How a hymnal Is born

It has been forty-one years since the current church hymnal came into being. Its successor is planned for 1985. Wayne Hooper, executive secretary of the hymnal committee, tells Editor J. R. Spangler what has been done to this point.

J.R. Spangler is editor of Ministry.
Wayne Hooper is the executive secretary of the hymnal committee.


Q. Why do we need a new hymnal, or do we? Tell us, briefly, the history of this project how it started.

A. About fifteen years ago a committee met here in Washington to plan the music for one of the General Conference sessions, and that committee took an action asking that work be started on a new church hymnal. Then later an ad hoc committee on music guidelines also requested that work on a new hymnal begin.

We do need a new hymnal, and the reasons are those I set forth in response to your editorial (see MINISTRY, June, 1980, pp. 24, 25; April, 1981, pp. 10, 11). Basically, a hymnal lasts about twenty-five years. Ours is forty-one years old. Times change; literature changes; the ways of saying things in poetry change; concerns of people change. Look how much we're talking about space exploration, the environment, and reverence for life now—matters that were of little concern when our present hymnal was put together. We feel different in many ways about death and dying than did people of even forty years ago.

Another significant reason for a new hymnal is that we don't have enough hymns on some of the distinctive beliefs that we hold dear as Seventh-day Adventists. Any church that doesn't continue to produce its own hymnody is well, I was going to say lifeless and stagnant, but at the very least just going along in a rut. We have creative people, and they should be creating. We should be using their creative output.

Q. My wife and I have been singing through the present hymnal in our evening worships, as I pointed out in that June, ] 980, editorial. 1 said then that we were discovering numerous beautiful songs that we never hear sung in our churches. Do you still feel, in spite of the many beautiful unused hymns in the present hook, that we need a new hymnal?

A. Yes. It's true we ought to use to better advantage many of the lesser-known hymns in the present hymnal, but much new material has been written since 1941 , both in hymnic literature and in experience, or gospel song, literature. We don't have any of that. Also there are hymns well established in other communions for many, many years that are favorites of those communions. We would love to have and use them, but they just aren't in our hymnal. Some examples: "Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise," "Be Thou My Vision," "Children of the Heavenly King," "How Great Thou Art." We don't have the tune for "Amazing Grace" that everybody loves to sing. Also, we don't have the best tune for "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah"; the words to this hymn are terrific, but nobody sings it because the music just hasn't caught on. There are several others like that. A hymnal needs to be updated and revised from time to time to keep pace with what is happening in the hymnologic world.

Q. I can see there isn't any doubt in your mind that we need a new hymnal! Now, tell us about the organisation, or structure, the church has gone through to set up a system for producing a new hymnal. And how did you get involved in this preparation?

A. I was asked to be the coordinator of the project before decisions about structure were voted. I was to present ideas for a structural organization that would get the job done. So I suggested different areas of our church that ought to be represented on a committee and some of the people who might have the skills to do this job. Then I also suggested that, in addition to the people on the working hymnal committee, there should be a larger hymnal advisory group, which would give input by correspondence. Eighty-seven people were chosen to serve in this advisory capacity.

Q. Are you still the coordinator for this project? What is your official title?

A. Now that the organization is in place and beginning its work, my position is executive secretary of the hymnal commit tee. There are eighteen members on this committee, as you know, since you are one of them. The other members are Charles Brooks, chairman; James Bingham, Alma Blackmon, Alan Foster, Ron Graybill, Frank Holbrook, Charles Keymer, Rochelle LaGrone, Harold Lickey, John Read, W. C. Scales, Jr., Ottilie Stafford, Mike Stevenson, Melvin West, Merle Whitney, and Ray Woolsey.

Q. I happen to know that one of the major features that recommended you for a leading role in the work of preparing a new hymnal was the fact that you are a very balanced individual. You don't lean toward any one style of music to the exclusion of others. You believe in a wide spectrum of music. In fact, your whole life has centered on music, hasn't it? 

