Hymnal publishing

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hplantin's picture

Why do you think hymnal publishing is declining? Is it just a matter of fewer hymnals, more copies of each, or is there a transition going on to electronic publishing and distribution? 

If there is a change happening, is that a good thing? 




Thanks for starting this important conversation.  You cite many reasons why fewer hymn books are published these days. I would add some others.  First, congregations can use widespread desktop publishing to print hymns directly into service bulletins.  While, I like holding the treasury of thelogy and art in a good hymnal, I'm old-fashioned.  All-in-one worship bulletins are user-friendly and facilitate incorporation of new songs beyond the purchased hymnals.  So I think they will continue to be a factor.  Second, of course, traditional church attendance is down, so there's just less demand and market for publishers to produce hymnals.  Especially in the mainline Protestant denominations that arise from and contribute significantly to a strong tradition of congregational song.  But there remain plenty of churches and worshipers and they need hymns, old and new, even if they won't find them in new books.  Finally, people (or at least Americans) don't sing like they used to.  Music is ever more something we turn on and off, not something we do.  It's sad and I hope temporary, but with fewer children growing up singing -- and joining inter-generational song -- there's less momentum behind hymns and hymnals, no matter how moving and profound.  We have to emphasize the idea from the song "don't worry if it's not good enough for anyone else to hear; sing..."  Or as Ephesians instructs, "sing and make music to the Lord from your heart..."  I.e. not from your vocal performance degree or your auto-tuner.  Still, I'm not discouraged.  In such an environment, congregational song can be even more attractice and compelling, because it's more special.  And to help people come into a worship service and join the congregational song, we can provide context and insight, providing elements to latch onto when the words are unfamiliar or the notes awkward.  Hymnary.org is of course invaluable in that regard.  So yes, fewer new hymnals seem to be the wave of the future.  But that does not mean fewer hymns or less vital hymnody.  Church musicians need to adapt and encourage, welcoming and assisting worshipers to join in.  Thanks for listening.





Thanks for your comments. Our church uses all-in-one worship bulletins (liturgies), to make the service easier to follow for visitors. However, I suspect that's going to be hard to do for small churches.

I also like the suggestion that as society sings less, singing becomes more special. I suppose that many people would like to have an opportunity to sing with others. It makes individuals a part of something larger. I'm thinking of the way singing of hymn tunes (with other words) happens at soccer games in Europe nowadays.

Our congregation is old.  Pop music from CCLI has been used there.  But the Congregation is a UCC congregation with very traditional people; many have second generation immigrant backgrounds.  They have recently taken well to having me make song sheets where I translate an African Folksong with a simple melody, and people play and sing with the organ, piano, and any other instrument they know how to play, as they are able. The choir loves Alleluia, Jehovah bubuwana.  They love to sing it during the offertory rather than an organ piece or solo, and modulate into the Doxology.  It might be musical confusion to some people, but as they repeat and add more and more rhythm instruments, they start to rock out!  We do a different hymn like that every month.  I wrote lyrics to one African folksong for them, but most of our offertories are in the Chalice.  We use Halle, halle, Hallelujah; Sing Amen!; We Are [Giving] In the Light of God; Amen from "Lilies of the Field"; One 72 year old lady who is very dignified and serious has taken well to the job of starting the tamborine when the ushers are at the back; we start a new verse or repetition,  and she starts the tamborine to let me know that I should modulate to the Doxology next.  We are all 55 and up.  There are 7 in the choir, and 6 in the handbell group.  I just jot out the chords for the bells, and they play them in quarter notes. We have about 40 attending on Sundays.  This has really perked us up, and lo and behold, we are taking in 7 enthusiastic new members and 1 young confirmant this year!  We bought a couple of small djembe drums to start doing this,  and they really make a lot of sound and exciting vibrations.  People sing these simple songs who don't normally sing.  I wrote out "Amen" from Lilies of the Field (Sidney Portier) on Finale for the choir by ear - just the Amen part.  Since then some of the choir has started to make up harmonies of their own to add to these songs.   We  may start continuing into the Doxology the way we are doing with the offertory music now (instruments) ad libitum.  I would call our church very resistant to change, but the Holy Spirit has her ways. 

The Holy Spirit has "her" ways?  Are you kidding?  One thing I try to do is keep all our songs, hymns, and spiritual songs as biblically and doctrinally consistant as possible.  Modern thought is a powerful force, especially in music and a constant foe of timeless truth.  Please check your source (Bible) and rethink any pronoun that defines the third person of the trinity as anything other than masculine!  We are in a battle for the very soul of orthodoxy for which I believe sound hymnology is a sword and shield.  Many of the hymns of old (and new) are tried and true portraits in song of the biblical presentation of our heavenly FATHER and our Saviour, the MAN, Jesus Christ.  Hymns are a means of concreting sound biblical truths in the mind and hearts of HIS saints. PLEASE don't seek to compromise the clear biblical teachings with songs that even suggest a different view of God, Christ, or the Holy Spirit.  The cost will be ETERNAL!

I am currently looking to update the hymnals at the baptist church I lead at and have found the gap in newer hymnals larger than I had anticipated.  It seems like there was a surge of hymnals being edited and published in the late 90's/early 2000's and it has slowed down.  I'm hesitant to purchase a hymnal that is already 10 years old when I know it will be in our pews for at least 15/20 years.  We currently use one from the 70's and while the core of our hymnody is in there, t would be nice to supplement with more modern hymns than choruses from the 70's that they can read out of the hymnal.  

I think the publications are down because of technology and the speed at which newer music is created, presented, and accepted into the familiarity of the church.  From my experience, or what I'm able to find and am observing, church's with a more liturgical background are publishing more paper hymnals than an those with an evangelical background.  Copyright also seems to have a lot to do with it.  "Hymns of Grace" seems to be core hymns with new songs that have the 'Getty style' to them pushed out of the Gospel Coalition.  "Lift Up Your Hearts" is inclusive in language and has a nice variety of hymnody but probably less "core" hymns and styles than my church would appreciate.  Celebration hymnal is no longer new and holds choruses from the 80's/90's that don't get sung much in our context.  

When I'm looking for a hymnal, I'm also looking for it's functionality.  Does it have resources that allow the style of hymns to transcend technology?  online resources?  Can I print out orchestrations that are put together well so I can grow worship participation? Can I have the hymnal on my ipad? (kudos to the "Glory to God" hymal!) Can I bridge over to my contemporary chord chart reading musicians without too much headache? Can I project notation?  I think that what growing churches who may invest in new hymnals is looking for is far and few in functionality partially because of the demands of technology and trying to get the most out of a print resource that now needs to speak in a digital era.