Hymnal Revision Survey

The Episcopal Church Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) is inviting input and comments about a possible revision of The Hymnal 1982.

An online survey is available until January 31, 2011. The survey was distributed this fall to a stratified random sample of congregations in the Episcopal Church. If you’ve already completed a survey, you don’t need to do it again.

Resolution B004 of the 2009 General Convention “authorize(s) Church Publishing Incorporated, working with the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, to conduct a feasibility study on the need for revision of The Hymnal 1982 by speaking to congregations, dioceses and all seminaries of this Church, and to report its findings to the 77th General Convention.”

From the December press release: “The study seeks answers to two basic questions,” said Dr. Matthew J. Price, Church Pension Group Director of Analytical Research.  “First, do the hymnal and the other authorized resources that the Church has for worship music meet the needs of the Church? If the answer to the first question is ‘no’, then the question should be asked as to whether a new Hymnal is the most efficacious means of answering these new needs.”

Following the January 31 deadline, the responses from the initial phase along with the general survey info, will be collated and all data reviewed. These results, along with recommendations for next steps, will be presented to General Convention 2012 as part of the SCLM report.

15 thoughts on “Hymnal Revision Survey

  1. Having taken the survey I found that it is hard to give meaningful/accurate answers in the common situation where there is a “contemporary” and a “traditional” service, particularly if there are different groups of musicians at each service.

  2. I would like to see the next revision of the hymnal have the hymns start with No. 1 at the very BEGINNING of the book, rather than following all the service music. The service music would then be placed in the back part of the hymnal — as was the case in the 1940 book. This change from our current 1982 book would certainly make it easier and simpler for folks, especially visitors and newcomers, to find the hymns.

    Another suggestion: Remove all the descants and place them in a companion book, or one (or sheet music) just for certain well-qualified sopranos to use. It is a bit confusing for the average worshiper and singer to have them with the hymns that are placed in the regular hymnal, I think. I would say that about 99 % of churches never have need of the descant music anyway.

    • I mentioned “Hymn 1” being at the very beginning in my music director survey. I have watched non-Episcopalians flip through the service music section everytime we sing “Christ, whose glory fills the skies” and other low-number hymns.

      I also suggested the following:

      – Restore the printing of hymn titles, as in WLP, VF, and all other supplements
      – Place the season/theme on the bottom, or smaller on the top
      – Restore time signatures for hymns
      – Service music in the back, or in a separate supplement

  3. I agree with Father Morris. It would be great if Hymn #1 started at the beginning of the hymn book. And the descants need to be deleted in new hymn book.

  4. I would also like to see the service music placed in the back of the hymnal.

    My other complaint is the amount of unison hymn tunes in the current hymnal. The tunes are great but after the first verse there is no meat to the music and the mind wanders so the meaning is lost! On a more fundamental side – the unison hymns frequently have such a wide range or high tessatura that it is a vocal stretch for the lower voices, or for that matter older voices to be able to sing. Give us parts PLEASE!

    I don’t have an issue with the descants – I actually wouldn’t mind more of them included in the hymnal – it is often the only way the choir is heard above an organ that is frequently played too loud for comfort!

  5. Agree on parts – every hymn should have a complete part set, and in the case of truly unison compositions, include the organ part, just as in the 1940, and all other denominational pew hymnals.

    Remove the descants – only a few of them are of sufficient quality to be included, and the presence of a printed descant inhibits the use of alternative descants and harmonizations.

  6. Suggestion for a new hymn to be used for burials: I assisted last week in the burial of my father in law in Phoenix, AZ in his Disciples of Christ church, and sang a lovely hymn with a good text that the pastor is using for all his many funerals. I hope the Commission will look at it for the future.

    “In the Bulb There is a Flower: by Natalie Sleeth, 1986, and music, “Promise 87.87 D” by her also, copyrighted by Hope Publishing Co. A few of the verses: “There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody; there’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me. From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see. In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity; in our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity. In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”

  7. People constantly want to know what the asterisk and underline means next to certain verses in the hymnal – no instructions are found in front or back of hymnal to explain. For the many, many small congregations who do not have choirs the hymns need to be in a more singable, lower keys than they currently are. Agree that service music can be at the back and many in the congregation want hymn titles.

  8. I think it is VITAL that the lyrics reflect Christian theology, and something more complicated than just “God is love”. More contemporary tunes MIGHT attract more young adults. I’m a marginal singer, and I haven’t been a young adult for a while, so I just don’t know.

