Thursday, March 4, 2021

Hymn book update

As I hinted back here, I decided to re-issue my book Useful Hymns with a new cover and new page layouts. That re-issue is now complete, and you can order it here for considerably less than you'd get it on Amazon or wherever else it's distributed online; also, quite a bit less than the original imprint of the book, which was more than 100 pages heavier.

How did I save all that space? Well, let me tell you. When the book first came out in 2016, it was laid out as a book of poetry, with melodies above each hymn typed right into the Word document with the text, using a set of melody fonts that I've had knocking around in one computer after another since the late 1990s. The brothers at St. Meinrad's Abbey in Indiana created them, and they were lovely so long as you didn't mind lines of melody forming a jagged right-hand margin (because the notes were typed by hand above the lyrics) or, in the case of my hymn book, simply a stand-alone paragraph of musical notes above a single column of poetry. You had to really squint at them to get the melody in your head before reading the lines you might be expected to sing to them, because the words weren't laid out directly under the notes. It really wasn't as "useful" as the book's title promised.

So, I got hold of a freeware scoring program called MuseScore, painstakingly taught myself to use it, and retyped every melody from Useful Hymns into it, with the first stanza of the corresponding hymn under it, so readers could more readily see how the words and music fit together. It actually worked pretty well. I mean, I could have used an elderly version of Finale that I had on my old laptop, which doesn't go online anymore, so the files would have to be moved back and forth between that and my everyday-duty laptop via a flash drive. But I thought it would be nice to be able to do the bulk of the update on my new computer (otherwise, what do I have it for?), and to be able to upload and email the files without having to run around with a USB memory stick. And anyway, MuseScore worked a treat. In some ways, getting it to do what I wanted with the hymnal page layout was easier than dealing with Finale, although I'm still typing up the harmonized settings of the hymn-tunes for sequel on that software.

Next, I copied and pasted the stanzas 2ff. into the scoring files as text blocks, mostly in two columns under the music, if they would fit. Some of the hymns had longer lines, forcing me to center them in a single column running down the page. Even allowing for some of the longer hymns overflowing onto a second or even, in a couple of cases, a third page, this mostly two-column layout slimmed the book down wonderfully.

My next challenge was putting these separate scoring files together into a single document that I could then turn into a PDF and upload to Lulu. But I sure didn't want to drop JPGs of all those scores into Word, like I had done with the hymn tune harmonizations at the back of the first edition. That was a real pain to work with. So, again I turned to a freeware alternative to the prevailing desktop publishing app, a program called Scribus. Unfortunately, I didn't have the luck with Scribus that I had with MuseScore. Maybe I'm just so used to InDesign (which I used in the newsroom at the newspaper prior to where I work now) that I just couldn't wrap my head around such a radically different software design. But I felt as if Scribus was fighting me at every step and making it as hard as possible, if not impossible, to do every single thing I wanted to do. It didn't take me long to realize that I just had to cough up $20 a month for a Creative Cloud license and use InDesign to lay out the book.

Once I did that, everything went smoothly. The book came together; I uploaded it to Lulu; I ordered a proof copy; I corrected so many mistakes that I wondered if my work was nothing but a continuous tissue of error; and then I approved it for publication. Again, see that link above. I also re-issued the UH "accompaniment edition" (nothing but the harmonized tune settings, without lyrics, in ABC order by tune title, in a larger page size and spiral bound to stay open on your music rack). In this case, I changed only the cover to coordinate with the new cover of the hymn-book itself.

Further, I re-published my first (and so far, only) book of hymn preludes, Lutheran Chorale Arrangements for the Saturday Night Organist, which I first issued in 2010 in the form of a mess of comb-bound books photocopied at the FedEx Store in St. Louis, and of which I had given away or lost every single copy I had made. Now all glossed out with a similar two-color cover to my other Lulu publications, it has 25 organ pieces based on Lutheran chorales (mostly German hymn tunes) and a nice, encouraging "Vol. 1" in the title that will hopefully motivate me to strive for a Vol. 2 someday.

And finally – so far – I executed a long-frustrated plan to publish Points of View, my collected non-hymn verse since as far back as I started not destroying everything I wrote – which would have to be sometime in high school, so like the late 1980s. Many of them date from my college years and adulthood, though I've mostly given up writing poetry other than hymns these days. In case anyone cares to find out whether I have, or ever had, anything in me of a non-hymnal persuasion, this is your chance.

Moving on to current projects, I've also converted the still-in-progress Edifying Hymns into the same format that Useful Hymns now has. If you noticed the pace of my hymn writing has picked up, you might be detecting a little of my excitement at the idea of putting out a "Sneak Preview Edition" of EH, to give the hymns I've written since mid-2016 a chance to live and breathe in the wider world before they languish on my laptop too much longer. I'd like to have it at a point where I can put it out on Lulu sometime this year, even if it means leaving gaps in the sequence of hymn numbers to accommodate songs yet unborn.

Of course, how I do things like this has never been simple, is not so now, and probably never will be. It still takes me trips between three different computers to do this stuff. Why? Because PhotoShop, which I need to convert the PDFs of all my Finale and MuseScore files into JPGs so I can drop them into InDesign, is available only on my work computer, which has been living in my home office since this time last year. And even though I can upload MuseScore files from my new laptop to Google Drive and pull them off Drive on my work computer to do this, that's only really handy when you're talking about one file or a handful of them; to JPG a bunch of PDFs, the running-with-a-flash-drive method still works best. Of course, MuseScore and InDesign both live on my new, personal laptop; and anytime I still need to use Word or Finale, I have to go back to the old laptop.

I'm hoping those times may soon come to an end, for the most part. But pieces of this project are all over the place, and require the use of even more software apps than I've named in this post. It's an exasperatingly tricky business. So, you'll excuse me, I hope, if my enthusiasm shows in another burst of hymnnographic activity on this blog. The role of this blog, by the way, is proving surprisingly crucial to the creative process. Time was, hymns made it on this blog only after I put them in the book. Now it's the other way around, and when I enter each new hymn into MuseScore, I'm pretty much copying it off the blog. I'd also like to put in a plug for, and, for serving as aids and references to keep the creative floodgates unstuck. So, expect me to post more original hymns on this bat-channel for a while to come, if God gives me time and energy.

UPDATE: I came across this review of Useful Hymns from back in 2017. Thanks for the kind words, Mary!


David S. said...

MuseScore is great! I'm glad I've delayed getting your book of hymns, now that there's a new and improved edition.

RobbieFish said...

Delay no longer! (But do order via Lulu. Not only is the price considerably lower, but I'll actually get some revenue out of it.) Thanks!