If you have not already heard a group of folks from the CRC/RCA have been working on a new hymnal for our two denominations. There are 10 people (5 each from the RCA and CRC) and 3 staff members on the editorial committee and 80 (40 from each denomination) on an advisory team. These are diverse groups geographically and stylistically. Our common bond is our love for Christ and his church and our passion for congregational singing.
Though we don't know its color yet, a name has been chosen: Lift Up Your Hearts: Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs (LUYH).
Picking up on a thread from another forum, the question was asked as to whether or not it is appropriate to consider including contemporary music in a hymnal/songbook format. Faith Alive has produced a songbook Contemporary Songs for Worship that attempts to do just that.
Music throughout history has been adapted for various settings beyond the one in which it was created and when it is "transported" it changes. How it is played, the acoustics musically and culturally in which it is played and heard, are different. Recently I had a chance to see and hear an harmonium which is widely used in Pakistan and India to accompany congregational singing. Harmoniums were brought to those countries by missionaries who wanted to sing hymns with an organ and the harmonium was the closest transportable instrument. What if they had stopped singing the hymns because there were no pipe organs available? What if we said that the harmonium could only be used to accompany hymns that it was inappropriate to use that instrument for indigenous music?
We could similarly ask if it is appropriate for Caucasians to be singing African-American spirituals. Rarely are they played or sung the way they were "performed" in the original context. Similarly is it right for us to sing the songs of Arabic Christians when we fail to catch their musical nuances and stresses, and use western vocal techniques and sounds?
I certainly agree that contemporary/modern music played on the piano or organ alone sounds much different than what you would hear with a full praise band. Conversely, hymns played by a praise band are rhythmically and musically quite different than those played on the organ. One performance practice may be closer to the original than another, and one instrument might be more appropriate than the other but I would hesitate to stop a congregation from incorporating a song simply because they fail to have the right instrumentation.
There is much more going on when we adopt songs from varying cultures and styles than just a musical exchange. When we sing each other’s songs we are singing each other’s prayers; our heart language, and there is something quite profound that happens in that exchange even if it sounds different. For that reason we learn and sing songs from Middle Eastern countries, Western hymns, and Australian praise songs.
We can certainly talk about and strive for the ideal instrumentation and performance practice. We also have a responsibility to treat each musical genre and the gifts we receive from various cultures with respect. The reality is that each of our worship contexts is different. If you have a pipe organ available and a praise band then use each appropriately; however don’t make the fact that you only have a band keep you from singing hymns, and an organ from adapting praise music.
Faith Alive realizes that some of the congregations we serve are large and have many instruments available, others only have a guitar, or an organ. It is our goal to help churches utilize the best of all musical genres. So, we provide guitar chords for hymns, not for the churches with organs but for the churches with only a guitarist. We also provide simplified contemporary music in which we attempt to keep the rhythmic integrity of the piece, not for the churches with the praise band but for the churches without or with only a less experienced group.