Join our mailing list


This syllabus follows a course on Christian congregational song, ranging from Old Testament psalms to contemporary praise-worship songs, from traditional Western hymnody to global worship songs, with some attention to cultural context and practica.

Course Syllabus

1. Description

This is a historically- and theologically-informed course on Christian congregational song, ranging from Old Testament psalms to contemporary praise-worship songs, from traditional Western hymnody to global worship songs, with some attention to cultural context and practica. Course requirements include readings, tests, seminar presentations, reports on hymn recordings & visits to churches, as well as practical assignments.

2. Objectives

This course entails:

a) acquiring an understanding of the history of Christian hymnody

b) acquiring an understanding of the theology of hymn texts and characteristics of hymn tunes

c) basic exposure to aesthetics of hymnody, esp. on matching of text and tune, and performance

d) gaining an appreciation for the diverse functions of hymnody in Christian life & worship

e) perspectival application of a Christian worldview to issues in hymnology

f)  skill development of library & field research on hymnody

g) learning a pedagogy for teaching hymnody

h) developing competence in use of hymnals, worship songbooks, and hymnal handbooks

i) singing many hymns from various traditions and styles

3. Textbooks and Resources

a) Students must obtain the following 3 textbooks:

Psalter Hymnal—any of its music editions (Grand Rapids, MI: CRC Publications, 1987)

Psalter Hymnal Handbook, edited by Emily Brink & Bert Polman (Grand Rapids, MI: CRC Publications, 1998)

Sing! A New Creation—leader’s edition (Grand Rapids, MI: CRC Publications, 2002)

b) Students are required to study the following additional materials [on reserve in the library]:

i) 1 of the following 4 books on psalms:

Bernhard W. Anderson: Out of the Depths: the Psalms Speak for Us Today(1974/1983/2000)   BS 1430.5 .A53

Walter Brueggemann: The Message of the Psalms: a Theological Commentary(1984)   BS 1430.3 .B78

John H. Hayes: Understanding the Psalms (1976)   BS 1430.2 .H35

Tremper Longman III: How to Read the Psalms (1988)   BS 1430.2 .L66

ii) S. Paul Schilling: The Faith We Sing (1983)   BV 310 .S34

iii) James R. Sydnor: Hymns, a Congregational Study—both student and teacher’s editions (1983)   ML 3001 .S92 H95


4. Course Requirements

You are expected to attend classes regularly and participate in class discussions and singing; textbook readings and reading of other material should be done prior to the next class or week as assigned.

A) submit two (2) listening reports on 2 different recordings of hymns; each recording is to be at least 50 minutes in length. These listening reports should be submitted via e-mail; include the following in each report:

Hymnology Listening Report   by (your name)         Date:

i) Name of the recording(s) and primary performers/accompanist/conductor/ arranger, manufacturer’s label & catalogue number, and date, in proper discographical format

ii) Give some historical information about the contents of the materials to which you listened, with reference to four (4) specific authors and/or composers of your choice, with information from a hymnal handbook (or a more general historical essay about the genre represented on this recording if the authors/composers are anony­mous). Write approx. 50 words for each of the historical persons or 200 words for a historical essay.

iii) Explain, describe, and/or comment on three (3) texts of your choice (but different from those treated in ii ), from the materials on this recording [approx. 50 words for each of the three texts].

iv) Explain, describe, and/or comment on three (3) musical settings and/or performance features, chosen from the materials on this recording (but different from those treated in iiand in iii ) [approx. 50 words for each of the three musical comments].

Identify any hymnology source(s)—such as hymnal handbook(s) in endnotes, using proper bibliographic citations.

B) write a hymn text: a metrical paraphrase of a Scripture text or a new hymn text; your verse should consist of 12 or more lines (divided over 3 or more stanzas), should involve rhyme, should follow one of the more commonly-used meters (so that it can be sung to a familiar hymn tune), and must be submitted by e-mail before 5 p.m on the due date. There will be opportunity to do revisions. The average between the original mark and that of any revision will become the final mark for this project. The best texts will be sung in class.

C) make one (1) class presentation on one of the topics identified with an asterisk (*) in the course schedule (see below, #6, on pp. 6-7). This presentation is to be done with Powerpoint. You are to prepare an outline for the class [or use the slides-handout generated by Powerpoint], with suitable source materials documented in a biblio; photocopy at your own expense for the class. The topics will be chosen during the first week of classes, and will ordinarily be presented on the date assigned in the course schedule. You will need to use the full class period [50 minutes] in a combination of presenting your information, any class discussion, and singing appropriate selections. Make your own arrangements for any accompanist that may be needed.

