Monday, August 31, 2009

Choosing and translating hymns

Selecting the corpus of hymns is proving to be an interesting challenge. While Rev. Omolo was at the seminary, one of the jobs we accomplished was to look at each hymn in LSB and prioritize it for inclusion in the Kenyan hymn; one meant yes, this hymn should be in the Kenyan hymn, two maybe, and three no. One criterion that gave a hymn an automatic number one was if it was also in Mwimbieni Bwana, the Tanzanian hymnal, since that meant it was already in Swahili. There were 64 hymns that were in both hymnals.

There are, of course, other hymnbooks and songbooks in Swahili, and those are being researched for additional hymns. However, if the hymnal has perhaps 200 hymns in it, this still means at least 100 need to translated. One hundred is a big number!

The challenge is not so much in the literal translation because there are a number of excellent Kenyan pastors who are fluent in English and skilled at translating. The challenge is in writing poetically – following the rhythm and flow of a melody - making the stress of the beats and the stress of the syllables match – while keeping the text rich in meaning and clear in doctrine. What we need are a few theologically and musically trained poets who are fluent in English and Swahili. If you are such a person, or know someone who fits the description, please make yourself known!

Looking over the prioritized list, I see that some of the hymns which are in both English and Swahili are weak theologically. The fact that a hymn is already translated is not going to be able to automatically qualify it for inclusion, and we need to revisit this list. Hymnody is simply too important to the life and faith of the church.

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