The Good, the Mediocre, the Bad, and the Awful

The example in my  last post explained the reason why a certain hymn-tune appears to me as high-quality, from a musical point of view, at least. It set me to thinking if there is a definitive method of assessing if a hymn  is ‘Good, mediocre, bad or awful’. I don’t believe there can be an ‘absolute’ value of quality, because we all come from different backgrounds, with various experiences, and personal preferences and dislikes……..but it’s maybe useful to put together some guidelines

  • It has to have excellent poetry, and tell some form of story
  • It has to have a recognisable and valid theology
  • It should cause SOME challenge to the instrument player and the choir or soloist to play and/or sing, and provide sufficient satisfaction and enjoyment to make the practising worthwhile.
  • The music and words should be original
  • The age of the performers/listeners need to be taken-into consideration
  • They should be suitable in, and appropriate for, the environment in which they are to be performed
  • They must be capable of hitting some sensitive nerve in the listener and/or performer

If all or most of these criteria are fulfilled, then we may say that we have hit the jackpot.

There is some drivel out there, poorly constructed music, inadequate vocabulary, requiring repetition of words (which, having been said once, do not bear repetition within the same hymn), and poor or dubious theology.

We are lucky that there is such a variety of hymn books available that it IS possible to select a good number of excellent pieces…a few from each book to produce a list of the best.

I can understand why many churches now do not hand out a hymn book, but have a service sheet or use overhead systems. We might yet see the demise of the conventional hymnal. As long as there is someone looking critically at what congregations and/or choirs are to sing, then, hopefully, quality will rise to the top……but I’m not convinced it will happen!

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