Our Hymnal, Grant me, God, the Gift of Singing

Why Grant me, God, the Gift of Singing?

by Kai Glud, 2004

When I started as the pastor of the Danish Lutheran Church in Vancouver in 1991 the hymnal we used for our English services was Hymnal for Church and Home, 4th edition 1949, Lutheran Publishing House, Blair, Nebraska, U.S.A., even if most of the copies in the pews were the 3rd edition from 1942. That hymnal had been out of print at the publishing house for many years and the copies we had were almost worn out. There were many loose leaves, and every Tuesday morning a volunteer would sit and try to repair the hymnals that had lost a leaf or two during the Sunday service.

We knew about other translations and of translations of newer Danish hymns that we would like to include in our repertoire.

The Church Board gave permission that we could go ahead with an investigation regarding putting our own hymnal together. The first action was to ask the other five Danish Churches in Canada and the Danish Church in Australia for help in selecting the hymns we wanted in the new hymnal. We produced long lists with all the hymns from Hymns for Church and Home as well as lists of translations from other sources, and also a list of relevant hymns written in the English language.

When the lists came back we collected all remarks on one list. If three or more churches had indicated that they were using this particular hymn, it was put on the list of hymns that were selected for GGG. If only two churches had wished this particular hymn we made a decision at a committee meeting if it was “in” or “out.” If only one church had a certain hymn on their wish list, that hymn was not selected. Exceptions were made for instance when The Danish Church in Edmonton told us that Our Father has light in His window (GGG 265) was a must for them, as this hymn was used quite often at funeral services.

One thing is the words another is the music. Many hymns have two or more melodies, which are usable. Local tradition will often decide which melody is to be used. During the process of collecting and selecting hymns for GGG it was decided that we would also print the musical notes, as it is common in North American hymnals. We therefore had to select a melody to be printed with the text for each individual hymn. Our hymnbook committee had several “singing meetings” where we tried to sing the different melodies and made a decision about which one was to be printed with the text. At the bottom of the page it is indicated which other melodies that might be used for that particular hymn.

The majority of the hymns in GGG are Danish hymns translated into the English language. Many of the translations were in quite an old fashioned language. The committee would send some of these hymns home with pastor Folmer Johansen. At the next meeting he would bring back a revised translation for our approval. We were also missing a translation of some of the Danish hymns we would like to be able to sing. Folmer Johansen translated seventeen hymns and Erik Rasmussen four.

It was also important to incorporate a number of well-known English language hymns in GGG. A few of these are being used a lot and are appreciated by the congregation. Two examples are In the garden (GGG 314) that is the most sung hymn at Funeral and Memorial services. Another hymn that people have taken to their hearts is This is my song (GGG 303). Especially when the political situation in the world is so bad and we all worry, then members of the congregation will ask if we could sing this hymn.

Most of the hymns are so old that nobody has any copyrights for them anymore. But quite a number of texts, melodies and musical arrangements are still protected by the copyright laws. We therefore had to find the copyright holders and write and ask permission to print the text, melody etc. In many cases we certainly had to pay a fee before we could print them, but in other cases people were happy to give us the permission for free. In one or two cases it was not possible or us to find the copyright holders, and we chose to print nevertheless. We are certainly ready to pay a fee if these copyright holders approach us.

An important step in the production of GGG was the proof reading. Several volunteers proofread the text, and we had two skilled organists proofreading the music.

Soliciting funding for the cost of producing this large and therefore expensive hymnal was another activity involved. We received great help from Danish Church Abroad in selecting the foundations we would approach. We have reasons to be very proud and very thankful for the support we received to make this project come through. I would like to recognise the following foundations, persons and companies for their support:

Because generosity of the above mentioned we were able to produce and sell GGG for a reasonable price.

We received great help regarding the design of GGG from Kate and Jørgen Larsen, Larsen’s Bookbinding Ltd. The company also offered that the people who bought their own copy of GGG could have their name printed on gold on the cover of the book for free.

GGG was used for the first time in our church on November 28th 1999, which was the 1st Sunday in Advent. It was a wonderful experience seeing and holding the final product.

It has been a wonderful experience being involved in making GGG a reality. When you start a project like this you really don’t have any idea how much time, and how much effort it will take. Only because of the dedication of the hymnbook committee and many volunteers’ involvement has it been possible to complete the project.

We did not use many “big words” among ourselves in the hymnbook committee and among the volunteers, but we all knew that what we were doing was not just another job; it was helping our congregation to sing:

Grant me, God, the gift of singing;
that in anthems loud and ringing
I may shout Your praise!
Help me share the joy and pleasure
to proclaim in richest measure
all Your gracious ways!
N.F.S. Grundtvig translated by Johs. Knudsen. ©1978 by The Danish Interest Conference, Des Moines.

The Danish hymns are a rich tradition and well known. We hope that GGG will be a help to transfer and maintain this tradition among the growing number of people of Danish roots that no longer speak Danish.