Survey of Best-Loved Hymns
I can appreciate such a survey, however, it has been my experience over the past 30+ years that people like/love what they are familiar with. I point this out not because I think taking a survey is a bad idea, but instead because I wonder about how that information will be used. I suspect the survey results will be one item that will influence the selection of hymns in the new hymnal. I do hope however that it will not be the overriding influencer of the new hymnal's content.
The reason I say this is that there is a wealth of great hymn texts, tunes, and settings that rarely (in my experience) get used. And if these excellent hymns do not get used, you can be sure they are not likely to be found on many people's favorite hymn lists. Hopefully the connection I'm trying to draw here is clear--great hymns that rarely, if ever, get used will never be favorites, despite having excellent texts, tunes or settings. I realize this situation is not something the hymnal committee can do anything about directly, but I would hope that additional efforts can be make to encourage pastors, choir directors, and teachers to make use of these good resources as appropriate in the Christian Year and find ways to introduce them in the congregations and schools. (I would be happy to provide suggestions).
I believe we have seen in the last several decades a continued use of the more familiar and often mediocre hymn materials rather than using new but less-familiar, really good materials. From a certain perspective this is natural. It is human nature to want to stay in our comfort zone, but this is why we need to educate our called workers and ultimately our members about what truly good means, beginning with excellent texts and continuing on to excellent music. My plea here is not just for variety, but for selecting what is best out of what is available. The more people become familiar with excellence, the more people will appreciate what is excellent and will in the future gravitate toward what is excellent, not just what is "beloved".
Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts. Your caution is very much in order and adds to what we are already thinking regarding this survey. We felt it important to give people some sort of channel for letting us know which hymns they treasure most. This is additionally true (maybe even more true) with giving them the opportunity to do so with TLH hymns that didn't make CW.
One thing we will try to make abundantly clear is that the intent of the survey (and the results we will be most interested in) are the positive ones rather than the negative ones. In other words, we'll pay more attention to the hymns that get selected frequently as opposed to those that don't. I can envision us being (pleasantly) surprised about a hymn that we thought never gained much traction in WELS. I can envision the frequent selection of a hymn that might have initially been at risk of getting dropped being reconsidered on the basis of those results. I can't really envision the opposite, i.e. a hymn that is a valuable part of our Lutheran heritage not getting selected very often and then causing us to say, "Well, no one likes that one, I guess we should drop it."
In the instructions for the survey we'll try to assure people of that and encourage them to simply vote for hymns they treasure dearly rather than thinking "I have to vote for this one to save it from getting cut."
Thank you again for your comments. They will be beneficial as we form the survey and communicate to the synod about it.
Pastor Jonathan Bauer
WELS Hymnal Project