Teaching Hymnody: 29 Hymns in 2 Years!

hymnal-singingw600Introduction:

Learn 29 hymns in 2 years! Not just any hymns, but good, faithful, Lutheran hymns! I know. It sounds like some gimmicky “weight-loss pill” commercial. But, it’s not a trick. I have nothing to sell. I’m only encouraging pastors and congregations to realize that it is possible to “teach old dogs new tricks.” Zion did learn 29 Lutheran hymns in 2 years, though.

 

The Problem: 
Being Called to a congregation in the Florida/Georgia District that did not previously use or have the Lutheran Service Book, it was quite a challenge to introduce the Liturgy (an article for another time), and Lutheran Hymnody. Moreover, being surrounded by many Baptist, Pentecostal, Non-Denominational churches, and being surrounded by many LC–MS churches that already abandoned Lutheran hymnody, it was quite a task, to say the least.

 

Despite that, I had to teach this congregation the treasure of our Lutheran hymnody! We have the greatest hymns in the world. Sadly, many Lutherans don’t know or sing them. Throughout my life, I’ve heard many complaints about the difficulty of learning our hymnody. Regrettably, many pastors and parents have used “difficulty” as an excuse to learn, teach or sing them no longer. As a result, many have abandoned the faithful words and beautiful melodies of Lutheran Hymnody for easy-to-sing, American-Evangelical radio songs that fail to be true to the Word of God!

 
However, rather than cower away from the “difficulty” of teaching these hymns, we must all learn why Lutheran hymns are beneficial, first. Lutheran hymnody is worth learning because it faithfully preaches God’s Word and causes us to remember it. Pastors shouldn’t teach hymns simply for the sake of teaching hymns; rather, they should teach hymns because hymns teach!

 

The Purpose of Hymnody:
The purpose of hymnody is to teach. Hymnody is the combination of theology and music. The Church does this because words set to music are easily remembered and recalled. Therefore, to help members remember the True Doctrine revealed by God, it has been set to music!

 
Since music is powerful—in the sense that it causes us to remember words—we must be careful which words are set to music! If the True Doctrine of God’s Word is set to music, then it is the most beautiful and comforting treasure! However, if false doctrine, frivolity (the absence of any doctrine), or a mixture of Truth and half-truths are set to music, then, this is extremely dangerous and damaging to the Christian. It’s hazardous because it harms the soul. Regularly hearing lies about God and our neighbor will eventually kill both faith and love. We must be careful which hymns we teach God’s people: we want people to forget man-made false doctrine; we want them to remember God’s Doctrine! Good hymnody is distinctly efficient at doing this!

 
Knowing what is beneficial, we must also concern ourselves with how to teach it! Before teaching, you must learn it. Pastors should study, and sing these hymns to themselves, to their families, and to their sheep. Now, even though the benefit of these hymns outweighs the “difficulty,” for many, they remain a challenge. However, they are “difficult” mostly because they are “new.” I say, “New,” because, for the most part, many Lutherans have not heard them before (even though these hymns are about 500 years old, or older). As with everything unfamiliar or unknown, it is a challenge. But, it’s not impossible.

 

The Hymn of the Month: 
So, to teach the wealth of our Lutheran hymns, I implemented a “Hymn of the Month.” The idea only puts into practice the adage: Repetition is the mother of learning. This is how you can learn 29 hymns in 2 years:

