliest practices from Christ’s time, empire versus empire, with many violent ups and downs within and between the various Christian factions, shaped by many very repressive political and religious forces in different countries in different centuries.

The struggles for being allowed to pursue individual worship practices and doctrines caused the deaths of many on all sides who passionately defended what they, or perhaps in many cases, their ruling monarchs respectively claimed was “truth.” The very existence of congregational hymn singing today as part of Christian church services is a testimony to the determination of many strong individuals who prevailed through those struggles.

These hymn history stories provide insight into that dynamic and often violent context though which current Christian worship practices evolved. That information provides a major “eye opener” to any who think things have always been as they are. It would be highly desirable for more Christians to know more about the complicated history of how current Christian church practices, Protestant and otherwise, developed to what they are.

The traditional, classic congregational hymns and songs included in this collection of hymn history stories and the companion recording, represent a diverse, proud heritage of what historically should be considered relatively recent hymns, and related Christian religious songs, from the early 18th to early 20th centuries’. These are a small sample of the legacy passed on to us. They were created by many dedicated people whose beliefs sometimes differed strongly from then established politics of their monarchs and the State-Church practices in their countries. They fought and died to be allowed to create their worship practices.

The importance Christian congregational hymn singing came to occupy by Protestants in recent centuries may have contributed to the return of its use as part of the Roman Catholic liturgy after Vatican II. The Roman Catholic church officially re-embraced congregational hymn singing as part of its liturgy in the 1960s after The Second Vatican Council. This is about 15 centuries after their liturgy largely replaced congregational hymn singing with choirs. (There were priests, e.g., Frederick William Faber, who championed hymn singing, but it was not part of the official Roman Catholic liturgy until after Vatican II.)

Editor’s note. It is interesting that some U.S. evangelical Protestant denominations seem to be experiencing a revision in the form of musical structure they use for worship service that harkens back to what the Catholic Church did, beginning in the 5th and 6th centuries. Namely, embracing use of choir or other band performance as dominant music in the worship service, rather than congregational hymn singing.


Research for these hymn history stories found a comment about the lack of interest in hymnology on the website for the then Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals (ISAE).

Editor’s note. ISAE closed at the end of December 2014. It had served as a center for research while functioning as a program of Wheaton College.


In addition to conferences, the ISAE undertook longer-term research projects that funded a portion of the work of several scholars.(1) Those projects included a study of American hymn singing. Presumably from that study they observed that -

“Sadly, this central aspect of the American Protestant experience [the hymnology, or history of the hymns] has been seriously under-studied by historians of American religion.”

A publication produced from material presented at one of the ISAE sponsored conferences is titled Hymnody in American Protestantism. It credits generous funding provided from the Lilly Endowment. That coference material makes a strong case that hymns are both a fascinating and an irreplaceable type of primary source document for both intellectual and social religious history. It is titled Wonderful Words of Life: Hymns in American Protestant History and Theology, March 2, 2004. It is available in paperback from Amazon books.(2)

While the public has not had a large interest in hymnology, numerous academics have produced very through books on hymns.(3)

The lack of attention by average Americans to the history of their hymns as part of their heritage may flow from the general lack of interest by the American public in history and how things in our past, and even events in other parts of the world, have substantially shaped what America now is. Those events are where theological and national movements developed that came to America contributing to the rich fabric of American life and religion.

The rich history of music in Christianity, and especially for these historically relatively recent 26 hymn history stories, including the companion recording, provide a little insight into the great complexity of how current Christian practices have been shaped by national and world histories and their interactions with State-Churches. The hymns and related songs included in this collection were created within the context of these numerous national and world histories.

The men and women responsible for creating the older, traditional hymn texts explored in these hymn history stories and on the companion recording, Hymns and Songs for Living, including the current hymn tunes used with these hymns, felt passionately about their beliefs and values. The passions expressed in these hymns and songs still resonate into our century.

Although hymns in this collection have largely been replaced in many churches by newer hymns, these history stories and the companion recording document how powerfully thoughts are communicated through the combination of words and musical expression. These hymns are much more powerful and lasting than long forgotten sermons, even sermons by some of the very same clergymen who wrote and composed some of these hymns.

Judging from sales of new hymnals with new celebration hymns, Americans, and perhaps others, may have entered a new period when large numbers of new hymns are being written and brought into worship services.

The role copyright considerations by commercial businesses may have in driving the proliferation of new hymns transforming hymnals can be conjectured. One implication is it will become increasingly rare to hear these older traditional hymns as part of many regular protestant church services, because these hymns are not in the new hymnals. The evolution of Christian church practices continues; new hymns replace previous favorites. Congregational hymn singing in some evangelical churches is being replaced with celebration performing choral/band groups. As always, it would be a mistake for Christians to take what currently exists for granted.

