'Above all sing spiritually': musical reform and revival in Methodism

Clarke, Martin V. (2018). 'Above all sing spiritually': musical reform and revival in Methodism. In: Fourteenth Institute of Methodist Theological Studies, 2018, Oxford Institute, Oxford.

URL: https://oimts.files.wordpress.com/2018/11/2018-11-...


The publication of a new hymnal has typically been regarded as a major event in Methodist churches. The decision to produce a new hymnal often reflects a desire to reform the church’s repertoire of hymnody, typically with the explicit aim of revitalising this significant aspect of Methodist worship. Understandably, scrutiny of new hymnals often focuses on the selection and subject matter of hymn texts, which may be evaluated according to a range of criteria, such as theological content, devotional efficacy, and personal preference. However, the musical choices made by editors and compilers also have a highly significant role in shaping the ways in which a hymnal is received and used. This paper explores the impact of musical attempts at reform and revival through the adoption of different musical styles in various Methodist contexts. First, it considers the implications of the Wesley brothers’ preference for fashionable art music on the efficacy of the official collections of tunes issued in the eighteenth century, arguing that this contributed to tensions between local practice and connexional principle recorded by John Wesley on his travels. Consideration of late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century British sources highlights the tension between hierarchical attempts at promoting hymn tunes considered of merit by the standards of contemporary art music, and the popular preference for earlier tunes of a more robust, energetic and uncomplicated character. Finally, more recent examples, including British Methodism’s Singing the Faith (2011) and the Methodist Church of the Caribbean and the Americas’ Voices in Praise (2013) explore the relationships between musical style, liturgical practice, and denominational and cultural identity. Overall, the paper contends that musical style and practice are important factors in efforts to reform and revive Methodist worship and need to be integrated with textual study in order to fully understand the role of hymnody in shaping and articulating the devotional practices and attitudes of Methodism.

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