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- For other meanings see hymn (disambiguation)
A hymn is a type of song, usually religious, specifically written for the purpose of praise, adoration or prayer, and typically addressed to a god or other religiously significant figure. The word hymn derives from Greek ὕμνος hymnos "a song of praise", which itself is derived from the Proto-Indo-European stem *sh2em- "to sing" and is related to Hittite Template:Unicode "he sings" and Sanskrit sāman "song".
A writer of hymns is known as a hymnist or hymnodist, and the practice of singing hymns is called hymnody; the same word is used for the collectivity of hymns belonging to a particular denomination or period (e.g. "nineteenth century Methodist hymnody" would mean the body of hymns written and/or used by Methodists in the nineteenth century). A collection of hymns is called a hymnal. These may or may not include music. A student of hymnody is called a "hymnologist".
Ancient hymns include the Great Hymn to the Aten, composed by the pharaoh Akhenaten, and the Vedas, a collection of hymns in the tradition of Hinduism. The Western tradition of hymnody begins with the Homeric Hymns, a collection of ancient Greek hymns, the oldest of which were written in the 7th century BC in praise of the gods of Greek mythology.
Christian Hymns are often written with special or seasonal themes and these are used on holy days such as Christmas, Easter and the Feast of All Saints. Others are used to instill reverence to the Bible or celebrate Christian practices such as the eucharist or baptism. Some hymns, such as used in Catholicism, may treat on individual saints, particularly the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Most Christian worship services have, since the earliest times, incorporated the singing of hymns, either by the congregation or by a selected choir, often using various forms of accompaniment. In ancient times, stringed instruments such as the harp, lyre and lute were used with psalms and hymns. Modern hymnody accompanied on normal scales by a piano and/or organ ranging up to the symphony orchestra, share many elements with classical music, much of which had religious themes. Contemporary Christian worship, such as with Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism may include the use of electric guitars and the drum kit. Other Christian denominations, notably the Church of Christ, forbid the use of instruments, adhering to a capella congregational singing of hymns. (see this article section).
The development of Christian hymnody
Thomas Aquinas, in the introduction to his commentary on the Psalms, defined the Christian hymn thus: "Hymnus est laus Dei cum cantico; canticum autem exultatio mentis de aeternis habita, prorumpens in vocem." ("A hymn is the praise of God with song; a song is the exultation of the mind dwelling on eternal things, bursting forth in the voice.")
Since there is a lack of musical notation in early writings, the actual musical forms in the early church can only be surmised. During the Middle Ages a rich hymnody developed in the form of Gregorian chant or plainsong. This type was sung in unison, in one of eight Church modes, and most often by monastic choirs. While they were written originally in Latin, many have been translated. A familiar hymn of this type is the 11th century plainsong Divinum Mysterium, (although the words Of the Father's Love Begotten date back to around the 4th century), that is a common part of church Christmas repertoires in the English language.
The Protestant Reformation produced a burst of hymn writing and congregational singing. Martin Luther is notable not only as a reformer, but as the author of many hymns including A Mighty Fortress Is Our God which is sung today even in Roman Catholicism. Luther and his followers often used their hymns, or chorales, to teach tenets of the faith to worshipers. The earlier English writers tended to paraphrase biblical text, particularly Psalms; Isaac Watts followed this tradition, but is also credited as having written the first English hymn which was not a direct paraphrase of Scripture. Later writers took even more freedom, some included allegory and metaphor in their texts. Four part harmony also became the norm, rather than unison singing.
Charles Wesley's hymns spread Methodist theology, not only within Methodism, but in most Protestant churches. He developed a new focus - expressing one's personal feelings in the relationship with God as well as the simple worship seen in older hymns. Wesley wrote:
- Where shall my wondering soul begin?
- How shall I all to heaven aspire?
- A slave redeemed from death and sin,
- A brand plucked from eternal fire,
- How shall I equal triumphs raise,
- Or sing my great deliverer's praise.
Wesley's contribution, along with the Second Great Awakening in America led to a new style called gospel, and a new explosion of sacred music writing with Fanny Crosby, Ira D. Sankey, and others who produced testimonial music for revivals, camp meetings and evangelistic crusades.
The Methodist Revival of the eighteenth century created an explosion of hymnwriting in Welsh, which continued into the first half of the nineteenth century. The most prominent names among Welsh hymn-writers are William Williams Pantycelyn and Ann Griffiths. The second half of the nineteenth century witnessed an explosion of hymntune composition and choir singing in Wales.
Some Christians today are using Christian lyrics in the rock music style although this often leads to some controversy between older and younger congregants. This is not new; the Christian pop music style began in the late 1960s and became very popular during the 1970s, as young hymnists sought ways in which to make the music of their religion relevant for their generation.
This long tradition has resulted in a rich lode of hymns. Some modern churches include within hymnody, the traditional hymn (usually addressed to God), praise choruses (often sung scripture texts) and gospel (expressions of one's personal experience of God). This distinction is not perfectly clear; and purists remove the second two types from the classification as hymns. It is a matter of debate, even sometimes within a single congregation, often between revivalist and traditionalist movements.
