Friday, April 23, 2010

The Majestic Hymnal Number 2

Title: The Majestic Hymnal Number Two
Year Published: 1959
Publisher: Firm Foundation
Editor: Reuel Lemmons
Binding: Hardback
# of Songs: 442
Sect: Church of Christ
Style: Shape note (7-shape system)
Dimensions: 8 1/4 x 5 3/4 x 1

I suppose The Majestic Hymnal is the best place to start with my collection. Published 5 years before I was born, it was the book I grew up with and was widely used by many Churches of Christ at the time. It was used in Floresville, where my parents first took me to church and where I first stood in front of a congregation and began learning song-leading in the "singing class" we always had at 5:30 PM on Sundays, just before the evening service (usually choosing number 131--"Here We Are But Straying Pilgrims"). It was also used by the congregation in Stockdale when we moved there when I was 6 years old. It continued to be used there for several years thereafter. As you can see from the photo, this book's spine was repaired with duct tape. At one point, the books were badly falling apart but the congregation didn't have the funds to buy a bunch of new books, so they were all repaired this way.

The Majestic Hymnal was the standard for songbooks for the Church of Christ for--I'd guess--20 to 30 years. Many might now look back upon it as somewhat archaic--it now looks odd to me for containing only 442 songs, unlike most newer songbooks that include upwards of 900. It includes many songs that are considered old standards, and were even considered such at the time of its publication, but it also includes many songs that were relatively new at the time, having been written within 10 years or so of it's publication.

The songs used in The Majestic Hymnal are songs that were written by songwriters who really knew what they were doing. The long list of compilers who chose songs for this book were almost all songwriters as well, and proof-checked each other for mistakes. These songs were written before the rise of "contemporary Christian" pop music and therefore does not include any pop songs that someone tried to re-arrange as hymns (with inevitably disastrous results). This does set it apart from some newer hymnals which have some bad form and many outright mistakes in the songwriting which make the songs sound weak (or just plain wrong) and also make them difficult to sing. In my opinion, this is the Majestic's great strength and makes it continue to stand as a reference for the way gospel hymns should be written.

It's sad that some newer hymnals have neglected to include many of these old standards, especially since they have been replaced not by modern songs which are equally as well-written and inspirational (of which there are an abundance--but you wouldn't know it by looking at the most modern and widely-used current hymnals), but by pop songs so that people can try to sing what they hear on the radio.

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