Hymns. I wonder how you feel when you ponder that word. Nostalgic? Happy? Intimidated? Bored?
Whatever your background and tastes, it’s hard to deny that the Lord has used hymns to give voice to some of the richest and sweetest theology we know. Hosanna, Loud Hosannas: Essential Hymns Every Child Should Sing, compiled by David and Barbara Leeman, is a unique new resource every Christian parent should consider acquiring and using [website and Leemans’ contact information]. The 115 selected hymns cover the Christian year, the attributes of God, and our responses to him for all he’s done. Moreover, each hymn is accompanied by three sections: “Text” (on the background of both author and song), “Tune” (on the melody), and “As You Sing This Hymn” (practical application for thought and life).
This 300-page student hymnal can be used in a variety of settings, whether Sunday school, children’s worship, or family devotions at home. With beautiful artwork and detailed indexes for easy searchability (topical, alphabetical, art, author, composer, source), Hosanna, Loud Hosannas is a gift to students, parents, and grandparents alike.
I recently corresponded with the Leemans, longtime music teachers, about why hymns are still necessary today, advice for disinterested—and non-musical!—parents, and more.
You tell students that “hymns are friends.” Why are they necessary—even for young people?
We’re using the term “friend” to describe someone who helps and encourages you when you need them. Like a friend, hymns comfort, give hope, and inspire. They help you to confess sin, give thanks, rejoice, and solicit God’s favor. They will come to you in the dark of night or the heat of day, bringing God’s truth and Word to your heart. Who doesn’t need that kind of friend, no matter what age—young or old? Think of Paul and Silas imprisoned in a dungeon. What did they do? Sing hymns. Why do people in nursing homes light up and smile or sometimes weep when old hymns are played and sung? Because an old friend has come to see and sit with them.
Once learned, you can easily take a hymn with you wherever you go—from the playground, to the dinner table, to the hospital bedside. Teaching your children these melodies and poems is almost as good as inserting a microchip into their brains filled with wonderful doctrinal and doxological content that they will be able to access the rest of their lives.
What would you say to parents who aren’t used to hearing hymns and therefore aren’t interested in learning them?
There are plenty of things in life we’re not crazy about at first taste, but learn to savor richly over time: a kind of food, a certain sport, a computer program, maybe even God’s Word! But don’t let that hesitation cause you to miss the rich depths of meditation and wonder over the loving kindness of God available in a good hymn.
So the poetry of Bernard of Clairvaux, or Issac Watts, or Stuart Townend and Keith Getty offer more than pretty words that rhyme. Their lyrics introduce you to a deep understanding of God and his ways of redemption. They invite you to engage with this God, perhaps more profoundly and meaningfully than you have before. Each hymn offers a language for thanksgiving and confession and praise that has endured the crucible of years, even centuries. When you sing the words, “God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform,” it forces you to think. To reflect. To ponder this God who does things differently than we do, yet whose ways are always good.
Teaching your children these melodies and poems is almost as good as inserting a microchip into their brains filled with wonderful doctrinal and doxological content that they will be able to access the rest of their lives.
Consider: do you want to help your children think deeply about the things of God, to discover that worship is not just a surface emotion but something that engages the depths of their souls? Hymns will help them to learn this way. No doubt some of the language is difficult. “His wonders to perform” isn’t natural English for us. But our children are smart. They’ll get it—if not the first time, then soon.
What would you say to parents who aren’t musical and are therefore intimidated by any book of music—especially one they’re supposed to teach?
If you didn’t learn to read music or to carry a tune, we can understand your hesitancy toward the whole topic. Still, the Bible commands you to sing! The Psalms alone entreat you to sing 150 times. And there’s no caveat about singing only if you know how or have a beautiful voice. We dare say that God is far more pleased with the off-tune praises of a heart that delights in him than the angelic voice of a self-centered soul.
Singing is a gift of God to us for communicating with him. Why deprive yourself of God’s good gift?
Over the next few months, we plan to make available a piano recording as well as printed music accompaniment arrangements for all 115 hymns in this hymnal. The arrangements are designed for sing-along. They will be downloadable or available on a flash drive. If you’re a dad or mom who wants to sing with your kids at home, put it in your car and practice on your way to or from work. Surprise your children by singing to them. Then have them sing with you as an act of family worship.
What is it about hymns that has enabled so many to stand the test of time?
Why has the Declaration of Independence or the Gettysburg Address stood the test of time? Because they’re well written and based on enduring truths. Great hymns, too, are based on timeless truths and are beautifully crafted both musically and lyrically. The melodies are interesting, memorable, and well suited to the texts. Excellent hymns are cross-denominational, cross-cultural, and even cross-generational. When people sing them, they’re often moved intellectually and emotionally. All this comes together to enable many hymns to outlast the tests of time.
We dare say that God is far more pleased with the off-tune praises of a heart that delights in him than the angelic voice of a self-centered soul.
Today we often emphasize being contextually sensitive. And we should be contextually sensitive. But however you want to explain it, the beauty and majesty and excellence of some things last centuries and cross boundaries. That’s why they love Bach’s music in Japan, and why you’ll find Japanese ink paintings in American galleries. In fact, we predict that churches 100 years from now will still be singing last century’s hymns more than today’s chart-topping songs.
The apostle Paul entreats us to think on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8). Hymns are a simple and accessible way to do obey his command. A relatively few of them remain (compared to how many have been written across the centuries)—like national parks in the landscape of human expression. Seek them, learn them, and pass them on to the generations after you.