Articles Archive


This section contains articles from the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland’s archive and is available for members only. Not a member but would like to become one? Why not subscribe with PayPal and get immediate access?

The Constitutes of a Good Hymn: by The Rev William T Cairns DD

The subject which has been appointed for me to open this forenoon may seem at first sight a very simple one, alike for the writer and for those who discuss what he has written. Even the man in the street has his own ideas about a hymn—at least about the kind of hymn which he likes; and the B.B.C., from St Martin’s-in-the-Fields and other Regional centres, is ready to give him all he wishes. We members of the Hymn Society may well go a step or two further, and not only form a judgment on the “Constituents of a Good Hymn,” but be prepared to give our reasons and justify our opinion…More

Reality in Worship: by Frederick John Gillman, October 1939

With some reference to the Society of Friends and their relation to Hymn-singing

The pitfalls besetting public worship are manifold, and they doubtless have at some time or another caused many searchings of heart, lest we should fall short of complete integrity of spirit…More

Music in Hymnody: by Rev Millar Patrick DD

A Paper read to the Hymn Society Conference at Jordans, Bucks, on 20th June 1945. Printed by request.
It stands to reason that wherever people gather with their hearts turning to God, and their thoughts full of what He is and what He has done for them, their thought and feeling demand expression. The instinct to seek expression falsifies and defeats itself if we refuse it utterance. So utterance in some form is an essential part of worship. “O bless our God, ye people, and make the voice of His praise to be heard.” Make it heard! It is part of our duty to God to do that. We owe it to Him for a testimony to His infinite goodness and grace. We are not to enjoy His gifts in silence. We are to say in effect to others what one of the Psalmists felt bound to say to the people he lived among: “Come and hear what God has done for my soul!” … More

The Hymn Writers of Bristol: by the Rev. K. L. Parry

An Address given to the Hymn Society at Bristol on Tuesday, 9th July 1946, by the Rev. K. L. Parry, Minister of Highbury Chapel, Bristol.
To all hymnologists Bristol means first and foremost the home, of Charles Wesley. He is said to have written 6500 hymns. Of these, 243 survive in the latest edition of the Methodist Hymn Book; Songs of Praise is content with twenty-one. The difficulty with so many of Wesley’s hymns is that they express an intense religious experience which is hardly suitable for public worship. As Dr. Benson says in his great book, The English Hymn:

From the liturgical point of view the hymn of experience seems to violate the traditions, and to create a new standard of Church Praise. Instead of a congregation uttering its corporate praise with a common voice, we have a gathering of individuals conducting their private devotions in audible unison. And when the hymn of experience becomes autobiographical, it gives rise to the double question, how far its writer’s individual experience is fitted to be the norm of Christian experience in general, and how far putting another’s experience into the mouth of a promiscuous congregation lends itself to the promotion of religious insincerity. … More

Looking at Hymn Tunes: The Objective Factors: by John Wilson

This chapter has grown from a talk given to The Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland at its annual conference in 1979. A recording of the talk was sent to Erik Routley, and it was an honour and a pleasure when he asked for further copies for use in his teaching of Hymnody. Musical illustrations given at the piano or by a singer must here be replaced by printed examples, or simply by reference to the name of a tune. Wherever possible these references are to tunes familiar on both sides of the Atlantic. In several cases where this…More

Susanna and Catherine Winkworth: by Peter Skrine

The name Winkworth may be familiar. Even in this era of declining church attendance there must be many who have noticed it when glancing through the pages of a hymnbook during a bored moment in school or college chapel, or in their local church. And some may also have experienced those times when words and tunes took on a life of their own: on Founder’s Day, for instance, or the start or end of term: ‘Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation’ and ‘Now thank we all our God with heart and hands and voices, who wondrous things hath done, in whom his world rejoices’. The names of the authors – Martin Rinckart and Joachim Neander – may have meant nothing. But they always seemed to be coupled with that of Catherine Winkworth, …More

Occasional Papers 2 No3: Hymns and an Orthodox Dissenter – In Commemoration of Bernard Lord Manning 1892-1941 by Clyde Binfield

Mrs Josiah Lockwood was a southerner. Her husband was from the West Riding. She was an Anglican, he a Wesleyan Methodist and a manufacturer. He thrived on it. She wrote about it. There was. for example, the hymn singing. She was particularly struck by the occasion when a Wesleyan pulpit prince, turn-of-the-century style, visited their chapel. Josiah’s by heritage, hers by marriage, at Linthwaite:

The singing was splendid of its sort: we all gave tongue together in rhythmic cadence, pausing at the end of each line to gather up our forces again. I am not surprised that the majority of the village like the chapel better than the church, which stands at the hilltop and sings in an off-hand sort of way… More

Setting the Scene

This booklet is offered as a sequel and supplement to Robin Leaver’s A Hymn Book Survey 1962-80 (Grove Worship Series, no. 71, 1980). His opening words, ‘the past twenty years or so have witnessed a tremendous upsurge of practical hymnody in our churches … today many new hymnodical trees blossom at our services’, have retained their validity in the ensuing period.

