Wednesday, September 3, 2014

What Hymns Do We Have in Common?

As an Assistant Editor of the forthcoming Lumen Christi Hymnal, my main responsibility was the initial "build" of the hymnal: choosing those hymns that would best serve the needs of the hymnal's projected constituents.

As any Music Director knows, this is not an easy process. For different people, different hymns are important and meaningful. For rather a long time, we've had something of a "do it yourself" religion, with a sense that "one song is as good as another"--as long as it feels right.

A story: Once when I was a Music Director, I was contacted by one of the ladies in a senior's lunch club. Speaking for the group, she said that they all agreed that they wanted to hear "the old familiar songs" at Mass again. I answered that I wasn't opposed in principle, but I would need a list of the songs they meant. I expected that she would mean some of the more casual songs from the 80s--the 35 year old songs we sang in the "contemporary" choir. But as things turned out, there was almost no common ground among the group. There was only one hymn that they all agreed they missed, and asked that we would sing it from time to time.

The hymn was, O Lord, I Am Not Worthy--the very last title I expected!

Eventually I became responsible for choosing the hymn tunes as well, which is often conventional enough, but sometimes interesting. Once I was in an English chapel outside Rome on Christ the King, and we were all set to sing Hail, Redeemer, King Divine. I knew that one, I thought, and didn't think to practice until our group rehearsal. Turns out "everybody" in England sings the hymn to the excellent but challenging tune King Divine, just as "everybody" in the U.S. sings it to St. George's Windsor--and as I write this I'm well aware that someone will protest that they sing it in the U.S. to something completely different!

So if you were going to make your own list of "songs everyone knows," what would it be? Any thoughts?
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