Rocking the Ages (or, Summer Hymn Singing)

Church_pews,_Old_Brick_Church,_Mooresville,_AL,_image_by_Marjorie_Kaufman_01

“Why don’t we sing more of the old favorites?”
“I didn’t know even one of those hymns this morning.”
“I wish we would sing more hymns that I know.”

Getting to know a parish’s hymn repertoire is one of those things that any parish musician worth his/her salt has to do quickly when arriving in a new parish music post. In the 14th year in my present post, I hope that I have learned our hymn repertoire and perhaps managed to teach us a new hymn or three. And when you attempt to plan hymns that relate to the lectionary readings, sometimes we have to work a little harder to sing one that is not so familiar.

Hymns are very personal and emotional with respect to one’s faith experience. We associate hymns with particular moments in life, a particular beloved family member, a favorite church we attended, or a favorite church choir in which we sang. And because the Episcopal Church is comprised mainly of converts like me (sorry, cradle Episcopalians are no longer the majority), trying to identify a parish’s standard hymn repertoire can be touchy.

While most Protestants love the hymn tune Hyfrydol, Episcopalians will call it “Alleluia! Sing to Jesus” while Methodists and Presbyterians call it “Come, thou long-expected Jesus.” Baptists will call it “Praise the Lord, ye heavens adore him” and UCC/Congregationalists will call it “Love divine, all loves excelling.” By the way, Episcopalians will also call it by that title.) And Lutherans sing it to four different texts all out of the very same book. So, good luck.

In the summer we usually try to throw in a few of the old favorites, like “Rock of Ages,” “Amazing Grace” and even “Just As I Am.” (Yes, the one from the Billy Graham Crusades, but we sing it as a Communion hymn.) This summer we will sing The Church’s one foundation; O God, our help in ages past; God of grace and God of glory; The King of love my shepherd is; I come with joy to meet my Lord; Immortal, invisible, God only wise; Jesus shall reign where’er the sun; Be thou my vision and I am the bread of life, just to name a few. Come to church this summer and sing your favorites!

However, I have to admit to a little delight when I plan some of our other parish favorites, tunes such as Westminster Abbey, Abbot’s Leigh, Ton-y-Botel (“Tune in a Bottle” according to its Celtic legend), Rendez a Dieu, Old 113th, Hollingside, St. Flavian, Sicilian Mariners, Rockingham, Stuttgart, and our newly composed parish hymn Walnut Grove. And it seems that we now have so much service music (Gloria, Psalm tones, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, Fraction Anthem) in our repertoire that I have trouble keeping us practiced-up on all the choices by changing only seasonally. For a parish musician, these are wonderful problems to have, indeed.

Photo credit: Church pews, Old Brick Church, Mooresville, AL, image by Marjorie Kaufman; from Wikimedia Commons.

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