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What makes a good hymn?

07 Aug 06 - 02:31 AM (#1803231)
Subject: What makes a good hymn?
From: JennieG

Last night a radio program mentioned an upcoming RSCM* seminar, and one of the subjects for discussion is "What makes a good hymn?" which set me thinking.

What does make a good hymn?

A singable tune? Words that mean something to the singer? An old favourite that was part of childhood Sunday School attendance?

Several churches went 'moderne' in the 70s and their hymns are less easy to sing as a result, I reckon. Give me the good oldies any day.

*RSCM: Royal School of Church Music


07 Aug 06 - 02:45 AM (#1803232)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Mo the caller

Does it depend who's singing it?
Years ago I was a church member so attended regularly and sang what I believed.
A 'new' hymn appeared which we all took to at once "How great Thou art". We enjoyed the old ones with good harmonies too - "Bread of Heaven", but when you are singing them all the time something fresh is welcome.
Now as a practising atheist its the golden oldies that I remember the alto line to that stir nostalgia.
So maybe if the church is trying to get at the people who think of themselves as Christian without doing much about it they should use an occassional oldie, but add new favourites. Sankey & Moody, and Wesley wrote new hymns too.

07 Aug 06 - 05:01 AM (#1803277)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Paul Burke

I've forgotten nearly all the (Catholic) hymns I sang as a kid, most were dreary and interminable. The ones I can remember are either the floaty beautiful Latin ones like Pange Lingua Gloriosi, the rousers like Queen of the Angels (especially accompanied by a brass band), or the ones that terrified me... Just For Today included the verse:

Let me no wrong or idle word
Unthinking say;
Set thou a seal upon my lips
Just for today.

I was scared that if I said a naughty word, God would send a seal to bite me on the lips...

07 Aug 06 - 06:21 AM (#1803301)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Wilfried Schaum

Some years ago the hymnal of my church was revised extensively. Some old hymns were rejected, a lot of new ones were added, ans some from foreign countries, just for straining after effect.

Comparing them it seems to me:
The real runners are the old songs of the reformation, by M. Luther himself and his companions. They are written in a real folkie way: a clear and simple syntax, without any distortions of speech. They transmit the message clearly. The cries for help to God are in an earnest and hopeful language, too.

Only the best poets of the following centuries were represented, too; and there are only a few from the beginning to the middle of the 20th century. Especially the prosecution by the Nazis brought some fine and moving hymns.

The tunes are fewer, many are shared by a couple of hymns. There is a remarkable correspondence between the simplicity of the tunes and the words. Some of them were from secular origins and hit the folk charts in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The newer songs from the end of the last century are easily recognized by their missing message and their shallow sentimentality. The tunes are considered modern when some syncopes are injected, and the responsibles thought to attract younger people by such hymns. The only effect is that not more young people are coming to the services, and some older members are staying away.

The songs from abroad depend of the quality of the translation and the singability of their tunes.

Gimme that old time religion - but not sung by an elderly German parish but by a real good gospel choir from the South.

07 Aug 06 - 08:30 AM (#1803367)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Liz the Squeak

Just look at any newly compiled hymnbook and check out which ones were written before 1950. I bet that about half the contents will fall into that category, and more than half of those will have been written before 1900.

Of the new ones (post 1950), it will be the rousing choruses, the simple, easily remembered verses of contemplative worship and the uncomplicated arrangements of catchy tunes that will stand the test of time.

Oh, and by 'Bread of Heaven', do you mean the Bach tune 'Bread of Heaven, [on thee we feed]' or do you (as I suspect) actually mean 'Cwm Rhondda' for 'Guide me, O thou great Redeemer/Jehovah'?

Both are equaly good tunes, but one is more suited to quiet contemplation than a rattling good belter-outer.

LTS (former affiliated member of RSCM and chorister for over 30 years)

07 Aug 06 - 08:45 AM (#1803387)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: GUEST,leeneia

If by hymn, one means a song for the entire congregation to sing together, then in my opinion, a good hymn:

should not have a big range
should not be fast
should have an interesting melody
should have something to say
should have lyrics based on Scripture
should not be an obvious imitation of the latest pop hit
should not sound like something played in a bar
should lend itself to vocal improvisation
should be guitar (etc) friendly.
    should not constantly move stepwise
    should not be marked with chords that look like algebra

07 Aug 06 - 09:04 AM (#1803395)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: GUEST,Russ

Everybody seems to be focusing on the form.

By he way, hymns also have a content.

Many of them are intended to be didactic.

So, one would assume that they should be doctrinally sound/theologically correct.

Russ (who is NOT a Christian)

07 Aug 06 - 09:08 AM (#1803397)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Liz the Squeak

True... hymns DO and SHOULD have a content.. but what do you recognise first about a hymn.. is it the tune or is it the words? How many folks could sing the whole of a hymn, rather than just the first few lines or the chorus from memory?

The best hymns that have and will stand the test are those that are blessed with both a message and a memorable tune.


07 Aug 06 - 09:53 AM (#1803426)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?

What makes a good hymn?


07 Aug 06 - 10:00 AM (#1803435)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: skipy

A good her.

07 Aug 06 - 10:24 AM (#1803458)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: GUEST,Brian

Skipy, you have a good her. So where did you go wrong?


See you at WHFF


07 Aug 06 - 11:53 AM (#1803528)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: GUEST,Russ


Good point.

I made my point about content because of a personal experience.

My wife once asked a friend sing a duet with her. I don't remember which hymn it was. The friend politely refused on the basis of doctrinal incorrectness. For that person content trumps all.

07 Aug 06 - 01:05 PM (#1803588)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Big Al Whittle

I think maybe the great hymns - the Bunyans, the Wesleyan hymns, the Spirituals, the Salvation army stuff etc

they all seem to relate to a time when faith was substantially a simpler matter than it is today. I'm sure they meant something different to the people who sang them in those days.

A good hymn, to me at least - I'm no sort of an expert, should give the singer a spiritual experience - it should feel like touching the very substance of God.

Mind you, I was brought up as a Quaker, and I used to envy the other kids singing hymns in assembly - I was brought up to believe it was an insincere form of worship. Later on I briefly attended a Quaker boarding school and found there that the kids were merrily singing away - so it was not a view shared by all Quakers.

07 Aug 06 - 04:39 PM (#1803794)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Burke

A memorable, singable tune.

A really good hymn has music that reinforces & helps picture the words.
Examples that come to mind quickly
Crown Him with many Crowns/Diademata
A Mighty Fortress
O sacred Head, now wounded/Pas­sion Chor­ale

Can be written for a specific time, place, event, but it needs to have a certain timelessness to it. I think this means correct grammar & syntax, avoid slang terms.

07 Aug 06 - 04:58 PM (#1803819)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: GUEST,Ed

A memorable, singable tune

Burke hits the nail. You can think about the words later, but without a cracking tune a hymn is nothing.

And I'm right! :-)

07 Aug 06 - 05:01 PM (#1803828)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?

Him with the big drum. (An old joke!)

08 Aug 06 - 01:38 AM (#1804139)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Slag

First and foremost is good theology. If it is doctrinaly unsound but has a great tune, well it's a "great tune" but it's not a hymn. No matter what your denomination your hymnal should take into account doctrinal and denominational considerations.

As for the music, you're all undoubtedly way beyond me. What? Good rythm, toe-tapping stuff, a great bridge or chorus, something that lends itself to choral arrangements. How about a double fugue like Verdi's "Sanctus" in "Requiem Mass"? If the folks go home humming it, it's a good hymn!

08 Aug 06 - 02:25 AM (#1804152)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Joe Offer

I think weelittledrummer is onto something - "it should feel like touching the very substance of God." My wife says she feels the song should feel like it comes from within herself, not so she feels like she's singing somebody else's song.

The doctrinal issue is a sticky one. I refuse to sing a number of hymns for doctrinal reasons - but usually because the song is pushing a doctrinal agenda. In general, I think a good hymn should transcend doctrine and unite people, rather than dividing people into doctrinal cubbyholes. On the other hand, it shouldn't be so devoid of doctrinal content that it says nothing. I'll agree with Slag that the theology should be sound, but perhaps it should not be sectarian.

Leeneia's list says the hymn should be based on scripture. I don't agree with that completely, but I've found that hymns based on scripture are generally more likely to stand the test of time. Scripture-based hymns usually don't get bogged down by excessive sentimentality or by cliches of the era. Still, there are some darn good hymns that aren't based on scripture.

In general, I think a good hymn has a memorable melody and a singable range and meter, and a certain timelessness to the lyrics. I think "How Can I Keep from Singing" and "I'll Fly Away" fit my criteria very well. So does "Where Charity and Love Prevail," which has a more profound message.


08 Aug 06 - 04:23 AM (#1804182)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Liz the Squeak

We could open up a whole new can of worms here by asking 'what is good theology?'.... it's as big a question and bigger answer than 'what is folk?'

One person may find good theology and a pertinent message in the most obscure text but that doesn't mean it makes a good hymn. And vice versa.

A good piece of theology is one that makes you feel happy, comforted, secure, intrigued, curious, thirsty for more and any one of a thousand other things. How it makes God feel is a totally different question!

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord... doesn't say it has to be in tune!


08 Aug 06 - 04:52 AM (#1804193)
Subject: Lyr Add: ALL THINGS DULL AND UGLY (Eric Idle)
From: Paul Burke

It's one reason I don't like singing hymns, or Gospel stuff for that matter. I don't like saying I believe things that I don't. Where theology is irenicist, broad and inclusive ("Let's be nice to everyone"), it's difficult to disagree. But what motivates many religious people- not just Christians, and including some who don't think they are religious- is the feeling that their group alone have exclusive access to the truth, and the inward smirk that they seem to have when playing at being tolerant. I used to work with a bloke, he was very pleasant, but quietly let it be known that WE were all damned to hell for all eternity.

So theologically, All Things Bright And Beautiful is theologically impeccable, but so is this:

"All Things Dull And Ugly" from Monty Python's Contractual Obligations Album

All things dull and ug-ly,
All creatures, short and squat,
All things rude and na-sty,
The Lord God made the lot.

Each little snake that poisons,
Each little wasp that stings,
He made their prudish venom,
He made their horrid wings.

All things sick and cancerous,
All evil great and small,
All things foul and dangerous,
The Lord God made them all.

Each nasty little hornet,
Each beastly little squid,
Who made the spiky urchin?
Who made the sharks? He did!

All things scant and ulcerous,
All pox both great and small,
Putrid, foul and gangrenous,
The Lord God made them all.


