Software for publishing hymns

A new hymnal — or at least ready-to-reprint hymns — is one of the pre-conditions (among many) I see for Unitarian and Universalist Christians growing new churches. Singing the Living Tradition doesn’t have the corpus of hymns needed for a rounded Christian life, other denominational hymns often have their own limitations and besides — as I’ve written before — we’re effectively between hymnal generations meaning other options are already several years old.

Besides, having a single current hymnal is a strange place for Unitarian Universalists to be. Both Unitarians and Universalists had a wide choice of hymnals in the past, and today the British Unitarians and Free Christians — only a few thousand strong — commonly use one or both of a choice of two hymnals. We could do better, but I suspect that local hymnals, rather than additional UUA-sponsored hymnals, will be the more likely outcome. Or, alternatively, a church could have their own set of hymn images to be printed in the order of service. The familiar Frankenstein arrangement of hymns photocopied, trimmed, reproduced (often badly) and tipped-in is a bore.

I’ve reviewed some of the options, but I clearly don’t have a gift for the work of typesetting hymns. For one, I don’t read music at all well. But I have been tempted by the open-source Lilypond, a music “automated engraving system”, for Linux (current), Mac OS X (to 10.5) and Windows (to XP). Add a template from HymnWiki.org, perhaps edited within something like Frescobaldi and you have something like a workflow.

About Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 44, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

3 thoughts on “Software for publishing hymns

  1. Gladly Kathleen — looking over this blog’s archives, I see I’ve done the work already along with the larger hymnal issue, mostly in these posts, in reverse chronological order:

  2. I struggled with Lilypond for a while, and finally gave up on it. This was three years ago, and maybe it’s gotten better now. But I am not motivated to return to it.

    Currently I use Finale PrintMusic, which is inexpensive; and the Finale family of music typesetting products is widely used, enabling me to share easily with others. Pros: Good hymn template included in basic package; very high quality output; produces sound files that are helpful in teaching; easy to compose on if that’s your thing. Cons: Finale is a major pain in the butt to learn how to use; it’s buggy; the entry-level Finale program I use won’t let me do several things I normally do when hand-writing scores.

    If you’ve got lots time to learn a software package, Finale is worth it for the high quality output, and it sure beats hand-writing scores (compared to hand writing scores, it pays for itself first time you need to transpose a score). But I can’t say that I recommend it.

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