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Online Hymn Resources.

Beginning in the 1990s, a number of Web sites devoted to hymns began to appear, and most Protestant and Catholic denominations now have some type of online hymn representation. Often these hymn sites are created not by the hymnal publishing companies, nor by the express design of the denomination, but by individuals and churches that have a passion to share with others what they find to be significant music. Individual sites present these hymns in a variety of formats from simple lists of tides to augmented presentations including score, text, audio, graphics, and ancillary information. These sites are built not with the scholar in mind, but for audiences ranging from the religious faithful to church music directors, pastors, and leaders of small fellowships in need of music resources. They are not intended to replace owning a hymnal, since usually only some of the hymns in a hymnal will be in the public domain and can then be offered freely online. (There are some older hymnals, the contents of which may all be in the public domain, such as the St. Basil Hymnal of 1906 which is mounted in its entirety on the Catholic hymn site authored by Donald A Wyckoff, at www.homestead. com/midicatholic/Catholicinformation. html. While these sites may not necessarily be scholarly in approach, care is taken to ensure that copyright is not violated and legal usage is generally stated. In spite of denominational boundaries, there is a certain amount of coverage overlap in these online offerings, just there would be in the printed hymnals. There is a wide range of sophistication in Web design in evidence, ranging from basic HTML and long scrolling pages to busy animation and carefully designed architecture. Although not intended as reference resources, they nicely complement the hymn tune indexes by Nicholas Temperly and D. DeWitt Wasson, recently reviewed in this column by Laurie Sampsel (Notes 59 no. 3 [March 2003]: 713-15]), making it possible to not only identify a hymn but to actually see and hear the music. For the purpose of this review, I have selected four sites that offer hymn texts, scores, and audio files: the Cyber Hymnal,, Christian Classics Ethereal Hymoary, and The RUF Hymnbook Online Hymn Resources. All of these sites work well with the standard Web browsers and require minimal software downloads to access the files. (All sites accessed 27 August 2003.)

The Cyber Hymnal. Hosted by Word.Net Communications.

Established in 1996, this site provides access to "4,3000 Christian hymns and Gospel songs from many denominations." One of the most comprehensive and well-designed interdenominational sites, it provides full text, scores, MIDI files, and ancillary information. The scores are displayed with NoteWorthy Composer (NWC), a music notation editor for Windows.

Instructions on how to download scores and sound files are easy to follow. One can search by hymn title, tune (by both meter and name), scripture reference, topic (including liturgical seasons), composer, and librettist (pictures are included when available). Navigation is relatively easy and cross-reference links are provided to other hymn texts set to the same tune, non-English translations of a text, and other tunes written by the same composer. There is also a site search feature, a FAQ, a listing of hymns frequently asked for that cannot be provided due to copyright issues, and an "autoplay" feature for those who would like to listen to all of the hymns continuously without having to click on each title. While the majority of the hymns are in the public domain, there are also a number of hymns for which permission from the publisher has been obtained, and copyright notices are clearly posted. Additional features include a trivia page noting hymns used in academy award winning movies, hymns sung at celebrity weddings and funerals, oldest hymns included, etc. If the meaning of an outdated or uncommon word is needed, the thesaurus can be consulted. Another excellent feature is a suggestions page that offers new ways to use hymns, such as on a church's Web site. They also list 147 countries from which users have accessed the site.

Not so easy to identify is the denominational affiliation of the hymns, since sources for the hymns are listed only in the score, and there is no opportunity to search by source, although they do provide a bibliography for the books consulted for information about the music. Nor is there any indication of the range of the dates of the hymns included. The site's authors are not identified by name (the FAQ describes this as a private Christian Web site), nor is there any mention of how the site is protected from corruption and loss. Yet hundreds of Web sites have linked to the Cyber Hymnal, including an ingenious site, maintained by the St. James United Presbyterian Church in Chicago, that links only those hymns in the Presbyterian Hymnal for which access is given by other online hymnal sites (Title to Tune in The Presbyterian Hymnal,

