Knowing the Song

John Meredith —

A Companion to the Publications of the New Zealand Hymnbook Trust from 1993 to 2009 together with the New Zealand Supplement to With One Voice (1982).

It is good to know about the hymns we sing, who wrote them and why, and why a particular tune has been chosen to convey the mood of the words. Colin Gibson tells us this and far more in Knowing the Song.

Driven by a concern for hymns written in contemporary and inclusive language and using relevant imagery, the New Zealand Hymnbook Trust (NZHBT) published Alleluia Aotearoa (1993), Carol our Christmas (1996), Faith Forever Singing (2000) and Hope is our Song (2009). New tunes were composed for the words. Prior to this, as a first step along the way, NZHBT selected contemporary, ecumenical and Maori/Pasifika hymns to be added to the Australian Hymn Book (AHB 1977). With this supplement of 54 hymns the AHB was published in New Zealand under the title With One Voice (1982). Knowing the Song was written to be read alongside these five NZHBT publications.

In Knowing the Song, hymn writer and composer Colin Gibson has done a sterling job in presenting his profound knowledge of New Zealand hymns in an accessible and readable way.

In a major section titled The Hymns, all of the NZHBT hymns are listed in alphabetical order of their first line. Wherever possible the sources of the text and tune, the occasion for which it was written or what inspired it and its earliest appearances in print are identified. The metre is stated and readers may easily locate the hymn by a system of clearly-explained abbreviations. For example, Look in wonder H93 means that the hymn is no. 93 in Hope is our Song.

The next major section is titled The Peopleand contains comprehensive biographical details for each writer, composer and arranger of hymns in NZHBT publications. Following each entry, the hymns with which that person is associated are listed in bold type.

There are three appendices: a comprehensive list of publications of New Zealand hymns, publications where writing about New Zealand hymns and hymn writers is to be found, and the history of NZHBT. There are also three indexes: hymn names and first lines, scripture references and an alphabetical list of tunes. The scripture index indicates the page number in The Hymns section where the reference is found. This is very useful for anyone wanting to link a particular hymn with scripture being read in worship.

Free-flowing and easy to read, Knowing the Song deserves to be the constant companion of all worship leaders and church musicians. It will be of immeasurable help to those seeking to choose hymns for particular themes in worship and to church musicians wanting to know more about the tunes they play. If the information is summarised and introduced by worship leaders and musical directors, it will enable New Zealand congregations and choirs to understand more about the content, mood and theology of the hymns they sing, thus enriching and increasing the enjoyment of singing in worship. Using the book in this way will be a tribute to Colin Gibson’s meticulous research and commitment to New Zealand hymns.  

Publisher: NZ Hymnbook Trust in association with Philip Garside Publishing 2021. 445 pages.