Friday, July 6, 2012

Introduction to Etymology of Hymns

Hello everyone,
     I am creating this blog to explore one of my many interests, church hymns. I have been fascinated by the hymns that we sing in church, but where do they come from? How did these songs come about? What is the   history behind these hymns? I have always wanted to learn the answer to these questions and I believe others share the same feeling as well. My goal of this blog is to take a few hymns a week and explore the origins of the tunes as well as the texts. Being that I am a musician (piano and trumpet), hymns have been a big part of my life in the church, but just recently I have discovered some new ways to identify which hymn is being sung.
     When it comes to identifying which hymn is being sung, there are three ways in which one can narrow it down. The first is the broadest way to identify which hymn is being sung. You can identify the hymn by the number of syllables in each line. In the numerical index of the hymnal, you will find that every song that has a particular syllabic outline will be listed under a given numeric sequence. For example the hymn" Oh Worship the King," has a numerical outline of 10 10 11 11 11. This means that the first two lines of text have ten syllables each and the next three lines of text have 11 syllables each. A few other hymns that have the same numerical outline are "You Servants of God", and "Rejoice in God's Saints." 
     The second way to identify a hymn is even more specific. The name of the tune that the text is set to. In some hymns, there are two different texts that can be set to the same tune making it difficult sometimes to identify the hymn simply by the tune. A specific reason why sometimes the hymns are labeled by the tune can be traced back to the Shaker times. Back in the early times of america (late 18th century early 19th century), many people did not know how to read music. To keep things simple, Hymnals would not have any music printed in them, but rather only the text of the hymn, as well as the name of the tune that the text would be set to. Because music was not a common practice back then, members of a community would be taught different tunes by family members or other members of their church. An example of a tune that has two different texts is the hymns "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing," as well as the hymn "Praise the  One Who Breaks the Darkness." Both of these hymns will sound the same if played on a piano with no text because they are both set to the tune "Nettleton."
     The third and final way to identify the hymn that is being sung is the most specific. You can identify which hymn is being sung by simply looking at the title of the hymn. Each numbered hymn in the hymnal has a different title which allows one to tell not only which hymn is being sung, but sometimes it can tell you the 
"season," for which that hymn is meant. Certain hymns are grouped together in such a manner as they should be sung in a given church "season," (I.E. Christmas hymns, Easter hymns, Pentecost etc.), which gives an even more specific way of grouping the hymns. Most people, however, do not pay attention to which "season," the hymn belongs to.
     Hymns are a very important part of the church service and can add so much to the experience of church. I hope to be able to shed some light on some of the hymns that we as Christians hear on Sunday mornings, but we may not know exactly where they came from or what they mean. I am always open to suggestions of hymns to write on!

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