While the Cyber Hymnal is the largest of the sites considered here, it is not entirely clear what their cited figure of forty-three hundred hymns includes. A quick count of the number of hymn tunes by name (including additional titles for the same tune) gives a figure closer to thirty-two hundred, which is still an impressive number of hymns. Assuming each search option accesses the same database, one might draw the conclusion that there may be forty-three hundred access points rather than forty-three hundred hymns listed. One should also remember that this tool is not necessarily grounded in scholarly research. For example, on their FAQ page, in answer to the question, "How do you choose the tunes?" they reply, "We normally use the tune found in the source where we found the lyrics. If the source doesn't assign a tune, we pick one that seems to fit best (this is rare, though; the tune we use is almost always in a published hymnal.)." Since we do not know by what criteria they select a tune, it is difficult to know whether these decisions may be the cause of confusion to the user who has the text linked to a different tune.

To access the scores on a Macintosh, the user win need emulation software that can run Windows programs because of the unavailability of a Macintosh version of Note-Worthy Composer. Nevertheless, scholarship and access issues aside, the site has much to offer and uses the online platform well. Designed and maintained by Chris Radke.

The main page of this site tells us that "com" stands for Christian Online Music. Begun in 1996, the site provides full text, audio via MIDI files, and scores in PDF format for hymns not restricted by copyright in the 1964 and 1989 Methodist hymnals (The Methodist Hymnal, ed. Robert Guy McCutchan [New York: Methodist Publishing House, 1964]; The United Methodist Hymnal [Nashville, TN: United Methodist Pub. House, 1989]; Standard Psalm Tune Book, comp. Henry Edward Didbin [London: Dalmaine, 1851]; and the Cokesbury Workship Hymnal, ed. Cawthon Asbury Bowen [Nashvil]e, TN: Cokesbury, Press, 1938]). Searching by title, hymn number, writer, composer, and tune (name and meter) is possible. One can listen to the audio played on piano, organ, or bells. Download instructions are clear, though navigation is not always straightforward. The use of frames may exclude some users from accessing the site's content easily. HymnSite offers a continues play jukebox that randomly selects hymns. Currently, according to the site's author, there are only 350 titles in the database, a number that has been relatively static since its inception. Yet plans are underway to add titles from The Faith We Sing (Hoyt L. Hickman [Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000]) and a collection of Ira Sankey's hymns (E-mail correspondence from Chris Radke, dated 21 June 2003). Though much smaller than the Cyber Hymnal, HymnSite expands its offerings through a feature called "BIGsearch," which will search not only HymnSite's databases but also a dozen other online hymn resources as well, including the Digital Hymnal, a Seventh-day Adventist site at digitalhymnal/ (accessed 25 August 2003), and the Electronic Hymnal, a site for choir members at http:// (accessed 25 August 2003). The author attests to the popularity of the site by the activity generated--over a million hits monthly, serving from 1.1 to 1.5 GB of bandwidth (Radke e-mail).

Christian Classics Ethereal Hymnary (CCEH). Maintained by Stephen Hutcheson.

This is an archive of public domain hymn tunes encompassing over one thousand hymns including selections from the Southern Baptist Hymnal (Nashville, TN: Convention Press, 1975), the 1623 tune-book of Orlando Gibbons (The Hymnes and Songs of the Church [London: G. Wither, 1623]), the Episcopal Hymnal (New York: Church Pension Fund, 1916), the Lutheran Service Prayer Book (Edmund W. Weber, ed., 2d ed. [Chicago: Lutheran Church, 1941]), the Southern Harmony (William Walker [New York: Hastings House, 1939]), hymnals of the Church of Christ denomination, and various other sources. Scores in Noteworthy Composer and Finale formats as well as PDF are provided without texts (no special provision is made for Macintosh users). Audio is available via NWC and MIDI files. Access is by tune (name, meter, and incipit), composer, author, arranger, poetic meter, hymnbook number, and source. You can also view the database information in XML and dBase. The site is graphically simple, and there are no cross-reference links provided.

