By Robin G. Jordan
The key to making the best use of the Gulbransen Digital Hymnal DH-100 CP, Gulbransen Digital Hymnal DH-200, and similar digital hymnal players is to make the hymns and hymn tunes in the device’s master index the church’s hymnal and not The Hymnal, 1940. This will involve the purchase of a number of the hymnals listed in the digital hymnal player’s manual, a modest investment that will enable a church to take greater advantage of its repertoire. The Hymnal, 1940 will continue to provide the core of the hymns and hymn tunes used in worship but the hymnal will no longer set the limits of what hymns and hymn tunes are used.
Small Anglican church congregations using The Hymnal 1982 have an advantage over those using The Hymnal, 1940 since The Hymnal 1982 is one of the hymnals that is listed in the manual of the Gulbransen Digital Hymnal DH-100 CP and the Gulbransen Digital Hymnal DH-200 and for which these digital hymnal players were designed to provide the accompaniment. The same approach, however, may be used to expand the repertoire of such congregations, supplementing the hymns and hymn tunes of The Hymnal 1982 with hymns and hymn tunes from other sources.
The first step is to identify what hymns and hymn tunes are familiar to the congregation. There are two ways to do this. One method is to conduct a hymn survey in which the members of the congregation write down a list of twenty-five or more hymns that they know.
A second method is to task a committee of congregation members with systematically going through the hymnal and identifying the hymns and hymn tunes that they know. This committee should be representative of the average singers in the congregation and should not include any choir members if the church has a choir. The committee lists every hymn and hymn tune into one of four categories. If everyone knows the hymn or hymn tune, it is listed as very familiar. If two-thirds of the committee members know the hymn or hymn tune, it is listed as familiar. If less than two-thirds but not less than one-half of the committee members know it, the hymn or hymn tune is listed as somewhat familiar. If less than half of the committee members know the hymn or hymn, it is listed as unfamiliar. With a very small congregation, the whole congregation can take part in this process.
The information gathered from the use of these two methods will worship planners a rough idea of what is the congregation’s core repertoire, the strengths of that repertoire, and its weaknesses. It will also enable worship planners to make the best use of the hymns and hymn tunes in the congregation’s core repertoire and to be more deliberate in helping the congregation to master less familiar hymns and to learn new ones.
The hymns used in Sunday worship are more than embellishments to the liturgy. They are a part of the congregation’s worship. They should not only be selected for their musical appeal, familiarity, and accessibility but also for their appropriateness to the particular juncture in the service in which they are used. This includes the mood that they create at the point in the service where they are used, and their contribution to the smooth flow of the service. Even a small church congregation needs a repertoire large enough so that it does not need to sing the same hymn for several Sundays in a row because it does not have any other suitable hymn in its repertoire for that point in the service.
A good practice is to sort the hymns and hymn tunes in a congregation’s core repertoire by their liturgical use, emotional tone (or mood), tempo, and meter. This information is useful in planning the music of services as well as assessing the repertoire’s strengthens and weaknesses.
Liturgically usefulness should be an important consideration in the selection of new hymns and hymn tunes to teach to the congregation. It also something that should be kept in mind in choosing unfamiliar hymns and hymn tunes that only a few members of the congregation may know but which would be a good addition to the congregation’s repertoire.
A practice that I also recommend is to keep a record of how often a hymn or hymn tune is used. This record can be used to ensure that a wider selection of hymns and hymn tunes is used instead of the same handful of hymns and hymn tunes over and over again.
In expanding a congregation’s repertoire a good initial goal is to help the whole congregation become familiar with liturgically useful hymns that some members of the congregation know but others do not. The familiarity of a part of the congregation with a hymn or hymn tune can be used to help the rest of the congregation to learn it. In an upcoming article I will look at specific ways of introducing new or unfamiliar hymns to small church congregations.