Hymn writing, challenges, competitions, etc....
  • Bombarde16
    Posts: 130
    While wanting to share my opinion and ask my questions, I will attempt to do so without intending any insult to modern hymn-writers...

    Historically (it appears to me) that hymn-writing has always been an act of prayer, praise, supplication, etc. It's the outcome of pouring our one's self to God; a process that is completely the fruit of the Holy Spirit, whereas we are the vehicle by which that Fire tangibly (and audibly) makes itself known to the world by and through our labors.

    It seems to me that comoetitions, challenges, and "games" as well as any hymn writing that is forced is "anti-hymn-writing". While in this case, the hymn writer may very well be praying, invoking the Holy Spirit for inspiration and guidance, and so on, it none-the-less seems to fall into the particularly bad habit of what has coalesced over the last 60 years... that being functional music for functional music's sake... as opposed to hymn writing (and music composition) as an outpouring of the Holy Spirit through an individual for the greater expression of the glory and wonders of God in His Church. Truth, Beauty, Goodness, etc... I.E. perhaps good hymns take time, and even Greater Hymns take more time? But that's not quite what I'm thinking or proposing....

    Now, of course we may remember that St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure were asked to both write hymns for the newly established Solemnity of Corpus Christi. Herein, should we understand that they were writing in "competition"? Perhaps... but I doubt that any of us would put ourselves on the levels of Great and Holy Saints of God such as these...

    And of course, one can create beautiful "functional" music. Take, for example, the cantati of J.S. Bach. Beautiful pieces of music, based on a formulaic style of writing, that he expanded and added his artistry to to Glorify God in the Lutheran service... this is not all that different from hymn-writing, I believe...

    I'm not "poo-pooing" hymn writing, and competitions, and games and such.... I just wanted to put this thought out there to begin a conversation around this topic matter...

    Are they [the games/challenges] fruitful? I think yes. Can the fruits be beautiful and wonderful additions to our patrimony? They most certainly can be!

    Of course, I am not a hymn-writer. That is not my place; those are not my gifts. Perhaps that is why I'm writing this...



    Hymn Writers: what is your process? Do you approach hymn writing in the same way that Eastern Iconographers approach the creation of an authentic Icon? Or is it more of a functional process? How do you feel that your work is understood- creating beautiful, edifying texts for Mass, or just writing because you have to put out a hymn a week, a month, etc...

    I'm genuinely curious.

    Thanks for your time in reading this! I appreciate you, your service to the Lord, and your thoughts on this matter.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,711
    Not just hymns, but all musical composition can happen in diverse ways…. Sometimes “more functional”, other times from an inspirational bent, and sometimes working hard at making some thing a prayer and a beautiful piece of art.

    Composing is always work that completely involves the intellect, mind, heart, and soul of the composer, no matter the idiom.

    As for hymn competitions, personally I tend to avoid them simply because they seem to want to extract a hymn by having the composer pay into a pool upon submission. That simply is very tacky. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a hymn competition per se. I think this kind of exercise can turn out some very questionable and poorly composed material, but it is not unethical to participate.

    I do see the point you were trying to make, however.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,501
    St Thomas Aquinas' output for the Corpus Christi office, both in rapidity and quality, showed that he had been thinking and praying about the Blessed Sacrament for many years.

    I would hope that's the same for me, in my much smaller way.
  • tomjaw
    Posts: 2,735
    As far as I understand St.Bonaventure's Office for Corpus Christi has not been found so could be a fiction. Interestingly we do have another Office for Corpus Christi, St Juliana of Liege, and we do have her texts and music. She wrote as very nice Compline Hymn.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Carol
    Posts: 856
    I am frequently disappointed when I encounter a new hymn because, while the refrain or chorus has a well crafted text and the music is singable but not cliche, the verses have lyrics that are painfully twisted into rhyme or full of humanistic claptrap OR the verse's tune has some schmaltzy harmonization or just goes nowhere. I wish these composers would work harder at making the verses as good as the chorus. Please, don't call it finished until the whole thing is of high calibre.
  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 693
    When writing hymns, early hymn writers like Faber, Caswall, Furniss, Cummings, and Curry wrote hymns with children in mind, hence, many if not all their hymns are about teaching the Catechism. They had an advantage over hymn writers today in that they were taught poetry in their early grades to the classics in college, not to mention they were well versed in their Catechism. There were several women including Mother Alexis, Sr. Mary Xavier, Mary Walsh, and others who were both accomplished musicians and hymn writers.

