Books: The Presbyterian Hymnal Complete Concordance and Indexes; Hymnsearch; The Presbyterian Hymnal

The Presbyterian Hymnal Complete Concordance and Indexes, compiled by Judith L. Muck. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1997. 340 pp. Paper $26.00.
Hymnsearch: Indexes for The Presbyterian Hymnal, compiled by William S. Smith. Jackson, Mississippi: William S. Smith, 1995. 458 pp.
The Presbyterian Hymnal: Software Edition, produced by Steve Metzger. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1997. CD-ROM with some documentation. $199.00.

Several new resources to complement The Presbyterian Hymnal are worth considering for worship planners, whether or not they sing from that hymnal.

The Presbyterian Hymnal Complete Concordance and Indexes is, one might say, the more official index volume for the Presbyterian Hymnal that was published in 1990 and its ecumenical version, Hymns, Psalms and Spiritual Songs. Published by Westminster/John Knox Press, the hymnal's cover design clearly shows that it belongs in the same series ofbooks as the hymnal and Lindajo McKim's The Presbyterian Hymnal Companion. It contains an "Index of Scriptural Allusions (Scripture to Hymn)" of some 80 pages, which is a most welcome supplement to the four-page index in the hymnal itself. It also contains a 52-page topical index, over four times the size of that in the hymnal, with twice as many subject headings. A very intriguing "Index of Scriptural Allusions (Hymn to Scripture)," lists each hymn by number, and then notes Scripture passages to which the hymn alludes. This could be most valuable when preparing a hymn festival.

The bulk of the book—158 pages—is an actual concordance. Judith Muck, a librarian and bookstore manager, has brought her library science skills to bear in creating a "Key Word Index," adapted from the pattern of The Judson Concordance to Hymns by Thomas B. McDormand and Frederic S. Crossman. Common nouns and verbs have been systematically chosen as key words, and the index displays the number and particular phrase of the hymn in which they appear. This could be wonderfully useful for someone who remembers a particular word or phrase of a hymn but not a first line. It might also be of scholarly interest in tracking certain words and phrases. But because key words are not necessarily topics, it cannot replace a good topical index.

If the Concordance carries some sort of Presbyterian imprimatur (or at least that of its publisher), then Hymnsearch most certainly does not. William Smith, the retired Presbyterian minister who compiled Hymnsearch, also published it himself, apparently because he felt ministers needed this kind of resource; you may order it by calling Smith directly at (601) 366-5994, or by calling the Hymn Society at 1-800-THE-HYMN.

The primary focus of this book is the 400-page "Scripture Index," featuring allusions for every canonical passage listed in the Revised Common Lectionary (1992) and several others that Smith, as a preacher, thought to be important to worship planning. Where Smith judged a hymn to be especially appropriate to a particular Scripture, he listed it in bold type.

The book also features a substantial (49-page) topical index and several specialized indices: "Alternate Arrangements of Hymns," "Canons/Rounds," "Hymns in Languages Other Than English," "Descants," "Persons Mentioned in Hymns," "Liturgical Index," and "Places Mentioned in Hymns." Smith concludes with a brief list of suggestions to facilitate the use of the hymnal and a page of "Helps for Improving the Congregation's Song."

While I rarely preach in congregations that use The Presbyterian Hymnal, I keep Hymnsearch on my desk reference shelf for easy access during worship planning. Its copious Scriptural index leads me into a wide range of possibilities for congregational songs and gives me ideas for still more songs that aren't included here. While the Concordance is a thorough catalogue prepared by a capable professional, Hymnsearch carries the marks of editorship by someone who has planned biblical Reformed worship for many years. If your liturgy is built upon the proclaimed Word each week, then Hymnsearch is a book you'll want on your own shelf.

The Software Edition is a fascinating and potentially very useful product. While the program requires 100 megabytes of hard disk space to be fully installed, one can install the drivers alone and then run the program from the CD drive. It allows electronic searches by key words, scriptural allusions, Revised Common Lectionary passages, first lines or common titles, subjects or topics, tune names, tune meters, and sources of either tunes or texts. Once the user has found a hymn, she or he can look at information from any of the search categories, review the history of the hymn from The Presbyterian Hymnal Companion, paste information from the screen (including the music) into other applications, add personal notes to be left for future reference, print the hymn out, or even play the tune on the computer.

Speaking as a competent but not expert computer user, I can report that the program is easy to install and use. The "play music" option would be helpful for worship planners who don't read music. Though not nearly as complete as those in Hymnsearch, the scriptural indices are significantly faster. The music printing feature requires a high-resolution printer; mine came out fuzzy at anything below 600 dots per inch. Even so, I wish I had more software editions of hymnic resources to go alongside the best of my books.

It's too bad that these products couldn't have been prepared in cooperation, as one truly exhaustive resource. Perhaps there's a lesson here for all of our denominational work: when we get too wrapped up in official plans and patterns, we might not hear other creative voices at work out in the church. Using the best of what everyone has to offer is a hallmark of our Reformed tradition, one we can ill afford to lose.

James Hart Brumm ( is pastor and teacher of Blooming Grove Reformed Church (RCA) in DeFreestville, New York. He is editor of Liturgy Among the Thorns: Essays on Worship in the Reformed Church in America (Eerdmans, 2008). A new collection of his hymns, Rhythms of Praises, has recently been published by Wayne Leupold Editions.


Reformed Worship 49 © September 1998, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.