HymnQuest is a computer database of hymns and songs used in worship. It is not a new, computerised hymnbook, but rather an electronic bookcase of existing hymnbooks (350 of them, to be precise) that is fully indexed, cross-referenced and searchable. Hymnbooks included in HymnQuest include Christian Hymns, Mission Praise (in its various incarnations), Grace Hymns, Junior Praise, Praise!, The Scottish Psalter, and Songs of Fellowship (both volumes). Two notable omissions are the Wakeman Trust’s Psalms and Hymns of Reformed Worship, and Sankey’s Sacred Songs and Solos. A full list of all the hymnbooks included in the collection is available on the publisher’s website: www.hymnquest.com
The strength of HymnQuest lies in the way it combines it massive size with a user-friendly interface. The collection includes more than 13,600 tunes and over 18,600 hymns, including from Isaac Watts (196 hymns), Charles Wesley (530 hymns) and more modern authors such as Vernon Higham (166), and Graham Kendrick (296). The full-text of most of the hymns is included, though only the first line of the tunes is available.
Of course, having 18,600 hymns on CD is of no benefit if you are unable to access them easily, and that is where HymnQuest excels.
Sometimes when looking for a hymn I can remember the third line of the fourth verse, but can’t remember how the hymn starts, so can’t find it in my hymnbook! In HymnQuest I click ‘Find’ and type ‘Even thy cup of grief to share’, and in less than two seconds I have ‘King of my life I crown thee now’ on my screen. One click later I’m told its number 213 in Christian Hymns and 247 in the new Christian Hymns, and in six other hymn books besides.
Sometimes I know the tune of a hymn, but not the words. Sadly, HymnQuest can’t work it out from my humming (but then, neither can my wife), but if I play the opening notes in any key on an on-screen piano, almost instantaneously all the tunes with those opening notes are displayed, and with one more click, all the hymns that are sung to those tunes.
But the most useful search facility within HymnQuest is undoubtedly it’s thematic and scriptural indices. Whatever chapter or biblical theme you’re preaching on, HymnQuest has a raft of suggestions to make, and thankfully you can limit those suggestions to your chosen hymn books. There are over 200,000 such suggestions built into the software, and that knowledge alone is worth five times the purchase price.
Probably the use that HymnQuest will be put most often will be finding forgotten hymns, or new hymns that you have heard sung at a conference or another church. It can also be a useful tool for preachers visiting churches who use a hymnbook you are not familiar with. However users will also find that they come across excellent but less well-known hymns that deserve a place in our worship. By no means every hymn in the collection could be categorised as excellent, or even ‘sound’, but the inclusion of hymns from many trusted sources means that with discernment there are many gems to be uncovered.
HymnQuest will also keep a record of all the hymns you copy or print, so you can build a comprehensive record of the hymns you sing each week. Churches with a CCL licence will probably find the record-keeping features in HymnQuest invaluable for preparing the Song Survey Worksheets that CCLI require.
The accuracy of HymnQuest seems exceptional, but it is not perfect. Of particular problem is that fact that many hymns have been slightly altered over the years. Often, it is only the odd word that is changed, or perhaps a verse missed out. HymnQuest does its best to cope with these differences by listing all the variations. For example, the last verse of To God be the Glory has no less than five versions listed, each dealing differently with ‘Our wonder, our rapture’ in the fourth line, and offering ‘hath’ or ‘has’ in the first. It is not clear which hymnbook adopts which version however, and in this example the particular combination chosen by the editors of Christian Hymns is not listed at all. On the other hand, the programme does cope well with variations in the names of authors and composers (including pseudonyms and maiden names).
In short, if you choose hymns regularly, HymnQuest is thoroughly recommended though if the publishers were able to add the full tune to the database (at least for tunes in the public domain), and allow users to add their own hymn supplement books to the database, no doubt its usefulness would be further increased. For those who are still unsure, the publishers offer a 30-day free demonstration which you can request from their website. If you have an earlier version of HymnQuest, you’ll notice a significant speed increase as well as more hymn books than before, and you can upgrade at a discounted price.