Well-known hymnists and hymns
Some Christian hymnists and their better-known hymns are:
- Thomas Aquinas : Pange Lingua, Verbum Supernum Prodiens
- Carl Boberg : How Great Thou Art
- Tommaso da Celano : Dies Iræ
- William Cowper : There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood
- Fanny Crosby : Blessed Assurance and 8,000 others
- Paul Gerhardt : O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded
- Martin Luther : A Mighty Fortress is Our God
- B. B. McKinney : The Nail Scarred Hand
- John Newton : Amazing Grace
- Dan Schutte : Here I Am, Lord
- Joseph M. Scriven : What a Friend We Have in Jesus'
- Knowles Shaw : Bringing in the Sheaves'
- Timothy Dudley-Smith : Tell Out My Soul
- Eliza R. Snow : O My Father
- Isaac Watts : When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, Joy to the World
- Charles Wesley : Christ the Lord Is Risen Today, Hark, The Herald Angels Sing,
- John Greenleaf Whittier : Dear Lord and Father of mankind
Christian hymns, especially in more recent centuries, were often written in four-part vocal harmony. Today, except for choirs and more musically inclined congregations, hymns are typically sung in unison. In some cases complementary full settings for organ are also published, in others, organists and other accompanists are expected to mentally transcribe the four-part vocal score for their instrument of choice.
Following Isaac Watts it has been common for English hymnody to use a conventionally named poetic meters to pair lyrics with melodies. Those used the most often are:
- C.M. - Common Meter; a quatrain (four-line stanza) with alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter, which rhymes in the second and fourth lines and sometimes in the first and third (8/6/8/6); also called Ballad Meter.
- C.P.M. - Common Particular Meter; a six-line stanza of which the first, second, fourth and fifth lines are iambic tetrameter, and the third and sixth lines are iambic trimeter (8/8/6/8/8/6).
- D. - Doubled; indicates an eight-line stanza instead of four, as in C.M.D. or D.C.M. - Common Meter Doubled or Doubled Common Meter, (8/6/8/6/8/6/8/6).
- H.M. - Hallelujah Meter; a six-line stanza of which the first four lines are trimeter and the last two are tetrameter, which rhymes most often in the second and fourth lines and the fifth and sixth lines (6/6/6/6/8/8).
- L.M. - Long Meter; a quatrain in iambic tetrameter, which rhymes in the second and fourth lines and often in the first and third (8/8/8/8).
- L.P.M. - Long Particular Meter; a six-line stanza of iambic tetrameter (8/8/8/8/8/8).
- M.T. (or 12s.) - Meter Twelves; a quatrain in anapestic hexameter (12/12/12/12).
- P.M. - may stand for Psalm Meter (more commonly known as 8s.7s), Particular Meter, or Peculiar Meter (each indicating poetry with its own peculiar, non-standard, meter).
- S.M. - Short Meter; iambic lines in the first, second, and fourth are in trimeter, and the third in tetrameter, which rhymes in the second and fourth lines and sometimes in the first and third (6/6/8/6).
- S.P.M. - Short Particular Meter; a six-line stanza of which the first, second, fourth and fifth lines are iambic trimeter, and the third and sixth lines are iambic tertameter (6/6/8/6/6/8).
- 8s. - Eights; used to distinguish an eight syllable quatrain that does not contain the iambic stress pattern characteristic of Long Meter (8/8/8/8).
- 8s.7s. - Eights and sevens; a trochaic quatrain with alternating lines of four feet and three and one-half feet, which rhymes in the second and fourth lines and sometimes in the first and third (8/7/8/7); also called Psalm Meter.
- 7s.6s. - Sevens and sixes; a quatrain with alternating lines of three and one-half feet and three feet, which rhymes in the second and fourth lines and sometimes in the first and third (7/6/7/6).
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- Many popular Protestant Hymns from an 1886 Hymnal, playable on any browser, with sheet music and MIDI files downloadable.
- Oremus Hymnal
- Examples of Byzantine Music Hymns 2000 pages of hymns in both staff and neumatic notation
- Ann Griffiths Website
- Examples of Coptic Orthodox Music of Egypt at Saint Takla Haymanout the Ethiopian Church, Alexandria - Egypt
- Hymn (hymn of Presbyterian Church in Taiwan, 1964 edition.
- HymnSite.com (the United Methodist Hymnal online)
- Hymns in Cherokee
- LDS Church Music (the LDS Church hymnal and children's music online)
- Hymns of the Spirit Three-- liberal Christian and Unitarian Universalist hymns
- Online resource for Christian worship music
- The Christian Virtual Hymnal
- The Cyber Hymnal — a useful resource for biographical information of hymn writers and composers
- Name That Hymn Discussion Board — An active discussion board where users help others locate lost hymn lyrics
- Sacred Harp singing
- The Psalter (Singing Biblical Hymns)
- Christian music lyrics and song information
- The Odes of Solomon reputed to be the earliest Christian Hymnsda:Hymne