08 Aug 06 - 04:54 AM (#1804194)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Mo the caller

Yes Liz, Cwm Rhondda, was the one I meant. With everyone singing in parts. How can you avoid joining in.

08 Aug 06 - 05:16 PM (#1804715)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: GUEST,Joe Offer, at the Honda dealer

Well, I suppose you have to have some divisions in your choice of music - Christians and Jews and Moslems probably won't have too many hymns in common, but maybe there are a few that they can all sing together.
Within Christianity, there is a distinct division between progressives and fundamentalists, but there is a large majority of moderates in the middle. I think there are a lot of good Christian hymns that express the basic beliefs of that majority. They certainly don't all believe the same thing, but their basic beliefs have very much in common, and good hymns should bring out that commonality and unity.
And yes, I think there's such a thing as sound theology that isn't an impossible goal to achieve. During Lent, the "mainstream" churches in our town spoonsor a weekly prayer gathering that includes, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, Catholics, and the United Church of Christ (Congregationalists). Each week, a different pastor gives the sermon - and I've found all of their sermons and all of the music to be theologically sound.
Religious groups should celebrate what unites them, not what divides them from each other.
Makes good business sense, too - the Oregon Catholic Press (now OCP) and the Gregorian Institute of American (now GIA) now market their music to all the mainstream churches.

08 Aug 06 - 05:19 PM (#1804717)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: GUEST,Russ


With all due respect for your piety, your use of the word "theology" is a bit idiosyncratic.

Theology is not about the emotional response of the listener.

Theology is about the correctness of the content of the hymn.

A hymn which is theologically "good" or doctrinally sound might be intended to scare the hell out of the listener. It might be intended to make one feel unhappy, uncomfortable, and insecure.

One job that hymns are called on to do is to motivate people, and there are lots of motivational buttons that have nothing to do with making people feel good.

08 Aug 06 - 06:22 PM (#1804750)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: GUEST,Allen in Oz

I do not know what makes a good hymn, but they don't come much better than " Abide with Me"...( and me ,a card carrying agnostic!)

Any hymn with the words " help of the helpless" can't be all bad ( even when interventions do not occur)

Hymns could be a good topic for a Folk Club evening in Northmead Scouts Hall

Best wishes


08 Aug 06 - 07:08 PM (#1804799)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: GUEST,leeneia

Despite what I said above, I'm not too fussy about hymns being based on Scripture. But I'm against something like "Onward, Christian Soldiers" or the one that has

..and he walks with me
and he talks with me
and he tells me I am his own."

I want to ask the person if they've seen a psychiatrist lately.

08 Aug 06 - 07:21 PM (#1804813)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Deckman

I am finding this thread VERY interesting. It's a perfect topic!

I was raised in the Pentecostal Church by two Grandmothers who were both Pentecostal preachers, one in Finnish and the other American. By six I was taught how to "speak in tongues" and how to "heal sinners" by laying on my hands. I also could sing scores and scores of hymns.

By the time I was 11,I recognized the deceptions for what they were and moved on.

When I started college, my first year as a "music major" I decided to become a choir director, studied all the formal music ed classes. But, after one year of that, I quit that pursuit.

I quit because I KNEW that while I might well be very good as a choir director, I would be completly PHONEY to my prsonal beliefs, as I now clearly understood the power of manipulation that is inherently possible with this kind of music.

Today, to me, a "GOOD HYMN" is something like "Who Will Sing For Me." It's vanilla enough that most folks can find something satisfying in it, it's got a lovely melody, it lends itself to harmony, and is very guitar friendly. These days, I often sing this song in churches (believe it or not) when I'm requested to sing at funerals.

By the way, over the years I've sung at both weddings and funerals. While my success rate for singing at weddings, as judged by the success of the weddings, is quite mixed, my success rate for singing at funerals is 100%. They all stayed dead!

CHEERS, Bob(deckman)Nelson

09 Aug 06 - 03:47 AM (#1805062)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: JennieG

I am enjoying the posts too Bob, I'm glad I started this one.

Each year at the Oz National Folk Festival a popular workshop is the hymn singing session on Easter Sunday morning, run by our very own Mudcatter Hrothgar. Unbelievers, atheists, agnostics and those who believe in something all attend and have a rousing time together singing hymns for the pure joy of singing - this year we were even recorded for local radio because of our singing of "Battle Hymn of the Republic", sung with great verve and gusto!

I attended Sunday School as a child and church as an adult, but stopped going when I moved from a country town to the city. Since then I have become a 'hatches, matches and despatches' churchgoer but there is still something in the back of my mind that enjoys singing the words to hymns.

If I had to nominate a favourite hymn it would be a tie between "Guide me O thou great Jehovah" and "Be thou my vision".



09 Aug 06 - 05:45 PM (#1805606)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Kaleea

As a choir director, I want a hymn to: have a lovely melody-but one that does not go too high or low-& satisfying harmonies which are easily learned by the all volunteer choir (& the melody by the congregation); be in a key which makes a voice sound best-which is usually a "flat" key; have lyrics which are easy for the nonprofessional singer to enunciate correctly; have a title which is not the same as any other so that the minister does not have the wrong hymn # printed in the sunday morning bulletin!; be appropriate for a variety of subjects which the minister might choose so we can concentrate on learning several hymns well instead of lots of hymns poorly; I could continue, but I'll move on.

As a singer, I like a hymn which is in a good key for my voice, usually one of the "flat" keys (yes, it really does make a difference, & it's not just about the range! Usually, a song in the common "traditional" keys do not fit my voice, but move it up or down one half step & my voice soars-this is completely normal, & choral music in the key of E major is notorious for causing the singers to go flat-especially when sung a cappella.); has a lovely melody; most of the melody is in the higher part of my voice since, as a soprano, that is the most powerful portion of my range; has a message which appeals to me & the average person, which is appropriate for a variety of occasions, and speaks to the human experience so that the audience will identify with the emotion I am intending to impart. (those are the highlights)

As a human being trying to navigate through this crazy thing we call "life," I prefer a hymn in which: my voice soars well (the right key-or that can be easily transposed-& right range for my voice); the message speaks to my own emotions & human experiences; the melody is lovely & satisfying to sing; inspires, comforts, praises the creator, or otherwise fits the emotions of my soul; brings about a very emotionally satisfying feeling; does not have gory lyrics like "eat my body, drink my blood;" is in a language which I enjoy singing, is easy for me to pronounce &\or translate & which makes the human voice sound the most beautiful (latin comes to mind, & no I'm not Catholic); most likely is an old one.

OK, everybody open your hermnals to page # . . .

09 Aug 06 - 05:56 PM (#1805617)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Penny S.

One that hasn't been tampered with to remove Thee and Thou - eg "Be Thou my vision" and "Dear Lord and Father" in late 20th century hymnbooks.


09 Aug 06 - 07:16 PM (#1805691)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Ref

I'll weigh in as a (not "for") the UU's. I like a good rousing anthem with readily available harmonies. Cheers for Cwm Rhondda and a lot of the old tunes. I've developed my own theory on the too-frequently execrable UU hymnal (the bastards took out The Battle Hymn Of The Republic which is part of our history and put in the ANC's marching song, which is just about unsingable), including the generally reliable rule that anything written by a lyricist still alive when the damn thing was published is unlikely to please. Such modern hymns are usually treacly and feature forced rhymes and overuse of tricks like triplets which congregations find difficult. UU's generally get all melty and emotional over a piece called "Spirit Of Life", which I think is abhorrent both musically and philosophically, yet its author (still living) also, in defiance of my rules, penned one of my faves. A hoary joke says that UU's make lousy singers because we're too busy reading ahead to see if we agree with the words!

09 Aug 06 - 11:13 PM (#1805869)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: GUEST,Allen in Oz

Some of the best hymns appear to involve lots of grovelling, eg. "How Great Thou Art", " Almighty , Ineffable", etc

The tunes are lilting and beautifully melodious

The sentiments; gushing and fearful of the great wok of fire for all non believers ( the punishment does seem a little harsh for not believing or for even admitting that you do not know ). Some God .

Anyway, well done Jenny for this site at Mudcat. All good stuff.


11 Aug 06 - 01:20 AM (#1806960)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Slag

Theology is "God-Logic". If your religion includes a god, the things you sing about should be consistant with your beliefs (hermeneutics). A case in point would be "This Is My Father's World" including a (poetically licensed?) phrase "...the music of the spheres..." Definitely not a Christian concept. Or better, in "I Come to the Garden", "...the joy we share as I tarry there, none other has ever known."???? NONE OTHER?? Who are you?!

As far as having something for everybody and an offense to nobody, it's never going to happen. You believe SOMETHING. You have to stand for SOMETHING. One's religion is almost always one's defining factor in his or her life. Accepting everything isn't tolerance. In Christianity there is something called the "offence of the gospel." Christ didn't make a whole lot of people very happy with His doctrine. Come to think of it a whole lot of people today aren't very happy with His doctrine and they still display "crucify him" attitude. Christians (not a phonies) will understand this because they too were so inclined before their conversion. It is part of Christian doctrine that "But God commended his love toward us in that, while we were yet sinners (read: enemies of God), Christ died for us."Romans 5:8.

The trick is to maintain your moral certitude and (good) doctrine and remember that everyone in the world has been afforded God's forgiveness making them brothers and sisters or potential brothers and sisters. None to be hated or despised. Well, that's what passes for sound doctrine for me. In fact I seem to remember a Christian hymn about "My Beloved Enemy".

And remember the apostle Paul's admonition to "...sing hymns and spiritual songs to one another, with grace in your hearts..." Colossians 3:16.

11 Aug 06 - 01:35 AM (#1806967)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Peace

"What makes a good hymn?"

A good her.

11 Aug 06 - 01:41 AM (#1806970)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Blackcatter

An old joke:

Why don't Unitarians sing hymns well? They're too busy reading ahead to see if they agree with the words.

And yes, I'm a Unitarian...

11 Aug 06 - 03:26 AM (#1806998)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: JennieG

Isn't there something, somewhere, in the Bible about "making a cheerful noise unto the Lord"? Or is my memory playing me false?


11 Aug 06 - 03:34 AM (#1807004)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Paul Burke

That sounds Hassidic to me JennieG. "Maintain your moral certitude", Slag? Nothing like a good open mind!

11 Aug 06 - 03:53 AM (#1807014)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: JennieG

Now I come to think on it, I think it might actually be "a joyful noise". Can anyone help me on this one?


11 Aug 06 - 04:27 AM (#1807029)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Wilfried Schaum

JennieG - maybe in the Book of Psalms?

