Hymnal Committees: Behind the Scenes

During the next year or two many congregations will open new hymnals. They'll admire the binding and the crisp new pages. They'll learn new songs and wonder what happened to some of the old ones. They'll learn new words for old, familiar tunes and some fresh tunes for old, familiar words.

Some will accept the new hymnals eagerly, grateful for the change. Others will be more cautious, analyzing changes in language and tone, questioning the need for Genevan Psalms or black spirituals.

Many-perhaps most-will give little thought to all the work that a new hymnal represents. They will praise or criticize the books without realizing that literally years of meeting, planning, selecting, composing, writing, and rewriting went into the hymnal.

To give RW 1 readers a better idea of the hours of work and the painstaking, prayerful care that lie behind three of the new hymnals—the Psalter Hymnal, Rejoice in the Lord, and the Trinity Hymnal—we contacted members of the respective hymnal revision committees, asking them to send us some of their memories, reactions, hopes, disappointments, and rewards of working on a new hymnal. Throughout this issue you will find their responses— some humorous, some serious. And we hope you will begin to sense some of the love and anguish and hope and prayer that these committee members poured into their work.

The information on each committee provided in the chart on this page should help you identify respondents and understand some of the background for their comments:

 

Psalter Hymnal
Revision Committee
Rejoice in the Lord
Committee
Trinity Hymnal
Revision Committee
Editor: Emily Brink Editor: Erik Routley Editor: Lawrence Roff
Members: Shirley Boomsma, Anthony Hoekema, Bert Polman, Marie Post, Jack Reiffer, Dale Topp, Dale Grotenhuis, John Hamer-sma, Verlyn Schultz, Calvin Seerveld, Jack Van Laar  Members: Robert J. De Young, Howard G. Hageman, Norman Kansfield, Gloria J. Norton, Roger Rietberg, Merwin Van Doornik, Lawrence Van Wyk Members: Jean Clowney, Ronald DeMaster, Peyton Gardner, Paul Kooistra, Calvin R. Malcor, Ronald Matthews, Thomas Patete, Donald Poundstone, Dennis Stager, Ford S. Williams, Jr., William Wymond
Length of Commitment: nine years; four or five meetings per year Length of Commitment: four years; three or four meetings per year Length of Commitment: four years, four meetings per year; work is ongoing
Hymnal Publication Date: fall 1987. Hymnal Publication Date: 1985 Hymnal Publication Date: summer 1988 (pending the approval of the OPC General Assembly)
Place of Meeting: Grand Rapids, Michigan Place of Meetings: Princeton, New Jersey Place of Meetings: Wilmington, Delaware; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Excerpts

One of the most unforgettable sights in my mind's eye is that of all the members of our committee seated about a large table in the sitting room of the Continuing Education Center at Princeton Seminary. Erik was seated at the piano. The table was littered with hymnbooks and papers. As a hymn text was approved for inclusion in the hymnbook, Erik would lean over and play a tune with which it had been long associated, a familiar alternate tune, or a new or unfamiliar tune which fit its metrical scheme. Occasionally he would play a new tune which he would not identify. These soon came to be known as ER tunes. The phenomenal thing about this procedure is that Erik could not only recite most or all of the text but could give the number at which it could be found in this or that hymnal, and, in addition, play the tune or tunes to which it had been or could be sung from memory.
—Roger Rietberg (RIL)

I was especially grateful for the almost constant unanimity with which we worked. The times of prayer and singing through suggested hymns were meaningful—as were the lunch and dinner times together.
—Ford Williams, Jr. (TH)

Among the satisfying experiences were going through some forty to fifty standard hymnals to pick the very best hymns from these collections, many of which had never been found in our previous Psalter Hymnals. Sometimes when a hymn seemed to promote dubious theology, it was either dropped or revised… It was hard work. But, among all the syn~ odkal committees on which I have served, this one was the most enjoyable.
—Anthony Hoekema (PH)