Joe Ed Furr, Texas Normal Singing School
In the past thirty years we have trained song writers for churches of Christ. Our students have found their ministry to be very frustrating. Let us explain.
Most churches do not really place a high financial priority on a cappella church music. They want to spend as little as possible on gospel singing. So, they purchase a hymnal and keep it for 15 (or more) years before they attempt to update it. In the past the only real medium song writers had to introduce their songs to the church was through hymnals.
If a new hymnal was published in 1975 that meant that the songs it contained would be the only songs available to most church until the year of 1990 or 1995. Between the years of 1975 and 1990 all new songs that were written had no market medium available. These songs remained invisible to most churches.
If the hymnal editor decided to place a few new songs in his 1975 hymnal, most of those songs would find no support from the publisher. Publishers can support new songs by recording them and selling those recordings as hymnal companions. New songs written by the hymnal editor and songs written by composers who are already well-known are usually the only new songs that receive support by companion records, cassette tapes, or CD’s. So, the unsupported new songs are most often ignored by the church. This means that when the 1995 edition of the hymnal is printed that all the new songs in the 1975 hymnal that were ignored will be dropped. How frustrating!
The world is changing, and for song writers this is good news. Little by little churches are choosing to use video projectors in the church auditorium on Sunday. Paper hymnals will fade as this trend continues to expand, and paperless hymnals will become more the established norm in the future.
Paperless hymnals are very different from paper-based hymnals. An electronic hymnal never has to be re-published. The creators of paperless hymnals can keep on adding new songs to the existing repertory indefinitely. Most electronic hymnals add a hundred or more songs every year. As song writers are able to have their songs placed in the electronic catalog, then those songs are present on an indefinite basis.
Song writers will have an incentive to support their own songs since they will exist in a church’s library on an indefinite basis. Song writers can create CD’s of a choral group singing their songs. As customers purchase those CD’s and listen to them, then people will begin to use those songs.
Paperless hymn editors have little interest in publishing every new song that composers may create. 90+% of all new songs lack quality and appeal. Most song writers may write 10 songs before they compose one that people might demand. Song writers will have to prove themselves as composers of quality hymns before those editors will be interested in publishing them. This problem is nothing new – the world of music has always been like that.
If a song writer feels that his work is high in quality but is being ignored by established hymnal producers, then that song writer could produce his own paperless hymnal.
Paper based hymnals are extremely expensive to produce. Hymnals have to be printed and bound in units of ten thousand or more. Initial costs are high and inventory costs are expensive. This is why only a few hymnals have been published at any one time.
But electronic hymnals are not that expensive. Only three requirements exist to become a hymnal producer of one’s own songs. First, one must understand the dynamic nature of a paperless hymnal. Second, one must know how to typeset songs in Finale. Third, one must know how to export those songs to Microsoft PowerPoint.
Producers of electronic hymnals can produce them one at a time. There is no need for mass production and a large scale inventory.
The major problem that song writers would face in producing their own hymnal would be marketing. Most song writers are not skilled in marketing. The absence of marketing expertise would most likely cause song writers to produce their own songs in a paperless hymnal format and fail to find many buyers.
The new flexibility in the electronic world of paperless hymnals will ultimately give churches more choices about the songs they sing on the first day of the week.