MIDI Melodies and Cyber Psalms: Two Sites that Include Thousands of Worship Songs

Listening to music on the Internet has become commonplace. These days, lots of folks are using Napster to download MP3 files from rock bands like Limp Bizkit. But others are logging on with a more devotional motive: to listen to and learn about psalms and hymns.

The Cyber Hymnal

The web is awash in sites about hymns and hymnody. Among the very best is “The Cyber Hymnal” at http://tch.wordnic.com. Not associated with any denomination, it is a free worship and teaching resource. You’ll find lyrics, MIDI sound files, pictures, history, and more for over 2,500 hymns.

A variety of search functions make it easy to use. You can search the vast database by topic (such as “light” or “prayer”) or by title, tune name, or meter. Or use the general search function to find that hymn about which all you remember is that it has the word “Ebenezer” in it.

The hymn comes up in a window with the lyrics, a picture of the composer and author, a bit of historical source information, and a link to a MIDI file so you can hear the tune commonly associated with it. (To hear the music, you need speakers, a sound card, and a browser that supports MIDI files.) Of course, this MIDI file is no musical masterpiece; it’s a plain vanilla rendition of the tune on a keyboard. But that’s enough to get a sense of the song. The great bonus is that the window also often indicates other tunes that text has been associated with. Let’s say you wanted to sing “Come, Holy Spirit, Our Souls Inspire” for Pentecost, but you weren’t thrilled with the plainsong tune veni creator spiritus. The page for this hymn offers the alternative veni creator by John Bacchus Dykes, 1875, with a link to click and hear it.

Pastors or worship leaders usually search for alternate tunes using a metrical index. But for those who are strangers to the back of the hymnal and who can’t read music or haven’t the musical training to hear tunes in their heads, this site offers a high-tech alternative. And for those who are familiar with the use of a metrical index, the site has an excellent one.

Metrical Psalms

Worship leaders interested in reclaiming the Reformed tradition of psalm singing will want to visit the site http://www.cgmusic.com/workshop/psametre_frame.htm for metrical settings of all 150 psalms. Jim Ross of Dallas, Texas, started this project in his spare time; his effort is not affiliated with any denomination or company (in spite of the .com listing) and again is available without charge. It includes the full texts for dozens of metrical psalms, hundreds of common tunes, and an easy way to find a good match. The site’s window is divided into three frames or smaller windows (assuming your browser supports frames—only older browsers don’t). In the first frame is a scrolling list of between six and twelve classic, older metrical versions for each psalm. A few newer versions (some from the 1959 Psalter Hymnal) are included, and he would be interested in adding more contemporary settings provided the copyright issues are handled properly.

Clicking on a particular version of a psalm will bring up the text in the middle window with source information, a meter marking, and sometimes a suggested tune or two. In the right-hand window is a list of tunes (and sources) in a particular meter. Clicking on the tune asks the browser to play a bare-bones MIDI file. So if you click on “CM,” at the top of this window, the list of all the CM tunes it has in its database will appear (over 120!). This way, a worship leader can hear many different melodies and wed a classic text to just the right tune.

Of course, there’s still the problem of getting the music from screen to sanctuary. You need to have enough savvy to find the tune in another hymnal on the shelf and get those notes to your keyboardist. Alternatively, at the Cyber Hymnal site you can print a score for each tune. The scores can only be read and printed with the software “NoteWorthy Composer,” a bargain at $39 (http://www.ntworthy.com/). Even then, the music is not physically wed to the text you’ve chosen. The congregation will need the text copied and pasted onto a bulletin insert or an overhead without the tune that goes with it. Physically separating the text from the tune in order to get just the right match aurally is a bit of a stretch for some congregations. But since that’s the way Christians sang their psalms and hymns for centuries, there’s no reason to imagine modern folks are incapable of doing so. And it’s worth it for such an excellent way to broaden your congregation’s repertoire of psalms.

Ron Rienstra is associate professor of preaching and worship arts at Western Theological Seminary and co-author of Worship Words: Discipling Language for Faithful Ministry (Baker Academic, 2009).