Worship would be very “dry” without music! The singing of praises to God is a tradition that goes way back to Old Testament times. Actually, hymns can be not only expressions of praise to God, but also prayers to God, or proclamation or teaching — it all depends on what the words of the hymn actually say.
In the Middle Ages, the predominant style of singing was “plainsong”, also called “Gregorian chant”. During the Reformation, Presbyterians invented a new style of singing, the “metrical psalm”, in which biblical texts (mostly psalms) were paraphrased and set to tunes with a regular “meter” (a set number of syllables per line of music). Most of the first 108 hymns in our hymnbook are metrical psalms, and many of those texts and tunes go back to the 15- and 1600s, such as “All people that on earth do dwell”, #65 (= Psalm 100). Early Presbyterians frowned on the singing of anything other than metrical psalms (that is, any text that wasn’t from the Bible). It wasn’t until the 1800s that the singing of other hymns started to become acceptable in Presbyterian worship. Gradually, Presbyterians began adopting hymns from other denominations. Many of the hymns that are now considered “good old hymns” date from the 17- and 1800s. Hymns continue to be written and composed today, and the current edition of our hymnbook includes a number of 20th-Century hymns.
Early Presbyterians favored congregational singing as opposed to choral singing, so choirs didn’t become popular in Presbyterian congregations until the 1800s. In the 1800s as well, there was a great debate in the Presbyterian Church over whether it was appropriate to use pipe organs in worship. Many Presbyterians at the time felt that only unaccompanied singing was proper, since the New Testament never mentions the use of musical instruments in worship; therefore they considered the organ an unwelcome innovation. Others, however, felt that the use of organs would make church music more appealing to younger people! Nowadays, congregations have the same kind of debate over “praise bands”.
The Presbyterian Church in Canada published 3 editions of its hymnbook in the past century — all entitled The Book of Praise — in 1918, 1972, and 1997.