Hymn Society in Richmond, VA

The Hymn Society in the U.S. and Canada is meeting this week in Richmond, VA. Some 350 of us are here. Theme this year is “Tree of Life and Love: The Blossoming of Song since Vatican II.” Keynote speakers are Fr. John Baldovin, SJ, Fr. Michael Joncas, and Victoria Sirota, and I’m chairing a panel with Emily Brink, Ruth Duck, Michael Hawn, and David Music.

The Hymn Society is largely Protestant in membership, but has included a good sampling of Catholics from the beginning in 1922. There are nearly 2000 members.

We began last night with a hymn fest, “Planted Beside Flowing Water: Celebrating Some Key Themes of Vatican II,” led by Carl Daw and Delores Dufner, OSB. To give you a taste of a Hymn Society meeting, here is a listing of the pieces sung, with the thematic titles given to each.

Opening: “Like the Stars that Hymned Creation” by Carl Daw / AR HYD Y NOS, Welsh melody

The church as all the baptized, called to share Christ’s mission to the world: At the Font We Start Our Journey” by Jeffery Rowthorn / UNION SEMINARY by Harold Friedell

The pilgrim nature of the church: Bless Now, O God, the Journey” by Sylvia Dunstan / LLANGLOFFAN, 19th c. Welsh tune

The solidarity of the church with the whole human family: The Church of Christ in Every Age” by Fred Pratt Green / DUNEDIN by Vernon Griffiths

Our call to read the signs of the times in light of the Gospel: “What New Endeavors Will We Draw” by Adam Tice / RADIANT CITY by Thomas Pavlechko

Openness to all that is good and true in every culture and religion: Too Often, God Your Name is Used” by Thomas Troeger / IN NOMINE DEI by Sally Ann Morris

The centrality of the Word of God: “We Marvel at the Words, O Christ” by Harman Stuempfle / SALVATION from Kentucky Harmony

Liturgy as the prayer of the whole church acting together with Christ: “In Christ Called to Worship” by Ruth Duck / ST. DENIO, Welsh ballad

The Holy Spirit’s role in renewing the church and bringing creation to fulfillment: “Send Us Your Spirit” by David Haas

Closing: “Sing a New Church” by Delores Dufner OSB / NETTLETON





26 responses to “Hymn Society in Richmond, VA”

  1. Fr. Jan Michael Joncas Avatar
    Fr. Jan Michael Joncas

    I’d like to flesh out Fr. Anthony’s report on the opening night Hymn Festival with a few comments.

    1) There is something glorious about joining in sung worship with representatives from so many Christian denominations hymning our common faith so full-throatedly.

    2) In addition to the opening and closing hymns, the eight central hymns each reflected major themes of Vatican II’s teaching; Carl Daw and Sr. Delores alternated in reading selections from the Vatican II documents appropriate to each of these themes before we sang the hymns.

    3) The directions for singing the verses of the hymns in unison or SATB or men or women or left side or right side or by those with blue eyes or brown eyes (!) certainly kept us focused on the texts and provided great variety of timbres.

    4) Carol Doran served as organist for the festival and truly modeled how the intelligent choice of registration and styles of rhythmic playing can truly lead an assembly (350+) in song.

    Perhaps some ambitious parishes or other worshiping communities might want to sponsor a similar hymn festival or a service of lessons and carols to mark to the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of _Sacrosanctum Concilium_ later this year.

  2. Phil Eichorn Avatar
    Phil Eichorn

    I like some modern (post-1970) hymns. Not all, not by a long shot. But I’m sure a lot of Victorian hymns were absolute rubbish too and have been happily forgotten; it’s only to be expected we’re confronted with a lot of unpleasant stuff today.

    I think modern hymns are on safest ground when they’re scripturally based. Fr Joncas’s ‘Eagle’s Wings’ and the St Louis Jesuits come to mind. When they stray from that, they’re prone to fall into the same trap as the Bidding Prayers (Prayers of the Faithful), and turn into a lecture on rainforests or global warming or why Starbucks must pay their taxes. I cringed when I read the lyrics to ‘Too Often, God,’ and ‘Sing a New Church’.

