We are sincerely grateful for the guidance of long-time liturgical organist and AGO member Mary F. Johnson, in assembling this information, and the various sites linked as references.
It’s the season when many musicians have church gigs, and we thought some suggestions might be in order.
As experienced musicians & AGO-certified organists know, true hymns have a specific & well-defined musical structure. Many of the oldest hymn tunes were set to the beat of marching Roman armies. Hymns were meant to praise God, and sometimes to keep the faithful awake, if you read the St. Ambrose research, so don’t drag that beat unless it’s traditional.
There are long-established traditions involved in most denominations’ holiday music, and a conscientious musician needs to spend time boning up on what’s appropriate for the church they’ll be serving.
Be advised: the choir director, cantor, pastor, or organist might not know, so be prepared to do your own research.
Be aware there may be church splits about musical traditions, particularly “traditional” vs. “contemporary,” and do the best you can in those circumstances.
Be certain you’ve got legal copies of any music you’re using, one for yourself, and one for your accompanist, if you’re soloing.
Be certain to find out what your accompaniment is: piano, organ, or other instruments.
Be aware there’s a world of difference between a traditional solo and a contemporary solo or hymn, and be certain you understand which one you should prepare.
There can be tremendous personal satisfaction from appropriately serving a church, and we hope these suggestions help.
The Hymn Society of Great Britain & Ireland
The Hymn Society
Yale Divinity School – excellent search engine for their Journal
Earliest beginnings of Hymnody – excellent short article
Short scholarly history of hymnody
St. Ambrose of Milan, known as the father of hymnody
St. Augustine & St. Ambrose
Early published collection of ecclesiastical songs
Christmas carols, includes international carol information