Sunday, August 03, 2008

Collecting Hymnals

[NOTE: This is a post that many regular readers might want to just skip. But it's something I've been wanting to write up for a long time, and today I finally broke open the box that held all these books. So, you were warned.]

[Later addendum: If you do find this of any interest, you may be further interested in my newest blog project, The Hymnomicon.]

Another part of my book collecting intersects with my interest in music: my small hymnal collection. Sunday is a good day for this topic, I think, even though I'm sure most readers won't have any interest it. But I write this post because I've learned that if you write something, eventually someone will G00gl3 it. So if any of this stuff rings bells with a random G00gl3r out there, leave a comment or send an email.

I'm not sure of the exact date of publication for all of these, but I'll take a best guess if I have to. My interest in hymnals, especially older hymnals, is more than just some kind of odd obsession of a hobby. I have become interested in studying and preserving the way old hymns were originally written, because in many newer hymnals, editor(s) have dropped stanzas, changed words, and even changed the music. So here's a list of pretty much all I have. There might be a couple more on odd shelves, but I got the vast majority of them together today in one place. Many of these are small paperbacks that were more or less self-published or published by very small publishing houses. They contain many songs that never were picked up for use in the "mainstream" modern congregational hymnals, unfortunately, because they are usually superior.

Treasury of Song -- No information for this one, but it looks like it couldn't have been published later than about 1920. Round note. Scanning through it, it seems to include some old standards with which I am familiar, and a great many songs I'm not familiar with, which are almost all around 100 years old. UPDATE: I noticed the date 1917 written in pencil inside the front cover.

Gospel Melodies -- 1928 Robert H. Coleman. Self-published. Round note. Unlike many of the hymnals I have collected, this one was not made for use particularly by the Church of Christ. Accompanying books could be ordered that provided orchestration for 15 instruments. Therefore it contains many old standards that never became true "standards" for the C of C, which makes it very interesting for me since it has many songs that I've not seen anywhere else. Older books like this and the one above are especially valuable for preserving the original compositions in the original key, original wording, etc.

New Ideal Gospel Hymn Book -- 1948 Firm Foundation Publishing House. Compiled by Austin Taylor, J.W. Acuff, W.D. Erridge and G.H.P. Showalter. Shape note. Some old standards that are found in other books, and some others that weren't. I think it was published mainly to include these "other" songs that weren't in any other books at the time.

The Majestic Hymnal No. 2 -- 1959 Firm Foundation Publishing House. Compiled by Reuel Lemmons. Shape note. This book is what I think of as one of the last of the old hymnals. It was the standard congregational hymnal for congregations of the Church of Christ for, I'd guess, a good 20-30 years. Includes old standards and some other songs that would have still been quite new at the time. This is another book that I learned to read with in the 1960s.

Sacred Selections -- 1960 Sacred Selections. Compiled by Ellis J. Crum. Shape note. Another hardback that could be used as a stand-alone congregational hymnal, it contained mostly songs that were still under copyright at the time, rather than mostly old standards that had become public domain. Although it may arguably be a better book than The Majestic Hymnal (above), it never became very widespread (as far as I know) as the Majestic--possibly because it cost nearly twice as much per copy.

Great Songs of the Church No. 2 -- 1961 Abilene Christian College Book Store. Shape note. Another competitor with The Majestic Hymnal, and competitively priced as well. Yet, another one that in my experience did not become as widely-used as the Majestic, probably because it didn't have the relative publishing might of the Firm Foundation behind it. Arranged differently than most hymnals, this one is broken into four sections, and within each section all songs are arranged alphabetically. Includes almost entirely old standards, many of which are no longer seen in modern hymnals.

Gospel Quartet Music No. 1 -- 1961 Gospel Quartet Music, Inc. Compiled by the Blackwood Brothers Quartet. Shape note. Although titled as quartet music, it is still written in the format that can be used in regular congregational singing. Includes many older hymns that aren't seen in modern hymnals.

The New Wonderful Songs -- 1944 Firm Foundation Publishing House. Compiled by Thomas S. Cobb and G.H.P. Showalter. Shape note. A collection of hymns that are now old standards, and many that are no longer used in modern hymnals.

Christian Song Album -- 1968. Compiled and self-published by Holland L. Boring, Sr. A collection of what at the time were hymns written by "living song writers," including photographs and biographical sketches for each.

Awakening Songs Number 1 -- 1971 Firm Foundation Publishing House, compiled by Holland L. Boring Sr. Shape note. Similar in form and purpose to Number 4 below.

Awakening Songs Number 4 -- 1971 Firm Foundation Publishing House, compiled by Holland L. Boring Sr. and his son, Holland Jr. Shape note. Similar to Songs for the Master below. "[D]esigned to help fill a glaring deficiency in our church music repertoire." This "glaring deficiency" is that at the time people were stuck in singing nothing but old standards, and the singing had become too mechanical and rote. This book included many new hymns that were just as good as or better than the old standards, collecting them all in one book so people would have easy access to them.

