Announcing: FreeHymnal.com

I have been developing a site for the last several months, and today, it’s ready to launch: www.freehymnal.com.

Here’s the idea: There are several good hymn lyrics sites, and one even has MIDI files. But hymn scores are harder to find online. Last summer, I thought it would be handy for a church musician, studio musician, or performing artist to have a site where they can pull up and print out a hymn score and lyric at a moments’ notice. (In fact, on a device like Apple’s rumored iSlate digital tablet, someday a musician may be able to pull up the score live during a church service or concert’s request time.) I happen to have a fairly good old hymnal collection, so I thought I’d digitize it.

For the technically minded and curious: It’s actually running on a highly customized WordPress CMS. I re-wrote portions of the code to remove all categories and tags and have various custom taxonomies in their place. The taxonomies behave like tags in a sense, but are separately organized within WordPress, so that pulling up all songs composed by Philip P. Bliss doesn’t pull up any songs where he contributed the lyrics but not the music.

Interesting features include:

  • “Hymn of the Day” feature. If you like discovering new hymns, add the RSS feed to your reader, or sign up to get the hymn via email.
  • One click from any hymn page to a list of all hymns by that author, by that composer, from that year, in that language, or in that special collection (i.e., Christmas, Resurrection Sunday)
  • A metrical index. The value may not be apparent immediately if you’re not a musician. Here’s how it works: When you click on, say, an 8.7.8.7. meter, it pulls up all hymns that have that number of syllables in their verses. You can generally sing the lyrics to one 8.7.8.7. song to the melody of another. (Hymns have had a printed metrical index for years, but it hasn’t been this convenient before.)

Though there are only a few hundred hymns up at launch, there are several months’ worth in the Hymn of the Day queue. And there are over a thousand waiting to be transcribed and prepared for posting. (Information on volunteering is here.)


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15 Letters to the Editor

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  1. Congratulations on the new site, Daniel. I don’t know how in the world you have the time to do all you do!

    • Actually, usually, my current activities keep me as busy as I can be. But if I’m ever bored, which doesn’t happen often, I dream up a new project like this one!

      • Daniel, my son is the minister of music (Praise & Worship Leader) in the church I pastor, and I am excited to see you doing this. One of the biggest divisions in churches today is not theology; but the difference between the old and the new. You have provided a valuable service to churches. Thank you.

      • You’re welcome!

  2. Just out of curiousity, aren’t the arrangements copyrighted by the publisher of the hymnal? The song may be public domain, but I thought the arrangements were (at least at one point) copyrighted, unless the copyright expired on that particular hymnal.

    Also, I would suggest investing in some music charting software, as most modern versions can take an existing image of a current score and transcribe them into the computer, which can then be posted as a PDF much clearer.

  3. Kyle,
    I think Daniel is using pre-1923 hymnals, which would have no copyright.

    • Precisely.

      And Kyle, I’ve downloaded trial versions of the two leading programs, as well as a promising open source program, and even the best out there renders these a total mess, unfortunately. The OCR software will eventually get to be usable, I’m sure, but it’s just not there yet.

  4. You’re doing a great job with it, Daniel! I think the metrical index is a fantastic idea. I know a lot of people will not know much about that, but it comes in really handy if you know music well enough!

  5. Wow, that’s awesome Daniel! Thanks for doing this! The metrical index is especially handy.

    • Heather – thanks! The time for a digital metrical index is long overdue, but at least it’s here now.

  6. I never knew what those numbers at the top of hymnal pages and in the indeces were for, but now I do! Thanks, Daniel! This is really cool.

  7. What do you think about adding a key index? I don’t know how much trouble that would be, but I think it would be pretty helpful.

    • It wouldn’t be hard at all, but I’m not sure how practical it would be, since hymns can typically be found in 4 or 5 keys across different hymnals.

      Granted, sometimes you’ll find songs that are typically in one key (“O Holy Night,” C) but for every song like that, there are ten like “Holy Holy Holy,” which you will find in C, D-flat, D (the one I see the most), E-flat, and E.

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