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hymn tutorial

I have recently moved to a new church, in which the congregation has a very limited repertoire of hymns.  We are Episcopal, using the 1982 hymnal, and they don't know many hymns that I think of as standards.  So I'm thinking of doing an afternoon class, perhaps a string of classes, in which I give some history on hymns in general, and categorize them--i.e. "chant" ones like O come, O come, Emmanuel; "chorale" ones like O for a thousand tongues; and "world music" ones like the ones in spanish or translated from indian.  I figured we could sing one that I know that they know from each category, then learn a new one in that category.  This could turn into a big project and I wondered if anyone knew of something already done that might save me some hours of work?  :)
on February 11, 2016 9:42am
A class isn't a bad idea, but it would only give an introduction to the group of people who chose to attend.  You could supplement it by gentle introductions of "new" hymns throughout the service:  organ plays the hymn as a part of the prelude or postlude or for filler during communion using lots of fun stop changes to dress it up, or the choir sings it as an anthem, with perhaps the first verse in parts, second verse just women on the melody, third voice just men on the melody, fourth verse in parts again.  There are many nice choir arrangements of favorite hymns that could serve as an introduction to certain tunes.  Then, at a service later in the month, the whole congregation can sing these hymns in their regular place in the service and they will sound familiar to the ear.  Repeat it again a month or two later and they will really be stuck in the congregation's memory, or sing one of the "same tune, different words," hymns in a different church season.  Hymns are hymns for a reason.  They are usually very approachable with a catchy tune.  As long as your congregation has had a chance to hear them once or twice first, the "oldie but goodies" that you are familiar with should be easy to pick up and enjoy!  
Applauded by an audience of 1
on February 12, 2016 3:50am
I wonder whether it's also worth having a once-a-month 'by request' hymn-singing session; I haven't tried this, but when people in my congregation started saying they "didn't know" some of the hymns I introduced, it turned out that others *did* know them (but had different ones they didn't know).
If you have any kind of Sunday School or children's group, it can be fun to teach a hymn to them and then get them to teach it to the rest of the congregation. If it goes well this can turn into running a children's choir!
I did a fundraiser where we sang the entire New English Hymnal (took 30 hours, and people sang in shifts, and there were a total of 9 organists also playing in shifts); that was another time when people said "Oh, I didn't know that one, but I do like it" which was helpful.
I always try to stick to something familiar for the first and last hymn of a service, because these stick in people's minds a lot: they'll remember being confused and disoriented more if it happens at the beginning or end. I think it's worth doing this for your proposed classes, too. Of course, I think of 'O for a thousand tongues' to Lyngham, which is firmly in the West Gallery tradition rather than a chorale; I'd encourage you to include that and also some Shapenote/Sacred Harp hymns if you have access to them. I don't know whether, or how often, you use supplements to the hymnal (in my context this is absolutely fine), but it can be another way to expand repertoire. I would also tie in the new hymns from the classes with the lectionary year so that you can use them soon after the classes -- say, a week or two -- rather than people learning this new hymn and then nothing happens for ages.
Another interesting thing can be to see if anyone in your congregation writes poetry and might have a shot at writing a hymn text in a relatively common metre; if there are any amateur composers about you could then see if they're able to write a tune for it. I think people will be really willing to learn a hymn if they have that sort of ownership of it, and it makes a good balance to the "this is the amazing broad heritage of hymnody we are drawing on when we sing" approach of the classes.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on February 12, 2016 7:36am
I occasionally teach our Episcopal congregation new hymns and mass settings before the service. I don't do it too often as people regard that time as their own for centering themselves in prayer. Nonetheless, it's quite effective. It doesn't sit well with people to fob off a piece of new music on their untrained ears. Our congregation has few "cradle" Episcopalians - most come from a Protestant background. What they do enjoy (and frankly, so do I), is the weekly inclusion of one older, standard Protestant hymn ("It is Well With My Soul," "God WIll Take Care of You," "In The Garden," and so on...). I like Kathryn Rose's idea of asking someone who writes poetry writing a hymn text - I have just the very person in mind.
on February 13, 2016 9:27am
Maybe I wasn't clear in my question.  I know how to introduce new hymns.  What I want to know is if there is somewhere a study of the hymns in the 1982 hymnal as to categorizing by type and historical context.
on February 13, 2016 10:37am
Hi Kristi,
Though not written specifically for the Hymnal 1982, you may find A Hymn Companion into 300 Christian Hymns   by Frank Colquhoun to be of merit.  Another resource is Hymnal 1982 Companion Volumne 1, Ray Glover, Editor. You can find additional resources at
All the best to you.
Mark Downey
on February 16, 2016 12:11pm
There is a study guide called  Sing With Understanding   by Michael Burkhardt published by Concordia Publishing.
Its Lutheran, not Episcopal but there will be cross over.
Denominational hymnals often have "companion" volumes. Often expensive, but just what you are looking for.
Of course you can now google any hymn title and find lots of resoureces.
I think is a big one.
The Hymn Society is another resource.
on February 16, 2016 1:57pm
Can anyone recommend an interesting and readable history of the change in hymn styles over the centuries, particularly from shape note to "modern" hymns?  I'm interested in learning more about the context: sociological, theological, musical, specific composers and writers who were influential, etc.
on February 17, 2016 4:16am
Thanks for the info.  That sounds great. 
on February 17, 2016 4:51pm
Bart, if you don't have a copy yet, you might want to look at "The Makers of the Sacred Harp" by David Warren Steel and Richard H. Hulan.  University of Illinois Press.  Biographical information on many of the composers and a bit of history.  I got a copy off the official Sacred Harp website, which may mean they get a bigger chunk of the sale price, but it's probably available through amazon too.  
-Maggie Furtak
on February 18, 2016 5:58am
Bart, "Sing with Understanding:  An Introduction to Christian Hymnology" by Harry Eskew and Hugh McElrath, might be of interest.  Dr. Eskew was my very first choir director! and I believe is quite an authority on hymns.
Best wishes.
on February 19, 2016 6:08am
I worked for an Episcopal Parish for about 6 years where we launched a "hymn of the month" program. We selected a hymn from H82 that hadn't been used by them, and used it in the service 4 weeks in a row, rotating through Opening/Offertory/Communion/Closing. The first week we took care to prepare an information sheet explaining the background of the hymn (mostly from the Hymnal Companion) and I'd have a cantor since a couple of the verses alone. By the end of the month it was solidly in the congragations repertoir. Over my 5 years that added up to 60 new hymns, and toward the end we'd pretty much run through our "they really need to know this" list. Highly successful.
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