  1. Create a list of faithful, Lutheran hymns. Once you have that list, organize the hymns from the simplest melodies progressing to more challenging ones. I started in August 2014 with LSB 754, “Entrust Your Days and Burdens.” Make sure the hymn is appropriate to the season. Look up the chief hymns, or the hymns of the day, for the year, and use that as a list. This way, you can teach before or after the service why you are singing that specific hymn.
  2. Give the list to the Organist to practice. The chances are that if the congregation hasn’t sung the hymn, the Organist doesn’t know or play it either. However, if you give this to the Organist with enough time, depending on his ability, he can begin practicing a month in advance. Sadly, a poorly played hymn becomes distracting and many will not “like” it. Many love the hymns when they are played as written!
  3. Inform your Congregation about the Hymn of the Month. Tell them that you would love to teach them these great Lutheran hymns and that this will be a good way to learn our hymnody! Write about the theology of the hymn in the Newsletter, if your church has one. Include notes about that hymn in the Bulletin on Sundays.
  4. Play the Hymn music as the Prelude, and during the Offering each Sunday. Have the Organist play the melody before the service, and during the collection of the offering. By hearing the tune twice before singing it, they will be a little more familiar with the hymn when it is sung.
  5. Place the Hymn of the Month as the final hymn in every service. When we first implemented a hymn of the month, it was at the beginning of the service. However, I quickly learned that it did not give anyone enough time to hear the melody beforehand. The congregation would forget it. So, place it at the end of the service; this becomes the last hymn they hear before leaving. Many of my members told me that they would find themselves humming the melody of this hymn during the week, while at home and work!
  6. Introduce it on the first Sunday of the month. After the congregation has heard the melody during the Prelude and the Offering, it would be helpful to have the Organist play the whole tune once, as an introduction. Then, on the first Sunday it is introduced (or, as needed), the pastor or the choir can sing the first stanza of the hymn alone. Then, the congregation can join in with the second verse. If done in this way, the congregation will have heard the melody four times in about an hour before singing it themselves. As the pastor, turn the microphone up or sing loud for the remaining verses as well. The beautiful thing about hymnody is that the melody repeats each verse. If it’s hard for the congregation to learn, then continue each Sunday of the month with the same routine. By the third Sunday of the month, everyone will know it well and sing it confidently.
  7. Keep the hymn in the rotation. After the month, the congregation will know the hymn. Continue to use this hymn during the services of the next month as well. For example, you do not have to sing it every Sunday. But, for one or two Sundays of the next month, have the congregation sing that hymn during the distribution of the Lord’s Supper. Continue to bring up the newly learned hymns 2 to 3 months after learning it. In about 5 to 6 months, you can use all six hymns in a service! Sing all the new hymns!

You might have noticed that Zion learned 29 hymns in 2 years, instead of 24. It’s because I chose some hymns that had multiple words to the same melody. For example, I picked LSB 453, “Upon the Cross Extended,” during Lent, which is also the same melody for LSB 880, “Now Rest Beneath Night’s Shadow.” So, for Vespers or Compline, we could sing LSB 880 comfortably.

 

Also, I used the same concept of a “Hymn of the Month,” for Advent and Lent. During our Midweek Services, we would learn a hymn appropriate to Advent or Lent in the same way we learned on Sundays. When you add all of this up, Zion did indeed learn 29 hymns before the Anniversary of my 2nd Ordination. The hymns that were once unfamiliar to them are now what we sing on a regular basis. Be faithful, and persistent. Teach these hymns that teach God’s Word. Many, sadly, will not remember the sermon you preached last month; but, many will remember these hymns the rest of their life.

 

The List: 

The list of hymns will depend on and vary with each congregation. Some congregations know some Lutheran hymns; some do not know any at all. Though this might not apply to your congregation, here’s a list that might help get you started:

  • August: LSB 754, “Entrust Your Days and Burdens”
  • September: LSB 594, “God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It”
  • October: LSB 546, “O Jesus So Sweet, O Jesus So Mild”
  • November: LSB 585, “Lord Jesus Christ, with us Abide”
  • Midweek Advent Services: LSB 889, “Before the Ending of the Day”
  • December: LSB 334, “O Lord, How Shall I Meet You”
  • January: LSB 402, “The Only Son from Heaven”
  • February: LSB 760, “What God Ordains is Always Good”
  • Midweek Lenten Services: LSB 453, “Upon the Cross Extended” (also, LSB 880)
  • March: LSB 438, “A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth”
  • April: LSB 458, “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands”
  • May: LSB 556, “Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice”
  • June: LSB 708, “Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart”
  • July: LSB 865, “Lord Help Us Ever to Retain”
  • August: LSB 581, “These are the Holy Ten Commands”

 


Here are all the hymns we learned in two years:

• Entrust Your Days and Burdens (LSB 754)

• God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It (LSB 594)

• O Jesus So Sweet, O Jesus So Mild (LSB 546)

• By All Your Saints in Warfare (LSB 517/518)

• Before the Ending of the Day (LSB889)

• O Lord, How Shall I Meet You (LSB 334)

• The Only Son from Heaven (LSB 402)

• Jesus, Refuge of the Weary (LSB 423)

• Lord, ‘Tis Not That I Did Choose Thee (LSB 573)

• Upon the Cross Extended (LSB 453)