11 Aug 06 - 01:30 PM (#1807354)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Slag

Hey Paul, to some people an open mind is like a vacuum cleaner: it sucks up everything. When you find the "Truth" you cling to that and ignore the rest. Such is the way of mathmatics as well as religion. In religion it is a matter of faith. And I know that religion, like politics, can be very divisive. I'm not preaching here. I'm saying when it comes to matters that tend to be divisive one must be true to himself/herself, true to their revelation(s), their God but to do so without rancor or malice to those who hold a different conviction, point of view or faith. That all comes under the amazing concept of freedom of religion, freedom of conscience. No one is trying to force you to believe a certain way, not in this country anyway. Differing faiths can present their doctrine, credo, etc. and you can take it or leave it. You can think they are stupid, misguided, deluded or spot-on. That's your inalienable right which is guarded and protect by this nation and it's constitution. Closed minded? OK, you can say that about me. I've found something, Someone in whom I believe and that is where I'll take my stand and put my loyalty.

Make a joyful noise?
Psalms 66:1, 81:1, 95:1, 98:6

11 Aug 06 - 03:04 PM (#1807436)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Nigel Parsons

Jennie G: "Oh be joyful in the Lord, all ye lands.
Serve the Lord with gladnes and come before his presence with a song"

The "Jubilate Deo" (psalm 100 "Jubilate Deo, omnis terra")


11 Aug 06 - 03:10 PM (#1807439)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Nigel Parsons

Or, Psalm 66
1Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands:
2Sing forth the honour of his name: make his praise glorious.

Psalm 81
1Sing aloud unto God our strength: make a joyful noise unto the God of Jacob.
2Take a psalm, and bring hither the timbrel, the pleasant harp with the psaltery.
3Blow up the trumpet in the new moon, in the time appointed, on our solemn feast day.

Psalm 95
1 O come, let us sing unto the LORD: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.
2Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms.

Just a few selections


11 Aug 06 - 03:39 PM (#1807475)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Joe Offer

"Cheerful" is close, but somehow doesn't convey the same meaning...

11 Aug 06 - 04:06 PM (#1807511)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: flattop

My preference is for hymns with melodies having strong chordal notes - mainly major chords, without related key chords. Several hymns mentioned above and other that come to mind have these melodies:

I'll Fly Away
Abide with Me
Amazing Grace
Sweet Hour of Prayer
He walks with me and he talks with me
How Great Thou Art
My God is Real
Roll Jordon Roll
Ava Maria

Will Your Anchor Hold has a section in the chorus where it runs down the notes of the chord without any inbetween notes.

Memorable folksongs, like The Water is Wide and Tom Dooley, also have strong chordal melodies, as do many country songs. Some momentarily diverge from the three major chords before returning, like Alan Jackson's beautiful song, Here In The Real World.

11 Aug 06 - 05:47 PM (#1807617)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: GUEST,Janie

Good thread.

The hymns I find I love tell a good story, or have a universal message that I deeply believe, have words and music that, when sung together, simply move me, and/or are strongly associated, or in a style that I strongly associate with my childhood, family, and rural culture. I think I have more of an emotional response than a spiritual response to most of the hymns I love. I am more likely to respond to instrumental music as a spiritual experience than I am a song with lyrics. Perhaps because spirit is ineffable and words are not.


11 Aug 06 - 06:05 PM (#1807644)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Deckman

Answer to Kaleea,

Were you one of my teachers in music school? Everything you said rings perfectly true. And yes, I wrote this note in B-flat because it certainly does fit my baritone voice much better! And I have also found that my guitar capo not only allows my guitar to easily play in the flat keys, but it occasionally has turned this baritone voice into a tenor ... when placed correctly ... just slightly above the adam's apple. CHEERS, Bob(deckman)Nelson

11 Aug 06 - 06:24 PM (#1807666)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: LilyFestre

What makes a good hymn? I think it's all in how it's presented. I've heard the same hymn presented different ways and sometimes I want to jump right in and sing my heart out while other times I can't wait for the song to end. For me, a good hymn (other than the presentation) is either upbeat or has very sweet, touching lyrics. The overbearing organ music is not my idea of great church music...overbearing anything (voice or instrument)really isn't my idea of good music of any kind! :) In my opinion, a hymn should please the ears and the mind.


11 Aug 06 - 07:04 PM (#1807711)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: emjay

Sometimes we sing hymns at church because we like them, not because of theology (or christology, bibliology, angelology, eschatology, or ecclesiology). A good rousing song like Life's Railway to Heaven, The Unclouded Day, I'll Fly Away, gets everyone singing. Sometimes we do change a few words -- Brethren We Have Met to Worship becomes Christians, We have.... and I make no apologies for that. Some songs we just won't sing and some are so good to sing we go home still singing them -- Balm in Gilead, for some reason, is one of those.
And personally, I can't stand How Great Thou Art. What a pompous bit of noise -- but I know that is just my opinion. No one needs to tell me what a wonderful hymn that is, my friends tell me that all the time.
Sharon Mountain Harmony from Folk Legacy is my all-time favorite collection and has just right examples of good hymns.
I have heard someone call many of the new ones "seven-eleven songs." Seven lines sung eleven times. Maybe even seven words.

11 Aug 06 - 07:40 PM (#1807743)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Deckman

EMJAY ... Interesting!

11 Aug 06 - 07:42 PM (#1807747)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: GUEST,Mr War

Don't talk about God.

11 Aug 06 - 09:30 PM (#1807808)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: JennieG

Thank you to those good folks who directed me to the book of Psalms, it's been a busy week and I was leaving my web (or any other) searches for the weekend.

My mother always said she didn't want "Abide with me" played at her funeral but liked "Amazing Grace". Because of family politics she got neither, I remember we sang 23rd Psalm but can't remember what else.


12 Aug 06 - 12:51 AM (#1807879)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Slag

JennieG, hold that song, Amazing Grace in your heart always. It is a tribute to your mother and her faith.

12 Aug 06 - 01:55 AM (#1807907)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Haruo

Cwm Rhondda is a great tune, whether you sing "Guide me, O thou great Jehovah" (or some modernization thereof) or "God of grace, and God of glory" (the text I learnt it to). Ville du Havre is another fine tune ("It is well with my soul"). And Lobe den Herren ("Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation"). I was just recommending "Chorus of fire" this morning on


12 Aug 06 - 05:21 AM (#1807963)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Haruo

There's a woman (Kathy) who's been asking questions about the origins of the tune "Ellacombe" on the discussion board of the Hymn Society in the US & Canada. In a spirit of collegial cross-fertilism I mentioned this thread in my most recent post there. If anybody here knows anything about the early history of the tune, which is generally said to have originated in "Gesangbuch der Herzogl. Wirtembergischen Katholischen Hofkapelle (Württemberg, Germany: 1784)", you might do the lady a favor and post it over there. This is one of those universal workhorse hymn tunes, and I think very likely has a folk song somewhere underneath. The Cyberhymnal sets eleven texts to it:   
Of these, "Hosanna, loud hosanna" (a Palm Sunday hymn) is the one I grew up singing to the tune. My favorite of these texts is "Hail to the Lord's Anointed", but I like to sing it to "British Grenadiers", which is called Sheffield when used as a hymn tune.

On another sidetrack, I really like "The Love of God", "The Comforter Has Come", and (as I've mentioned in several previous threads like this over the years, "His Voice, as the Sound of the Dulcimer Sweet".

If anything makes these "good hymns" it must be the fact that I like them.

Incidentally, do any of you who dislike "How Great Thou Art" think any less poorly of any of the alternative translations (e.g. the one in the New Century Hymnal). I've always had it in for "How Great Thou Art" mainly because of the way Stuart Hine tried to copyright (read "steal") both a Boberg poem (since he never credited the source, I doubt if he or Manna ever compensated the Bobergs) and a folk tune.

apologizing again for the odd characters (hidden hyphens in the Cyberhymnal

12 Aug 06 - 05:46 AM (#1807972)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Liz the Squeak

Well there you go then Russ....

Impossible questions of Life, the Universe and Everything:

Why do we never see baby pigeons?

What are nipples on men for?

What is folk?

Who put the bomp in the bomp sha-bomp sha-bomp?

What is Theology?

Who is Sylvia and what is she?

Why do birds suddenly appear?

Why hast Thou forsaken me?

Where do you go to, my lovely?

It says in the Bible that man should remain unmarried, but then says he should get married if he can't get through life without being led into sin (although lots of people experience a withdrawal of said 'sin' once they are married).

The Bible, like life, is full of contradictions. So is the Koran and the Book of Mormon. I could find a text that says 'thou shalt not kill' and someone could counter it with one that declares sinners should be put to death in a particularly gruesome and barbaristic way.

It's another of those arguments which no-one can ever win... The Catholic Church and the Fransican movement argued for nearly 30 years over whether Jesus laughed or not!

Besides... none of it matters because Jesus himself put it into 2 sentences. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and body, and love your neighbour as you love yourself.

Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.


12 Aug 06 - 06:31 AM (#1807999)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Hrothgar

From what I've seen and heard at our hymn-singing sessions at the National each year, there is nothing to separate the good from the bad except the way people sing them. Good hymns are a bit like folk songs that way - it's very hard to come up with a good definition, but there are endless good examples.

The words have to flow.

The tune is better if simple.

... and people have to want to sing ...

12 Aug 06 - 06:49 AM (#1808012)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Wilfried Schaum

It says in the Bible that man should remain unmarried, but then says he should get married if he can't get through life without being led into sin

It is the Apostle St Paul who said that man shouldn't marry, but that it is better to marry than to be burnt by fire [viz. of passion]. To understand it you have to think about his eschatological hope for Jesus coming back soon. Oh, and by the way, before talking about the Script one should look up the exact words: 8. I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. 9. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn. (I. Cor. 7, King James Version, ed. by the Gideons for the U.S. Armed forces 1941)

Naturally the Bible is full of contradictions; it is a conglomerate of two collections.
In the Old Testament we have books of history and laws, poetic texts including folk songs, collections of proverbs, sayings of prophets, and folk traditions written over a string of centuries (as you can see by certain changes in language).

The New Testament is totally different; it contains some reports of the sayings and doings of Jesus (few biographical reports) and his suffering as the final sacrifice for the redemption of mankind (that is the important message!), a history of the young community in Jerusalem and the work of the apostles, and a lot of letters full of preachings and admonitions to the recently formed communities abroad. Then there is the Apocalypse, a prophetic book about doomsday.

The teachings of the apostles sometimes differ in some points - small wonder, they are different human beings.

