Hymnathon

More like trial by endurance.

A friend remarked that he could think of a dozen things he’d rather do than sit through a day hearing a church choir singing all 720 hymns from the Episcopal Church’s 1982 Hymnal. Ok. For me, this was a kind of superb dream rather than a nightmare.

As a member of the Portland, Oregon, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral choir, I had the chance to participate in what was termed a “Hymnathon,” a fund raiser for the choir’s summer trip to Bristol, England, to sub for the choir of the cathedral of the same name.

I love singing hymns. Not just any hymns, and not what are often called spiritual songs. I love the ancient hymns of the church. And as I get to know them, I also am finding that I like the newer hymns of the church. Some of them.

I especially like the ones that are based on chorales, or hymns in four parts. I can sing fairly well three of those parts. I am a natural (second) tenor, but one who has a baritone voice. I can also sing the melody, or soprano line (an octave low). I can’t manage the alto line at the same pitch as they, though I once could. Above a g, and I’m totally in my head, and I can hardly hear myself, an inaudability for which real altos are highly grateful.

Some of the 720 hymns should never have made it into the hymnal. Congregations have largely ignored them, and certainly never include them in Sunday worship.

Some of the most beloved hymns shouldn’t be in the hymnal either, but we’ll never get them out of there as long as real people are doing the singing. One of the best things about hymns is that they are church music of, by, and for the people. Hymn singing is worship, not a performance. How wonderful to hear a congregation of people singing their praise of God.

As we stood for the last hymn in the book, one we have come to know as The National Anthem, we struggled through it as does everyone, but on our feet in immense gratitude for the church, for its music, and for the opportunity to spend an entire day in musical praise of God.

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