Introducing the “Hymn of the Month” Project

By: Stephen Schall

Beginning in September, we institute a project called, The Hymn of the Month. In it, we’ll spend a month exploring, in depth, one hymn that is not well known to the congregation. The goal is to expand the congregation’s repertoire and to help us all reflect on the hymns we sing and why we sing them.  

At the beginning of the month I’ll introduce the tune and we’ll start to get to know the music. During the rest of the month we’ll sing the hymn at each service and I will share some reflections on the meaning of the text and the history and importance of the words. I hope this will be a blessing to you and for the congregation. 

At the outset, it will be helpful to define some terms you will be hearing:

  • hymn: refers to a poem or text that may be set to music. In The Presbyterian Hymnal the name of the hymn is the title at the top of the page.
  • author: is the person who wrote the hymn (the words). The author’s name is found above the music on the left. The date the hymn was written is next to the author’s name.
  • hymn tune: refers to the music that the hymn (the words) are sung to. On the page in the hymnal, the tune name is found directly under the title.
  • composer: is the person who wrote the music of the hymn tune. This is found above the music on the right.
  • meter: describes the number of syllables per line in the poem. This is found to the immediate right of the tune name. (This information is rarely of practical use to the congregation but is important for church musicians, liturgy planners, and hymnal editors because sometimes we want to sing a particular text but the tune is unknown to the congregation. If we know the meter, we can locate a familiar tune  — using the tune index  — and sing the hymn to the familiar tune. This is why we can do fun things like singing the hymn, Amazing Grace, to the tune of the theme from Gilligan’s Island. But I digress.)

The hymn of the month for September is number 358. Due to the holiday weekend this week, I will introduce this hymn next week. 

The hymn text is, Help Us Accept Each Other, written by Fred Kaan in 1975. It is set to the tune, BARONITA, composed by Dorothy Potter in 1975. The meter is D. This means the form of the poem is 7 syllables, 6 syllables, 7 syllables, and 6 syllables, Doubled  — meaning the pattern is repeated. 

Turning to the tune index in the hymnal, we find a number of tunes in this meter  — probably the most familiar being AURELIA (to which we sing The Church’s One Foundation) and PASSION CHORALE (to which we sing O Sacred Head Now Wounded). Do you think either of those tunes would be appropriate for this text? Hmmm, interesting question.