Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Hymns That Keep On Going

If you have not already seen it, you will probably be interested in a recent article by the above title from Christianity Today (that you can read online). The author sifted through twenty-eight hymnals from "mainline" Protestant denominations, from 1877 to the present, which contained 4905 different hymns to find which ones were most often used over that entire period. His final list of twenty seven hymns appeared in at least twenty-six of those, and the top thirteen appeared in all of them.

Appeared in 28 of 28:

All hail the power of Jesus' Name

How firm a foundation

In the cross of Christ I glory

When I survey the wondrous cross

Appeared in 27 of 28:

All glory, laud, and honor

Come, thou almighty King

O, for a thousand tongues to sing

The Church's one foundation

Appeared in 26 of 28:

Christ the Lord is ris'n today

The day of resurrection

It's interesting to compare this list to the one from The Best Church Hymns (1899) which we've talked about here before. Louis Benson was working with a much larger number of hymnals (107), and there was much more variation between them, as no hymn appeared in all of those (the top hymn missed one!).

Comparing Benson's top thirteen with the top thirteen here (which appeared in all 28 hymnals), only two appear in both lists; Benson's #2, When I survey the wondrous cross and his #8, Abide with me. Three from the modern list moved up to that top thirteen, but ten of the original top thirteen dropped off the modern list entirely (though a few are probably not too far down in the #30s or 40s).

Of Benson's bottom nineteen, only nine of them remain on the modern list. So, between them, the two lists only share eleven hymns. Our tastes have changed (or at least, the tastes of hymnal editors). You probably know all of the hymns on this new list, which might not have been true of the older list.

The other thing to remember is that all of the hymns on the modern list were already published before Benson's 1899 book; they're not new hymns, but ones that have become much more popular today than they were a hundred years ago. Twenty-two of them didn't make the older list but for whatever reason, we prefer them now to two-thirds of Benson's selections.

One's favorite hymns are not necessarily the same as the most popular hymns, but I was a little surprised to realize that five of
my top ten hymns are on this new list. I expected to be a bit more exclusive than that (though if I thought about it today, my top ten might be a little different than it was when I wrote that almost two years ago).

Two Years Ago: Saint Joseph

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