In late January, Converse College will host a four-day symposium to explore the many roles hymns have played in the South. The event, which will run January 28-31, will feature concerts and workshops for hymn-writing and worship planning, all led by a roster of some of the nation’s most renowned scholars and musicians.
The symposium, which is free and open to the public, is being held in conjunction with the bicentennial of the birth of South Carolina’s own William “Singin’ Billy” Walker. Born in Union, South Carolina in 1809, Walker is credited by being the first to bring together in print the hymn text and the hymn tune for “Amazing Grace” in his music book Southern Harmony. He later compiled four books of hymns and traveled throughout the South teaching people how to read music using a form of musical notation called shape notes.
The event is made possible by support from the Humanities Council SC, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Converse Department of Musicology and Composition, Department of English and Nisbet Honors Program.
The symposium has been spearheaded by Converse professors Dr. Laura Feitzinger Brown, Associate Professor of English at Converse and Co-Director of the college’s Nisbet Honors Program, and Dr. Leon Couch III, Assistant Professor of Music Theory and Organ. Brown attests to her passion for hymns. “As an English professor who loves music, who began singing as a child in her church treble chorus and who still finds joy as part of a church choir, I have grown to appreciate the riches of the hymn tradition. Many of our greatest hymns combine centuries of deep theological reflection, musical creativity and literary skill. Hymns have a way of staying with us and coming back to us when we need them. They are a way God speaks to us.”
Dr. Harry Eskew, a featured panelist in the symposium and an internationally recognized musicologist, observed, “Hymns for most church-going Americans provide their greatest opportunity for active participation in worship. We express our praise, prayer and thanks through the hymns that are sung in worship. Moreover, we learn a lot of our theology through the hymns we sing.” Eskew is Professor Emeritus of Music History and Hymnology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and former editor of The Hymn, a quarterly publication of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada. He is also the author of the best-selling hymnology text Sing with Understanding and numerous articles and scholarly books.
Joining Eskew on the roster of panelists are
• Dr. Mary Louise Bringle, Chair of the Humanities Division at Brevard College, where she is also a Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies. She is President of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada, and author of four books and numerous hymns.
• Dr. John Bullard, Professor Emeritus of Religion at Wofford College, and organizer