    A study of their hymns should be required for anyone attempting hymn writing, composition or both. I would also recommend you read Anthony Esolen's Real Music, Father Rutlers The Story of Hymns, also the Catholic Bishops aid on Eucharistic hymns, what is expected and what is not.

    One might be a great composer but a lousy poet. My advise is to keep the Catechism in the forefront and I doubt you can go wrong.
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 2,069
    The faith has to be alive enough in one to be a source of imagery. But in all other ways, hymnody is an issue of craft, and the craft of metrical verse is not taught now. Get that right, and the Holy Spirit will breathe on it, or not.
  • Diapason84
    Posts: 79
    Less hymns, more propers.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,501
    Since there will be hymns: better hymns.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,460
    > Hymn Writers: what is your process?

    Most of my hymns are based on a particular passage from scripture - more often than not, a lectionary pericope.

    I am almost always sparked by a single line, usually (though not always) the first line, which becomes the title. Most of the time (though not always) these are either direct quotes or close paraphrases of scripture. Otherwise they are a summation of some idea I got from the text somehow. Some of mine include:

    - What shall I cry? (Isaiah 40:6)
    - Do not stand and stare in wonder (Acts 1:11)
    - The God who sees all things (Gen 16:13)
    - I Am the Resurrection (John 11:25, and the opening prose of the BCP79 Funeral liturgy)

    This moment is the most mysterious and where I think the spark of "inspiration" happens.

    Sometimes these come with a specific tune. Otherwise, they will inevitably end up in LM and I almost always end up singing them to OLD 100th as I'm working them out.

    Next I finish out the entire first line with whatever seems logical and fits the meter...

    - What shall I cry, O God unto your people
    - Do not stand and stare in wonder into the sky above
    - The God who sees all things sees me
    - I Am the Resurrection, he said, the Life am I


    Then I proceed onward, step by step, thinking simultaneously about what ideas I might pursue and what words could rhyme. When I find a match, I flesh out the words to fit the meter:

    Do not stand and stare in wonder into the sky above...
    dove (not what we're doing)
    of (how do you end a line on 'of'
    glove (terrible)
    enough (no, that's dumb)
    love... AH! that could be...
    god of love?
    um...
    Lord of Love has alliteration!

    Do not stand and stare in wonder into the sky above
    something something something lord of love...

    what is the speaker trying to say?
    You've seen Jesus ascend in glory... and will see him return...

    Do not stand and stare in wonder into the sky above
    You have seen the wondrous glory of the risen Lord of Love (ooooh! I got 'of' in as an internal rhyme!)
    And...
    um?
    just as you have seen him something something
    something something RETURN
    oh, got it!
    just as you have seen him ascend unto the skies,
    so shall the living savior return before your eyes

    and so on and so forth.

    at some point I usually transition from what the text SAYS to what (I believe) the text MEANS.


    I am huge stickler for a small number of absolute principles:
    - rhymes have to be nearly exact and non-trivial
    - meter has to be EXACT
    - grammar and exact, specific meaning matters - no random evocative phrases
    - it has to pass the "so what?" test. in other words, it can't just be one more random, forgettable song. It has to, in the end, MATTER. Otherwise it never makes it out of my notebook.

    Thanked by 2Bombarde16 CHGiffen
  • I've got a certain sound in my head. I hear what I wish my own music sounded like. It doesn't most of the time. That is no reason not to keep trying.
    Thanked by 1MarkS