I’m uncertain about what I remember of my early years in the church. I do not have a strong early memory of singing hymns, but I do remember at the age of five, when I was staying with my grandparents, I would act as if I was playing the organ on a stuffed chair in their living room. I also know for a brief season, I sang in a children’s choir at a nearby Presbyterian church. After that I know I was not exposed very frequently to Christian hymns for the thirty years I was not in the church.
So in the late 1990s when I returned to the church, began to attend weekly, and eventually took a role in weekly Sunday worship I felt it was an absolute necessity to learn something about hymns specifically, and music in the church in general. It was only in this manner I came to not only realize the importance of hymns but to grow in appreciation of music as a means of grace for worship and praise of our Lord.
Hymns originated in ancient times, having been found in ancient Greek and Roman texts. Thomas Aquinas described hymns “as the praise of God with song; a song is an exultation of the mind dwelling on eternal things, bursting forth in the voice.” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hymn#Development_of_Christian_hymnody] Centuries later during the Reformation, Martin Luther and some other reformers produced numerous hymns for the church, including Luther’s “A Might Fortress is Our God.” Luther and his followers understand hymn singing was a means of teaching the people the tenets of the faith.
Charles Wesley, one the most prolific hymnists of all time, successfully spread Wesleyan theology (the basis of theology for not only the Methodist Church but also for numerous other denominations) throughout Europe and the United States.
Choirs are late edition to worship, appearing in the 1860s when reformers were attempting to refine hymns. This would have been something foreign to reformers like John Wesley and the founders of Methodism, who exhorted congregations to “sing lustily and with good courage.” He also admonished them to “beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength.” Finally, Wesley wrote “Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward you when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.” [The United Methodist Hymnal, vii]