Rejoice in the Lord: A Hymn Companion to the Scriptures

Edited by Erik Routley Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1985, 624 songs, $12.95.

Rejoice in the Lord is a new hymnal for the Reformed Church in America. Edited by the late Erik Routley, well-known British hymnologist, this attractive publication rightly claims to be "biblical in its basic design, Reformed in its theological orientation, and catholic in its scope." Avoiding exclusive use of one musical style or one theological period, the book provides a wide range of texts and tunes.

The hymnbook committee should be congratulated on the plan of the book: "the canonical order of the Bible has provided the outline for the selection and arrangement of hymns." Never has a mere table of contents seemed so imaginative and stimulating. Following John Wesley's suggestion in his 1780 hymn-book, the hymns are "carefully arranged under proper heads, according to the experience of real Christians." The heads are short phrases from Scripture, gathered under four main topics—Part I: The God of Abraham Praise; Part II: Behold the Lamb of God; Part III: Spirit of Truth, Spirit of Power; Part IV: The Hope of Glory.

Equally stimulating is Erik Routley's "Editor's Introduction," written in his usual forthright and provocative style. From it we learn in delight that the hymnbook committee chose to present texts in a more complete form than current hymnals do, to stay close to each author's original text, and to be sensitive to but not overzealous in the cause of "inclusive language."

In musical matters the committee placed great importance on the ease and accessibility of tunes. After examining the wide range of hymns in history, the committee decided to include sizeable representations from the following significant but often-neglected areas of Christian hym-nody: Genevan psalmody (twenty-five tunes), medieval plainsong (three tunes), English and Scottish psalm tunes, German chorales, French diocesan tunes, English hymns from the time of Purcell and Handel, northern and southern American "folk hymnody," nineteenth-century American and English hymnody, and the hymns of this century. The result is indeed "a healthy hymnody, in which the best of all ages is honored."


Bold and Distinct

The reviewer of a hymnbook does his work in an artificial context, for a hymnal is not a book to be read and played alone. It is a book for a community, and the true test of its merit is in whether it is used, accepted, and loved (or rejected) by a body of believers.

Keeping that in mind, this reviewer in his lonely cell can only be impressed by the strength, integrity, and boldness of Rejoice in the Lord. The hymnal is strong and very markedly different from any other hymnal now used in Reformed circles.

However, the book's boldness and distinctiveness both recommend it and restrict it. If I, as a reviewer, find so much that is new in this hymnal, what about the worshiper? If, as Erik Routley once said, church music is music for the unmusical, should they not have been remembered more in this, his last book?

A much more serious error, it seems to me, is Routley's decision to introduce a large amount of his own work into Rejoice in the Lord. Several previous hymnals have been weakened by the compositions and arrangements of their own editors. Hymnal committees seem to be less rigorous when examining the products of their coworkers. Unfortunately, this is a serious weakness in Rejoice in the Lord. Erik Routley was a great hymnologist, a superb writer, and a fascinating speaker. He commands less respect as a composer. Most of the Routley hymns arrangements in this book are not ones that can "be sung after two or three hearings." Their musical sophistication often borders on unnaturalness. When examining his own works, understandably but nonetheless lamentably, Routley was unable to apply the basic principles of musical choice that he championed in his Introduction to this hymnal.


Grateful

In spite of these weaknesses in the hymnal, singers of hymns in Reformed churches will long be grateful to the makers of Rejoice in the Lord for giving them so many great hymns from the great traditions. Particularly evident are the fine texts and tunes from the nineteenth-century Anglican writers; the hymns of Parry, Stanford, Howells, and Dykes—little known in Reformed churches today—stir our souls at first hearing and quickly become special favorites. Other traditions are also well represented in the hymnal's pages: many good American folk hymns are here; unknown, uncomplicated settings by Bach are ajoy to find; and our own Genevan psalmody finds a long-awaited, long-deserved home. Thus, even though I may have some reservations about certain selections, I do heartily recommend this hymnal to the churches.

Howard Slenk is director of music at Woodlawn CRC in Grand Rapids, Michigan.