The Hymnal Code

Richard Hurst today asked me some technical questions about (“the red hymnal”) Hymns of the Spirit — its nice to have a speciality, if an arcane one — and I thought I’d unpack little-known tid-bits with you. In particular, I wanted to share an old semi-secret about how that hymnal was put together.

I should say first that for all the grief I give the Unitarians, they did produce a bumper crop of great hymn writers. You can identify them (and the few Universalists and the rest) by looking to the indicies at the back of the hymnal: persons are identified by denomination. Universalist hymnody had been rather sectarian, and very little of any real quality. Even the black 1917 Hymns of the Church,the last purely Universalist hymnal, offers little Universalist hymnody.

Some hymn and prayer authors identified only by their initials. To identify them, you need to use The Hymnal Code. They were members of the hymnal committee, and I suppose they wanted to be discrete. Good for them, and for us once you can give credit where it is due.
The code is based on the final letter of each name, used as initials. Von Ogden Vogt is the most frequent anonymous contributor; he is N. N. T. Easy, huh?
One other thing, the section near the service music that talks about “not fitting into the scheme of the book” is a back handed slap at the rather homely tunes some Universalists liked. Now you know how to read the secrets of the old red hymnal, go and find one and look through it. Some nice things there.

4 Replies to “The Hymnal Code”

  1. I see a copy for $8.50 (plus P&H) for sale today on a 1950 printing
    Scott will note that the description says “rather conservative and more Christian that what most UU churches use today” – which maybe why a few UU Congregations still have these in their pews.

    steven rowe (yes, i have a copy)

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