The Hymn Society reports on current hymnological research, and it also fosters further research. I was delighted at this conference to meet fellow graduate students from theology schools across the country and to learn of the work they were doing. Some examples: Stephanie Budwey (Th.D. student, Boston University) is working on a fascinating project about Marian congregational hymnody in Roman Catholic hymnals from 1854 to the present. On the other coast, Eric Mathis (Ph.D. student, Fuller Theological Seminary) is studying the baptismal hymns of Joseph Stennett, a 17th-century Baptist minister and hymn writer. Breakout session presenters included Geoffrey Moore (Ph.D. student, Southern Methodist University) who surveyed themes of liberation, peace, and justice in Eucharistic hymns of various styles.
Conference breakouts this year also included discussion groups, master classes for composers and text writers, practical how-to sessions for accompanists and choir directors, and “commercials” for new collections and hymnals. Alice Parker was there to share a new hymnal from her group, “Melodious Accord,” and David Music shared a new hymnal, Celebrating Grace, which comes from the Baptist tradition but may be used by other communities. Christians across many traditions sing a lot of the same songs.
You can hear this cross-denominational commonality when we all gather. Any speaker who mentions a hymn or song can just raise an arm and we will all join in, complete with harmonies. I’m always a bit chagrined when it’s something like “Holy, Holy, Holy” — as a Roman Catholic, I haven’t memorized the harmony parts the way many others have. But I was also impressed that we seemed to know “Siyahamba,” from memory, in parts, in the original language.
The growing diversity of congregational song was again on display in the closing hymn festival, coordinated by Jacque Jones and Adam M.L. Tice. It was based on Micah 6:8, “What does the Lord require?” It interspersed words from prophets (both secular and sacred) with hymns and songs from a wide variety of traditions. Your correspondent was privileged to serve as accompanist, switching back and forth from piano to organ to accompany music including a melody by Thomas Tallis, a Chinese folk song, a hymn tune by Erik Routley, and a contemporary ballad, among others. The festival also included a Shaker tune, a Filipino melody accompanied only by guitar, and an unaccompanied setting of the English folk tune O WALY WALY. This festival reflects congregational song today, giving a snapshot of its diversity and richness.
For more information on the Hymn Society in the United States in Canada, please visit www.thehymnsociety.org or look up the group on Facebook. Much of the research and many of the presentations mentioned will be published in the society’s journal, The Hymn. Next year’s conference will be in Colorado Springs, CO, from July 17-21.
Chris Ángel is a student at Saint John’s University School of Theology·Seminary.