Sing with Understanding is an exploration – a workbook- encouraging all who are involved in hymnody to reflect on both words and music, thus bringing a deeper theological understanding to congregational song. As the title suggests, this is the most recent incarnation of an earlier book (originally by Harry Eskew and Hugh T. McElrath): the First and Second Editions are referenced and the earlier forewords included. The book opens with a clear explanation of the format so that readers know what is coming. The first three chapters serve by way of introduction, firstly proposing a definition of the Christian hymn before moving on to a brief history of congregational song.

Of the remaining chapters, ten have a theological introduction by Geoffrey C. Moore. The themes of these chapters are: creation, singing the Psalms, Christ’s suffering, the Resurrection, the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, a New Heaven and a New Earth, Mission of the Church, Baptism and Eucharist. These are weighty themes and, accordingly, the theological introductions are equally hefty! The final chapter is an introduction to the study of congregational song and offers resources for further research. From the very start, the book includes discussion of hymns from many historical eras and from all over the world. Each chapter features a ‘question bar’ which could lead to group discussion or personal reflection, and there are also some more detailed case studies.

The book contains additional online bibliographical resources and supporting material, including YouTube performances of some of the hymns. The references and index material for each chapter are available only online, although a full glossary is included in the printed version. This book would be useful to students of both theology and hymnody, especially those who are intending to pursue a more active role in worship leading. It could perhaps work well as part of an organised course of study, either in a formal academic setting or for a church group looking for a meaty challenge! It would also be of benefit to those seeking to deepen their knowledge when choosing and singing hymns…

…I enjoyed reading this book and I’m glad I read it. It is warmly written and in accessible language. As much of the material is signposted at the beginning of the book, it is easy to follow and the writer of each chapter helpfully sets out their stall with regard to their treatment of the given subjects. There is a broad mix of discussion regarding texts and tunes and it is refreshing to read so much about hymns from around the globe….

…The real joy of this book is the breadth of material analysed and cleverly placed in the context of the chapter subjects…I realise that I have not mentioned Martin V. Clarke, Beverly A. Howard or the overall writer and editor, C. Michael Hawn, who between them have gifted us such a thoughtful and insightful tome. All write with a passion and confidence which encourage the reader to think deeply about these topics. 

Gillian Warson

Excerpt of full review as featured in the journal of  The Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland


Sing with Understanding – Third Edition

C. Michael Hawn

Distinguished hymnologist C. Michael Hawn headed a team of contributors including Beverly A. Howard, Martin V. Clarke, and theologian Geoffrey C. Moore. They bring their expertise and perspectives to the ongoing and emerging work in hymnology and its related fields. For students studying hymnology, to clergy or worship teams selecting music, to people in the pews who want to know more about the prayer they sing, Sing with Understanding, Third Edition will help everyone sing with both spirit and understanding!