Songs for the Master -- 1973 Firm Foundation Publishing House. Compiled by Holland L. Boring, Sr. Shape note. Made up of songs written by faculty of the Foundation School of Church Music (or "Singing School" as we all called it) as well as the earlier generations of writers who taught and influenced them; also includes some old standards.

Light Reflectors -- 1970s. Another compilation of old standards and new hymns, compiled by Boring. Shape note.

Songs of the Church -- 1977 Howard Publishers. Compiled by Alton H. Howard. Shape note. Here begins (in my opinion) what I think of as "the modern hymnal." I have a lot of gripes about the books put out by Howard. He has a bad tendency to change words and music to how he thinks they should be, rather than leaving them as the original composer wrote them. Includes mostly old standards plus a few songs written by Howard himself and some of his cronies.

Hymns of Praise -- 1978 Firm Foundation Publishing House. Compiled by Reuel Lemmons. Shape note. Although this is what I think of as a "modern hymnal," it includes many old standards the way they were originally written, as well as new (at the time) songs written by faculty of the Foundation School of Music and their associates. Unlike many of the other small paperback hymnals published by the Firm Foundation, this is a full-sized hardback, completely suitable for congregational singing all on its own. One of the best hymnals ever published, in my opinion.

Songs of Hope -- 1979 Firm Foundation Publishing House. Compiled by Holland L. Boring, Sr. Shape note. Similar to Awakening Songs and Songs for the Master, and compiled and published for essentially the same purpose.

Our Garden of Song -- 1980 Howard Publishing Co. Compiled by Gene C. Finley. Shape note. Not meant to be a congregational hymnal. This is a very expensively-bound book that includes only songs written by members of the Church of Christ. Each writer profiled has one example song included, as well as a photograph and biography. Especially valuable to me because it is one of only two hardbacks that I know of that includes Don Boring's "Mighty is the King of Glory" (the other one being Hymns of Praise above).

Gleam of Glory
-- Early 1980s (best guess). Compiled by Holland L. Boring, Sr. and as far as I can tell, self-published by him. Shape note. Made up of songs written by students and faculty of the Foundation School of Music (such as your humble blogger).

Songs of Love -- 1985 Leoma Music Co. Compiled by Holland L. Boring, Sr. Shape note. For those who knew and were taught harmony by "Paw-paw," as we all knew him, this is an essential book. It contains all 141 gospel hymns written by him, plus more than 40 other hymns written by other singing school teachers and some old standards.

Golden Song Through the Years 1937 - 1987 -- 1987 National Music Co. Compiled by Robert S. Arnold. Shape note. A collection of songs copyrighted by the National Music Co. from 1937 - 1987, as the title. Seems to be mostly songs written by faculty and students of Gospel music "normal" schools: schools designed to turn out hymn composers and song leaders who in turn could teach others or otherwise possibly pass along what they had learned.

Songs of the Church, 21st Century Edition -- 1990 Howard Publishing Co. Compiled by Alton H. Howard. Shape note. Basically an updated edition of Songs of the Church above, printed in a more easily readable typeface. Not identical to the previous edition, some songs are different and the overall layout is completely different. Still, the same compiler and the same general overall purpose and scheme. Another one I have some complaints about because of the way Howard changes original compositions to make them what he seems to believe is catchier, or easier, or something.

Songs of Faith and Praise -- 1994 Howard Publishing Co. Compiled by Alton H. Howard. Shape note. And here we come to it. This is currently in very widespread use among congregations of the Church of Christ. It is what is used almost everywhere in this area. Hardly a Sunday goes by that I don't see something in it or hear something from it that makes me groan. Keys are changed, words are changed, notes are changed, stanzas are deleted, etc. Includes many old standards as well as many modern "contemporary Christian" pop songs that Howard and/or his cronies tried to turn into hymns suitable for congregational singing. It doesn't work. They were written as pop songs, and trying to turn them into hymns that can be sung by the average and largely musically illiterate congregation just doesn't cut it. Also has songs written by his group who make very bad mistakes in their harmony that I would never have been allowed to get away with. Sometimes it feels like someone is stabbing me through the temples with an ice pick. Parallel fourths, fifths, and octaves; double thirds in a major chord, no third at all sometimes...doubling the Ti in a dominant chord? What the...?! Sigh. It's too bad Howard won the publishing wars.


  1. Alan, I read this post with great interest. Being an old quartet man from way back, I was particularly struck by your possession of the old Blackwood Brothers classic publication...some great stuff in there.

    I even have some oldies in my collection here--'Songs of Faith' from the 1930s, "Inspiring Hymns' from the same era, and 'The Broadman Hymnal,' which was first published by the Southern Baptist Convention back near the turn of the century (early 1900s, late 1800s).

    Some of these great old songs still tug at my heartstrings to this day!

  2. There are still of a lot of other songbooks out there, although not as many as there used to be. Check out the newest at:

  3. If Alton Howards songbooks are so bad then why does everyone use them?

  4. Because he had better marketing, and once a congregation gets stuck with a couple thousand dollars worth of new song books, they aren't going to buy any new ones for a long time.