    Given the utter collapse of catechesis since Vatican 2—one of the council’s many unintended and unforeseen fruits— there’s a huge need for modern hymns that present DOCTRINE. This is a huge gap. Think of ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ (Trinity) or ‘Humbly I Adore Thee/Adoro Devote’ (real presence). Children don’t learn much about their faith in school or in whatever they’re calling Sunday school these days, and adults don’t hear it from the pulpit. But hymns can help here.

    In my experience, most Catholic parishes rely far too much on the same narrow repertoire of hymns, mostly those of relatively recent vintage. They’d do well to introduce more variety and to mix the old with the new, drawing upon the vast treasure of older hymns, Catholic and otherwise. Music directors (and liturgists too!!) need to realise there’s a variety of tastes out there, and refrain from imposing their own on their helpless congregation week in and week out. That poor eagle must need a rest now and then.

    1. Sean Whelan Avatar
      Sean Whelan

      @Phil Eichorn – comment #2:

      Reference the book “Sing a New Church” by Dufner from OCP before you knock the hymn more. It lists her sources for the texts – principally the many documents of Vatican II. Talk about your catechesis.

      1. John Kohanski Avatar
        John Kohanski

        @Sean Whelan – comment #11:
        But would your average John or Mary in the pew really know that? The same with thinly veiled adaptations of Psalms or other Scripture in modern songs written to be sung in church.
        Let’s be honest, “Sing a new Church” has been used as an anthem by progressive and liberal groups, both lay and religious, those approved and those outside the Church, with agendas or axes to grind. Besides that, it’s co-opted a lovely hymn tune, assooiated in other hymnals with a perfectly fine text. The song’s got baggage, as they say.

      2. Rita Ferrone Avatar
        Rita Ferrone

        @John Kohanski – comment #14:
        That begs the question. If John and Mary in the pew knew what the Vatican II documents said, yes, they’d recognize them.

        Let’s be honest, the attempt to accuse people of “guilt by association” because supposedly some people sing this who have “axes to grind” falls flat. It ignores the fact that people love to sing songs because they express something true, hope-filled, and joyful which they recognize to be part of the faith they cherish.

        “Faith, love, praise” and “unity” are central values to believers. Do you have a problem with that?

        What is it that you don’t you like about being “rich in diversity” and “richer still in unity”? About baptismal radiance and holiness? About God’s delight in creating human beings “male and female”?

        Let’s be honest. If you are all about perpetuating the clerical club, and care nothing about baptismal dignity and holiness, and have no use for diversity, and can’t stand women and men being created in God’s image, clearly you will not like this song.

        The people who get allergies when they hear this song are the ones with the baggage.

      3. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
        Karl Liam Saur

        @Rita Ferrone – comment #15:
        I don’t have an allergy about SANC, but I do think the text is unripened*. I hold its author in good regard, but I think this text needed more maturation. It’s hardly unique in that regard; this has been a problem with hymn writing ever since printing became cheap in the 19th century.

        Nettleton is a wonderful tune, especially for processions. But I do wonder (pun intended) about the double-sixteenth passing tones; I have for years listened to Catholic choirs and congregations massacre them in manifold ways, and as a result would probably chose to simplify that one part of the tune.

        * Parts of the text will likely sound quite dated in a generation’s time. Then there are mystifying (and not poetically resonant) phrase choices like “a new church into being” – and given it’s the textual foundation theme, it’s too weak for the hymn to stand on it. I think that later alterations to the text may serve to ripen it properly so that it can prove more enduring.

      4. John Kohanski Avatar
        John Kohanski

        @Rita Ferrone – comment #15:
        Rita–So why doesn’t the average Catholic know that the documents say? My major problem with the text of this song is through all the wonderful themes and words (none of which VII invented btw), it all comes down to the congregation singing about itself to itself.

