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Discrepancy Versus Difference

In some things, perception is everything, trumping even intent and design. Such is the case, so it seems, with hymnal and songbook publishing.

Hymnals periodically go through a major shift. In Wesley's day, hymnals were all text -- no music. One hundred years later, most hymnals were including full harmonizations. In Britain, they commonly included most stanzas together below the music or on the following page; while in the United States, hymnals placed the stanzas between the two lines of music. About one hundred years later, we began experimenting with electronic and digital versions and projection.

In the past generation, we've seen another change. Publishers of congregational hymnals and songbooks began issuing hymnals in different editions for the different needs a church might have. Our own 1966 Methodist Hymnal was available in the standard pew edition with four-part SATB harmonizations of most hymns, along with a keyboard accompaniment edition. Our 1989 United Methodist Hymnal, while it had a few different editions, continued to be sold, purchased, and used in mostly two editions -- the same SATB congregational pew edition and a spiral keyboard accompaniment edition that contained mostly the same SATB harmonizations.

In response to increasingly frequent requests from the church as well as to new publishing practices of other denominations and hymnal publishers at the same time, when The Faith We Sing was released in the year 2000, it was released in many different editions: congregational pew edition, an edition designed for the choir, a simplified keyboard edition, a guitar edition in lead sheet format, and a complete keyboard edition that contained everything in these editions. There were other editions also released: MIDI, Presentation Edition for projection, an edition for those who plan worship, a fully digital edition on CD, Braille, American Sign Language, Hymn Festival, and probably a couple that I've left off. The result was an unparalleled level of flexibility of use of The Faith We Sing for congregations, musicians, and worship leaders.

The change from one primary hymnal edition to many meant customizing each edition to a particular need or use: the congregation, the choir, the director, the accompanist, a band of guitar, bass, and keyboard players, and others. The result was a wide array of different editions with differing format of the same hymns and songs. In the case of The Faith We Sing, the editorial team took care to make the different editions musically in agreement so that they could be used simultaneously. This meant that the praise band, the organ, the piano, the choir, and the congregation could all use their different editions at the same time.

Nevertheless, there are some differences among editions. With each edition customized for its specific use, decisions needed to be made about what to include and what not to include in each. The guitar edition, for instance, includes only chord symbols and no accompaniment. The Simplified Accompaniment Edition and the Pew Edition do not contain the choral settings in the Singer's Edition. The Presentation Edition for projection contains only lyrics. The Pew Edition contains those sections most commonly or intended to be sung by the congregation: mostly melody lines, SATB and parts for some others, congregational responses for some selections (for instance, Taizé ostinatos and Psalm responses). It also often includes only the refrains or choruses of hymns and songs for which it might be more appropriate for a soloist, cantor, or choir to sing the verses.

This change can be described as one of more diversity and less unity. With previous hymnals, pastors, musicians and leaders all worked from more or less the same page, having to do their own arranging and adapting to fit a specific need such as choir, bass player, or projection. But with The Faith We Sing, they can now find much of this arranging and adapting already done for them in a specific edition. And if a church wants to provide for those among its congregation who want to sing in parts, they can purchase just a few additional Singer's Editions to keep on hand rather than having to provide them in every pew. And a choir no longer has to have two editions in order to sing the same portions as the congregation along with their own choral portions. And the director or accompanist can keep track of it all with the Accompaniment Edition.

All of this diversity and flexibility comes with a price, however. Some have complained that the editions are different: The Pew Edition doesn't contain all of the verses . . . the Simplified Accompaniment edition doesn't contain the Singer's Edition's choral parts . . . some editions have different patterns of repeats, endings, D.C., and D.S. Some have even categorized these differences as discrepancies. We need to compare those two words. Discrepancies are differences that result from errors, mistakes, or unintentional omissions or additions. Differences are simply differences, and in the case of the various editions of The Faith We Sing, they are intentional and necessary in order to provide the diversity and flexibility of use. We could go back to a single unified hymnal without the diversity provided by the different editions, or we could include all the editions in one edition at a cost of $50, $60, $70 or more per volume.

I believe those who complain about discrepancies between editions do so because they do not want to do the work required to use the different editions. That would require them to consult the different editions to check the different arrangements and settings, and then inform their musicians and congregations ahead of time how to use them properly. They express a preference for the old style hymnal when everyone worked from one generic edition. I believe we -- congregations, choirs, musicians, directors, and publishers -- would all be better off if church musicians, especially directors, did their job by coordinating, planning, and enabling the use of the various editions and their differences. One director wrote:

I have found discrepancies between the complete editions and the pew edition in terms of not signifying that the pew edition isn't complete. I have to refer to both editions when I plan a hymn from The Faith We Sing. It makes planning cumbersome and has caused problems that I hope would be avoided in future editions.

Another wrote, “Between the singer's edition, the simplified accompaniment edition, and the regular accompaniment edition there are differences in the repetitions, number of verses, and the text of the verses.”

Again, these are not discrepancies. They are intentional differences, and they are good. Embrace them. Exploit them. Use them to their fullest to make the music and worship life of your congregation the best that it can be.