Monday, July 03, 2006

"O for a thousand books to sing..."

I collect hymnals. This is a recently acquired hobby, although it is one I considered taking up for some time. I have determined to make it my habit to seek out used bookstores in each town I visit and find whatever hymnals they have. In the last two weeks, I have more than doubled the number of volumes in my collection. As I was driving into Ithaca today, I stopped by the used bookstores on the Commons to see if I could reach 20. Depending on how you classify some of the volumes, you might claim I made it. Musical treasures abound in these books.

(This may be as far as you want to read in this entry, because from here on out the details get gritty.)

I bought my first hymnal in the spring of 2005 at the Friends of the Library Book Sale. It was the current edition (1989) of the United Methodist Hymnal. For my birthday that year, Becky gave me two Lutheran hymnals and one from the United Church of Christ. In Burlington, Vermont, she pointed me to a collection of American hymns ranging from the 17th century to original commissioned works, and it didn’t take me much deliberation to decide to get it. The real fun started at this spring’s Friends of the Library sale, when I found a book dating from the 1880s and a book of revival-era songs.

Here is the full set as it currently stands, in chronological order:
  • Book of Worship with Tunes (1880, Lutheran Publication Society)
  • Laudes Domini: A selection of spiritual songs ancient & modern (1887, The Century Co.)
  • Junior Praises (1901, Western Methodist Book Concern)
  • The Gospel in Song (1926, Review and Herald Publishing Association)
  • Glorious Gospel Hymns (1931, Nazarene Publishing House)
  • Union Hymnal: Songs and prayers for Jewish worship (1932, The Central Conference of American Rabbis)
  • The Concordia Hymnal, bound with a supplementary section as the St. Olaf College Song Book (1934, Augsberg Publishing House)
  • The Hymnal of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (1940, The Church Pension Fund)
  • The Hymnal for Youth (1941, The Westminster Press)
  • Tabernacle Hymns Number Four, round note edition (1951, Tabernacle Publishing Company)
  • The Methodist Hymnal (1966, The Methodist Publishing House)
  • Crusader Hymns and Hymn Stories (1967, The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association)
  • The Hymnal of the United Church of Christ (1974, United Church Press, 7th printing 1979)
  • The Hymn Book, words only (1975, the Anglican Church of Canada and the United Church of Canada)
  • Lutheran Book of Worship, organist edition (1978, Lutheran Church in America, 17th printing 2005)
  • The United Methodist Hymnal (1989, The United Methodist Publishing House, 11th printing 1994)
  • With One Voice: A Lutheran resource for worship (1995, Augsberg Fortress)
  • The Celebration Hymnal: Songs and hymns for worship (1997, Word/Integrity)
I also have the following reference works, which include a number of hymns as well:
  • American Hymns Old and New, 2 volumes, including notes on the hymns and biographies of the authors and composers (1980, Columbia University Press)
  • A Survey of Christian Hymnody (1987, Hope Publishing Company)
and the following references which contain few if any hymns:
  • Biography of Gospel Song and Hymn Writers, by J. H. Hall (1914, Fleming H. Revell Company)
  • The Chorale Through Four Hundred Years, by Edwin Liemohn (1953, Muhlenberg Press)
  • Liturgies of the Western Church, by Bard Thompson (1961, Fortress Press)

Each book has its particular value. In Laudes Domini I found a lovely setting of “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness”. The St. Olaf College Song Book has many of F. Melius Christiansen’s hymn arrangements, and the supplement holds a ballad about Olav in a setting by Grieg. Junior Praises has a text set to the tune of “Swanee River”. Glorious Gospel Hymns (which has, so far, the worst editing job of my collection) is the only hymnal I have containing a tune I had been singing to myself for some time until I found this book. (To give you an idea of the editing, the tune is attributed twice to Rossini and once to Haydn, but I think the former is correct.)* The United Methodist Hymnal introduced me to Charles Wesley's poem “Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown” and the complete text of “Glory to God, and Praise and Love”, from which “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing” is taken. Among five hymnals, I have seven different settings of “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy” (or “poor and wretched,” which I think is the original), three of which have an added refrain. And yes, I did happen upon a Jewish hymnal, with a number of tunes based on traditional (e.g., Sephardic) melodies.

The reactions of my friends upon hearing of this collection have been varied. Becky claims that if I continue this practice, then at the end of my life I’ll have a collection that I’ll have to donate to St. Olaf, and that they’ll love it. Some friends chide me in jest for having an addiction. One remarked that a famous hymnist, Philip Bliss, is from this region (born in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania).

In any case, I’m pleased with what I’ve found so far. Searching through used bookstores means finding a concentration of hymnals from the first half of the 20th century—I suspect this is due in part to dispersing the possessions of people who have passed on, and may have received these books early in their lives. Apart from the United Methodist Hymnal and American Hymns, the more contemporary works I have were gifts.

Now that you’ve read far more than you expected or wanted to about my new hobby, I’ll alert you that this is as much for my own records as it is to enlighten anyone else on it. But perhaps some of you enjoyed the curious diversity of the list. :-)

* Added 9 July: I have now discovered the tune in both of my 1880s hymnals. It is by Rossini, and its name is “Manoah”.


Harlan Moore said...


Great to see your interest in hymnals. I was involved as publisher in the most recent Nazarene hymnal (Sing to the Lord 1993) and can attest somewhat to the complexity of making a book like this functional for a denomination as well as a general use book for anyone. Hymnals are snap-shots of time, when we stop and review the status of our hymnody. Yes, we are all about preserving the great stuff of the past, but people are looking for what fits their current world best when they shop for a hymnal. It's almost like a church directory though; bits and pieces start to go out of date rather quickly. I'd have to say that the current situation is vastly different from what it was only 13 years ago.

I've managed to collect a few myself over the years,including several personal songbooks from Haldor Lillenas, the prolific songwriter and namesake of my former company, Lillenas Publishing. It's exciting to handle and retain some of the great things of the past. I hope your collection grows significantly over the years.

God's blessings on you.

Harla Moore

jpb said...


I meant no disrespect to Mr. Lillenas nor to the hymnal itself. Glorious Gospel Hymns is a fine collection of hymns, and I look forward to learning more about the works of Lillenas that it contains. I should perhaps have been more specific in my criticism: using it as a reference work, I have encountered numerous small irritations, such as the lack of tune names, metrical index, author index, or even occasionally (as I mentioned initially) clear attribution. I am grateful to have it in my collection, however, and I intend to keep using it.

I appreciate your comments, and your perspective on hymnody. May God continue to bless your ministry.

Leon Estes said...

Hello, "JPB"; Joshua, I presume. I was looking for a reference to "Glorious Gospel Hymns" because I am bidding on a copy on Ebay. I was curious as to it's publication date. I also am collecting Hymn Books. Also listing Hymn authors and Musicians along with publ date, Musical Key, and tempo. [current holder of copyright if easily available.] Thank you for sharing your thoughts. If you would care to correspond, I am "" in OKC Metro area.