The general decline in attendance at the services of the mainstream churches has been accompanied by an immense outpouring of creativity in the writing of hymns and tunes. This forms one of the late twentieth century’s most striking paradoxes. A wide variety of idioms has been essayed, and, with each year that passes, the abundance of material that finds its way into print, both here and throughout the English-speaking world, shows no sign of abatement…More

John Darwall and the 148th Metre by John Wilson

The Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland is pleased to offer to students of hymnody this paper on John Darwall. It gives us a context in which to understand and appreciate the skill of a composer who is now remembered chiefly for a single hymn tune. The author has based his work on notes made by the late John Wilson and deserves our gratitude for the enthusiasm and patience with which he handled an incomplete and not always legible or orderly manuscript. As executive president of the Hymn Society, I have great pleasure in commending this piece of work to our members and to anyone interested in the metres and music of eighteenth-century English hymnody…More

A Hymn Book Survey 1993-2003 by Alan Luff

This paper aims to pick up the story where Donald Webster’s Occasional Paper of 1994, A Hymn Book Survey 1980-1993, left off. It does not follow his method, but will cover the same ground, adding to his concerns rather more general discussion of hymnody and a section on single-author publications. There have been no publications of carols for congregational use in the period.

The core of this paper was produced to bring up to date the Study Guide on Hymns of the Guild of Church Musicians, and I record my appreciation of the encouragement of their Academic Board that I should expand it for this Occasional Paper… More

Commemorating the centenary of The English Hymnal – The Wit and Wisdom of Percy Dearmer – Compiled by Alan Luff

In my college days I became hooked on hymnology by the presence behind me on the shelf of the college library in the comer where I worked of a copy of Songs of Praise Discussed, subtitled ‘A Handbook to the best-known hymns and to others recently introduced, compiled by Percy Dearmer’. When the charms of some great Greek or Latin author palled I would reach for it and continue my education. I did not realize then that not all Companion volumes to hymnbooks were as erudite and simply entertaining as this one. Dearmer did not produce a Companion to The English Hymnal, so as a tribute to him in this, the book’s centenary year, it seemed fitting to introduce some of today’s students of hymns to what he did write in this treasure of a book, in the hope that they may search the second-hand bookshops to find their own copy …More

Snakes and Ladders – A Hymn Writer’s Reflections: by Timothy Dudley-Smith

Snakes and Ladders: it is a phrase we’ve known since childhood. I confidently related it in my mind to the book of Genesis: the serpent in the Garden of Eden and the ladder of Jacob’s dream at Bethel. Not a bit of it: the game of Snakes and Ladders comes, I discover, from ancient Hinduism, perhaps representing the ascent to some kind of Nirvana. I am using it as a vivid metaphor for the ups and downs of life: that is, of my life learning to be a hymn writer…More

What Do Hymns Say About Daily Work? by David R Wright

For many years during his lifetime, David Wright, as a committed member of the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland and with characteristic generosity, contributed much to our understanding and appreciation of various aspects of hymnody; but seldom did he share his thoughts and learning without also presenting us with a chall­enge. This is exactly what he has done in this ‘occasional paper’: What Do Hymns Say About Daily Work? He prompts us to give more serious consideration to what plays a huge part in all our lives and which, he maintained, is largely under-stressed in the field of hymnody – our work… More

Revealing Hidden Wisdom: Women Finding a Voice in Hymnody by June Boyce-Tillman

The church of today is faced with many implications of change, not least when it considers the ministry of women in leadership roles within the formal structures of church organisation. Worship, too, reflects the changing nuances of language and there can be few worship leaders in the twenty-first century who would readily introduce a hymn such as ‘Rise up, O men of God!’, with its lines:

Bring in the day of brotherhood,
And end the night of wrong.

It is timely, then, that the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland is publishing June Boyce-Tillman’s paper, Revealing Hidden Wisdom – Women Finding a Voice in Hymnody. Professor Boyce-Tillman is well placed to discuss these issues. She has extensive experience as an author, composer, performer, conductor, editor, educator and priest, and she often says what others think but have not been able to articulate… More

Redefining the Hymn: the Performative Context by Kathryn Jenkins
with an extended introduction by Rhidian Griffiths

Hers was a brief earthly life, but it was lived to the full. Everything she undertook she infused with infectious enthusiasm and a sharp intellect, and those who encountered her were left with an unforgettable impression of sheer ability and sharpness of mind.

Kathryn was born in Tonypandy, Rhondda, on 9 June 1961, the only child of Clement and Marian Jenkins. Though the family worshipped at Bethania Welsh Presbyterian chapel, Llwynypia, where services were held in Welsh, the language of the home was English, and it was only in her university days that Kathryn achieved the full mastery of spoken and written Welsh which was to be a hallmark of her career. From Tonypandy she went to Aberystwyth to study Welsh under Professor Bobi Jones, and gained a First Class Honours degree in 1982 before taking up research on ‘Yr emyn a Williams Pantycelyn’ (The Hymn and Williams Pantycelyn), for which she was awarded a University of Wales PhD in 1987. One year of her research was spent as a Sir John Rhys Scholar at Jesus College, Oxford… More