D) complete one diary project containing three (3) written reports on church visits:

i. You are to visit at three (3) different church services throughout the semester, and reflect on their use of “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” according to the following four (4) categories:

a) the suitability of their choices for that service and season of the church year

b) the liturgical or other function(s) of their songs in the service

c) the quality of their texts and tunes as worship songs

d) the quality of the actual performance of their worship songs

ii. These reports may not be on a campus event, e.g., a chapel service or a “LOFT” service.

These reports should be on a variety of denominational traditions, including Roman Catholic, and mainline & evangelical Protestant, but not the Eastern Orthodox nor sects/cults. The intent is that you experience hymnody in a church context other than your own, and that you experience a variety of such contexts beyond your comfort zone.

iii. Word-process your reflection (with specific relevant details such as topic of service, authors/composers of songs, and attach church bulletin) in approx. 100 words for each report.

E) write a comprehensive final exam, for which you may use the Psalter Hymnal andSing! A New Creation, but not any hymnal handbook(s).

5. Evaluation

The final grade for this course will be composed of the following:

2 listening reports                  10%
3 church reports                     15%
hymn text writing                     15%
seminar presentation             30%
final exam                                30%

Late assignments will lose 5% per day (not counting Sundays). Failure to do at least two of the church reports, or the class presentation, or to write the final exam results in an automatic failure for the entire course; the only exception to this rule is in cases of medically-verified illness or emergency/death in the family with verification from the Student Life Dept.

6. Course Outline

Readings in the Psalter Hymnal Handbook [PsHH], the leader’s edition of Sing! A New Creation [Sing!], and the other sources [all given in the RH column] are to be done prior to class time.

Unit 1: Texts


Session 1           Orientation to the course

Session 2           Intro to terminology, hymnals, & hymnal handbooks

Session 3           Introduction to literary and musical features of hymns

                           read any of the Psalm books; also PsHH 14-27

Session 4          Introduction to the Biblical psalms and psalmody

Session 5          Psalms of lament

Session 6          Psalms of praise/thanksgiving

Session 7           Hymnic psalms

[1st listening report is due]

Session 8          Other types of psalms

Session 9          Hymn texts about God and the Trinity                               Faith We Sing [1st half]

                          Hymn texts about creation and providence

Session 10        Hymn texts about Jesus Christ and redemption

[1st church report is due]

Session 11         Hymn texts about the Holy Spirit; the Word of God

Session 12          Hymn texts about worship and the sacraments               

                            Faith We Sing [2nd half]

Session 13           Hymn texts about the church’s mission/ministries

[2nd listening report is due]

Session 14          Hymn texts about living in the world

Hymn texts about the life to come

Unit 2: Traditional Hymnody

Session 15         Guest

                           PsHH 55-66

Session 16            Canticles & early Christian hymns

Session 17            Greek, and Latin hymns

Session 18           * Lutheran hymns                                                                     

                             PsHH 28-54, 67-72

Session 19          * Calvinist and English psalms

Session 20          * Pietist & Moravian hymns

Session 21           * Isaac Watts                                                                                           

                            PsHH 73-77

Session 22         * John & Charles Wesley

[2nd church report is due]

Session 23         * The Olney Hymns & later 18th c. British developments               

                            PsHH 77-82

Session 24          * Hymns surrounding the Oxford Movement

Session 25          * Hymns Ancient & Modern & Victorian hymnody

Session 26          * The English Hymnal, and Welsh hymns      

                             PsHH 82-87

Session 27         * Early American hymnody & Lowell Mason

[your hymntext is due]

Session 28         * White gospel hymns and songs

Session 29         * Black spirituals & gospel songs                          

                             PsHH 87-89

Session 30         * Southern folk hymns

Unit 3: Contemporary Developments

Session 31         Modern psalmody: Dr. Emily Brink                           

                            Sing! 408-411

Session 32         Global hymnody                                       

                            Sing! 412-418, 424-437

Session 33         Recent British & American hymnody

[your revised hymntext is due]

Session 34         Mini hymns, Scripture choruses, Taizé music        

                           Sing! 418-423

Praise-worship songs

[3rd church report is due]

Session 35          Singing of student hymn texts

Session 36          Language issues in psalms/hymns                     

                             Sydnor booklets

Session 37           Psalms/hymns for the church year; hymn concertati & hymn anthems;

Hymns in church education; management of hymns

Course evaluation, preview of final exam