The Value of Hymn Descriptions

May 13, 2021 9:00:00 AM / by Daniel Schwandt

Since its publication last Fall, All Creation Sings, the latest in the ELW family of worship resources, has already been put to use by rostered ministers, musicians, and assemblies despite the current changes and challenges to our worship life.

As a church musician, one of the ways I’ve tried to enrich the worship life of my congregations is by sharing information and context about hymnody beyond what’s encountered on the printed page. I’ve regularly referenced those sizeable hymnal companions—not just ELW, but from predecessor hymnals—with great historical and source information from scholars like Paul Westermeyer and Marilyn Stulken. By sharing background on a composer or a hymnwriter with my congregation via newsletter articles, bulletin notes, or in teaching, I hope to draw worshipers closer to the music we sing.

Available on are brief descriptions of each hymn and song, with a mix of background information, theological reflection, and musical suggestions. Leaders from around the ELCA complied these notes for use in bulletins, newsletters, study, or teaching. To access, go to the Library/All Creation Sings/Assembly Song Descriptions. 

Here’s an example that focuses on the meaning of the text: ACS 948, “Womb of Life and Source of Being”:

“At first glance we may not realize this is a hymn about the Trinity. When we arrive at the final stanza, we sing that ‘we would praise your name forever, One-in-Three and Three-in-One.’ The preceding stanzas give us many names to use for the Trinity, including some that are new to most of us. While we may be used to calling God ‘Father’ or ‘Creator,’ this text invites us to name God as womb, source, and home. The second stanza names Jesus as brother and priest, and the third stanza names the Holy Spirit as our partner. As you sing, consider whether these images open up God’s being to you in new ways.”

Another example describes a hymn’s background: ACS 934, “Christ Is Living/Cristo vive”:

“This hymn is a true collaboration. Nicolás Martínez, writer of the Spanish text, brought this poem to fellow pastor and hymn collaborator, composer Pablo Sosa, who set the poem to this lively tune. Sosa was a leader in ecumenical activities worldwide and did more than perhaps any other person to foster the composition of Spanish-language hymnody. ‘Cristo vive’ is a paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 15:12-23.”

I hope you find uses for these brief descriptions as ACS is introduced to your congregations and as you discover new and useful music for your congregation’s worship. Singing with greater understanding strengthens our song and enriches our life together.

Topics: Hymnody, Music Ministry

Daniel Schwandt

Written by Daniel Schwandt

Daniel Schwandt is currently a candidate for the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in organ performance at the University of Notre Dame, and serves as Music Associate at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in South Bend, Indiana. He is also Lecturer of Music and University Organist at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin.

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