• Now Rest Beneath Night’s Shadow (LSB 880)

• Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands (LSB 458)

• Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me (LSB 756)

• Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart (LSB 708)

• Grant Peace, We Pray, in Mercy Lord (LSB 777)

• Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me (LSB 683)

• Evening and Morning (LSB 726)

• Dearest Jesus, We are Here (LSB 592)

• Lord Jesus Christ, with Us Abide (LSB 585)

• From Heaven Above to Earth I Come (LSB 358)

• O Bride of Christ, Rejoice (LSB 335)

• O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright (LSB 395)

• What God Ordains is Always Good (LSB 760)

• Jesus Christ, Our Blessed Savior (LSB 627)

• Christ, the Life of All the Living (LSB 420)

• The Strife is O’er, the Battle Done (LSB 464)

• Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice (LSB 556)

• These are the Holy Ten Commands (LSB 581)

• Lord, Help Us Ever to Retain (LSB 865)

About Pastor Rojas+

Rev. Roberto E. Rojas, Jr. is the sole pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church (also known as "Zion New Life") in Winter Garden, FL, established in 1891. He attended the Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, IN (M.Div., 2008-2013; STM., 2013-2014). During his studies at the seminary, he participated in a year-long exchange program in the Westfield House in Cambridge, England, and also in the Seminário Concórdia in São Leopoldo, Río Grande do Sul, Brazil. He and his beautiful wife, Erica, are happily married and live in Gotha, FL.

Comments

Teaching Hymnody: 29 Hymns in 2 Years! — 39 Comments

  1. Good job sir! If I may add on to this, many hymns are now on YouTube, along with primers for the various Divine Services, if your organist(s) are unfamiliar with them.

  2. Good job!
    (But there should have been at least a part of the congregation singing back at you on many of those.) Or is that too much “the way things used to be”?

  3. Congratulations, Pastor Rojas Jr. in helping your congregation in learning these outstanding hymns. One suggestion, in the LSB, 516,” Wake, Awake for Night is Flying” also known as the “King of the Chorales, 395, “O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright”, known as the “Queen of the Chorales, finally, 555 “Salvation unto Us Has Come” three great hymns.

  4. Thank you, Walter!

    Thanks be to God that Zion already knew those hymns! 🙂 This is why it takes some discernment to find out which hymns they know and don’t know. You are absolutely right, those hymns are the best. We sing them regularly. It’s such a joy.

  5. Great! Now can we teach 1/2 of the ladies to sing the alto line? Can we find one lady willing to sing the alto line? What if families had their own hymnals and sat around the piano singing hymns after supper? We could learn a hymn a week that way. Or would that be too much the way things used to be?

  6. @Steve #5

    No, Steve,
    “The way things used to be”, confirmation students memorized(!) numerous hymns and Psalms, (after the Small Catechism w/Explanation), and sang in church because (1.)nobody had ever told them they couldn’t sing, and (2.)their fathers were raising the rafters every Sunday.

    But I’d love to be “taught the alto line”;(I was only briefly in a choir).
    [Singing after supper would be better than most TV.]

  7. @Steve #5

    A little annoyed 🙂 that you singled out the ladies. Trying to get the men to sing in my congregation or even open the hymnal is an almost impossible task! However, they will sing out at Wrigley Field during the 7th inning stretch with a few beers under their belts!

    Diane

  8. @J. Dean #8

    Women sing better than men, IMO.

    You’ve probably never heard a church full of Lutheran men who learned hymns in catechism (tho half of them in German, no doubt) and had never been told they couldn’t sing unless they passed a choir audition!

    It probably helped that they were seated together so that they heard other men’s voices around them, instead of sopranos and kids.

    And that the pews were filled, too.

  9. @Diane #7

    If the Sunday School sang hymns regularly instead of kindergarten level ditties, the boys would be used to doing it, and the girls, too.

    [There’s a reason that a study showed children were more likely to stay with the church if they never went to SS!]

  10. @Diane #7 I seem to have that effect on the ladies, but I just didn’t get around to the tenors and bases yet;) a family could pick up a keyboard for less than the monthly cable bill.

  11. @J. Dean #8

    J. Dean wrote, “Women sing better than men, IMO.”

    I don’t know what the attendance is like these days at the chapel services at CTSFW, but in the 1980’s the attendance was very good; and about 99% of the attendees were men. The singing, was thrilling! (The preaching, not always so good. A history professor, for instance, isn’t necessarily a great homiletician.)