      5. Rita Ferrone Avatar
        Rita Ferrone

        @John Kohanski – comment #20:
        Well, it’s heads I win, tails you lose, apparently…

        – First, the text is a progressive anthem, all about overturning the old order.

        – Next, the text is full of themes that predated the Council and were not invented by Vatican II.

        I actually agree with the statement that the wonderful themes in the hymn are not a new invention. They’re echoes of the Scriptures, by and large, which were referenced abundantly in the Council documents. Which is why I find it at least puzzling when some people regard this hymn text as an irritant.

        I do understand the phenomenon of being overly self-referential in recent hymn texts. Yet singing about ourselves to ourselves has a respectable pedigree. Is Faith of Our Fathers not singing about us? Draw Us in the Spirit’s Tether? We Walk by Faith? Church of God, Elect and Glorious? We Shall Overcome? They all sing to us about ourselves. Now, I wouldn’t want to sing hymns that celebrate the Church all the time, to the exclusion of hymns to God, Christ, the Trinity, and so on. But in the right proportion, and with a strong biblical basis, singing about the Church to the Church is… fine.

      6. Sean Whelan Avatar
        Sean Whelan

        @John Kohanski – comment #14:

        Oh good – can we cut out prayers from the Roman Missal if we think John and Mary pew dweller won’t understand it? Like anything, offer a little catechesis on it.

        Regarding the concept of “New” Church – a priest once told me, “If the Church isn’t new every next time we meet, we’re doing something wrong.”

        This song is one for the assembly, no? Is not the assembly one of the four presences of Christ in the liturgy? Therefore, do we not have the right to Sing a new Church?

        To think that people would get the message mixed up and think we’re trying to start a different branch of church is just not logical. Seems more of an agenda for some folk than anything else.

        And really? Complaining about it using a familiar tune? Isn’t that WHY we have metrical hymnody?

  3. Fr. Jan Michael Joncas Avatar
    Fr. Jan Michael Joncas

    On Monday morning 15 July, Fr. John F. Baldovin, S.J., offered the Hymn Society a plenary address entitled “The Roots of Reform: Context and Background for Vatican II.” After a preamble in which he spoke about the overall context of doing theology in the 19th and 20th centuries as a battle over the meaning of tradition between those of a classicist world-view to those who are historically minded, Fr. Baldovin addressed “four aspects of the road that took the Catholic Church to Vatican II”: 1) important moments in the history of the liturgical movement in the 19th and 20th centuries; 2) changes in theology and theological method; 3) advances in the study of liturgical history; and 4) a brief glance at developments in Roman Catholic attitudes toward church music. Delivered with his usual erudition and wit, Fr. Baldovin’s presentation set the stage perfectly for the later plenary sessions on Catholic and Protestant responses to the legacy of Vatican II with some concerns for the future. For those who would like to engage Fr. Baldovin’s plenary session in more detail, the text should be appearing in a forth-coming edition of the Hymn Society’s journal, _The Hymn_.

  4. Fr. Jan Michael Joncas Avatar
    Fr. Jan Michael Joncas

    On Monday evening, 15 July 2013, James Hart Brumm and Andreas Teich led the Hymn Society members in a demonstration of an ecumenical Easter Vigil, entitled “Gathered Under the Tree, Calling Forth the Light.” Ruth Anderson served as organist, with a wide variety of other instruments (guitar, accordian, trumpet, flute, oboe, various percussion instruments) at times also serving our sung prayer.

    The service comprised four parts:

    1) The Light
    After an opening declaration and proclamation of John 1:1, 4-5, and a procession of a lit Christ candle through the midst of the congregation with a three-fold acclamation (“The light of Christ” / “Thanks be to God”) the community sang a paraphrase of the Exsultet “Beat Drums! Blow Trumpets!” to the stirring MACCABEUS hymn tune.

