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  • Writer's pictureTrey Harper

Hymn Lining

“In the 1840’s not many pioneer churches were blessed with [a great song leader]. Actually few churches had song leaders, and the singing was generally atrocious. Many congregations were even without hymnals, and most of the ones they did have were without musical notes and very difficult to use. Until books with both words and music were available, the congregation learned about two dozen tunes and then adapted the two hundred or so hymn in the book to those tunes. The leader would announce the hymn and tell which tune would be used.

“Hymn lining” was a process followed either when a congregation was without hymnals or when most of the members were non-readers. Usually the preacher was expected to do the lining, and in his early ministry Moses Lard did this on many occasions. The preacher who was “lining the hymns” would first announce the song and the tune and then read aloud a line or two of the hymn. The congregation would sing then what he had lined. Before they had finished, he would begin reading the next line so that they could continue through the whole song without a break. Some preachers were renowned for their lining talents. To excel in this one needed a certain vocal quality that would convey feeling or emotion from the very depths of his soul. The worshippers would then grasp these emotions and the resultant song would be extremely moving. This is the way our congregations in the 1840’s sang with the spirit and understanding.”

This is an excerpt from “Moses Lard, That Prince of Preachers”, by Kenneth VanDeusen, p26. The first style mentioned is placing different words on the same tune. To aid this tradition, certain songbooks identify the meter of the song and list it in the index to allow a leader to choose songs that are adaptable to each other. Commonly mixed (even written that way) are “Stand Up, Stand Up, For Jesus” and “The Church’s One Foundation”. The later style listed is reminisced in songs such as “A Beautiful Life”. Put notions of wanting to hear this kind of singing aside. For the author to say the singing was “atrocious” is uncouth, meaning overwhelming evidence could be presented that we are better of with the more modern, than that of olde.


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