As a first-year student at Goshen College in 1992, Bradley Kauffman witnessed the publication of Hymnal: A Worship Book within the Mennonite community; he performed the new hymns as a member of the Goshen College Chamber Choir. Now, 28 years later, he leads a committee as general editor and project manager in working to publish Voices Together in September 2020.

While this hymnal will be different than those prior in a variety of ways, the addition of audio recordings in an online application by GIA music will be at the forefront. Kauffman has invited five Mennonite-affiliated singing ensembles to record 20 songs each for a total of 100 audio-recorded songs. The Goshen College Chamber Choir, along with Eastern Mennonite University, Hesston College, Canadian Mennonite University and Menno Singers in Ontario, will contribute recordings.

“We put out an open invitation to all the Mennonite schools, and it ended up being a first come, first serve basis,” Kauffman said. “The colleges and universities have the expertise, the human resources and the kind of time to allocate towards learning and helping people learn this repertoire. So I think it’s a natural fit.”

GC’s Chamber Choir, under the direction of Scott Hochstetler, is set to record their 20 songs, which include a variety of intercultural pieces both a capella and instrumental, in April.

“I think it’s important that our Mennonite congregations have good resources as they embark on learning a new hymnal,” Hoschstetler said. “And I wanted Chamber Choir to be included in a group of excellent ensemble models.”

Hoschstetler estimates that 70 percent of the choir members identify as Mennonite, but all 31 ensemble members are participating in the project.

“Whether or not singers are from a hymn-singing background, it is always pleasurable and inspiring to quickly make excellent music with others,” he said. “Hymns provide that instant communal connection because the music and lyrics are easily accessible.”

The new hymnal, Voices Together, will include 775 songs, highlighting themes of intercultural worship and diverse language.

“We have come to understand that there are 25 languages being spoken and sung in Mennonite worship in the U.S. and Canada,” Kauffman said. “We’ve made a real effort to represent those languages in the collection.”

One Indonesian piece in the Chamber Choir’s repertoire titled, “Segala puji syukur,” represents the growing Indonesian population within the Mennonite church. 

“That is a song from a Mennonite congregation in Philadelphia,” Kauffman said. “It came to be in Voices Together because it is part of that effort for us to say…how can hymnal-using Mennonites understand the breadth of who we are as a church in North America.”

Ainslee Zou, a music and biochemistry double major, is one member of the Chamber Choir who does not identify as Mennonite.

“Before I came to Goshen, I had seldom sang a hymn from a hymnal before,” Zou said. “Since I am able to read music and have been in choir, hymns weren’t necessarily hard to sing, but I found it very foreign to sing in a cappella out of a hymnal without the words projected on the screen in a worship setting.”

Hochstetler is working closely with Chamber Choir members to follow the intents of the songwriters while also staying true to the music written on the page.

“What stands out to me about the songs we are recording is that the range of styles and faith traditions and cultures that these songs come from is so diverse,” Zou said.

The audio recordings, once completed, will be paired in 45-second segments with sheet music in the online app. While not all hymns will have an audio recording, Kauffman notes that the songs being recorded are “a good representation of what’s in Voices Together.”

In addition to the anticipated audio recordings, Voices Together will introduce 12 pieces of visual art inside the hymnal to mark thematic transitions throughout the collection. Hymns will be printed on a thinner paper to increase the number of hymns by 30 percent without producing a larger book. Lastly, the hymnal committee has worked to create an aspirations for language guideline in working with the texts of the music.

“I think the kinds of questions that we’re asking about historical texts, new texts and diversity of musical language are resonating well with younger folks,” Kauffman said.

The Voices Together hymnal will be launched here in Goshen, Indiana at College Mennonite Church from Nov. 13 to Nov. 14, 2020.

As the working hymnal draft now falls into the hands and voices of others in the Mennonite community, Kauffman is excited. “It’s been a community effort that will make the hymnal stronger,” he said.