So never say: the "Bible" says, it is mostly a special person talking who can be identified.
E.g. St Paul stayed a bachelor all his life, while St Peter was married, due to the old admonition in Genesis "be fertile and multiply".

Even in the Koran which is the collection of one man's saings you find some contradictions. So Muslim theology has developped a branch called "the abrogating and the abrogated".

12 Aug 06 - 06:56 AM (#1808019)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Liz the Squeak

I've come to the conclusion that Paul was a mysoginist.... some say he was gay... now THERE'S a question to split the Church again!


12 Aug 06 - 12:18 PM (#1808133)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Haruo

And yet Paul is the most feminist of New Testament writers, commending women co-workers as "[fellow] apostle[s]" and "deacon[s]", and advocating a thoroughly egalitarian, reciprocal model of marital relations.

who used to think Paul was a misogynist, and still thinks he may have been other than hetero

12 Aug 06 - 05:49 PM (#1808324)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Slag

In the letters attributed to Paul, he states in Galatians 3: 26-29 (KJV)"For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus for as many as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And, if ye be Christ's then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." Compare with Colossians 3:11.

Paul was not a misogynist. Paul expected the imminent return of Jesus, during his lifetime. Paul was therefor a man on a mission and felt that he couldn't divide his time between doing his duty as a loving husband and accomplishing his mission for the Lord as the Apostle to the Gentiles. Paul had many women who he commended for their support of his ministry and the Christian love toward him. You've got to read the whole story before making general statements. If you don't, you will appeaar ignorant and completely biased in your point of view and anyone in the know will discount or dismiss your opinion.

Most disputes about the Bible (and other religious writings for that matter) occur when people for whatever reason, misquote, or lift a passage out of context or declare a contradiction without exploring said contradiction. The Bible isn't "naturally" full of contradictions. There are some difficult passages to be sure and they occur for a variety of reasons, technical, historical, doctrinal, redaction, translation, stzimleben, etc. The really tough questions you've probably never even heard of. Why is the pseudoepigraphic Book of Enoch quoted in the Book of Jude? Why was Paul called a plagerist by the bystanders at Mars hill? Better still if Paul was considered a good Pharisee why wasn't he married in the first place, before his Damascus experience? If he was what happened to his wife? The latter is just a cause for speculation as we can never know. The Scripture is silent on this point which demonstrates another issue. The Bible is not God's "How I Did It" book. It doesn't purport to be the compendium of ALL knowledge. It was written by men, inspired by God to show how He has dealt and is dealing with His creation. By the way the Apocalypse or the Revealation of Saint John the Divine is not a "doom's day" book. For that matter the Doomsday Book, is not a "doom's day" book either but that is another story. Rather, it (the Apocalypse) is the revelation of Jesus Christ to the Apostle John. It covers things which both occured in his day and those events and subsequent revelations point to a greater fulfillment at the end of this age, a period of time theologians generally call the "Age of Grace"

12 Aug 06 - 06:43 PM (#1808368)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Dave the Gnome

When I was a lad we used to 'walk with the scholars' on Whit sunday. Round Swinton the walks were interdenominational with CofE and Catholic scools walking side by side. Well, in tandem if truth be tod as we all walked along the same roads! There were 3 Catholic schools - St Marks, St Charles and mine, St Marys. The Protestant ones were St Peters, St Augustines, The Holy Rood and some others I cannot recall.

It was always a bit of a contest as the CofE school brass bands competed with the pipe band of St Marks or the fifes and drums of St Marys. As we all met in front of Swinton town hall I remember the massed bands and congregations of the Catholic schools belting out 'Faith of our Fathers', drowning out all opposition. One of the few times I was proud to be Catholic:-)

So, to me, that is what makes a good hymn. I would rather have a good her nowadays.

"Faith of our fathers living still,
In spite of dungeon fire and sword..."



12 Aug 06 - 06:53 PM (#1808378)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: richd

hearing it sung in the distance as you make your escape down the road on your bike.

12 Aug 06 - 09:13 PM (#1808451)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Slag

To each their own richd! That's it in mote: escape! At times I think it would be you, me and Christ blazing off on our Black Phantom Bikes! I would be low church, antivestarian and all. But then I think of Clive Lewis and others who made a authenic Christian life under all the stodgy trappings of institutuionalized and state church. And then I think of the Christians who flourished under all kinds of systems and persecutions and it seems that the tougher the times are, the more it flourishes. If you want to see it weaken, if you want the salt to lose it's savor, give it fattness, no opposition. Meet it with a "so what" attitude. That will separate the wheat from the tares.

13 Aug 06 - 12:48 AM (#1808541)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: GUEST,Bo in KY

Then there is the discussion of difference between hymns and modern "praise choruses". I would argue a good hymn has a more complex structure and at least two verses, in contrast to the repetition of the "choruses". It is hard to project a good hymn up on a screen and include everyone in the singing, and the music requires a modicum of skill (e.g. being able to follow the melody notes) to sing on first exposure. A good hymn, IMHO, requires that you bring your brain to church, thus the theology is important; otherwise the touchy feely happy happy joy joy doesn't cover much of reality for most of us.
In the Presbyterian tradition the "classic" hymns we know now were once rather controversial, because the Calvinists insisted that only the Scripture was appropriate for singing in worship, not the "words of man" or pretty poetry ("How Great Thou Art" would have been anathema 300 years ago). Thus their earliest songbooks were Psalters, settings of the Psalms either 'canted' or laid out to rhyme in English.
The Gospel music tradition springs from the revivals in the 19th century where a more spontaneous, emotional tone was called for. They are more individualistic as well - most Gospel hymns are marked by "I" "Me" and "Mine" language (cf. In The Garden, Amazing Grace, Just As I Am, and thousands of others). The older tradition - and some newer ones (which I like) are first and foremost about God or Jesus, and only secondarily about "us".
For me the dirge-y hymns often get to me the most - "O Come O Come Emmanuel" and "Ah Holy Jesus" can reduce me to tears. I think that Isaac Watts was perhaps the greatest songwriter/musician in history, but he is mostly overlooked or forgotten. "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" is an absolute gem. And "O God, Our Help in Ages Past"
Among more contemporary hymns, someone has already mentioned "God of Grace and God of Glory" which although written in 1930 sounds like today's newspaper to me (lines like "Cure Thy children's warring madness, bend our pride to Thy control; Shame our wanton, selfish gladness, rich in things but poor in soul; grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the living of these days" get me every time). Brian Wren has written some beautiful hymns also - a line like calling God "gracious donor of our days" has volumes of theology in 5 words. Much global hymnody that has come to the attention of American churches in recent decades is powerful and graceful as well.

Finally, I would add for you folkies that I think the church is one of the few places in American society where people gather and sing on a weekly basis, regardless of ability or age, not for performance or remuneration but just to satisfy the spiritual necessity of worship. It is, among many other things, a unique community of music.


13 Aug 06 - 12:57 AM (#1808542)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Peace


If you don't have it already, here is an excellent site for you to bookmark (or add to favorites).

13 Aug 06 - 01:20 AM (#1808551)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Slag

Bo, Amen! I must say that I am in complete agreement with your every point. You might have mentioned the Wesley brothers and their enormous contribution to modern hymns. They were soundly condemned in some corners but the "folk" loved their songs which were considered quite up-tempo for their day. The Great Awakening did much to begin this ball rolling as well as have a tremendous shaping influence on the direction English America was going to take. An excellent post.

13 Aug 06 - 01:38 AM (#1808554)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: GUEST,Allen in OZ

Good on you Bo.. A well argued set of points re hymns. One small question: why does God need to be praised all the time ? We have had 2000 years of might be time now to adopt the religion of Christ for a change .

Still, a very good site this hymnal site. Jennie, perhaps you might like to start a site querying what makes a good folk song?


13 Aug 06 - 09:02 AM (#1808700)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Haruo

"7-11" praise (the same eleven words sung seven times, or vice versa) aren't the only songs found in the hymnals that aren't hymns. What does one do with one like the Shaker dance song "Simple Gifts"? It doesn't have the requisite two stanzas. Some folks (Christians and atheists alike) may not approve its theology (if indeed it has any); the Shakers leaned a bit to the heterodox. The tune, of course, has been adapted for use in stanzaic hymns (most notably by Sydney Carter for his "Lord of the Dance"), but I'm thinking here of the original text, "'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free, 'tis the gift to come down where we ought to be. And when we find ourselves in the place just right, 'twill be in the valley of love and delight. When true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed: to turn, turn, shall be our delight, till by turning, turning, we come 'round right."

And speaking of the Wesleys and of Watts, Dr. Watts is on record as saying Chuck Wesley's "Come, O Thou Traveller Unknown", a fourteen-stanza hymn (a four-stanza cento from which is sung by present-day American Methodists to an adaptation of "Ye banks and braes o' bonnie Doon"), "was worth all the vers­es I my­self have writ­ten." Personally I think collapsing it into anything under six stanzas is at least venially sinful. ;-)

Alan, many descriptions of God will not admit God's neediness (despite Jesus' "I thirst!") and leave one to suppose that praise is a need or desire of the worshipper not of the Worshipped. But as for the "religion of Christ" (in contrast to Christianity), it still includes hymnody: the earliest account of Jesus' life and death, at Mark 14:26, tells us that after the final Seder in an upstairs room, "when they [Jesus and his closest followers] had sung a hymn, they went out to the mount of Olives."


13 Aug 06 - 05:48 PM (#1809050)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Slag

Hurrah Haruo!

13 Aug 06 - 06:04 PM (#1809064)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Peace


Henry Williams Baker (1821–1877)

THE KING of love my shepherd is,
Whose goodness faileth never:
I nothing lack if I am his,
And he is mine forever.

Where streams of living water flow         5
My ransomed soul he leadeth,
And where the verdant pastures grow
With food celestial feedeth.

Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
But yet in love he sought me         10
And on his shoulder gently laid
And home rejoicing brought me.

In death's dark vale I fear no ill
With thee, dear Lord, beside me,
Thy rod and staff my comfort still,         15
Thy cross before to guide me.

Thou spread'st a table in my sight,
Thy unction grace bestoweth,
And O! what transport of delight
From thy pure chalice floweth!         20

And so through all the length of days
Thy goodness faileth never;
Good Shepherd, may I sing thy praise
Within thy house forever.

I have always enjoyed good writing. To be able to take Psalm 23 and get it into the above form--not losing the gist or intent--marks a really good writer AS a really good writer. Although I do not share many of the 'ideas' put forth regarding Christianity, hymns have always held a special place in my heart, likely a love placed in me when I was first accepted to sing in a choir by an Anglican church in Montreal. Even within the confines of choir singing, there is room for an exploration of one's voice and phrasing, intonation and diction. Loved it then and still love to hear hymns sung by one or many people.

