A Hymn Book is born – a school perspective

We are grateful to Graham Howell for this account of the project we carried out for Cothill.

“When the time came for us to replace our hymn books, Cothill House seized the opportunity to create a bespoke volume of hymns which would serve the needs of the school both now and for many years into the future. The process began with a simple telephone call during which we outlined our requirements in a very basic way, including the number of books we would require. Following this initial consultation, our first task was to decide upon the list of hymns to be included together with their relevant tunes and number of verses, an order in which to put them, and whether to opt for full harmony or just melody.

Having done this, we then arranged a face to face meeting with Nicholas Oulton at Gresham Books HQ on the Isle of Wight. Although we could easily have done this online, or here at Cothill, this transpired to be an absolutely delightful step in our journey. Quite apart from the fact that a visit to this rather beautiful part of the British Isles makes for a lovely day out, Nicholas was able to guide us painstakingly through an exhaustive list of all the decisions we would subsequently have to make, right from the obvious things like the colour and size of the book down to the finest of details such as whether the word “alleluia” should have a capital letter or not! We were able to see limitless examples of all these points by looking at the vast collection of volumes which Gresham had already produced for various establishments, and we came away from the session with a pretty good idea of how the finished article would look.

There then followed a period of approximately one week after which the first proof of the book’s contents was emailed to us. This was the point at which it became apparent just how many different versions of text – and occasionally tunes – exist in some hymns! Gresham uses Common Praise as a default starting point, but has access to all the other traditional templates of hymnody. It is therefore worth checking very carefully at this stage – preferably with two pairs of eyes – that the words and melodies are exactly the ones that are desired. Another important aspect to pat attention to at this point is that of keys. Cue Ed Adams, Nicholas’ right hand man and technical wizard for anything regarding musical editing. Nicholas has a hotline to Ed, which was pretty hot during our second visit to the Isle of Wight, due to the large number of small changes we wanted to make at this stage! Key changes, addition of slurs, variants of rhythm and melody, were all dealt with in “real time” with the results being visible on the master screen in front of us. The subject of refrains also came up. There were several options; is a refrain printed in full after each verse, or just the first line, or just the first couple of words, and is it in italics, etc, etc. We learned quite quickly that consistency was the name of the game – make a decision and then apply it across the whole hymn book!

Over the next month or so we proof-read and received back another three versions, before we had before us what all parties considered to be the ultimate one. This accomplished, all that remained was for us to sign it off, thereby officially pressing the launch button, enabling the press to spring into action and the books to be produced. Be patient at this stage – the final printing process takes a few weeks – but the wait is worth every minute. The finished article was every bit as beautiful as we had anticipated – a book of real quality incorporating everything which we had stipulated.

In addition to the musical content of the book, give some consideration too to the inside title pages. Here is an opportunity to include some personal extras such as the school motto, a commonly used prayer, or particular school values. Our school crest also features on the front cover and inside page; to achieve this we simply emailed a jpeg to Gresham who then worked their magic in order to transform it into a striking gold version which now adorns the exterior.

In summary, working with Nicholas and Ed was a real pleasure. The degree of professionalism, efficiency of customer service and end-product quality were all of an exceptionally high standard, and the journey from the the beginning of the project to its conclusion proved to be both fascinating and hugely rewarding.”