A. Yes. My dad was a song leader and an evangelistic musician, and my very first job was with The Quiet Hour as a soloist and with J. L. Tucker and his evangelistic meetings. Then I was a singing evangelist with R. E. Griffin in the Potomac Conference. So I have a very keen appreciation for music as an evangelistic soul-winning agency. I also have had the privilege of teaching music and directing choirs at both academy and college levels. My study for a Master's degree was at Occidental College, where the emphasis on music scholarship is widely recognized. So I've had exposure to both sides of the musical spectrum, and in my thirty-five years of Voice of Prophecy work I've tried to use music all the way from Bach and Brahms and Mozart and Palestrina to the hymn literature and the best of the gospel songs, spirituals, and even some choruses.

I don't believe in a musical ladder that goes from down to up. I believe in a horizontal plane, not a vertical one. This is one thing that our committee has already discussed. Right now in our hymnal we have a separation a section called Sabbath school songs. And quite a few of our committee members feel that such a distinction should not be made. If a hymn or a song deserves, by its literary merit, theological importance, and musical integrity, to find a place in the hymnal, then it should find its place where it belongs topically.

Q. What is the relationship between the General Conference and the Review and Herald in this project?

A. The whole program is under the guidance and sponsorship of the General Conference Standing Music Committee. All the way along, the work will receive inspiration and guidance from them. But because the Review and Herald Publishing Association is responsible for the completion of the project as a book, its board of directors also voted on the members of the hymnal committee an the advisory group. The Review and Herald is to be both the publisher and the printer. Technically, then, it's a publishing house program until we reach a certain point in our work.

Q. What did you first do to really get this project off the ground?

A. Before I came to Washington the first time, I sat down and spent several hours putting my own thoughts together on how the work might best be done. I've been thinking about a new hymnal for about fifteen years! I have quite an extensive library of hymnbooks and hand books to hymnals because of my work with the Voice of Prophecy. In choosing music for our national radiobroadcast, of course, I have used a much wider scope of materials than just those from our own SDA musical background. So for years I've been going through hymnals and pulling out material that I thought might possibly be good enough to put in a new Adventist hymnal someday. And I brought this music, about 370 titles, here to the committee. I know all of them won't get in, but at least I want us to look at them. All the members of the committee are submitting lists of new materials.

Q. In other words, you had been working for years toward the possibility of a new hymnal someday, never thinking that you would necessarily have any actual part in the project! This and your extensive background in_ music certainly make you well prepared to lead out in such a production. Now, then, what did you do at this point? You had been asked to become the coordinator of the hymnal project. What was the first thing, that you did?

 A.  Well, first I came here to sit down with the people in the Review and Herald and the chairman of the General Conference Standing Music Committee to discuss a plan of organization and overall budget matters. How much was the project going to cost? How many meetings of the hymnal committee would we have? How large should the committee be? On the last point, I asked for somewhere between 15 and 18 members. I thought this was the smallest committee we could have that would adequately represent all the different facets of our church and geography. We got 18.1 asked for somewhere between 70 and 80 on the advisory, and we ended up with 87.

The first thing we did was to conduct another survey. But before describing it and its results, I ought to backtrack a little bit here and mention the survey that the General Conference took when it was still just thinking about the feasibility of the project. This earlier questionnaire was formulated by Don Yost, director of the General Conference Archives and Statistics, and was sent to 650 administrators, musicians from the SDA Musicians Guild, educators, choir directors, organists, and pastors a real spectrum. Its purpose was to determine whether a hymnal project was needed, wanted, or feasible. The results of that survey showed that 66 percent of those who responded (266, or more than one third of those receiving a survey, did respond) felt a certain dissatisfaction with The Church Hymnal, and 73 percent said that either they, or someone they had heard, had suggested that we have a new hymnal as soon as possible. Other responses showed the inadequacies of the hymnal for meeting certain needs. We have collated all the handwritten suggestions that were in that survey and made them available to the members of our committee.

