A Review of Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs

by Wayne Walker

Wolfgang, Steve, general editor. Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs (published in 2012 by Sumphonia Productions LLC, 41601 Epping Green Sq., Aldie, VA 20105).

A new hymnbook has been published this year.  It is intended primarily for use in Churches of Christ but could be used by anyone, primarily those who still prefer shaped notes.  The book is of particular importance to me because I am listed among the Editorial Review Board of technical and associate editors as an Associate Editor.  The book is called Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs and was copyrighted by Sumphonia Productions LLC.

Sumphonia is a nonprofit foundation, founded in the autumn of 2002 and officially registered in the state of Colorado, whose purpose is to compile and distribute materials for worship, especially those materials related to congregational hymn worship. It is not affiliated with any religious organization. The general editor of the book is Steve Wolfgang, and the other four editors, Mark Coulson, Charlotte E. Couchman, David Maravilla, and Craig Roberts are the board members of Sumphonia.  I know Steve, David, and Craig personally.  I am intensely interested in hymns, and even maintain a weblog on hymn studies. I believe that having a hymnbook in the home is important for everyone.  When our forefathers started their westward trek across this land, the first three books they took with them were a Bible, a hymnbook, and a primer.

There are some things that I really like about this new book.  It has a number of older, classic hymns and gospel songs which have not been used in books published by members of the Church of Christ or have been dropped from many newer books.  In addition, it has several “lost stanzas” which have been omitted from a lot of hymns in more recent years.  However, there are some things which I do not like about the book.  The core repertoire of 550, chosen mainly by popular vote, doesn’t include many grand old hymns which have been in most of our other books but perhaps were not sung as much some and thus didn’t make the popularity vote.  The 300 titles added to the core repertoire include contemporary, folk, gospel, and New English Renaissance hymns the majority of which, in my personal opinion, are just not that good.

Also, for every “lost” stanza which has been found, there are as many, if not more, stanzas which we have been used to singing but which have been jettisoned, with some well-known songs, pared down to only two stanzas.  And there are some things to which I am totally indifferent, especially the emphasized “phrased notation” which sets the width of a hymn on a page by the length of the poetic phrases and then wraps the music around those phrases.  This may be an interesting novelty, but in my judgment, it will do nothing in helping the congregation to sing by phrases and just wastes a lot of space.  And based on what I have read from others, I am not alone in my conclusion on this.  Yet, having made known my dislikes, I must still say that Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs is a great hymnbook that is worthy of consideration.

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