    2) The Word
    Genesis 1:1-2:4a was proclaimed by four readers with the congregation responding in song “And it was good” after the cue “God saw that it was good.” Two musical reflections followed: a metrical version of Psalm 136 (“Let Us with a Gladsome Mind” sung to an adapted version of GENEVAN 136) and Thomas Troeger’s hymn inspired by Ps. 98 “Too Splendid for Speech” sung to the hymn tune DANIEL.

    Exodus 14:10-15:1 was proclaimed by a single reader as though telling the story of the Exodus event. Two musical reflections followed: “Sing and Bless the Lord, You People” set to the JENNINGS-HOUSTON hymn tune and a version of the Song of Miriam (Ex. 15:1-2) set to the Israeli folk song TZENA, TZENA.

    Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones (37:1-14) was proclaimed as a dramatized interchange between a narrator, the prophet (both on ground floor) and God (a reader positioned in a balcony). Two musical reflections followed: Gracia Grindal’s powerful “Lord, I am Weary to the Bone” sung to ERHALT UNS, HERR and Erik Routley’s metrical paraphrase of Psalm 42-43 set to FREU DICH SEHR

    While water was poured into a baptismal font, a reader proclaimed Romans 6:3-11, a classic Western text on the meaning of baptism.


  5. Fr. Jan Michael Joncas Avatar
    Fr. Jan Michael Joncas

    The climax of the Word service occurred as the resurrection Gospel of Matthew 28:1-10 was sung in a three-part chant setting by Anthony Ruff, OSB. followed by a reprise of “I Will Sing Unto the Lord” (TZENA, TZENA).

    3) The Water

    Carol Birkland’s hymn “Great Work Has God Begun in You,” based on Phil. 1:6; Col. 2:6; Eph. 5:1, and sung to William P. Rowan’s sturdy tune VERBUM DEI opened the water section of the service, followed by a sprinkling rite as the congregation sang Howard Hughes’ “You Have Put On Christ” in three-part canon. The Polish folk tune W ZLOBIE LEZY provided the setting for the congregation’s affirmation of faith in John Bell’s “We Rejoice to Be God’s Chosen.”

    4) The Bread and the Cup

    Recognizing that no genuine eucharistic sharing was possible when so many diverse denominations were present, the prayer leader simply proclaimed 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 after which the community sang Henry M. Butler’s “Lift Up Your Hearts,” a meditation on the second of the dialogic interchanges in the versicles and responses before the Preface, to Walter Greatorex’ tune WOODLANDS. As baskets of bread were distributed and shared among the participants, the community sang James Hart Brumm’s metrical setting of the Great Eucharistic Prayer “To Give You Thanks, Creator God” to YE BANKS AND BRAES; this hymn was especially notable for having the four verses sung by a boy soprano and three young female soloists, with the congregation chiming in on the Refrain “Your Kingdom lives in bread and wine. Come quickly, Savior; make us one.”

    The time after the bread-sharing was graced by a choral offering sung in both Spanish and English: “Vengo a ti, Jesus amado” / “Soul, Adorn Yourself with Gladness.”

    The Hymn Festival concluded with Brian Wren’s “Christ is Risen! Shout Hosanna!” sung to William P. Rowan’s JACKSON NEW, a trinitarian doxology spoken by leaders and congregation, and Shirley Elena Murray’s “Where the Light of Easter Day” sung to Jillian Bray’s CRUSADER hymn tune.


  6. Fr. Jan Michael Joncas Avatar
    Fr. Jan Michael Joncas

    The planners of “Gathered Under the Tree, Calling Forth the Light” note in the program that “[w]hile the Vigil in many traditions is a very log liturgy, tonight’s celebration is very much abbreviated, without preaching, baptisms, professions of faith, or the Eucharist, and with an abbreviated set of readings. Tonight, we will have a much shorter celebration, but still get a sense of the sweep of the liturgy.” For those Christians whose worship traditions have never included an Easter Vigil, this Hymn Festival may invite them into deeper understanding of the core dynamics of this ancient liturgy. For those who regularly celebrate the Vigil, this Hymn Festival offers some new repertoire worth considering in preparing future Easter Vigils.