Reference Materials

To assist readers in pursuing more information, numerous footnote references are provided, primarily to internet links for easy access by readers. While some website sources, such as Wikipedia, may be less academically rigorous, they tend to be reasonably reliable. Most importantly, they are readily available to readers who may be interested in going a bit further in their reading. In addition, for those interested in reading further, the books and articles used are summarized at the end under “Bibliography” with easy access urls.

While a number of “authoritative” book sources were examined, the number of references included for sources only available from libraries, are minimized to avoid requiring readers to make interlibrary loans or purchases to obtain access to the reference books. Valuable sources not readily available to readers that are thus excluded, include:

Some of the history stories are more story-like in nature and others are more detailed and history-like. Substantial differences exist in the level of historical details found from available sources on different hymns and songs.

How Were the Hymns and Songs Selected?

Cooperative Endeavor

Together in May 1998, mother and I took the first step toward creation of the companion recording of her and her husband’s favorite hymns and related songs. Project planning began with a day of discussions for which hymns and songs to include. A major resource was the hymnals my parents accumulated over their lives when churches they attended purchased new hymnals and gave away the old. That project planning also selected which non-congregational hymn religious songs to include.

The final list selected from their favorites was 26 hymns and songs. All but 5 are traditional old favorite classic congregational hymns, 2 are service songs, and 3 are other religious songs. Although those 5 exceptions may not be congregational hymns, they occupied important religious musical spaces in the lives of my parents.

They are dominantly from several Protestant denominations my parents were associated over their lifetimes, and provide good insight into both shared history and divergences of different denominations and their theologies.

Following that, mother participated in planning and reviewing working drafts of recordings for the album. That included weekly previewing as they were preliminarily recorded. She expressed great happiness with the progress being made, and especially the plan for achieving the goals. All too quickly after beginning the project, in the early hours of Saturday, Aug. 22, 1998, she too left this world to join her husband.

The non-Congregational Religious Songs

The 5 religious songs selected that are not strictly considered congregational hymns are:

Influences that Led to the Companion Recording

In making her request for me to make the recording, mother picked up on a seeds planted in my life perhaps beginning in elementary school when I began singing in school choirs, and subsequently studied voice throughout and after college.

Another seed about beautiful recordings of hymns, was when a friend brought a wonderful recording of organ and brass hymn arrangements to my attention, titled For God and Country: Forty Great Hymns of Joy and Celebration by the New England group Chestnut Brass Company (with Timpani) and Anthony Newman, organist and arranger, with condensed notes about the hymns by Jackson Braider. It was distributed as a book with CD by Newport Classic, Ltd. © 1992.

Editor's note. The friend who brought that recording to my attention is another example of a full circle. Twenty years later he is a commenter/editor on the content of these hymn history stories.


That CD of organ and brass hymns was recorded (likely in 1991) at the Church of the Holy Trinity located at 316 East 88th Street in New York City using that church’s magnificent, then very recently installed in 1987, Rieger Pipe Organ.

The tonal design of the instrument was by Anthony Newman, who was organist at the time. The three-manual and pedal Rieger organ is a moderately large pipe organ for a church with 55 ranks of pipes installed around a large stained-glass window in the church without covering it. More information about the organ and its specifications are available online.(6)

Editor's note. Recollections of these types of magnificent pipe organ sounds from various churches, including the magnificent Æolian-Skinner Organ at National Presbyterian Church and Center, where I sang with the chancel choir for a time, influenced the accompanying recording. Those memories of beautiful pipe organs led in 2019 to selection of the 35 rank Scribner-Keeble Memorial pipe organ in Ashland Virginia at Duncan Memorial United Methodist Church to add real pipe organ accompaniments for a number of the hymns in this collection.



(1) “Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals,” Wheaton College,  https://www.wheaton.edu/academics/academic-centers/isae/, accessed 4-28-2019.

(2) Richard J. Mouw and Mark A. Noll, Wonderful Words of Life: Hymns in American Protestant History and Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Books, March 2, 2004), https://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/080282160X/qid=1086711905/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/104-3810865-5227142?v=glance&s=books, accessed 3-12-2019.

(3) Dr. Paul Westermeyer, Let the People Sing: Hymn Tunes in Perspective (Chicago, IL: GIA Publications, 2005);

Dr. Paul Westermeyer, Te Deum: The Church and Music (Minneapolis, MN 55440: Augsburg Fortress Press, June 3, 1998, 1st edition hardcover.

Dr. Eric Routley, A Panorama of Christian Hymnody (Chicago, IL: GIA Publications,1979 and 2005);

Dr. Tim Dowley, Christian Music: A Global History (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2011).

(4) “A Dictionary of Hymnology,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Dictionary_of_Hymnology, accessed 3-31-2019.

(5) “The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology,” https://hymnology.hymnsam.co.uk/, accessed 3-31-2019.

(6) “Church of the Holy Trinity,” The New York City Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, http://www.nycago.org/Organs/NYC/html/HolyTrinityEpisUES.html, accessed 2018.

If you wish to comment on contents of this webpage, Click on the button below.