by Steve Sywulka
Five years of tough work culminated in a radically new worship tool.
The year 1990 was the centennial for CAM International. Founded by C.I. Scofield as the Central American Mission, CAM had expanded from the work begun in November, 1890, by one couple in Costa Rica to a ministry encompassing all of Central America, Panama, Mexico, Spain, and the Hispanic U.S.
As the centennial approached, mission representatives held a series of consultations with church leaders. Among the items on the agenda was the question, What can CAM do for the churches as a sort of centennial gift?
One of the projects most widely suggested was a new hymnal. Perhaps you can apply something from our experience in putting one together.
Music lies at the heart of worship, and it is vital for churches not only in Latin America but all societies to have available an adequate selection of songs and hymns that are both biblical and culturally relevant. A common hymnody also helps foster a sense of oneness with other believers.
In part, the suggestion also reflected a desire for "our own" hymnbook. The 1,600 CAM-related churches had used a variety of books published by other groups, of which the most popular was the Himnos de la Vida Cristiana (HVC), put out by the Christian and Missionary Alliance. On the other hand, it also reflected the reality that church music changes constantly. Both HVC and Himnos de Fe y Alabanza (HFA), another well-known book published by Singspiration, dated from the mid-’60s. Since then an enormous number of new songs, many of them praise music, had found their way into the worship experience of the churches.
In response, in 1988 CAM appointed a six-man committee to put together a new Spanish hymnal. In the providence of God, the mission had been blessed with gifted, highly qualified people for this project. Phil Blycker, an accomplished musician who has written over 80 Scripture-based Spanish songs, became music editor. Oscar L—pez and my brother Paul Sywulka, both raised in Guatemala, brought an encyclopedic knowledge of Latin American hymnody to the project. Ken Hanna contributed organizational and computer skills, and Gonzalo Sandoval a publishing background, while I had extensive experience in research and editing.
Over what turned out to be a five-year period, the committee put an immense amount of time and effort into the hymnal, even though most of us continued with other ministries. CAM gave us total support and committed major resources.
If we had known what we were getting into, we probably would never have started, but with a certain amount of blissful ignorance we began meeting to prepare our guidelines and compile a master list of hymns, songs, and choruses for possible inclusion. That list eventually grew to over 1,200 selections, of which 578 made it into the book, which we named Celebremos Su Gloria (Let’s Celebrate His Glory).
From the beginning we felt it was highly important to consult with the churches. Surveys of over 5,000 people, including laymen as well as pastors and song leaders, told us which hymns in the standard books were being sung, and which ones were not. They also provided valuable insight into patterns of worship and the use of music in the service.
As we got into the project, we discovered that other people had the same vision. After a series of discussions, the CAM committee was immeasurably strengthened by joining forces with Tim and Lynn Anderson, with The Evangelical Alliance Mission in Colombia, who had started to update HFA. Tim had already done an enormous amount of footwork in tracking down copyright owners and arranging permissions, as well as setting up a computerized database. Lynn contributed poetical and editing skills.
What grew out of this partnership (which for a brief time also included HCJB) was something more than any of us had envisioned at first: a radically new worship tool. We tried to include the best of classic, traditional hymnody, contemporary praise music, and original Latin Americanworks, with roughly a third of the book given to each category.
One curious note was that classic hymns in Latin America include not only Watts, Wesley, Bliss, and other well-known favorites, but also a number of 19th century American gospel songs that have completely disappeared from English hymnals, but whose Spanish translations are still loved and sung.
The book was also designed to reach the Latin soul-the eye-with a full-color cover and 32 color pages inside, along with poems, short meditations, and guitar chords. A number of graphic helps and other features make it user friendly, with special symbols indicating Scripture-based songs, hymns with suggested alternative tunes, hymn sequences, and canons (rounds). Another innovation was the inclusion of short biographical sketches and hymn stories where space was available.
Complete information is provided for each selection on author, composer, translator and arranger, copyright owner, hymn tune name, meter, and key. There are three suggested Scripture passages for each song, indexed to help worship leaders choose hymns that go along with a particular passage. Finally, there is a very complete set of indexes, a rarity in Spanish hymnals.
Agreeing on the features we wanted and the general contents was a relatively simple first step. From there on to the camera-ready copy proved to be a tortuous route. We realized that more than periodic meetings were necessary, and in 1989 the Blyckers and Andersons moved to Dallas to devote full time to the project. A separate hymnal office was set up and I began commuting about two weeks per month from Guatemala. Other committee members gave time as they were able.
Each selection had to be edited for both text and music, and in many cases the musical arrangement written. Then the piece was engraved-the music and words produced in professional form-and copies were made for proofreading.
The computer turned out to be a key player in the production, both in entering data and the actual engraving. In fact, Celebremos is one of the first major computer-engraved hymnals anywhere. We used Coda Finale, a powerful program which nevertheless had some kinks, especially with hyphens.
The fact that the engraver to whom we contracted the work did not speak Spanish caused problems now and then. Most pieces of music made four or five trips back to the engraver for corrections, probably more than we would have had with a mechanical system. However, the computer provided great flexibility; key changes were done with a keystroke, and arrangements and instrumentation were relatively simple, once the basic musical information had been typed in.
