Austin C. Lovelace. Chicago: G.I.A. Publications, Inc., 1987,120 pages, $9.00.
This little book does exactly what its title says: it offers background material on hymns in short paragraphs that can be used in church bulletins or educational materials; anyone who purchases the book may use this information without permission or charge. The stated purpose of this resource is to help worshipers to sing not only with the Spirit but also with understanding, as Paul exhorts us to do (I Cor. 14:15).
Austin Lovelace has spent his entire career working win hymns from the worshiper's standpoint. As a church musician, composer, author, clinician and lecturer, long-time member and former president of the Hymn Society of America, Lovelace has tirelessly promoted hymns and hymn singing. Recognizing his wealth of knowledge and commitment, the Hymn Society of America asked him to prepare these notes.
Lovelace admits that the most difficult task was deciding what to include from the wealth of available material. He addressed the basic who, when, what, why, and how questions for over 400 hymns that are most commonly found in major American hymnals. In addition to these facts come Lovelace's personal comments, born of his knowledge and experience with the hymns.
Perhaps the best way to convince RW readers to get a copy of this helpful resource is to quote a couple of entries:
All things bright and beautiful
Cecil Frances Alexander, 1818-1895
Source: Hymns for Little Children, 1848
The wife of an Anglican bishop, Mrs. Alexander wrote nearly 400 hymns, the most famous of which are those written to teach children the meaning of various parts of the Apostles' Creed. The simple yet picturesque words help to describe the phrase "Maker of heaven and earth," which is based on Genesis 1:31, "And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good."
Hark! the herald angels sing
Charles Wesley, 1707-1788
Source: Hymns and Sacred Poems, 1739
The original first line was "Hark, how all the welkin rings, Glory to the King of kings." Since "welkin" (all the heavens) was obscure, the line was changed by the famous preacher George Whitefield. This is the most theological of our Christmas hymns, and owes much of its popularity to the tune of Mendelssohn, taken from his cantata for male voices and brass choir celebrating the invention of printing by Gutenberg. He wrote, "I am sure that it will be liked very much by the singers and the hearers, but it will never do to sacred words." How wrong he was! The tune that Wesley had in mind was EASTER HYMN, to which we sing "Jesus Christ is risen today."
O worship the King
Robert Grant, 1779-1838
Source: Church Psalmody, 1833
Grant, of Scottish birth, became a member of Parliament, Judge Advocate General, and was knighted when appointed Governor of Bombay. His hymn is in the same unusual meter as William Kethe's version and is a free paraphrase of Psalm 104, which celebrates in rich language the works of God in creation. The last two stanzas are more personal in character, with the last (often omitted, unfortunately) beginning "O measureless Might, ineffable Love."