    1. Linda Reid Avatar
      Linda Reid

      @Fr. Jan Michael Joncas – comment #6:
      Michael, thank you for these detailed reports – I almost feel like I am there! It sounds both interesting and exciting! Where can one find Fr. Anthony’s setting of the Easter gospel?

      1. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
        Anthony Ruff, OSB

        @Linda Reid – comment #7:
        Will be published by LitPress in October if all goes according to plan.

      2. Linda Reid Avatar
        Linda Reid

        @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #9:
        Thank you!!!

  7. Bill deHaas Avatar
    Bill deHaas

    Thanks, Fr. Joncas – sounds powerful and motivating. Love to hear the music in the future; will look for the article in HYMN and hope to have a chance to reflect and use certain pieces/actions in future vigils.

  8. Fr. Jan Michael Joncas Avatar
    Fr. Jan Michael Joncas

    On Tuesday morning 16 July I gave a plenary session entitled “Catholic Branchings: Congregational Song and the Legacy of Vatican II.” After a short introduction connecting my plenary to Fr. Baldovin’s the day before, I explored what _Sacrosanctum Concilium_ had to say about congregational singing: both underlying assertions (on the purpose of liturgical music, on music as a means to promote active participation in the liturgy, and on the extension of the vernacular) and direct statements (in arts. 113, 114, 118, and 121). I then traced ten branches in Roman Rite congregational song in the English-speaking United States (and Canada) since Vatican II: 1. continuing pre-Vatican II chant and polyphony traditions; 2. creating a Roman Rite service music repertoire in the vernacular; 3. developing Roman Rite chant traditions in the vernacular; 4. importing and adapting European Roman Rite liturgical music models in the vernacular (Gelineau, Deiss, Taize, Huijbers); 5. importing and adapting folk hymnody in the vernacular; 6. importing and adapting music in the vernacular from entertainment venues; 7. importing and adapting classic and contemporary Protestant hymnody; 8. creating Roman Rite vernacular liturgical hymn texts; 9. creating Roman Rite liturgical music in a variety of musical styles; 10. creating Roman Rite bi- and multi-cultural bi- and multi-lingual ritual music. I tried to give musical examples in each of the categories as well has spent some time on particular exemplars that we heard in recorded versions and/or sang as a group.

    I believe that a version of this talk may also appear in a later issue of _The Hymn._

    1. Thomas Keesecker Avatar

      @Fr. Jan Michael Joncas – comment #12:
      Fr. Joncas,
      I enjoyed your presentation on Tuesday morning. You were both informative and entertaining – in fact, from the back row where I was sitting you looked and sounded a bit like the actor Alec Baldwin. You took the audience through the growing pains of the last 50 years gracefully and with humor (and with good powerpoint technique!) and though I can’t remember exactly what you said when you concluded you said you were proud to have been a part of the history. I think one of the many ways God is revealed to us is through our creative efforts and I thank you for your creativity. For those who don’t know a lot about the Hymn Society its mission is the cultivation of congregational song. Their quarterly journal features examinations of song from all denominations and many cultures and eras without the constraints of determining what are correct or incorrect offerings. I was first introduced to the journal while browsing the periodicals in the School of Music library at Catholic University in the 70’s as an undergrad student – a long time ago.

  9. Alan Hommerding Avatar
    Alan Hommerding

    All three plenary talks will be published in THE HYMN, including the third talk by Rev. Victoria Sirota (Episcopal) which focused on the sharing of hymnic repertoire between the Roman rite and Protestant denominations in the US following Vatican II.

