Developing Indigenous Hymnody: Key Resources for Cross-Cultural Workers

    -- by Dianne Palmer-Quay, Published by the author, 1999, 131 pages.
[available for $10 plus shipping from: Dianne Palmer- Quay, 1415 Victoria St. Columbia, SC 29201 or <>]

Palmer-Quay, in her introduction says:

Encouraging indigenous hymnody may at times require the skills of a detective, midwife, psychologist, musician, grand marshal or diplomat. While struggling with the challenges of this task, we need to remember that God does not choose his servants because of individual worthiness, but so that his strength may work through weakness….

Scripture commands us to worship the Lord with music. Although all human societies have music, cultural differences can be found in its definition, structure and function. Faced with strange sounding melodies, missionaries have tended to rely on the sounds of their home culture when developing songs and hymns for church use. Fortunately, an increasing level of indigenization of worship, in both Catholic and Protestant congregations, has occurred in the last 30 years. However, the level of liturgical enculturation varies greatly between cultures. In addition, only a limited amount of training on music and worship issues is received by most missionaries.

In this book, Palmer-Quay sets out to make it easier for missionaries to get the information they need to promote indigenous hymnody wherever they work.

Chapter One, the book’s introduction, deals with the use of music in worship and the modern rise in indigenous hymnody. In Chapter Two, the level of indigenous hymnody is evaluated in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas through a review of the published literature. In Chapter Three, the missionary’s role as a catalyst or music system analyst is discussed, along with contemporary issues in hymnody development such as the challenge of multi-ethnic congregations. Chapter Four contains the conclusions to these essays. Chapter Five is an annotated bibliography of fifty key resources for people interested in indigenous hymnody.

Chapter Five’s articles, essays and books represent a recommended reading list for the cross-cultural worker who desires to build an understanding of the concept and processes involved in developing an indigenous hymnody. Each annotation is at least half a page long. These resources were chosen with non-specialists in mind, so that an “average missionary” can read the materials and make use of them.

The second half of the book is a bibliography of more than 560 resources published on indigenous hymnody, mentioning just about everything ever published on the topic in English in the last 100 years. Many of the items contain short annotations.

Two appendices are especially helpful: one is an index to the resources listed in the bibliography by geographic region. With this index, one can look up a particular area of interest, such as India, Zambia, or the Caribbean, and quickly find out what has been published relating to indigenous hymnody in that part of the world. The second index is topical, with bibliographic resources grouped together under themes such as dance, hymn writing principles, syncretistic church music, and worship issues.

All in all, the book is an invaluable listing of resources, saving many hours of research time in the library. As well, the original essays do an excellent job of surveying past and present trends and pointing out contemporary issues.

    -- reviewed by Paul Neeley

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