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Trying to be fresh and faithful

by
22 September 2010

Anne Harrison explains the process by which a new hymn book is put together

A GOOD hymn, the Archbishop of Canter­bury says, speaks freshly and faithfully about God, seeking “to refresh our sense of a world made different by specific acts of God in relation to us”.

Sing Praise, published this month, is subtitled “Hymns and songs for refreshing worship”. Our hope is that all who explore this new collection will find material that speaks “freshly and faithfully about God”.

The initiative of Tim Ruffer (head of publications at the Royal School of Church Music) and Andrew Moore (formerly Chief Executive of SCM-Canterbury Press), the book seeks to be a useful supplement for congregations and choirs currently using Common Praise (the 2000 edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern) or any other main­stream hymn-book. It could also help to provide a richer diversity of subject-matter and musical styles in places where predominantly new songs are sung.

The 330 items, chosen with liturgical and musical integrity in mind, are arranged seasonally and thematically, and represent something of the breadth of musical forms current in today’s “mixed-economy” Church.

Along with recently written material already widely known, but missing from most standard hymn-books, the editors selected less familiar words and music felt to be of worth. While having Anglican worship as its primary focus, Sing Praise reflects the ecumenical sharing of resources which has become natural in recent decades, offering potential value within a range of traditions.

THE selection process began in April 2008, when a group of musicians and liturgists, bringing different skills and areas of expertise, began a series of meetings with the publishing director of Canterbury Press, Christine Smith, to gather ideas and resources. It was invaluable to have on the team the national worship development officer of the Church of England, the Revd Peter Moger (now Canon Precentor of York Minster), with others experi­enced in planning services, or composing and making music.

Along with recently written material already widely known, but missing from most standard hymn-books, the editors selected less familiar words and music felt to be of worth. While having Anglican worship as its primary focus, Sing Praise reflects the ecumenical sharing of resources which has become natural in recent decades, offering potential value within a range of traditions.

THE selection process began in April 2008, when a group of musicians and liturgists, bringing different skills and areas of expertise, began a series of meetings with the publishing director of Canterbury Press, Christine Smith, to gather ideas and resources. It was invaluable to have on the team the national worship development officer of the Church of England, the Revd Peter Moger (now Canon Precentor of York Minster), with others experi­enced in planning services, or composing and making music.

Although we did not not always agree about particular words or musical settings, we shared a passionate commitment to the continuing importance of hymnody in the lives of individual Christian believers, and of worshipping communities, in churches, schools, and cathedrals.

Our preparatory work included looking through the full range of liturgical material published as part of Common Worship to see if there were areas — such as initiation services — that might be better resourced musically. We tried to identify broader themes that were poorly served by the existing repertoire: for example, we hunted for good new material relating to environmental concern, and to aspects of recent thinking on mission and ministry. 

For evidence of what was already being widely sung, we looked in several places, including the lists on the Christian Copyright Licensing International website, which show the songs and hymns reported most fre­quently on annual copyright returns. We also took note of items appearing regularly in the RSCM’s quarterly liturgy planner, Sunday by Sunday.

WE TRAWLED through dozens of publica­tions that have appeared since the editors of Common Praise completed their work, from slim single-author collections to substantial books (such as the Church of Scotland’s most recent hymnal), or compilations for particular events, such as Spring Harvest.

Some resources represented distinctive kinds of repertoire, including the short songs used by the Taizé community, often with the addition of verses sung by cantors. We agreed to exclude songs specifically for children, but to keep in mind the needs of all-age worship.

There were particular writers we were keen to see represented, among them John Bell, Timothy Dudley-Smith, Bernadette Farrell, Keith Getty, Marty Haugen (from the United States), Martin Leckebusch, Shirley Erena Murray (from New Zealand), Margaret Rizza, and Stuart Townend. Another priority was to choose a few short songs from the world Church.

I am delighted that we were able to select a significant number of songs and hymn texts by women; intriguingly, hymn tunes com­posed by women seemed harder to find. Among the more unusual items, bell-ringers should enjoy Michael Perry’s “Ring out the bells” (set to John Barnard’s Yanworth).

SINCE congregations generally cope more easily with new words that are paired with music they already know, we looked for well-known tunes that would increase the chance of some of the unfamiliar hymn texts’ being taken up, but also found strong tunes not previously published.

New music takes more effort to learn, but our generation has a responsibility to assess the work of today’s composers, so that the best of the new can refresh the worshipping life of the Church. In a few cases, older words were matched with newer music: for instance, we included Vikki Cook’s song-like setting of “Before the throne of God above”.

Although the collection was initially conceived as a supplement to Common Praise, we decided that there should be a small number of hymns and songs also found in that book (sometimes with different tunes or the addition of a descant) in order for Sing Praise to be useful to as many people as possible.

Some of our lengthiest discussions were on material that has already been around for some time. For instance, did the fact that a piece was much loved in some circles mean that it necessarily warranted inclusion? An example is Sebastian Temple’s “Make me a channel of your peace”, which some felt had outlived its usefulness, despite its important theme. We resolved this by selecting instead a hymn by James Quinn, based on the same prayer and sung to a gentle English folk-melody.

It is surely right to cherish the treasures of the past while being open to new ways of celebrating musically a world “made different” by all that God has done, is doing, and will do. I trust that many will find in Sing Praise fresh words and music to enable prayer and praise, and to challenge, encourage, and inspire.

Anne Harrison chaired the editorial team for Sing Praise (Canterbury Press, 2010).

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