13 Aug 06 - 07:34 PM (#1809120)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Haruo

Incidentally, I know that within the last year I have seen an American hymnal (or possibly British, but I don't think so) that had a hymn text (or maybe a metrical psalm) set to "Men of Harlech". Does anyone here know either which hymnal this might have been or what the text was? The tune is one that it seems to me few texts would benefit from, but I think this one fit perfectly, I just wish I could remember what and where it was.


13 Aug 06 - 07:45 PM (#1809124)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Haruo

Sorry, Allen, I didn't mean to misspell your name (my brother is an Alan, so that's my default spelling if I don't watch myself).

well, actually I call him Saburō ;-)

13 Aug 06 - 07:52 PM (#1809128)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Peace

"Strong in Christ, Our Great Salvation"?

13 Aug 06 - 08:11 PM (#1809139)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Haruo

I don't know for sure, but go ahead and post it.


13 Aug 06 - 08:24 PM (#1809146)
Subject: ADD: Strong in Christ Our Great Salvation
From: Peace

Strong in Christ Our Great Salvation

(Tune - Men of Harlech - but this one is for the choir who will have great fun with it - but it needs practising. I did get away with it at Raleigh without a choir, but only by a pre-start-of-church rehearsal.)

Strong in Christ our great salvation
called to be his new creation
Christians, sing in celebration,
living by our faith.
Saints of old were led and guarded
famous names or unrecorded
all alike in God rewarded
living by their faith.
All who love and fear him
learn by faith to hear him
in distress his name confess
believing it an honour to be near him.
He who chooses this world's bruises
knows that in Christ he never loses
gaining far more than he refuses
living by his faith.

Abraham inspired a nation
searching for a sure foundation
made his God his destination
living by his faith.
Moses left his power and pleasure
Egypt's wealth that none could measure
finding God a greater treasure
living by his faith.
Many more were hated
driven out ill treated
facing death they kept the faith
and sang about the glory that awaited.
No derision pain or prison
ever destroyed their heavenly vision
we with them say "Christ is risen!"
living by our faith."


13 Aug 06 - 08:35 PM (#1809155)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Snuffy

b>Bo in KY : you say "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" is an absolute gem. - I can never hear:
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all
without almost being reduced to tears But where did Cyberhymnal get that awful pedestrian HAMBURG tune? It can only and must always be ROCKINGHAM or it simply does not work.

Haruo: - Were Watts and Wesley a mutual admiration society? You say "Dr. Watts is on record as saying Chuck Wesley's Come, O Thou Traveller Unknown", "was worth all the vers­es I my­self have writ­ten." On the other hand Cyberhymnal says of WIBTWC "Charles Wes­ley re­port­ed­ly said he would give up all his other hymns to have writ­ten this one."

13 Aug 06 - 11:20 PM (#1809235)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Haruo

Threw me for a moment there, Snuffy, with that B... I think it's safe to say that Watts and Wesley were admirers of each other's work. They were not direct competitors; Watts' active hymn-writing career was pretty much over by the time Wesley came on the scene (in the late 1730s); he died in 1748. For that matter, I think most of Wesley's major hymns were written early in his career, too. Let's see...

Of the 6,000 hymns Wesley is said to have written, and less exhaustively of the more than 200 listed on his bio page at the CyberHymnal, I list here, with their dates as best I can ascertain, the 21 that I consider major (doubtless there are a few others that I simply didn't note while skimming, or that the Cyberhymnal forgot to list, and a couple are only partially our doubtfully Wesley's—hence the occasional trailing (?)—but this should do for starters):
And Can It Be That I Should Gain? 1738
Christ the Lord Is Risen Today, 1739
Come Away to the Skies, 1755 (for his wife on her birthday)
Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown, 1742
Come, Sinners, to the Gospel Feast, 1747
Come, Thou Almighty King (?), 1757
Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus, 1745
Hail the Day That Sees Him Rise, 1742
Hark! the Herald Angels Sing (Hark, how all the welkin rings), 1739
Jesus, Lover of My Soul, 1740
Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending, 1758 (revising Cennick)
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling, 1747
O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing, a cento from a poem of 1739 written
     on the first anniversary of his conversion experience;
     some of the omitted material is worth reviving, perhaps in a separate cento
O Love Divine, What Hast Thou Done, 1742
Praise the Lord Who Reigns Above, 1743
Prisoners of Hope, Arise, 1749
Rejoice, the Lord Is King, 1744
Soldiers of Christ, Arise, 1741
'Tis Finished! The Messiah Dies, 1762
Where shall my wondering soul begin, 1738
Ye Servants of God, 1744
As you can see the vast majority were written in the first 11 years of Wesley's active hymn-writing career, i.e. 1738-1749.


14 Aug 06 - 12:25 AM (#1809261)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: GUEST,art thieme (sheepishly)

...As the old song states so succinctly, "A good "him" is hard to find!" ;-)


14 Aug 06 - 12:54 AM (#1809265)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: GUEST,Bo in KY

Thanks Peace, cyberhymnal already a favorite. And I agree, Christian worship across denominations would be much the poorer without the Wesley hymns. They were the Lennon/McCartney of their time :-). I wasn't aware of the Watts/Wesley connection - thanks!! And despite Gospel hymns not being my favorites, a tip o' the hat to Fanny Crosby, the blind 19th-century poet who wrote thousands of hymns, including "Blessed Assurance" and the rousing "To God be the Glory". She too was a genius of the genre.

Haruo, thanks for the stab at Allen's question. It's not a "little" question, but the short answer for me is that God does not *need* to be praised all the time. It is the natural human response to our ineffable Creator. Why sing at all? Where do songs come from? Where does the question come from??


14 Aug 06 - 01:53 AM (#1809279)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Haruo

As to the source of "Strong in Christ, our great salvation", which I asked Peace to post, it appears to be from this page belonging to one Revd. Simon Springett, RN, which also contains a number of other interesting hymn texts I've never seen before. I'm guessing they are actually Chaplain Springett's own work. And I would love to get in touch with him. Perhaps I'll call him (it's been a long time since I called England; I hear it's much cheaper now ;-) ), since he seems to have thoroughly hidden his email address.

I'm still not sure if that's the text I saw in the unnamed hymnal set to "Men of Harlech". Anybody know any others?


14 Aug 06 - 02:39 AM (#1809289)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Haruo

I think I've sleuthed out his email and have dispatched a query...


14 Aug 06 - 03:41 AM (#1809312)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Paul Burke

Whit walks deserve their own thread Dave. Over the border, they were definitely Catholics at one end of the week, Prods at the other. My Auntie Doris used to keep house for the priests at St. Joseph's , Salford, (they had a fridge!!!) and we always went there before and after the walk. Brass bands, pipe bands, fife-and-drum bands, all belting out the old favourite tunes. Often no particular distinction between hymns and Irish nationalistic songs.

Getting back to the presbytery after one walk, we found a very dazed bloke in the kitchen with a huge plaster across his nose. Turned out that he'd been the leader of a band, the guy with the twizzly stick, and he'd tossed it in the air as they marched round Piccadilly- failed to notice the trolleybus wires above, which catapulted the stick back down, straight into his face, and laid him out cold.

14 Aug 06 - 08:33 AM (#1809426)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: GUEST,Allen in Oz

Good on you Haruo and Bo , I have enjoyed the thread. The points made re whether God needs praise is valid. The need ( if one exists )seems to come from people. Singing hymns may be an opiate albeit ( as Queen Victoria used to write in her diary) a lovely and harmless one.
I still maintain that they involve a lot of grovelling and that if God is all powerful then all His works were to Him a piece of cake and that no praise is really needed.

Still, the tunes are delightful and we all like singing them

Bless you


14 Aug 06 - 02:52 PM (#1809668)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Haruo

One hymn that hasn't been mentioned here, and that I consider one of the all-time greats, is K's "How Firm a Foundation", and I like to sing all seven stanzas (I generally do like to sing more stanzas than a typical congregation can tolerate) ;-) ... one nice thing about it is that the whole thing is "God speaking", now to the individual, now to the body (you can tell by the pronouns in the unmodernized text): vv. 1-2 are to the body (v. 1 actually not by God but by an impersonal narrator), 3-5 to the individual, and 6-7 in the third person. Since it's written in the persona of God, it's not a hymn by Augustine's definition, but it's clearly a hymn none the less. Oh, and definitely to the American "Foundation" tune (= "Bellevue", "Protection", etc.), not "Montgomery" or "Adeste Fideles".


14 Aug 06 - 03:17 PM (#1809680)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: GUEST,Russ

When in doubt, blame Paul.

15 Aug 06 - 03:54 AM (#1810126)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Paul Burke

What have I done now?

15 Aug 06 - 05:29 AM (#1810158)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Haruo

Eponymous guilt.

15 Aug 06 - 07:02 PM (#1810664)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Mr Happy

.......struck blind on t' road to Tarsus - 'e must be guilty!!

15 Aug 06 - 07:22 PM (#1810681)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?

Just a little troll to annoy those English posters who claim Irish musicians have stolen the credit for all the music - I don't know if this is true, but I recently heard it claimed that most of the hymns in both the CofE and Catholic canon in English - oh, and the Prezzies too - were written by Irish people.

16 Aug 06 - 12:15 AM (#1810839)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: mg

Well, often they are in Latin, and often sing praises to Mary, a statue that we worship (just joking). Today is the feast of the Assumption, and in a parish with some of the most awful music to be found anywhere in the post-Vatican abyss of ugly music, we actually sang Hail Holy Queen enthroned above...what a great chorus..Salve, Salve, Salve Regina....our life our spirit hear below Oh Maria..our hope in sorrow and in woe...lots of sorrow and woe and vales of tears in Catholic hymns.

What makes the "new" Catholic stuff so awful is it is unrecognizable as to musical form. It will go from 3/2 time to 6/13 time to 7/2 time in the same song...all sorts of rests and flow charts to go from one verse to an alternate chorus to a hidden verse and back again. Nobody ever probably in the history of the world has actually sung like particular rhythm, and they certainly don't rhyme the songs these days. The worst are when they take psalms and just wind them around some pretense of a melody.

Anyway, the Welsh I think are the masters, with the Germans perhaps coming in second. This is Eurocentric, so sorry but I just am not too familiar with other cultures. I do know Maori and South Africans etc. are known for their singing and I did go to a church in Hawaii once when a group of teenagers from Maui attended and burst into fantastic song. Guide me oh thou Great Jehovah certainly gets a vote from me but I think the greatest of all when done well is Diadem as sung by the Welsh. That is for Protestant songs.