We tried to make the hymnal as up-to-date as possible, which meant including a number of songs that were being sung in churches but had not been published anywhere, or had appeared with words only. This not only necessitated doing the musical arrangements, but also deciding exactly how the melody and/or lyrics ran.
We discovered that often there were different South American, Central American, and Mexican versions. In some cases there were variations between two of the committee members who attended churches at the north and south ends of Guatemala City. Most of the time there was probably no right way, so we had to choose what we thought was more widely used, or what sounded better to us.
We had the same problem with contemporary English praise songs that had been translated by different people in various places. Sometimes we combined two versions, or made our own modifications. In the case of "Majesty," which had become fairly well known, although there was no standard version, we not only did our own original translation, but also added two new verses.
One of the most serious dilemmas in compiling a hymnal is to what extent to change the lyrics of songs that are known and loved. The Celebremos committee did not necessarily share the persuasions of modern editors, whotend to make alterations to remove what they consider to be obsolete, sexist, or sometimes militant language.
Fortunately, these criteria are generally not quite as much of a problem in Spanish as in English, for linguistic and cultural reasons. We did not have to wrestle with whether or not to change "thee’s" and "thou’s" into "you’s," for instance.
We did, however, carefully check all lyrics for grammar, poetical meter, rhyme and stress, meanings, singability, and biblical content. Having muttered some unworshipful feelings under my breath at more than one hatchet job on English hymns that, in my opinion, ruined the poetry and imagery of the original, I, along with the others on our committee, tried to minimize changes, especially to well-known songs, and particularly in the first stanza or chorus, which are more likely to be memorized.
One song that gave us problems was "Yo soy la vid" (I am the vine), written by missionary Lura Garrido, based on John 15, and put to a Colombian melody. Having been included in HFA, it is fairly well known, and it has appealing music and is solidly biblical. However, in several places it switched from second person plural to singular in a most disconcerting and ungrammatical way, as in the middle of the first stanza: "Estad en mi, y yo en ti, y fruto llevareis" (Abide [pl.] in me, and I in you [sing.], and you [pl.] will bear fruit.) In this case, correcting the error would have meant a major and awkward change, and so we just left it. Further on in the text, however, where it was a little easier, we did make it consistently plural.
Another example was a powerful poem written by Raul Mej’a Gonz‡lez, an alcoholic Guatemalan school teacher, who when drunk one day literally had a vision of hell. It so impressed him that he ran to the missionary in his town and fell on his knees to ask how he could be saved. The words he later wrote describing his experience are sung to the tune of "The Old Rugged Cross."
I love this hymn, but had always wondered about one phrase, "al cantar cual cimbel," (to sing like a cimbel). After asking around and finding no one else knew what cimbel meant, I looked it up. As I suspected, the cimbel is a bird, but according to the dictionary, it is also slang for a stool pigeon. So "to sing like a cimbel" could be understood as informing on someone. We changed the phrase to the not nearly so poetic but more innocuous "le quiero ser fiel" (I want to be faithful).
In a few cases, we put an original word or phrase-or suggested change-in italics under the text, or even provided two alternative versions.
Like many hymnals, Celebremos is organized topically, though perhaps a bit more theologically than some others, with major sections such as God the Father, Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, Salvation, the Church, Evangelism and Missions, and Special Groups and Occasions. There are short meditations on key themes.
Appropriate Scripture passages for responsive reading are placed throughout the section rather than all being lumped together at the end. A number of poems, some with suggested hymn tunes and others whose meter does not make them singable, are scattered throughout the book.
Some topics included in Celebremos that you might not find elsewhere: a song for 15-year-old girls (a girl’s 15th birthday is a very special occasion in many parts of Latin America), along with two more ordinary birthday songs; a song for the dedication of a new building, or piano, or other piece of equipment; a song expressing gratitude to God for the pastor or other leaders.
With the bulk of the editing and proofreading done, the focus shifted to Bogot‡, Colombia, in mid-1992. The press was there and that’s where we produced the final camera-ready copy on a Linotronic printer. Despite the marvels of the electronic age, we ended up doing a fair amount of old-fashioned cutting and pasting with scissors, Exacto knife, and glue pot, to fix those pesky hyphens as well as for last-minute corrections.
A words-only edition, expected to outsell the music version four to one, was typeset in-house in Dallas using Aldus Pagemaker. Many people in Latin America not only cannot read music, but find it confusing to have to jump back to start each stanza. Most hymnals in use in the region have provided a version with only the lyrics.
Finally, in November, 1992, the first hymnals rolled off the press in Bogot‡. Initial response to Celebremos has been very positive, with the printers, Buena Semilla, unable to keep up with the demand. "The hymnal has revitalized our worship," says one pastor from a small town in Guatemala. "It’s the best hymnal available in Spanish," comments Vielman Orozco of the Salem Church in Guatemala City.
"Celebremos is meeting a real need in Latin American churches," says Edgar Cajas, director of the department of music at the Baptist Seminary in Guatemala City. "One of its major strengths is the variety of songs and music styles included in one book. The way it is organized and its helpful features make it a very useful guide to worship."
Perhaps the best compliment has come from several people who have asked, "When are you going to put Celebremos Su Gloria into English?"
Initially, the hymnal is being distributed primarily to CAM-related churches, but it is also available from Spanish House/Unilit in Miami, as well as other major distributors.
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