STYLISTIC DIVERSITY IN LATE TWENTIETH-CENTURY AMERICAN HYMN TUNES
Bryson, Michael S.
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In the closing decades of the twentieth century, America experienced a surge of hymn writing and composition sometimes referred to as a “hymn explosion.” Responding to the radical revolutions in society and religion, hymn writers initiated changes in language, subject matter, and even poetic form to create a new body of congregational song for the modern twentieth-century church. Hymn composers, seeking contemporary musical means to express the hymn texts, applied recent composition techniques to congregational song. This essay summarizes the musical style of late twentieth-century American hymns based on the analysis of over eighty-five tunes composed after 1970. The results reveal an increased flexibility in modal usage; the inclusion of rhythmic devices such as mixed meter and syncopation; experimentation with strophic form; an expanded role of accompaniments; and, most noticeably, a widened harmonic palette replete with color chords, modern modulations, and untraditional voice-leading.