The following review is by Cory Westby,
whose bio appears below the review.
I have anxiously awaited the release of this hymnal companion, Lutheran Service Book: Companion to the Hymns. Now that it is in my hands, I can say that the wait was well worth it. And so is the price.
This is easily one of the most exhaustive, well-researched, and carefully designed reference resources published in the last couple decades. The information is thorough, as complete as it can be. It is didactic and devotional, historical and practical. I expected it to cover the main components of a hymn: text and tune. And it does with all the facts and detail you could want.
But it also looks at other aspects, things you might not go looking for but are glad to find. It looks at things like the confessional category of each text, translation history and sources, and suggestions for when and where to use the hymn in worship. Then there are the copious footnotes and additional reading it suggests.
I especially appreciated the listing of the text and tune publication sources and printings. The “Historical Summary” portion of each article tracks the evolution of each text and tune, their various forms and occurrences across time carefully laid out with painstaking detail, even going to far as to include a tune’s arranger and source of the accompaniment. It is fascinating to see the history of our beloved hymnody so clearly laid before one’s eyes, to be able to read down the list of the books where they were first printed to where they went as they became more widely known, and how they changed along the way.
The second volume contains composer and author biographies, which are as detailed and informative as the research on the hymns themselves. It includes a cross-reference listing of hymns for which each person was a text or tune contributor (such as the wonderful list of 20+ hymns in the entry for Martin Luther!). Where possible, the editors of the Companion reached out to composers and authors who are
still living to get the most current information for their biographies, not to mention insight into their hymns.
In comparing Lutheran Service Book: Companion to the Hymns to other recently published hymnal companions, the latter look more like rather thin compilations of editorials. It is clear that a significant amount of time and effort went into the Companion, and I am more than happy to pay for this kind of quality. The price reflects the tremendous amount of work that went into compiling the research and the beautiful presentation. The design of the Companion perfectly complements other resources relating to Lutheran Service Book and other essential CPH publications such as the The Lutheran Study Bible and Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. It looks right at home with these on my bookshelf.
When placed among hymnal companions for most of the mainline denominational hymnals that are currently in use, going back to LBW’s companion (1981), the only thing somewhat close to this, in terms of content, is the Episcopal church’s The Hymnal 1982 Companion, which, though detail-rich, is 20+ year-old research on a nearly 40 year-old body of hymns.
In terms of usability and design, the Companion is unmatched. It will be my first stop for all my hymn references for years to come. I highly recommend this to anyone who is interested in Lutheran hymnody and worship. Congregational song is one of the most significant ways in which the faithful proclaim our unity, share the Gospel, and render thanks and praise to God. This companion gives us a long, deep look into the incredible amount of work and God-given talent that has gone into creating, refining, and sustaining our body of hymnody.
Cory Westby is Director of Music at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension and Cantor at Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, NC, where he is organist for University worship services, conducts the Chapel Choir, and teaches Sacred Music. He is also the Director of the Lenoir-Rhyne Youth Chorus, a 60-voice auditioned choral program for grades 3-12. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sacred Music and Organ from Lenoir-Rhyne and a Master of Sacred Music in Choral Conducting from Emory University in Atlanta. He is a member of the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians, American Guild of Organists, and American Choral Directors Association. He lives in Newton, NC with his wife, Jessica, a Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod parochial school music educator, and their two children. They are members of St. Stephens Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Hickory.