  10. Alan Hommerding Avatar
    Alan Hommerding

    I presented a sectional/workshop at Hymn Society – “Before and After: the effect of Vatican II on hymn text theologies” – and one of the hymns we looked at in the “Church” section (other sections were Eucharist, Devotions, and Mary and the Saints) was “Sing a New Church.” In this, and other presentations in which I’ve used this hymn, Protestants with no particular axes to grind haven’t taken exception to “faith, and love and praise” or baptismal dignity or the complementarity of gender.
    They’ve observed a leaning of the hymn toward Pelagianism (or semi-Pelagianism) in the very minimal way that the persons of the Trinity are acknowledged as part of OR invited into the process. “Through the Spirit, sing a new Church” has been offered several times as a way for the refrain (the text we sing 5 times) to at least incorporate some divine part in the process.
    In my view, part of the problem resides with the way the surrounding culture’s use of the word “new” has an impact on how people understand the refrain. They tend to default to the marketing/advertising use of the word, in which it means “different than the previous” and doesn’t carry the scriptural sense of re-new. Perhaps a stronger sense of building on our heritage than is given by “sprung from seed of what has been” might have helped to alleviate this.

    1. Bill deHaas Avatar
      Bill deHaas

      @Alan Hommerding – comment #16:
      Alan – will your presentation be published anywhere? Sounds interesting and on point.

      1. Alan Hommerding Avatar
        Alan Hommerding

        @Bill deHaas – comment #21:
        Bill – I’ll have to give that some thought. The presentation was largely built on the singing of 20 or so “before and after” musical examples; some re-tooling would have to be done to put it into print. But now you have me considering it!

  11. Rita Ferrone Avatar
    Rita Ferrone

    I found Alan’s comment @ 16 and Karl’s comment @ 17 to be thoughtful rather than tarring the hymn with a broad brush. This sort of discussion is a valuable one to undertake, and I thank you for it.

    I think there is a place for hymns that are speaking to a particular situation or that savor of a particular era. They may indeed sound dated in another time, but longevity isn’t the only value. That having been said, there are some which arise from very particular situations, and end up transcending them. Personally, I think it is too soon to tell in this case. The fact that it struck a nerve — with some loving it and some despising it — is a fact of history which may mean it’s important. Or not. We’ll see.

    The thought that the text offers inadequate witness to God’s action and thus leans toward suggesting that we earn our own salvation (Pelagianism) seems a bit questionable to me, although I appreciate the concern. As I read it, the action of God in the assembly is betokened by the gathering of all these gifts which God has given. None of this would happen without God’s prior initiative. Furthermore, the assembly as it prays and sings is one of the ways in which Christ is present (CSL 7). Does one have to point this out explicitly? Maybe not. Finally, “singing a new church into being” is an eschatological notion; mother church, the “elect lady” bearing children, crossed with the Spirit / breath imagery of singing. I actually think it’s a brilliant juxtapositioning of biblical motifs.

    Alan’s conversation partners found it theologically problematic. I am not so sure.

  12. Fr. Jan Michael Joncas Avatar
    Fr. Jan Michael Joncas

    Re: Thomas Keesecker’s comments at #24: Thank you for your kind words AND for sharing with Pray Tell’s readers to purpose of the Hymn Society and its quarterly journal, _The Hymn_. I’ll hope to follow Mr. Baldwin’s recent banishment of all sugar from his diet so as to drop a few pounds as he did :-)….

  13. Paul Nienaber SJ Avatar
    Paul Nienaber SJ

    While it was perhaps not hymn-driven in the truest sense of the word, David Anderson led the group in a Taize-style prayer service Wednesday evening at a local Catholic church. As a music-literacy-challenged individual, I found the five days of being present to 200+ people singing in multiple parts intoxicating, and marrying that sonic tide to the repeating Taize texts was (at least to me) extraordinarily prayerful. It was particularly remarkable that the group sat in extended silence for more than eight minutes without a nervous cough or fidget to be found. David has much experience with leading this sort of service, and it was a great grace to be there.

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