Like many, prior to researching these 26 hymn history stories, the editor had not focused on the depth of extremely serious social turmoil, violence, and even the price of many lives paid throughout the centuries since Jesus’ death, supposedly for how to “properly” worship him.
Like many who grew up singing congregational hymns, the existence of such hymns as part of congressional singing was taken for granted by the editor as a normal part of everyday church services. It seems many Americans do not remember or think about how hymn singing as part of American religious life came to be a “normal” part of the services.
The history stories about these hymns and the dynamic, violent context of Christian history that shaped them is a major “eye opener” for anyone who has not focused on these histories. This project illustrates the vital importance of knowing and understanding more about the complicated history of how current Christian church practices, Protestant and otherwise, developed to what they are.
Congregational hymn singing was not always an “everyday, normal” event in Christian church services! It evolved from the earliest practices in Christ’s time, empire versus empire, with many violent ups and downs within and between the Christian religious factions, shaped by many very repressive political and religious forces in different countries in different centuries.
The struggles for freedom to pursue individual Christian worship practices and doctrines caused the deaths of many on all sides who passionately applied and 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 from those struggles.
The traditional, classic congregational hymns included in this collection of hymn history stories and on the accompanying recording, represent a diverse, proud heritage of historically speaking, relatively recent hymns, and related religious songs, from the early 18th to early 20th centuries’. The hymns and related religious songs on the accompanying album are a small sample of the legacy our predecessors passed on to us. They were created by many dedicated people, many who differed strongly with then established politics of their monarchs and the State-Church practices in their countries. They prodded, kicked, screamed, fought and died to be allowed to create new worship practices.
The importance that congregational hymn singing came to occupy in recent centuries ultimately re-influenced the use of hymns as part of the liturgy by Roman Catholics. The Roman Catholic church officially re-embraced congregational hymn singing in the 1960’s after The Second Vatican Council. That’s about 15 centuries after Roman Catholicism largely replaced congregational hymn singing in its liturgy with choirs. (There were priests, e.g., Frederick William Faber, who championed hymn singing, but it was not part of the official liturgy until after Vatican II.)
Note. It is interesting to witness that U.S. evangelical Protestant denominations now seem to be experiencing a revision in the form of musical structure used for the worship service that harkens back to what the Catholic Church did, beginning in the 5th and 6th centuries. Namely, to embrace the use of choir or other band performance as dominant music in the worship service, rather than congregational hymn singing.
The concept of developing this book of hymn history stories to accompany the recordings was influenced during a recording session for the accompanying album by a couple hymn stories told by the orchestrator of some of the hymns, Mr. Bob Walters. The producer, Ms. Heidi Leah Gerber-Salins had arranged for him to write orchestrations for some of these hymns, and he then conducted the recording of them. During some spare moments during the recording session, Mr. Walters told brief hymn stories about a couple of these hymns. One was for the hymn It Is Well with My Soul. That experience opened a conceptual door, intriguing the editor to want to know more!
The hymns and related songs included in these history stories, and on the accompanying recording, are dominantly from several different Protestant denominations the editor’s parents were associated with in different times and places they lived over their lifetimes. They accumulated hymnals from those churches as the churches bought new hymnals and discarded the old. The hymns provide a good insight into both shared history and divergences of different denominations, their theologies, and the emotions of their congregational members.
In early research performed for these hymn history stories, comments about hymnology was found on the website for the then Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals (ISAE). Since then, 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 hymnody. 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.”
There is a book produced from material presented at one of the ISAE sponsored conferences titled Hymnody in American Protestantism. It credits generous funding was provided from the Lilly Endowment. The material from that conference 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)
Around the same time other academics produced very through books on hymns.(3,4,5,6) [These were obtained by the editor via interlibrary loan, and are not available via the internet.]
The lack of attention by average Americans to the history of their hymns as part of their heritage of American Protestantism may flow from the general lack of interest by the American general public in most other aspects of history and how things happened in the past, even in other parts of the world, that substantially shaped what America now is. Those historical times and places are where theological and national movements developed that eventually came to America contributing to the rich fabric of American life and religion.
The rich history of music in Christianity, and especially in the included historically relatively recent 26 hymns and songs history stories, and the accompanying recording, provide a glimmer of insight into the great complexity of how current Christian practices were shaped by national and world histories interacting with State-Churches. The hymns and related songs included in this collection were written 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 history stories and on the accompanying recording Hymns and Songs for Living, including the current hymn tunes we now use with these hymns, felt passionately about their beliefs and values. The passions expressed in these hymns still resonate into our century.
Although these "old traditional" hymns in many churches have largely been replaced by newer hymns for use in their worship services, they 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 of the relativley new commercial business consideration about copyrights has in driving the new proliferation of hymns transforming hymnals seems likely. There were no copyright considerations when Henry Lyte, James Montgomery, John Newton, or Dorothy Thrupp wrote their hymn texts. One implication is it will become increasingly rare to hear the older traditional hymns contained in this collection as part of many regular protestant church services. 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 Christans to take what we currently have for granted.
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);
4 Dr. Paul Westermeyer, Te Deum: The Church and Music (Minneapolis, MN 55440: Augsburg Fortress Press, June 3, 1998, 1st edition hardcover.
5 Dr. Eric Routley, A Panorama of Christian Hymnody (Chicago, IL: GIA Publications,1979 and 2005);
6 Dr. Tim Dowley, Christian Music: A Global History (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2011).