Music of the Month: Hymns Complete

John Behnke has begun a series for organists titled Hymns Complete, designed to accompany hymns as they are sung by congregations. Each volume contains introductions and accompaniments for specific stanzas of well-known hymns, according to their texts in Lutheran Service Book.

Organists seeking alternate accompaniments and harmonizations from those that appear in the hymn-accompaniment editions of hymnals often use editions where single alternate accompaniments are written for several different hymn tunes. When accompanying congregational singing for a hymn, especially those with several stanzas, using a different style, texture, or harmonization for specific stanzas can be a refreshing way to draw people’s attention to the text while also avoiding the potential monotony of repeating the same accompaniment in the same way over and over again.

Creating This All-in-One Book

“It was my idea and certainly out of the box,” Behnke said of the concept for Hymns Complete. “I’ve used hymn concertatos for choir, organ, and instruments for years, but never a ‘concertato’ just for the organist. On the organ rack, you have your hymnbook, plus various accompaniment books, but you still don’t have something for every stanza. Just how many varied accompaniment books can you have on the organ rack?”

The answer to that question is an all-in-one resource, where a hymn’s introduction and appropriate accompaniments for each stanza are in a single book. When using an arrangement in Hymns Complete, you’ll no longer need to pile the books onto the organ rack for a single hymn.

“For hymn festivals, I’ve often orchestrated a hymn to portray each stanza of text, and I thought, ‘What about a resource for organists where you don’t have to use the hymnal’?” Behnke said. “You just need one book, and the page turns are at the end of stanzas, not in the middle. The hymn is complete in one book.”

Edifying to the Congregation’s Singing

Behnke said his goal when writing accompaniments for specific stanzas of hymns is to illustrate the text in a way that is edifying to the congregation’s singing. In Hymns Complete, he varies the accompaniments by texture (four-part and three-part harmonies), placement of melody (in both the treble and bass clefs, played by either the right or left hand), and through the use of alternate harmonization.

“With hymn playing, I always try to bring the text to life. That’s the goal of my settings. I think every organist wants people to listen,” Behnke said. “If these settings enhance the singing of the Church’s song, I say ‘Praise God!’ That’s my goal.”

The hymns in the first two volumes of Hymns Complete represent the entire span of the Church Year, including popular hymns specific to seasons of the Church’s calendar as well as commonly sung and beloved hymns that are not specific to a season.

Order your copy of Hymns Complete or Hymns Complete, Set 2, below to start playing alongside your congregation’s singing.

Order Set 1

Order Set 2

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Written by

Nathan Grime

Nathan Grime is from Fort Wayne, Indiana. He is a 2020 graduate of Hillsdale College, where he studied rhetoric, public address, and journalism. Nathan is the fifth- and sixth-grade teacher and assistant kantor at Our Savior Lutheran School in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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