  12. I’ve been doing this very thing for 5 years at my congregation. We have learned over 50 hymns. Sadly, I have no church musician. I prepare the music to be played via midi files on our electric piano. I have had to fight the desires of the congregation to pick “upbeat” songs. Most don’t care about the words, only a snappy tune. But patient teaching will win out.

  13. @Steven Brummett #15

    I have had to fight the desires of the congregation to pick “upbeat” songs. Most don’t care about the words, only a snappy tune. But patient teaching will win out.

    It’s amazing how much better historic Lutheran hymns sound if they are played at the marked tempo (or with common sense, if no tempo is marked)!
    [I should think some of the recorded songs would teach that; if they are “dirges” (outside of Lent) look for different recordings.]

  14. In our Sunday School, I’ve gone to teaching hymns only for singing in church. We always study the words of the hymns before we sing them as well as the bible verses they are based on. It’s amazing how quickly they learn to appreciate them. Even the preschoolers are able to sing the first verse of many of them. We also talk about how our singing in church is a response to God’s gifts given to us and that it is NOT a performance. We recently sang “God’s Own Child, I Gladly Say It”. CPH has a beautiful arrangement. What powerful words in that hymn! “In a dear forgiving flood, sprinkling me with Jesus blood.” We finished singing, and then, it happened……Applause! Yikes!! We talked about that the following Sunday. As soon as I brought it up a fourth grade boy said, “That just felt wrong!” They really get it! Thankyou for this great article.

  15. @Steven Brummett #15

    Dear Pastor,

    Teaching a congregation about Lutheran hymnody is a slow, patient process. Lutheran hymnody is all about two things – 1. Proclamation – saying back to God what He has said to us and 2. Comfort – for the forgiven sinner. A choir can greatly help the learning process by singing new hymns ahead of when the congregation will be singing them.

    There will always be people who want ‘peppy’ music. Teaching people to pay attention to the words firstly and listening to the tune secondly is difficult. Helen is right, hymns must be played at the correct tempo. People will remember a hymn long after a sermon is forgotten. Sorry pastors, it is the truth. That’s why the theology in a hymn has got to be the best.

    Diane

  16. This purposeful and systematic approach can also be extended into the home. When our kids were little, long before the current teenage resistance set in, I taught them a hymn each week for the upcoming Sunday (pastors, that is a plug for publishing your upcoming hymns in the bulletin). They were very willing to memorize at that age and could participate more in the service even prior to reading, and of course then knew the hymn going forward for future services. Having that kernlieder (set of core hymns) in our family’s heads is a great blessing.

  17. @Sally #19 Yes, we need to guard against using the church as a performance venue. At the same time, we can and should learn to use good lyric diction, harmony, phrasing, dynamics, proper tempo, intonation, and interpretation. It is rewarding when well done. This is a very fine line for me to walk. Is it not a matter of stewardship?

  18. Any tips for a congregation that just won’t sing? I feel as if my wife and I are the only two singing sometimes.

  19. @Jeff #23

    Are they really not singing? Or is the organ so loud you can’t hear the voice of the person next to you? Been there! [And if she drags the tempo as well, some may well have given up.]

  20. @helen #18

    I agree. However, the musician I had when I got here was not a trained organist and decided to play at the speed of the congregation rather than lead the congregation. Even after four years I could never get the speed at a decent pace. Now with recorded hymnody I can do better, though some are recorded too fast for human singing so I have to slow them down.

  21. Good question. Besides turning up the microphone, or belting out the hymn, you can transpose the music to a lower key.

    I’ve realized that pretty much everyone can carry a tune and sing; the difficulty is the vocal range. Most men and women can’t hit a high E. Also, when a hymn is unfamiliar, people are less likely to sing it if it hits higher notes. Usually organs have a feature to transpose the music a half-step, or whole-step down. I found that that usually helps. Once they are familiar with the tune, you can play the hymn as printed in the hymnal.

    I hope that helps. Also, exhorting the congregation to sing doesn’t hurt, either.

    @Jeff #23

  22. Does LCMS have the list of the LSB hymns with the tempo which should be used with each hymn?
    If so, where can I get such a list?

  23. @Lil Spilde #27

    Lil wrote, “Does LCMS have the list of the LSB hymns with the tempo which should be used with each hymn?”

