“Our God, Our Help in Ages Past”

William T. Dargan

in Lining Out the Word

Published by University of California Press

Published in print June 2006 | ISBN: 9780520234482
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520928923 | DOI:
“Our God, Our Help in Ages Past”

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While Isaac Watts (1674–1748) is called the father of English hymnody, the form he brought to prominence, with its innate orality and biblical symbolism, has proved itself the foundation for a complex of sacred and secular African American genres. Although the hymn texts belong to the larger tradition of English-language hymnod for black Baptists, both the sound and the verse forms of Dr. Watts hymn singing have become style repositories out of which a larger range of congregational singing traditions continues. Almost without exception, wherever the old-time hymns are still heard, the vitality of the larger congregational singing tradition continues. It was written texts of evangelical hymns that black Baptists appropriated into oral tradition. An emphasis upon the written word and a concomitant deemphasis of other artistic expressions, including music, marked the long-term development of English Puritan worship from its roots in Calvinist practice. While neither lining out nor psalmody in general were restricted to the Puritans, both are associated with that heritage, which has been a nebulous and long-standing dimension of English spirituality.

Keywords: Isaac Watts; Dr. Watts; hymn singing; hymns; congregational singing; hymnody; psalmody; worship; Puritans; lining out

Chapter.  5539 words. 

Subjects: American Music

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