Catholics..Holy God we praise thy name, Tantum Ergo, May crowning song (which musicians love to rip apart but we the people love it..bring flowers of the fairest bring flowers of the rarest..then we put a flower wreath on the statue.).

God I do believe loves this song..Tantum I will put the words here because I have probably not had a chance to sing it for decades.





16 Aug 06 - 03:28 AM (#1810915)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Paul Burke

Sang Hail Holy Queen? Never heard it sung. We had to learn it aged 6 or so... apart from the Mother of Murphy bit, when it got to "To thee do we send up our size", I just KNEW that was a bit like Mum's mail order catalogue, and we were just reserving an appropriate sized white gown in case we died young (which of course we were going to do every night).

16 Aug 06 - 04:44 AM (#1810954)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Hrothgar

mg, thanks for puling out those old lumps of the Latin Benediction. Bits of it were some of the best flowing stuff I can remember, especially "Adoremus is aeternam" etc.

Now, should "Hail, Holy Queen" be "Hail, Queen of Heaven?" That's the one for the Assumption.

16 Aug 06 - 05:13 AM (#1810969)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Haruo

Now, should "Adoremus is aeternam" be "Adoremus in aeternam?"


16 Aug 06 - 05:33 PM (#1811570)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: GUEST,mg

I don't know Hail, Queen of Heaven. The Hail Holy Queen prayer I believe went after the rosary after we said the 3 hail Marys for the conversion of Russia. Hail Holy Queen Mother of mercy, our life our sweetness and our hope. To thee to we send up our sighs mourning and weeping in this vale of tears.....???? Oh tender, oh loving, oh sweet virgin Mary...

Does anyone know the one the Irish nuns taught us and I have not heard before or since but it was pretty. Christ who made us Christ who saves us Christ who can all foes defy. He shall triump he shall triumph from his throne on high...

And I always thought Faith of our Fathers was Catholic but I guess the Protestants sang it too and actually dibs on the verse where we prayed for our children to be martyrs. I tell you, I can understand how they produce suicide martyrs in other

16 Aug 06 - 08:42 PM (#1811727)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Haruo

Yeah, but when we (Protestants) sing "Faith of our fathers" we generally leave out the verse where you pray for Mary to convert England. ;-) Faber was a good versifier, "There's a wideness in God's mercy" etc.


17 Aug 06 - 03:24 AM (#1811986)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Paul Burke

Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy. Hail our life, our sweetness and our hope! To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears. Turn then, Most Gracious Advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us, and after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed Fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Oh blessed, oh loving, oh sweet Virgin Mary.

There. That's 40 years after I realised it was all cod. give me the child until he is seven....

Now the Nicene Creed... (people were burnt for that).

17 Aug 06 - 03:49 AM (#1812003)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Liz the Squeak

Ah... that brings back memories of the annual singing of 'Paddy's Vest' or 'St Patricks Breastplate' ~ I bind unto myself today, the strong name of the Trinity'... with the middle "break" Christ beside me, Christ before me, Christ behind me... gave a real comfy feeling of actually having Christ with you as a shield and protector, in every thing you said and did.

Now THAT is a great hymn!


17 Aug 06 - 04:02 AM (#1812010)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Haruo

For All the Saints (Sine Nomine); have never tried to sing it to Sarum to see if it was a great hymn before Ralph Vaughn Williams got his mitts on it.

... but of course the point of the thread is not merely to recall the great hymns but to elucidate what makes them great ...


17 Aug 06 - 04:46 AM (#1812035)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Liz the Squeak

Having been brought up with the RVW version, singing it to any other tune is WIERD! Someone requested it in a service and we didn't have the music so we played what was there.... It completely changed the aspect as focus was on the words more than getting the timing right...

Singing songs to a different tune can often bring a whole new twist to the piece, as can singing in a different time sig.. I understand that 'Rubber Ducky' from Sesame Street makes a fantastic "torch" song when done so, and 'How great Thou art' at half speed gives a much more reverent song of praise and thanks.


17 Aug 06 - 05:39 AM (#1812060)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: JTT

If you'd like a good Irish hymn record, get Faith of our Fathers
- it has all those old classics. Bring flowers of the fairest, bring blossoms the rarest, in praise of the loveliest flower of the May...

17 Aug 06 - 05:41 AM (#1812062)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Haruo

And yet sometimes the time sig doesn't materially affect it. "Hail ye sighing sons of sorrow" is no more a great hymn when sung at a normal "Holy Manna" clip than when sung at half staff as the Primitive Baptists are wont. The only reason it's in my hymnal is I think the "expiring insects' cries" (v. 3) are too precious a hymnic phrase to pass up.


17 Aug 06 - 05:51 AM (#1812073)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Haruo

The Doxology or the Psalm? Old hundredth is a great tune, but its most frequent application is with the text "Praise God, from whom all blessings flow" (modernised or not), which is not a hymn (at least, it has only one stanza, which is supposedly one of the disqualifiers). Of course, the tune can be sung with many other texts, most famously I suppose "All creatures that on earth do dwell", a proper metrical psalm and, in some definitions, a proper hymn.


17 Aug 06 - 08:43 AM (#1812190)
Subject: Lyr Add: The Fury of the Wind, the Raging o t Sea
From: Haruo

Here's a relatively recent hymn text, written by Eric Schumacher in Biloxi, Mississippi, during the "calm" between Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The suggested tune is Leominster. I think it is a strong recasting of a Christian reading of a famous passage in Job. I like it, but doubt I'll ever hear or sing it in church.

The Fury of the Wind, The Raging of the Sea
Eric Schumacher, 2005

The fury of the wind,
The raging of the sea,
How small a whisper do we hear
Of our God's majesty!
The thunder of His pow'r,
O, who can understand?
Before the fullness of His wrath
O, who of us could stand?

"Shall man find fault with God?"
He asks of man below.
"Now, gird yourself to answer Me.
And tell Me, if you know:
Who made the earth and sea?
Who speaks and stars obey?
Who plays with creatures of the deep?
Who gives the beast its prey?"

You, Lord, can do all things,
And none can stay Your hand.
I uttered what I did not know
And could not understand.
Before Your greatness, Lord,
I fall upon my face.
And, by such glory stripped of pride,
I cast myself on grace.

The raging wind and sea
Cause me to flee to Christ,
Who bore the tempest of God's wrath
To be my sacrifice.
Though in the storm I'm blind,
I trust my Sovereign's plan.
I know that my Redeemer lives
And with Him I shall stand.

17 Aug 06 - 06:22 PM (#1812563)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Tootler

The Doxology or the Psalm? Old hundredth is a great tune, but its most frequent application is with the text "Praise God, from whom all blessings flow"

Hmm! I only ever remember Old hundredth being used for the metrical Psalm 100 "All people that on Earth do dwell". But then I was brought up in the C of E. It may be different in other traditions.

For interest here is the full text, taken from an 18th century Psalter.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
All people that on Earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful Voice,
Him serve with fear his praise forth tell,
Come ye before him and rejoice.

The Lord ye know is God indeed,
Without our aid he did us make,
We are his flock he doth us feed,
And for his sheep he doth us take.

O enter then his gates with praise,
Without our aid he did us make:
We are his flock, he doth us feed,
And for his sheep he doth us take.

For why? The Lord our God is good,
his mercy is for ever sure;
His truth at all times firmly stood,
And shall from age to age endure.

Source: "The Whole Book of Psalms, Collected in English Metre, By Thomas Sternhold, John Hopkins, and Others" Found at;
Gallery Music

17 Aug 06 - 06:41 PM (#1812572)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Deckman

SHEEEEUUUUUHHHH! You guys are getting   W A A A Y too serious. Let me lighten the mood ... fur keerist sake!!!

Some years I was living with a family while I built them a deck. Their home was a six hour drive, so I stayed with them during the week. Thanksgiving happened to fall during that project, so I worked that morning and then shared Thanksgiving dinner with them.

I knew that the Father of the family was strongly Catholic and the Mother was not. At the beginning of the meal, Sean, the Father, asked that we all join hands and then asked ME to say grace! SURPRISE, SURPRISE!! Me, Bob Nelson, I'm 'gonna say GRACE! The last time I said grace the roof collapsed and killed 19 people.

I looked at Sean, and I said: "O.K. YOU ASKED FOR IT!"

Then I sang, in my most reverent voice:

WHAT A ... dirty little job for JESUS!"

THE LOOK ON SEAN'S FACE WAS PRICELESS. I then looked at D'Arcy, his wife, and she was laughing so hard she started to slide off her chair. The I looked at the two teenage boys, and they were staring at me with their mouths hanging open.

OH ... IT WAS SWEELL Cheers, Bob(deckman)Nelom

18 Aug 06 - 12:47 AM (#1812824)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Haruo

What a friend we have in Jesus!
Christ Almighty, what a pal...

how does the rest of it go?


18 Aug 06 - 01:44 AM (#1812844)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Joe Offer

That "Hail Holy Queen" is the sublime hymn "Salve Regina" in Latin. We sang that at the end of night prayers, every night during my eight years in a Catholic seminary in Milwaukee. We turned out all the lights in chapel except for the one on the statue of Mary, and sang a cappella with a couple hundred male voices. It was absolutely beautiful, every night.

Of course, we warmed up for night prayers by huddling outside the chapel and smoking, singing Engerbert Humperdinck songs.....

Ya gotta mix a little tacky with your sublime.

-Joe Offer-

18 Aug 06 - 04:16 AM (#1812875)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Joe Offer

There's an interesting thread on "Old Hundredth" (Psalm 100 - "All People That on Earth Do Dwell") here (click). The Doxology ("Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow") is a trinitarian verse sung at the beginning or end of various psalms - and it's often sung by itself to the tune of "Old Hundredth" when the offering is brought forward in Protestant churches. The Trinity is not part of Jewish belief, so there aren't any trinitarian verses in the Psalms.

My Companion to the Baptist Hymnal says the Doxology is usually sung with Psalms 104, 113, 115, 117, 135, 146, 147, 148, 149, and 150 - with no mention of Psalm 100, although I'm sure I've heard the Doxology sung with Psalm 100. Maybe not. I associate the tune of "Old Hundredth" with "From All That Dwell Below the Skies," which I believe is Psalm 117.

There are so many old hymns with the same meter, that you can use a wide variety of tunes with each lyric.

