Recently published hymnals have included a wide variety of congregational songs from Hispanic churches. This article describes the experience of Hispanic Christians in America and the music that is often used in Hispanic-American churches.
There are considerable resources for black songs among African-American denominations and churches that are now widely available for churches in every tradition. This article is especially helpful in describing the different types of songs that have developed from the black worship tradition.
The Gospel music is a specifically American genre that has undergone many changes since its inception in revivalistic camp meetings during the mid-nineteenth century. This development has informed both worship style and musical roles within churches across denominational lines. Current trends in gospel music suggest that the influence of general public musical taste may be stronger than that of theology.
Jubilation, the wordless prayer of ordinary worshipers in the “age of faith,” occupied an even greater place in the prayer lives of mystics during that period and the centuries that followed. The writers speak of jubilation and spiritual inebriation in referring to the entire spectrum of spontaneous bodily and vocal prayer which might include glossolalia, inspired songs, dancing, and intense bodily movement. Until the seventeenth century, this kind of prayer was mentioned by the majority of religious writers and was experienced by most of the well-known mystics.
The medieval world at its high point was far from a time of dry metaphysics, religious rigidity and conformity, or darkness and superstition. In actuality, it was a time of creative intellectual ferment, and of tender and warm faith. The age that produced the great cathedrals and inspired scholastic theology was also a time of spontaneous worship that produced many charismatic movements. Ordinary Christians expressed their wonder in much the same way that modern charismatics express theirs: by praying aloud without words and by singing inspired songs. This tradition continued for several hundred years after the end of the Middle Ages.
The time from the conversion of Constantine until the dawning of the second millennium was the formative period of the church, the era of the church fathers. It was a time of lively faith but also a time of controversy. During this period the expressive worship tradition of the church was shaped and formed and given the roots it needed to grow in richness in the following centuries. An important aspect of this worship tradition was a form of wordless prayer known as jubilation, which the church fathers understood as a natural human response to the mystery of God.
Since 1950, there has been more music published for congregational singing than at any other time in the history of the church. Nearly every major denominational body, as well as many independent congregations and publishing companies, have produced official and supplementary hymnals and related collections of songs. In almost every case, these collections evidence a recovery of traditions once lost and relentless pursuit of contemporary music that is both faithful to the gospel and representative of the languages—both verbal and musical—of modern culture.
The three hundred year span of time from 1640 to 1940 saw the development of great variety in congregational singing throughout America. Beginning with the Psalters of the first colonists, Americans contributed widely varying styles of songs and hymns, culminating with the popular and influential gospel song.
Over a period of time the writers of metrical psalms turned to fashioning free paraphrases of psalm texts. Eventually, in the seventeenth century, several English authors began to write hymn texts independent of the specific words of Scripture. Nineteenth-century fervor for hymn singing culminated with the publication of the most famous and influential of all hymnbooks, Hymns Ancient and Modern. The first half of the twentieth century witnessed growth in the study of hymnology, which led, in turn, to a variety of carefully planned hymnals that have had great influence to the present day.
Whereas Martin Luther would admit any suitable text to be sung in worship unless it was unbiblical, John Calvin would allow only those texts which came from Scripture. Calvin commissioned poets to write metrical settings of the Psalms for the congregations in Strassburg and Geneva. Calvinist churches throughout Europe developed large repertories of psalmody, especially churches in England and Scotland.