    Lil, I believe that the tempo for each hymn will always be decided by the delicate balance of organist, congregation, and pastor (listed in order of influence). I’ve seen no official or unofficial list of suggested tempos and don’t expect to see one.

  24. @Lil Spilde #27

    Does LCMS have the list of the LSB hymns with the tempo which should be used with each hymn?

    Until you asked that, Lil, I hadn’t paid attention to the LSB and the fact that it has entirely omitted the directives usually found in the left of the first line! [Thanks a lot, CPH]

    Pr. Fischer has given you “the facts of life”.

    IMO, tempo should be related to the subject of the hymn, slower on the Lenten ones, fast enough to sound joyful in the Christmas season!

    But in one instance, even a Pastor who talked too fast [in the Service of the Sacrament and the prayers] and an organist who could play them right [in the preludes] couldn’t seem to move up to speed during congregational singing. And the younger people had become a majority, too; you would have thought….! 🙁

    Normally, music is marked 4/4, 3/4 [‘waltz time’; infrequent in the hymnal] 6/8, etc.
    An organist or other musician can explain this; I learned it in school.

  25. @Rev. Robert Fischer (Emeritus) #28

    At an organist workshop this past summer in Fort Wayne, we received a hand-out called Suggested Tempos for Hymns in Lutheran Worship and Hymnal Supplement ’98. The new hymns in LSB that weren’t in HS’98 aren’t listed, but that’s a minority. It gives a suggested range for tempo such as the tune Slane – quarter note = 104-110 beats per minute. If you emailed the music dept. at the Seminary, you could probably get a copy.

    Also it is the organist who sets the tempo. The congregation will always sing slow if left on their own:)

    Diane

  26. @helen #29

    Hi Helen,
    Lutheran Worship doesn’t have time signatures either. It has something to do with the ‘pulse’ of a hymn. For example, if the last note of the hymn is a dotted half note, it would normally get three beats. However, organists are suppose to hold that note longer so that the congregation has time to breathe and get their eyes up to the beginning of the next stanza. There is an explanation of this somewhere on the LCMS website, perhaps under music resources?

    Diane

  27. @Diane #30

    Diane wrote, “At an organist workshop this past summer in Fort Wayne, we received a hand-out called Suggested Tempos for Hymns in Lutheran Worship and Hymnal Supplement ’98.”

    Good to know, Diane! Thanks for the info!

    While it’s true that the organist is generally the one to set the tempo, I have known congregation members who asked that some hymns be sped up or slowed down. I’ve felt that desire at times as well, but didn’t think it was important enough to rankle the organist regarding it. In many locations, however, there’s such a shortage of people who can play any keyboard instrument that there’s no complaint about tempo. People just feel fortunate to have someone there to “tickle the keys” at all.

  28. There are no tempo markings in TLH, LW, or LSB. Time signatures do not indicate tempo. 6/8 “marches” better than 2/4 any day of the week, but in hymnody it tends to to have a lilting “Morning Has Broken”, “Come Saturday Morning” CoWo kind of feel. The meter markings, such as C.M. (8,6,8,6), L.M. (8,8,8,8), 8.7.8.7.5.5.5.6.7., etc., indicate syllables per phrase using a full singing voice. These are at the top of the page in TLH, bottom right in LW, and bottom right in LSB. Generally, if you can’t easily get through a phrase in one breath, using a full singing voice, it is because the tempo is too slow. Don’t get wrapped up with time signatures, as many if not most of these have been added (incorrectly) by editors for publishing. Many of the originals did not have them, but did have fermatas to indicate phrasing or cadences. Tempo is most often an indicator of chops, or the amount of time spent in the woodshed, and therefore we tend to take our tempi pedantically slow.

  29. How can I get a hold of a copy of this: Suggested Tempos for Hymns in Lutheran Worship and Hymnal Supplement ’98

  30. @Steve #36

    …The meter markings, such as C.M. (8,6,8,6), L.M. (8,8,8,8), 8.7.8.7.5.5.5.6.7., etc., indicate syllables per phrase using a full singing voice. These are at the top of the page in TLH, bottom right in LW, and bottom right in LSB. Generally, if you can’t easily get through a phrase in one breath, using a full singing voice, it is because the tempo is too slow. Don’t get wrapped up with time signatures…

    Thank you. I was pretty sure someone would answer better than I did.

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