Vol I No. 7

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly: Hymns and Hymnals in the American Church

by Mark Dwyer

If you were to scan the bookshelves in my office, you would find an engaging, if somewhat haphazard collection of books related to church music that I have accumulated since I was about 16 years of age. It first struck me as odd that there is an entire shelf dedicated to plainsong and Gregorian chant, an entire shelf dedicated to composers and the performance of their music, two-thirds of a shelf dedicated to the organ, and – here it is – two and one-half shelves filled with hymnals. Contained in the prefaces to those various books are hundreds of pages of nuanced editorial philosophies about what and how Christians should or should not sing congregationally in public worship.

It is a tall order, is it not? – to produce a tune that can be sung by a large group of people of varying degrees of musical skill, coupled with a poetic text which expresses theological and experiential truths: both music and text married in such a way as to produce a whole which is greater than the sum of its parts. And at its best, it is memorable: worthy to be remembered for a lifetime. And did I mention, there will be no rehearsal?

Die-hard Clint Eastwood fans as well as some people my age and older will remember the 1966 spaghetti-western film The Good, the Bad & the Ugly. But I suspect that most of all people would recognize the iconic main theme: mi-la-mi-

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