    Music has always been a great teaching method and inspirational, even if subliminally. I hope education remains the purpose of any revision.

    But I wonder how much the revision project will cost when it’s all over? The Church Pension Fund, who publish the Hymnals, will benefit monetarily. I worry about every parish having to purchase new sets of hymnals; it’s not cheap. Would the development money and sale proceeds be used better elsewhere?

    • We already are struggling to pay our diocese the required contribution and have had to give up on an Assistant Rector for our church which is a large church with very costly campus. New Hymnal would be a real burden for us. We have a very good choir, so we love the descants…Personally I’d like to see added into the Hymnal many more of the Taize worship songs…and not have any current hymns removed. The Traditional Episcopal music and hymns are one of the strongest attractions that new members come to us for! I’d say leave well pretty much alone! I do like the idea of hymn # 1 being right at the front though!

      • There are so many more smaller churches in TEC than larger ones. Larger ones have choirs and that helps to lead the congregation in singing the many difficult songs in the hymnal. Too many of the songs are in too high a key for most congregations to comfortably sing. Screeching or straining constantly to reach a note too high doesn’t lead to much worship or praise. As it has always done over the ages – the hymnal if revised – should reflect some of the more current hymnody – even if the songs are considered more simplistic.

  9. On descants, from the perspective of a church musician (chorister, substitute organist and occasional fill-in choir director):

    Please don’t eliminate the descants. They are a helpful resource for busy choir directors. And please continue to print them on the same page of music with the hymn. Having descants printed right with the music makes it so much easier for the choristers (goodness, you should hear the complaints of the altos, tenors and basses when the last stanza of a harmony hymn is printed “outside” of the music staves!) If some descants are found to be of insufficient quality, then replace them with new / different ones. If you relegate all descants to an appendix or companion resource, then descants will simply not be sung as often, and our traditional hymnody will lose one of its exciting/interesting elements… and we will aid and abet the slow death of traditional hymnody by dulling it down until everyone considers it “boring”. We need to provide more resources and more interesting/good music for choirs, not less. Many choirs (such as my parish’s) DO sing descants. Many choir directors DO use alternative descants or compose their own, even when one is printed in the hymnal. But having one printed in the hymnal at least provides a ready resource that would be missed if it was removed.

    I think we sometimes forget that some elements of the hymnal are intended as choral resources, and are not necessarily intended for congregational singing. And people who are not choristers or choir directors may not appreciate just how important this is. An example, besides descants, are the Anglican Chant Psalm settings. We don’t really expect congregations to sing these – it takes some training to read Anglican Chant pointing – but having them right there in the hymnal makes them readily available to choirs, and to choir directors who would otherwise have to do quite a bit of research to dig up the quality settings by notable composers that are right there in our hymnal. Likewise with descants – sure, some better descants might be out there, but it’s asking a lot for a busy choir director (my church has 9 bell and vocal choirs!) to have to always search elsewhere for a descant. Having it right there in the hymnal makes it so much more available, and so much more likely that a descant will be sung. Our hymnal is for congregational singing first and foremeost, of course, but its role as a choral resource is so important. Removal of these choral resources – including descants – would say loudly and clearly what is already suggested in some quarters: that we no longer value our choral tradition.

  10. I filled out the survey, but found it nearly impossible to complete because of the assumption that everyone means the same thing by words like traditional, praise or contemporary. I can’t see how the survey information can be meaningful at all because of that. But the bottom line–a new Hymnal is a waste of time and money. A new hymnal is out of date as soon as it is published, and we don’t need to do that anymore. We need access to something like a CCLI license for all–maybe the Commission could spend its time identifying and highlighting new music resources there to share.

  11. I don’t understand. It is now 2015, the comments are closed? But, for what it’s worth ~ Start with Hymn 1 in the front, service music in the back, keep the parts and the descants. I’m sorry younger generations will miss some of the lovely service music from the 1940 Hymnal and also some of the lyrics “Once to every man and nation” comes to mind now that we seem to be involved in global religious undeclared ‘wars’. Perhaps some of the more militant-sounding hymns can be reworked to reflect a time when we are trying to be more inclusive but when the ranks of the martyrs are growing on a daily basis.

    Hi Jeannine, Thanks for thoughts. I’ve now closed the comments for this post. — Ed.

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