Q. What were some of these suggestions?

A. Thirty said we need more contemporary hymns and songs that are doctrinally and rhythmically acceptable and in today's language. Twenty were afraid that if we got a new hymnal, it might be worse than the one we now have because of the cheap musical trends in the world today, the sentimental religiosity so prevalent in some of the songs that are being sung. Thirteen said, "Please lower the keys so more of us can sing." And quite a few thought we ought to have more hymns for youth and children to get them more involved in the church worship service.

Q.  Were there any suggestions dealing with ethnic concerns!

A. Yes, nine said, "Be sure to put in some good Negro spirituals"; but ten said, "Don't try to make the hymnal fit all minority ethnic groups; you can't please everybody with one hymnal. The hymns we sing in church ought to be so universal that they can be sung and appreciated by everyone."

Q. If this is the case, what about trying to have a hymnal that is designed to meet the cultures of "every country in the world? How do you feel about this?

A. Our present hymnal, as published at the Review and Herald, is now used by the United States and Canada, the Caribbean area, and Australia. We are not attempting to make it a universal hymnbook, even for all English-speaking areas. England has its own hymnal, and the Philippines has its own English hymnal. The new hymnal will probably follow the distribution pattern of the present one.

Q. What was your next step after processing the responses from the earlier survey?

A. I felt it was necessary to make a survey of all the pastors—the individuals who are using the hymnal every week—and find out how they feel about the present hymnal; what suggestions they would have for a new hymnal; what new material they would like to see in a new hymnal; which hymns they would vote to keep from the old one. We sent this survey out to 3,811 pastors, 86 administrators, and the 87 members of our hymnal advisory group.

We collated the results, put them on computer, and finished the report the day before the committee had its first meeting on March 31. As of March 30, we had received replies from 1,011 out of the 3,984- And since that time another 200 or so have come in past the deadline, so we couldn't include the results in the computer, but we have used all the suggestions that were on the back.

Q. Are you paying attention to everyone? Are you putting everything in this computer, or are you personally eliminating certain suggestions because of your wide knowledge of hymnology?

A. We're making available to the members of the hymnal committee all the suggestions that have come from all sources. Many pastors put a list of new material on the back of the survey sheet, and we, by hand, made a typewritten list of all these titles. It ran to approximately 1,500 hymns and songs and was in every committee member's folder on the day we first met. They have all this material to continue using in their study. In addition, members of the hymnal advisory group and the hymnal committee and some members of the SDA Musicians Guild have given us specialized lists of new material, because of their wide acquaintance with the hymnals of other faiths.

We have entered this new material in the computer along with such information as the hymnbook source, the title, the status (whether the committee has voted to accept it or reject it), the author, composer, the copyright status, and the topic. The marvelous thing about the computer is that it will alphabetize all these lists for us. Then it will also resort them according to topics, according to hymn-tune names, or according to the status that we have voted for them. Right now we have a little more than three thousand entries in the computer. Oh, yes, we also entered the name of each person who submitted material. That way the committee can look down and see that eight different people, for example, wanted a certain hymn title.

Q. In other words, of those three-thousand- plus hymns you've already entered in your computer, some are duplicates?

A. Quite a lot of them are. We will be able to eliminate duplicates later, after decisions are made.

Q.  So you have this master list of suggested hymns in your computer. What is the next step? 

A. Our hymnal committee is divided into four subcommittees—the committee on tunes, which is considering the music that is submitted; the committee on texts, which will be responsible for examining not only the new material but all the old material that we are keeping from the present hymnal.

(Incidentally, nearly every church retains from 50 to 65 percent of its old hymnal when it goes to a new one. And it looks as though we will probably do the same. A certain number of hymns are central to all Christendom, and we can't do without them. Everybody agrees on that. We've already taken the first vote, in which we decided to retain 316 out of the 703 hymns in our hymnal now. That's a little less than 50 percent. But that was only the first vote, so if we had any question about words or music we didn't vote a hymn in. Many of these will come up for consideration again. )

The third subcommittee is the commit tee on organization of the book and indexes. It is responsible for deciding in what order the hymns will appear in the hymnbook, where the indexes will be, and all the other aids for using the book. The fourth subcommittee is the committee on responsive readings and other worship aids. Many pastors said they needed more responsive readings than we have now and a better organization of them, including an index. Many asked for newer, more mod em versions of the Bible in the responsive readings. I think five or six were even brave enough to ask for some well-written litanies that would involve the congregation in special occasions such as church dedications, baby dedications, and even the baptismal service.

