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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

November 10, 2019

Some hymn books

evelyn @ 8:59 pm

In the beginning (well, the beginning of my organist career), there was the St Andrew Hymnal. Published in 1964, it sadly became obsolete more or less immediately, having been overtaken by Vatican II and all the wishy-washy popular hymns that started coming out in untidy little booklets, mainly published by Mayhew.

Over the next few decades, things settled down, hymn books became larger and included hymns both traditional and modern. But re-reading the posts while uploading the ‘Hymns and Hymn Books’ index confirmed my view that no hymn book is perfect. All have some problem or other.

The Mayhew books are the worst, in my opinion. Some of the horrors are summarised in the Redressing the Balance post, but there is no end to them, as posts Two Ways of Going Home, Talk about Tasteless and More on MacMillan show.

Laudate, published by Decani Music, is considerably better. Yet even here there are problems, mainly with editorial ‘updating’ of the words (Lent and Laudate), and the omission of some old favourites such as ‘Bring Flowers of the Rarest’ and ‘Sweet Heart of Jesus’.

Best of the rest? Well, I do like CH4 (the Church of Scotland’s Church Hymnary Fourth Edition). Its accompaniments are generally better than those in the Catholic hymnals, especially Mayhew. The other major C of S hymn book, Mission Praise, has a rather piously modern outlook, which I find a bit irritating (Thoughtfully yours). Both books are well-edited and indexed, and either will stand on its own in a C of S parish.

Oh, and I mustn’t forget our own Forth in Praise 100 Hymns for Organ Beginners, which has been our best seller for some years now. Although its scope is limited and the two-part texture rather bare, it has been a useful stepping-stone for beginners, helping them to gain confidence by offering the simplest of accompaniments, with chords for those who wish to go down that road.

But to return to the St Andrew Hymnal. In the last few years its merits are becoming recognised. Its publication by the Catholic Church in Scotland, rather than by a commercial firm, gives it some authority. The quality of the music arrangements and layout is excellent, and it is well indexed. Although it is out of print now, most organists manage to acquire a copy, usually by exploring the dark recesses of church cupboards that haven’t been opened for years.

In the last few years there has been talk of officially reviving and republishing much of the content fo the St Andrew Hymnal. Let’s hope this comes to something.

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