-Joe Offer-

18 Aug 06 - 05:45 AM (#1812890)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: JennieG


I was brought up in the Presbyterian church, and we also sang Doxology to Old Hundredth - I had forgotten, it's been a long time.

Bob Deckman, you are a very naughty boy, go and stand in the corner *grin*! I love it.


18 Aug 06 - 03:47 PM (#1813216)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Deckman

I'll be DELIGHTED to stand in the corner ... it's already full of people I like! CHEERS, Bob

18 Aug 06 - 04:06 PM (#1813228)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Haruo

Joe wrote The Doxology ("Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow") is a trinitarian verse sung at the beginning or end of various psalms - and it's often sung by itself to the tune of "Old Hundredth" when the offering is brought forward in Protestant churches. The Trinity is not part of Jewish belief, so there aren't any trinitarian verses in the Psalms.

Two things:

First, that doxology (not the only one of course, texts like the Gloria Patri are also doxologies, as are some brief passages in Paul's letters etc etc, but this one is so deeply entrenched in the churches that use it to bless the offering that their people call it "The Doxology") is actually (originally) the last stanza of Awake, My Soul, and with the Sun by Thomas Ken, 1674. This hymn is normally not sung to Old Hundredth (if indeed it is sung at all; one wonders how many decades it's been since a congregation sang the whole 12 stanzas!

Second, while the Psalms in their original form contain no overt Trinitarian formulas, and indeed no overt references to Jesus, this did not keep folks like Watts and Montgomery from coming up with great Advent hymns cast as metrical psalms: Joy to the World! and Hail to the Lord's Anointed come to mind.


18 Aug 06 - 04:34 PM (#1813244)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: oggie

At my godson's christening they started a modern hymn that I didn't know the words to, but the tune sounded familiar. It was all about commitment etc. Halfway through I got a fit of the giggles as I realised the tune was 'The shearings not for you'!

All the best

oggie (aka Steve)

18 Aug 06 - 04:42 PM (#1813252)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Don Firth

One of the television channels we have in our cable package is "Classic Arts Showcase." No commercials, and it's sort of like MTV for grown-ups:    as the evening progresses, we might see an excerpt from a concert or recital, a scene from an opera, a performance by an early music group, a bit of ballet, sometimes a clip or two from a classic old movie, brief interviews with singers, conductors, composers, actors, and such. Sort of a smorgasbord of the Arts.

Anyway, one clip that pops up from time to time is by the Boston Camarata. I wasn't able to find a web site for them, but judging from the film clip, they consist of a quartet of singers, two men and two women. They're singing "Shall We Gather at the River." Simple and straightforward. They're accompanied only by a man playing a simple accompaniment on a small parlor guitar, and toward the then, a flute comes in. It's really nice in its simplicity.

Umm . . . here's one of my favorites:
What a friend we have in cheeses,
Mozzarella, Cheddar, Swiss!
Bleu and Limberger's sweet breezes
Lingering like a lover's kiss.
Humble milk's apotheosis,
Muenster, Provolone, Brie
Damn cholesterol's thrombosis
Cheese is Gouda stuff by me!

Heed the U. S. Dairy Council,
Keep the Gruyere on the shelf.
Even just a tiny ounce'll
Give you vitamin B-12.
Gather, pilgrims at the deli
Buying Edam and Havarti,
Wedges moist and cold and smelly,
Bring home lots and have a party!
Don Firth

18 Aug 06 - 05:41 PM (#1813299)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Deckman


18 Aug 06 - 06:47 PM (#1813361)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Liz the Squeak

Oggie - that would be 'Will you come and answer me if I but call your name'.. struck me that way too when I first heard it.

I was taught that ANY verse that mentioned the Big Three was a Doxology and should always be followed by an Amen. The dictionary has it as "a formulaic ascription of praise to God, encountered in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic tradition. The best-known doxologies of the Christian church are Gloria in excelsis Gloria in excelsis (ĕksĕl`sĭs) [Lat.,=glory in the highest]."


18 Aug 06 - 08:08 PM (#1813398)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: GUEST,Allen in OZ

A popular hymn sung at weddings is " Rescue the Perishing"

AD in OZ

18 Aug 06 - 10:43 PM (#1813511)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Deckman

Speaking of "A-MEN!" This thread reminded me of a story: back about 1954, or so, my best buddy "Lauren" and I both sang in the rather large choir of a church in our town. Lauren was a consumate musician, cursed with perfect pitch. And what was worse, his MOTHER was the choir director.

This was also the year that we discovered the wonderful jazz music of Dave Brubeck. While I played only the guitar, Lauren played every instrument in the orchestra.

We decided that the "A-MEN" needed a little spicing up. So one Sunday, at the close of the final piece, rather than sing the standard Plagle A-MEN, we both sang the last note UP ONE HALF STEP! That made it a perfect flatted sixth. Of course we stood out like sore thumbs, and every member of the choir first turned looked at us, then they all cracked up. We actually brought down the house.

The only that wasn't pleased was Lauren's mother ... did I mention that she was the choir director? CHEERS, Bob

22 Aug 06 - 04:10 AM (#1815853)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Wilfried Schaum

In addition to Don's wonderful cheese hymn:

There also is The Chinese Maiden's Lament to the same tune.

22 Aug 06 - 04:21 AM (#1815860)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Paul Burke

"Gloria in excelsis (ĕksĕl`sĭs)"

It was always pronounced more like "ex- Chelsea's" at St. Lukes. And ceoli (as in Regina Coeli) was pronounced "chayley". You wouldn't want to say "coily" or "ceilidh" would you?

22 Aug 06 - 05:05 AM (#1815875)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: catspaw49

I think Don Firth has it right. Any great hymn must have a great mondegreen like "What a friend we have in cheeses." Then there is the one about Andy........

"Andy walks with me,
Andy talks with me.
Andy tells me I am his own."


22 Aug 06 - 07:27 AM (#1815934)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Haruo

Not to mention "Will the Turtle Be Unbroken?" and "Lead on, O Kinky Turtle" (obviously these two mondegreens share a heresy).


22 Aug 06 - 07:30 AM (#1815938)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Paul Burke

When the Latin Mass was translated into Enlish back in the 60s, The Our Father followed a short preamble that went: "Mindful of Our Saviour's bidding, and of the Prairie Tortoise, we take heart and say..."

Sadly dropped from the current liturgy.

22 Aug 06 - 07:36 AM (#1815943)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Haruo

and blessed is the Fruit of the Loom Jesus

22 Aug 06 - 01:22 PM (#1816258)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Don Firth

Mom:   "What did you do in Sunday school this morning?"
Kid:   "We sang songs about funny animals."
Mom:   "Funny animals!??"
Kid:   "Yeah. 'Gladly, the cross-eyed bear.'"

Don Firth

22 Aug 06 - 02:17 PM (#1816299)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Haruo

One thing that probably helps a hymn is if its syntax isn't the sort that has been unpleasantly inverted by linguistic evolution. (Can make you empathize with the linguistic creationists.) A good example is Watts's "Who Shall the Lord's Elect Condemn", the first line of which now appears to mean "Whom shall the Lord's Elect condemn?" when it actually meant "Who shall (or Who's in a position to) condemn the Lord's Elect?"


23 Aug 06 - 01:43 PM (#1817151)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Joe Offer

I have mixed feelings about "updating" the lyrics of traditional hymns. I can't say I'm completely against it, but I think it needs to be done with extreme moderation and good taste.
There are people who get upset by the removal of "Thee" and "Thy" from a hymn. If it's a well-known hymn, I'd agree. Sometimes, an old and little-used hymn can be resurrected with a few changes. If it's a hymn that people know and love, changing words can cause unnecessary discord.
I'm surprised and pleased to see some modern Catholic hymnals resurrecting tunes from Southern Harmony and Sacred Harp, with completely new lyrics.

23 Aug 06 - 03:11 PM (#1817238)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Haruo

I know people who to this day don't feel like they can address God pronominally except by using "Thou/Thee", and I know others (native English speakers) who are actually confused and mildly disconcerted by the very occurrence of "thou" or "thee", sort of the way most people are these days if you say you're y-clept Joe Offer instead of called Joe Offer. In other words, language change doesn't occur in all parts of a language community at the same rate, even when the direction of change (elimination of the separate singular second-person pronouns) is pretty universal. I think many of the denominational hymnals go a bit overboard in trying to modernize (and inclusivize) hymn texts. At the very least, if you're looking to modernize a rhymed text where the rhyming words include "thou" and "thee", you should just hold your horses until you've got a replacement text that is just as good and just as well rhymed. To eliminate the rhyme in the interests of saying "You" or "your" where the old text rhymed with "Thee" or "thine" is, I think, almost the unpardonable sin.


24 Aug 06 - 02:50 AM (#1817644)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Wilfried Schaum

But sometimes the text should be changed for oecumenical and brotherly reasons:
"Keep us, o Lord, by thy word and stop the pope's and Turk's murder" was adopted as the battle hymn of the reformation period. Now the second line is changed into "and stop the murder of your foes" (but I'm still in favour of the original version - singing it I still can hear the step of the Lutheran pikes)

24 Aug 06 - 03:30 AM (#1817650)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Paul Burke

It's odd that prayers refer to God as 'thou', when Quakers were jailed in the 17th century for saying 'thou' to mere gentlemen. They jumped the wromg way; within 100 years 'thou' had become dialectical.

Question for US folks: do any US dialects retain the 'thou' form (another thread maybe)?

24 Aug 06 - 04:12 AM (#1817667)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Haruo

Originally the basic idea was simply number: "thou/thee/thy/thine" were singular, and "ye/you/your/yourn" were plural. The King James Version (Authorized 1611) of the Bible was written (as were other influential versions of that era, such as the Geneva Bible) with this pronominal system still in place. Thus, in the King James Version (which remained overwhelmingly influential in Anglophone Christian usage for over 300 years) God, king, commoner and slave were each severally addressed as "thou", while more than one of any of the above was "ye".

Then the idea came along that it was respectful to "magnify" one's elders and one's betters by pluralizing them, and conversely that it was appropriate for one's elders and betters to "thou" one. This was the juncture at which the Quakers developed their signature usage: they insisted on "theeing" everybody regardless of worldly station. Some other well-known languages still maintain this kind of "plural = respect" approach to the second person: consider French tu/vous, German du/Sie, etc. (Some languages went a step further, developing more ornate terms for the respectful, sometimes pseudoplural, pronoun. Consider Spanish "tu/Usted(es)", where "Usted" is a contraction of "vuestra Merced" ("your Mercy"), or Portuguese, where "o Senhor" (literally "the Lord", roughly like English "milord") is the polite second person form.)