I have a real burden for this. Too often our church services are spectator events. So much happens up in front, and we must do everything we can to involve all the people. Many of our churches don't have choirs. I hope we will include choral or congregational responses that are easy enough to be sung by the congregation, as a call to worship, response to prayer, or benediction, so that they don't have to be entertained by a choir all the time.

Q. What you just said impresses me. I have been, for instance, over in Soweto, the largest black township in South Africa, where the people cannot afford a piano, where they can't afford an organ. In fact, they can't even afford songbooks. But they have their songs memorized by the dozens. And even during the taking of an offering or during the intermission, they would be breaking out and singing beautiful, melodic tunes and words. As I've thought of this in relation to our churches in the Western culture, I feel there ought to be more participation in music as an expression of the individual, not just listening, to someone on the stage performing.

A. That was one of the items of philosophy that was voted by the committee—that all material in the book should lend itself to being sung by the congregation.

Q. Now that you have these four subcommitties and a master list of hymns on computer, what are you going to do?

A. The committees will be working independently now. They have all the survey material, and I will be sending copies of hymns and songs that have been submitted, so that the committees can study them at home. We hope to meet in January of 1983 , and again in September of 1983. and one more time in October of 1984.

Q. Is anyone helping, you? I understand that your wife is involved in this.

A. My wife has been retained by the Review and Herald to do the secretarial work involved in getting all the material out. She did the bulk of entering all this material from both surveys in the computer, and the master hymn list, as well.

Q. I understand that it's impossible to put out a good hymnal in less than eight or ten years. How do you feel about this?

A. Well, we have outlined a three-year schedule; actually, it's a little more than three years—from January of 1982 until June of 1985 about three and one-half years. We've outlined a program that I think will get the job done if all goes as we have planned. If all the hymnal committee members and the advisory group do their work on time and as planned, it should happen. The computer is going to save a lot of time and help us greatly. We are hopeful that we'll have books out before General Conference in 1985.

Q.  Apparently you are pleased with the work accomplished at the first meeting of the committee.

A. I was delighted not only with the makeup of the committee and the different skills involved but with the diversity of philosophical views. We must have this. We must be checks and balances on one another if we are to produce a hymnal that will be eminently useful to our church. It cannot be extreme in either direction. We must have music for those well-educated, sophisticated musicians in our church (and we have more and more of them). In the middle, we should have the great body of material that is appreciated by everybody. On the other end of the spectrum we need some music that is immediately accessible. And we need some Spirit-filled gospel music to bear witness to one another of how we feel about God. All of this material has to be judged by the standard of integrity to Scripture and to the faith that we hold dear, as well as to the standard of musical integrity, poetic beauty, and elevated thought that will lift us every time we sing it.

These various subcommittees each have a chairman and are going to be authorized to do some work by conference phone calls and, of course, by correspondence. The committee of responsive readings and other worship aids will probably have more meetings in this first year than the other committees. It has been asked to finish its work by October, 1983. That way the Review and Herald will have a body of material to start work on. That's one thing that will help us to get the hymnal finished by the deadline. And I will be in communication constantly with the chairmen of the subcommittees, helping them in any way that I can with their work, gathering materials for them.

Q. One last question: Are you enjoying your work? 

A. Oh, it's a thrill! I'm retired now and I have time to spend on it. I don't have the pressures of trying to squeeze this in with some other job. I am excited, along with many other people, that a new hymnal for our church is actually on the way.

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

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J.R. Spangler is editor of Ministry.
Wayne Hooper is the executive secretary of the hymnal committee.

October 1982

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