CCEH has a more scholarly bent which provides explanations of terminology used, definitions of what a hymn tune is, and examples of metric formulae for hymn tunes. They have done some name authority work, and are careful of copyright concerns (if a tune is still under copyright, they will include information about the tune, but no score of audio). Navigation requires constant use of the browser's back button since there are no connecting links provided from any page back to the home page or an intervening index page. They do not give any supplemental materials such as FAQ's, of links to other sites. Contributions are welcomed and formats for submittal are included along with ideas about new items to include, such as instrumental arrangements of tunes of alternate harmonizations. Hutcheson also invites help with the graphics and design of the site.

The RUF Hymnbook Online Hymn Resource. Sponsored by the Reformed University Fellowship. hymnbook/home.html

While not a true hymn site in the sense of the above-cited resources, this site provides access to "old hymns put to new music." Each song takes texts from traditional hymns and alters them in various ways--setting them to new rhythms or melodies, changing archaic or inappropriate language, and providing guitar accompaniment. This site is a unique link between traditional and contemporary worship styles but geared more towards contemporary worship, as is evident by the formats offered online. This includes not only lead sheets (melody line, text, and guitar chords) but also words formatted to display on an overhead projector, guitar sheets with both the original key of the song and a key that is more guitar-friendly and singable, sound excerpts in MP3 format complete with vocals, and (soon to be available) piano arrangements and thirty-second MP3 sound samples from commercial recordings. Geared to younger worshippers, it provides a look at additional features that make the online access of church music dynamic. The number of songs offered is still small (less than 150), and access is provided by title, composer, and author only. Links are offered to other resources such as articles on worship styles, various songbooks, helper applications, and URLs for organizations, artists, and other online hymn sites. Navigation is simple, as are the instructions for downloading, which include applications for Macintosh users. There is no mention of copyright, although there are links for purchasing the hymnbooks from Indelible Grace Music. Work is underway to enhance what is already available online as well as add to the list of hymns.


Music included in these sites stretches the definition of "hymn" to include everything from chant to four-part harmonizations of common tunes to contemporary songs. There are authority concerns with the documentation provided at these sites, as would be expected since selection is determined by published hymnals where decisions as to key and citation information may vary with different denominations. By way of illustration, a search for the hymn AMAZING GRACE gives you varied information depending on which resource you use. HymnSite takes you to a page providing audio (as the page opens), basic historical information, six verses of text in English, and a link to a fifteen-measure piano score in the key of F major. The Cyber Hymnal takes you to an information page with a picture of John Newton; a link to his biography, with cross-referenced links to other songs he has composed; links to the MIDI file and score; seven verses of text; links to the text in other languages, including Cherokee and Navajo; background information; and the scripture reference. CCEH takes you to a very basic information page (that does not mention John Newton, since no text is provided) and links to the MIDI files and the score, titled "New Britain," in the key of G major. The RUF Hymnbook takes you to tire verses of text, links to John Newton and John Rees (who wrote verse 5), and download links to a lead sheet in the key of E major, a chord chart, the overhead-projector-formatted verses, and an MP3 file. The variety of keys and number of verses reflects the variety of sources used, but more importantly, each site offers additional information and new insight into the background, formation, and use of the music.

These hymn sites and others like them can be very useful ii one keeps in mind the reason for which they were created, to share significant music of faith with others. They can provide instant access to hymns not included in a specific denomination's hymnal, as well as insight into any hymn's format, background, and use in various de nominations. While coverage is certainly not comprehensive, the wide range of denominations with hymns available and the spread of dates--including very early music to contemporary--song--give many options for selection, review, and comparison. The case of access for those with Internet connections invites investigation, and the multi-sensory approach in resources such as those provided by the Cyber Hymnal enriches the experience.

ESTHER GILLIE University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
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Author:Gillie, Esther
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2003
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