Then (perhaps with the rise of democratic ideals, perhaps independent thereof) the respectful form was, in most Anglophone communities, extended to address equals and inferiors. And further, the subject and object forms coalesced into "you/you/your/yours" (and, for many "theeing" Quakers, "thou" disappeared, "thee" becoming both object and subject forms.

As far as I know there are no local dialects that maintain "thou/thee/thy/thine", but certainly there are some individuals and perhaps some small groups that consciously perpetuate the usage; but as a conscious archaizing usage, not as "normal English the way we speak it".

I could be wrong. Maybe there's some overwhelmingly traditional-Quaker enclave someplace where the "theeing" comes naturally. (Sorry about the thread creep. Paul asked. It's his fault. (pointing fingers)...) ;-)


01 Sep 06 - 02:25 PM (#1824791)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Haruo

Rather funny piece on the difference between praise songs and hymns, copied from a post by Carlton Higginbotham on the Hymn Society's Discussion Board (Hymn vs. Song) but not original with him:
Re: Hymn vs. Song

Posted By: Carlton Higginbotham
Date: Tuesday, 21 February 2006 at 2:31 p.m.

In Response To: Hymn vs. Song (Miriam Meglan)

    OK. I can't resist. This is my favorite explanation of the difference between hymn and song, discovered somewhere in cyberspace and passed to me by a pastor friend:


    An old farmer went to the city one weekend and attended the big city church. He came home and his wife asked him how it was. Well," said the farmer, "It was good. They did something different, however. They sang praise choruses instead of hymns."

    "Praise choruses," said his wife, "What are those?"

    "Oh, they're okay. They're sort of like hymns, only different." said the farmer.

    "Well, what's the difference?" asked his wife.

    The farmer said, "Well it's like this — If I were to say to you: 'Martha, the cows are in the corn,' well that would be a hymn. If, on the other hand, I were to say to you: 'Martha, Martha, Martha, Oh, Martha, MARTHA, MARTHA, the cows, the big cows, the brown cows, the black cows, the white cows, the black and white cows, the COWS, COWS, COWS, are in the corn, are in the corn, are in the corn, are in the corn, the CORN, CORN, CORN.' Then, if I were to repeat the whole thing two or three times, well that would be a praise chorus."


    A young, new Christian went to his local church usually, but one weekend attended a small town church. He came home and his wife asked him how it was. "Well," said the young man, "It was good. They did something different, however. They sang hymns instead of regular songs."

    "Hymns," said his wife, "What are those?"

    "Oh, they're okay. They're sort of like regular songs, only different," said the young man.

    "Well, what's the difference?" asked his wife.

    The young man said, "Well it's like this — If I were to say to you, 'Martha, the cows are in the corn,' well that would be a regular song. If on the other hand, I were to say to you:

    Oh Martha, dear Martha, hear thou my cry
    Inclinest thine ear to the words of my mouth.
    Turn thou thy whole wondrous ear by and by
    To the righteous, inimitable, glorious truth.

    For the way of the animals, who can explain
    There in their heads is no shadow of sense,
    Hearkenest they in God's sun or his rain
    Unless from the mild, tempting corn they are fenced.

    Yea those cows in glad bovine, rebellious delight,
    Have broke free their shackles, their warm pens eschewed.
    Then goaded by minions of darkness and night
    They all my mild Chilliwack sweet corn have chewed.

    So look to that bright shining day by and by,
    Where all foul corruptions of earth are reborn.
    Where no vicious animal makes my soul cry
    And I no longer see those foul cows in the corn.

    "Then if I were to do only verses one, three, and four and do a key change on the last verse, well that would be a hymn."


01 Sep 06 - 09:49 PM (#1825122)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: JennieG

Haruo - that is a wonderful description!


01 Sep 06 - 10:49 PM (#1825142)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Deckman

Hauro ... that may be all well and good, but show me a modern hymn writer that can tie a "Purple Peril" on a number 12 mustad hook, using a real Blue Herron feather for the streamer, and I'll show a real STEELHEADER ... anytime! CHEERS, Bob(deckman)Nelson ... with a plagle cadience!!!!

01 Sep 06 - 11:38 PM (#1825158)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Haruo

Pavlina's the flyfisherperoffspring in the family, Bob.


02 Sep 06 - 07:12 PM (#1825633)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: GUEST,Allen in OZ

Haruo's hypothesis supports the theory that good hymns are those written by sophistical rhetoreticians inebriated by the exuberance of their own verbosity. The greater the grovelling, the greater the hymn.

Good on you have cheered us up down under (an oxymoron?)


02 Sep 06 - 07:44 PM (#1825645)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Joe Offer

I've spent much of my life campaigning against bad music in Catholic churches. We have a choir member who likes to sing this song, and he persuaded the previous music director to sing it solo several times. I hated it.
The other night, I heard him sing it for the current choir director - and I was very pleased to see her vive it the "thumbs down."
It kinda reminds me of people who sing a slightly-altered version of Littly Peggy March's "I Love Him" and call it churhc music.

He's Everything to Me
(author unknown - perhaps he's in some sort of Songwriter Protection Program)
Haruo says it's by Ralph Carmichael, b. 1927, © 1964

In the stars His handiwork I see,
On the wind He speaks with majesty,
Tho He ruleth over land and sea,
What is that to me?

I will celebrate Nativity,
for it has a place in history
Sure, He came to set His people free
What is that to me?

Till by faith I met Him face to face
and I felt the wonder of his grace
Then I knew that He was more
than just a God who didn't care
That lived a way out there

And now He walks beside
me day by day,
Ever watching over me lest I stray,
Helping me to find that narrow way
He's Everything To Me.


Recorded by the Fabulous Blackwood Brothers - listen here (click).

02 Sep 06 - 09:36 PM (#1825689)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?

a good hymn ought to haqve a tune that is pleasing and singable and feels somehow a bit familiar... and the words ought to be GOOD poetry as well. I play for a UCC church where all too often the hymnas are so text heavy with ideology that they are no fun to sing.

I have a question sir, incase you know anything about this other subject: How can I ascertain if Greenwood Laddie is a ballad? I have to sing in a contest and they could not tell me!

thanks so much.
mary jo.
    Mary Jo - see The Green Wood Laddie (click). I'd think you'd call it a ballad, but the ballad purists probably wouldn't - but it's up to the contest promoters to define what they mean by "ballad" - better to discuss the song in the other thread.
    -Joe Offer-

02 Sep 06 - 10:29 PM (#1825710)
Subject: Attrib add: He's Everything to Me
From: Haruo

Ralph Carmichael, b. 1927, © 1964

03 Sep 06 - 04:50 AM (#1825793)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Hrothgar

Haven't been into this thread for a while.

Haruo, you are right about "Adoremus IN aeternam" - typo and poor proofreading.

03 Sep 06 - 03:05 PM (#1826086)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: the lemonade lady

A surprised h(y)er

03 Sep 06 - 05:55 PM (#1826174)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Haruo

I think in the religious sense the preferred spelling is "hyrrh".


03 Sep 06 - 06:26 PM (#1826194)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Richard Bridge

I have not read the whole of the thread but would make the point that for many, even though they maybe vaguely (or more) theist, the best hymns are those sung elsewhere by someone else. It is not a matter of intolerability of the relevant religion (although so many orgnaised religions are to be blamed for so much despite the best qualitites that individual subscribers to them may have some of the time) as the English dislike for the wearing of the heart on the sleeve...

All that sincerity and puppy-like devotion is a bit embarrassing, don't you know?

03 Sep 06 - 08:13 PM (#1826260)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Haruo

Of course a dislike of hymns (for whatever reason, and I doubt it's unique to England) is a good reason not to bother to read the whole of the thread ;-) ... you don't say, sir, whether you count yourself among the many you speak for, but assuming you do, sir, then praise God that you are in a forum where there are so many other things to read, sir.

Sincerely, albeit without puppy-like devotion, etc., etc.


03 Sep 06 - 09:18 PM (#1826284)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Nigel Parsons

At the risk of seeming 'parochial' (and how apposite is that) Any hymn with a good Welsh hymn tune, which allows four-part harmony (busked if necessary).

Gweddi Gwladgarol,
Calon Lan
Llan Llynfi

Of course, the words also need to hold meaning. But if the words are in Welsh I can only sing, I can't translate fast enough to sing and translate together!

Nigel (who has all these tunes in a hymn book so I can scan & send them to anyone who wants them{4-part harmony with tonic sol-fa as well})

04 Sep 06 - 02:26 AM (#1826351)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Haruo


Blaenwern, Hyfrydol, Llanfair and Aberystwyth (Parry) I am quite familiar with, the others on your list not, though I find
Calon Lan, Rachie, Trewen, and Llan Llynfi (apparently not to be confused with Llanfyllni!) in The CyberHymnal, and Blaencefn in the Christian Classics Ethereal Hymnary. So Gweddi Gwladgarol (which I take to mean "Patriot's Prayer") is the only one you mention that I can't find by Google, and which I would therefore much appreciate your posting where I and all can see and hear.

A few others I certainly think of as fitting your definition would be Cwm Rhondda, Rhuddlan, Llef, (and pretty much any other tune name starting with Ll or Rh, or having a "w" masquerading as a vowel), Bryn Calfaria, Gwalchmai, St. Denio, Ar hyd y nos, Nos galan, and Rhyfelgyrch gwŷr Harlech...


19 Sep 06 - 10:30 PM (#1838779)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: GUEST,boston camerata website

for don firth:

(he misspelled it)

03 Oct 06 - 04:35 AM (#1849022)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Haruo

Nigel supplied me with the promised scan of Gweddi Wladgarol (Gwladgarol was a misspelling, the Gw here mutates to W), from which I have made a midi file here.


03 Oct 06 - 08:15 AM (#1849134)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Don Firth

Right you are. Sorry.

Don Firth

18 Mar 13 - 11:52 AM (#3491770)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Haruo

Rev. Springett just supplied (via Joe) the source of the MEN OF HARLECH hymn text above. He says it's from Church Family Worship, 1988, out of print but available from Amazon UK. In case anyone else wants to look it up...

BTW this thread was a great exercise that I recall with fondness. ;-)

18 Mar 13 - 12:08 PM (#3491773)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Haruo

It's in the database (2 instances but no full text), and I see the author is Christopher Idle, which sounds right.

18 Mar 13 - 12:35 PM (#3491790)
Subject: RE: What makes a good hymn?
From: Bert

I would say, one to a God in whose name nobody has been killed.