Thursday, June 11, 2009

Top Ten (of a Particular Moment)

Over at the blog Semicolon, the author is counting down the favorite one hundred "hymns" determined by the survey she conducted last month, to which some of us here contributed our favorite ten. Total number of responders has not yet been revealed; her goal was to have one hundred, but we only know there were more than sixty.

I still haven't posted my full ten, but here's much of the list (the ones I have already written about during the first seventeen months of the blog).

10. Jerusalem the golden

9. Abide with me, fast falls the eventide

8. Spirit of God, descend upon my heart

7. _______________________

6. O worship our God

5. The spacious firmament on high

4. Who are these like stars appearing

3. ___________________________

2. Love divine, all loves excelling

1. ____________________________

This is what I submitted a few weeks ago; looking at it today I would probably shuffle it a little.

Numbers 91 - 101 (there was a three-way tie for last place) of the Semicolon survey have been posted as of this writing. Of course, the results will be related to the people who responded, and the hymns, gospel songs, and contemporary worship music loved by those respondents. Thus far the results are more heavily weighted toward the latter two than toward hymns per se, but we can't really tell whether that will remain true for the ninety remaining selections. I do suspect, however, that as many as five of my own top ten didn't make the overall one hundred.

The three missing hymns above will be revealed over the next few weeks. A few clues:

Number three has already appeared in Semicolon's top one hundred. The fact that it was so far down says something about the rest of my list, I think. I was saving this one until the composer's birthday next year, but now we'll see it sooner.

Number seven probably would also have waited for the composer's birthday (one that I have not yet marked in the last two years). It also happens to be on commenter Leland Bryant Ross's top ten list, posted on his blog.

Number one... well, there are no clues that I can think of. You either know what it is, or you don't. I'll tell, eventually (though it is apparently still under copyright in the US).

One Year Ago: Saint Barnabas


Sherry said...

How do you draw a distinction between hymns and gospel songs? Have you written about this distinction somewhere? Is it simply related to time period? I'm curious because I can't seem to get a handle on the difference.

AuntE said...

It is confession time. I chickened out on Semicolon's survey! I just couldn't bring myself to set aside the amount of time it would take me to choose only 10 hymns. When I read your list, CWS, I say to myself, "Oh yes, I'd put that one in!" Then I read Leland's list and say the same thing! - so... I chickened out. :(

Leland Bryant Ross said...

Sherry asks a good question, and one that I don't think has been definitively answered anywhere. Was it Aquinas (I think?) who said, "A hymn is the praise of God in song"? If so then a great many "gospel songs" and "contemporary praise choruses" are "hymns" by the scholastic definition. On the other hand, by that definition something like "The Church's one foundation" is really more like Illustrated Classics Junior Theology Series in Song than like praise per se, hence not a "hymn". I've seen definitions of "gospel song" that harped on the refrain as a feature of the gospel song, or focused on the stateliness and decorum of the hymn, but if you've ever sung "All glory, laud and honor" in the five-stanza format as a processional on Palm Sunday, you know that a refrain it do got, and stately it ain't necessarily. I think the old convention of tacking a final "doxology" stanza on most anything was perhaps an effort to qualify the preceding text as a "hymn" (hence suitable for church use) under some definition such as Aquinas's.

I try not to draw the distinction in my own list-making; usually all I ask is that a hymn be stanzaic. In my current planning for a hymn sing in October focusing on Psalm 23/Good Shepherd topics (as well as Boberg and Bates), for example all the hymns, gospel songs and metrical psalm paraphrases (another category that could be distinguished from the hymn, and must be in Calvinist historical discussions) have at least two stanzas, except that at the organist's request we will be admitting Malotte's 23rd.

I'll be doing the "Special Music" at Fremont on 6/28, and yesterday we finalized the choices: a reprise of the recently enormously popular Swahili chorus "Bariki Baba", "I Sing a Song of the Saints of God" by the controversially named ;-) Lesbia Scott, and "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" None of these would be called a hymn by the most stringent definition, and really only the first would pass muster with Aquinas (assuming he knew Swahili), but I think musicians and congregation will have a good time, and God will be glorified in the process.

Leland Bryant Ross said...

I started a thread on this at; the post I linked to here is a compendious conflation of several of our top-ten lists, for a total of about 34, as of June 1. I'm going to post Sherry's 91-101 choices there later today.

Leland aka Haruo

C.W.S. said...

As far as the hymn / gospel song difference, it would be easiest to say that I know it when I see it, but that's not very helpful. I think some of the confusion arises from the fact that today, in many denominations, both hymns and gospel songs, as well as more contemporary worship music all appear side-by-side in books called "hymnals" that are used in worship.

I do think that there is a distinction, which I think is partly and (perhaps over-)simply enumerated in the Wikipedia entry for "Hymn," particularly in the section The development of Christian hymnody. I would add that the difference is largely in musical style, but there is also a relation to the time period. Gospel songs developed somewhat out of Sunday school songs of the mid-nineteenth century, first becoming popular in hundreds of separate published books before they became more incorporated in denominational hymnals.

I write about both hymns and gospel songs here, though admittedly leaning more toward hymns (e.g., all of my own top ten) because that's where my background is for the most part. I'm not terribly interested in the contemporary style and so don't write much about it, plus, I don't use copyrighted material here.

Hope that sorts things out at least a bit.

Leland Bryant Ross said...

Well, Sherry's latest (Aus tiefer Not) is certainly a hymn (except that it's also a metrical psalm paraphrase, I think) as opposed to a gospel song, so maybe there's hope for your favorites yet, CWS.

I am not convinced that there is an objective boundary between "hymn" and "gospel song", or rather I think the boundary varies a fair amount from person to person and local-church or school tradition to tradition. I am not sure that any of the hymns Thomas Aquinas was accustomed to, sung as he was accustomed to hearing them sung, would sound as similar to the intersection of my notion of "hymn" and your notion of "hymn" as the latter is to the most gospel-songy of Sherry's bottom ten. (I don't know that, I'm just guessing.) I think what "sounds like a hymn" vs. what "sounds like a gospel song" has more to do with performance values than with anything intrinsic to the text. But again, I am guessing and may be guessing wrong; I await the evidence.

Leland aka Haruo

AuntE said...

Leland, I tend to agree with you in that my definition of a hymn is (according to some) quite broad - does it have stanzas? I also think you might be right in your point about objective boundaries between hymns and gospel songs. There are some good, new hymns being written. I particularly like Stewart Townend's work. At the very least, I personally want to avoid the trap of hymn = old, gospel song = new because I don't think that is valid! I began a post the other day which I may finish tomorrow... "When is a hymn not a hymn?"

C.W.S. said...

I would never suggest that hymn = old and gospel song = new. They were a "new" form in the 1870s, but gospel songs as we know them are not really being written any longer, having been supplanted by the pop/contemporary worship style of music (as gospel songs were in their day).

More formal "hymn" texts and tunes, however, continue to appear every year, reflecting updated language and modern theology while remaining in a tradition that has developed over hundreds of years.

robert said...

Thanks for posting some of your favourite hymns. Glad to see Joseph Addison's great hymn on the list. On my own blog on Sunday Aug. 23, I noted that was the anniversary of the publication of the hymn in 1712.

I'm a hymn and gospel song person myself. Most (though not all) of the contemporary stuff leaves me cold. Glad to have the input on your blog to help keep our heritage in hymns alive.

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