In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Christian Hymnody

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Anthologies
  • Companions
  • Hymn Societies
  • Journals and Serials
  • Bibliographies
  • Performance

Music Christian Hymnody
C. Michael Hawn, Geoffrey C. Moore
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 August 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 August 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0181


The Christian church throughout history has, with few exceptions, been a singing body of believers. Congregational singing has been a basis for establishing ecclesial, liturgical, ethnic, and theological identity, as well as a source of conflict and division throughout the history of the Christian church. Christian hymnody includes everything that the congregation (assembly) sings in the enlivening of Christian worship regardless of ecclesial context. The role of choirs or instrumentalists will be acknowledged only inasmuch as they facilitate congregational singing. The terms “hymn” and “congregational song” will be used interchangeably in this article except where either term carries a specific meaning during a given era or tradition. The terms “worship” and “liturgy” will be used interchangeably throughout except when referring to the practice of a specific ecclesial tradition that requires one term or the other. The notation of congregational song cannot be separated from the act of congregational singing. While congregational song may be studied as a literary or musical object, for example, as it appears in hymnals, it fundamentally exists as an embodied act of a gathered community. Notation, either in literate or oral traditions, only approximates the performance of the song in liturgical settings. Furthermore, congregational song requires inherently not only the study of text and music but also the interaction between the two. Basic congregational song forms are placed roughly in chronological order. Offering a simple historical overview of the history of hymnology is not possible because many of the genres of congregational song spring from different sources and run concurrently rather than sequentially. Finally, any overview of Christian hymnody must acknowledge the social location of the authors as North American mainline Protestants. While the breadth of sources cited attempt to stem the limitations of the authors’ social location, a similar entry written by authors from another continent or ecclesial perspective would undoubtedly reflect variations. Hymnals produced since 1960 and contemporary hymn studies increasingly reflect the ecumenical cross-currents and ethnic diversity of North America, and the broad demographic shift in Christianity from the global north in the mid-20th century to the global south in the early 21st century. To the degree that this shift is recorded in hymnals, it is included in this overview. This entry is divided into three larger sections: Reference Works, Historical Eras and Genres, and Contemporary Hymn Studies (1960–). Each primary section contains numerous secondary and tertiary sections.

General Overviews

This section includes textbooks such as Eskew and McElrath 1995 and Reynolds 2011, which provide a broad overview of the sweep of Christian hymnody as well as a topical approach to an area of congregational song. McKinnon 1987 cites the texts of nearly four hundred sources from the biblical era through Augustine on singing with annotation and bibliography. Foley 1995 and Gelineau 2002 offer analysis of the significant changes in congregational song since the Second Vatican Council, while Leaver and Zimmerman 1988 examines the role of congregational song within liturgy from both Protestant and Roman Catholic perspectives. Routley 1981 focuses on hymn tunes from a historical perspective.

  • Eskew, Harry, and Hugh T. McElrath. Sing with Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Hymnody. 2d ed., rev. and exp. Nashville: Church Street, 1995.

    Intended as a textbook for college and seminary courses, this book is divided into three parts. Part 1 discusses the hymn “in perspective” as poetry, music, scripture, and theology. Part 2 offers a historical survey of hymnody. Part 3 examines the hymn “in practice” in the proclamation, worship, education, and ministry of the church.

  • Foley, Edward. Ritual Music: Studies in Liturgical Musicology. Beltsville, MD: Pastoral, 1995.

    A collection of scholarly essays with an admittedly Roman Catholic orientation (though chapter 4, “Model Pastoral Musician,” addresses Martin Luther), this work explores important theological and liturgical issues which frame the use and function of hymnody within the liturgy. Chapter 1 provides a very helpful and extensive bibliographic introduction to the field of ritual music.

  • Gelineau, Joseph. Liturgical Assembly, Liturgical Song. Portland, OR: Pastoral, 2002.

    Written by one of foremost composers of and pedagogues on liturgical music in France since Vatican II, this English translation of Libres propos sur les assemblées liturgiques (Paris: Éditions de l’Atelier, Éditions Ouvrière, 1999) and Les chants de la messe dans leur enracinement ritual (Paris: les Éd. du Cerf, 2001) offers an examination of liturgical, historical and musicological issues and how they apply to singing for the liturgy. It is scholarly in content yet pastoral in tone.

  • Leaver, Robin A., and Joyce Ann Zimmerman, eds. Liturgy and Music: Lifetime Learning. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 1988.

    A collection of twenty-five essays by leading scholars in liturgy and liturgical music that provide scholarly perspectives on historical, liturgical, and theological issues that relate to the use and function of music in the liturgy. Of particular interest are three essays on liturgical music as corporate song and an extensive bibliographic essay.

  • McKinnon, James, ed. Music in Early Christian Literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511620089

    A collection of 398 citations of music by writers from the New Testament through Augustine. Organized into eleven chapters by period and location with brief introductory notes for each chapter, author, source, and quotation. Original source, location in the Patrologiae of Migne (where applicable), and availability in a modern critical edition is provided for each citation as well as pertinent monographs and journal articles.

  • Reynolds, William Jensen. A Survey of Christian Hymnody. 5th ed., rev. and enl. by David W. Music and Milburn Price. Carol Stream, IL: Hope, 2011.

    A new edition of a work originally published in 1963, this work still offers a good overview appropriate for undergraduate survey or introductory graduate course. Provides chapters on the early church, the Lutheran chorale, psalmody, and two chapters each on British and American hymnody. Includes a bibliography, divided by chapter, for further reading as well as a useful anthology of 139 hymns (music with interlined text).

  • Routley, Erik. The Music of Christian Hymns. Chicago: GIA, 1981.

    The mature and distilled statement of one of the 20th century’s preeminent hymnologists, this third version of the author’s comprehensive study of hymn tunes presents serious critical attention to hymn tunes “as music,” as well as salient historical data for some of the most important tunes, with 605 hymn tunes as examples to the text.

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