Hymns, Anthems and Songs

Posted on April 5, 2011. Filed under: General Church Music, Music Directing, Ward Choir |

What’s the difference between a hymn, anthem, song and chorale?

Alexander Schreiner, former Temple Square Tabernacle Organist and Church Music Committee Member, offered the following clarifications:

“A hymn is a special kind of poetry addressed to Deity as a prayer. The ancient Greeks sang hymns to their pagan deities. We sing to the everlasting God… and we should address most of our hymns as prayers to heaven…

“Technically speaking, a hymn is composed of words only and need not have a musical accompaniment. The text is the hymn. That which accompanies it is the hymn tune. The hymn, or text, should always be written first. The poet selects the meter to suit his subject; then the musician writes the hymn tune. However, poets sometimes find it helpful to take a familiar tune for which to write their metered lines…

“The True Hymn: The ideal hymn is a sacred song addressed to Deity. Such hymns are the most important ones in our hymnbook. They may not always be spirited in rhythm, but they are always spiritual in quality. And spiritual values are the highest of all values.

Psalms: Paul mentioned the singing of psalms. These are hymns taken from the Old Testament. The psalms are the Western world’s best-loved poems, and the noblest. The Pilgrims sang psalms, and the Puritans, in 1640, had the complete book of Psalms in rhyme and meter. The Calvinists preferred singing psalms to any other kind of hymn. Coming from the Old Testament, the psalms are addressed to Jehovah and do not mention the name Jesus Christ, although several of the psalms carry references to the life and mission of Jesus Christ. Several psalms are included in our hymnbook, such as “The Lord Is My Shepherd” and “Praise Ye the Lord.”

Spiritual Songs: These are so designated because they exhort and uplift the worshipers and are addressed to them rather than to Deity. They are sung, as it were, before the Lord. Songs such as “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” “Come, Let Us Anew,” and “Ere You Left Your Room This Morning” come under this classification.

Chorales: These are characterized chiefly by their even rhythm, which lends great stateliness to their performance. “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” and “The Voice of God Again Is Heard” are both classified as chorales.

Gospel Hymns: The term gospel hymn is really a misnomer because these hymns rarely refer to the gospel. They were developed in the past century by enthusiastic gospel revivalist preachers. Examples of such hymns are “We Are All Enlisted,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and “Today While the Sun Shines.”

“Another interesting example… “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It is not designated as a hymn because it is not addressed to Deity. Therefore it is called an anthem.”

(“Guidelines for Writing Hymns”, by Alexander Schreiner, ENSIGN Magazine, April 1973)

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