Feast of Robert Guy McCutchan (September 13)   15 comments

Above:  Part of the Title Page of Our Hymnody (1937)

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor



U.S. Methodist Hymnal Editor and Hymn Tune Composer

Pseudonym = John Porter

Robert Guy McCutchan comes to this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via The Methodist Hymnals of 1935 and 1966.

McCutchan was one of the great American hymnodists.  He made his mark in the field of hymnal companion volumes with Our Hymnody (1937), the companion to The Methodist Hymnal (1935).  This hymnal companion volume has earned its reputation as the first substantial work in its genre in the United States.  The book, at 619 pages long, indicated meticulous attention to details.  It may have been the most detailed and thoroughly researched hymnal companion volume in the United States until the companion to The Hymnal (1941) of the Evangelical and Reformed Church.   Armin Haeusslder’s The Story of Our Hymns (1952) was 1902 pages long.  Since then, the four-tome companion to The Hymnal 1982 (1985) of The Episcopal Church may have claimed the title of the most thorough hymnal companion. 

Carlton R. Young, writing in Companion to the Hymnal (1970), the mate of The Methodist Hymnal (1966), issued his evaluation of our saint:

McCutchan’s motto might well have been the first line of the hymn “Let all the world in every corner sing.”  He devoted himself to bringing hymns into men’s lives.


McCutchan, born in Mount Ayr, Iowa, on September 13, 1877, spent his life in music.  He studied at Park College, Parkville, Missouri, then at Simpson College, Indianola, Iowa (B.M., 1904).  In 1904, our saint began to teach voice at Baker University, Baldwin College.  He also founded the conservatory at that institution of higher education.  After teaching music privately in Berlin and Paris in 1911, McCutchan returned to the United States.  He, the Dean of the School of Music (1911-1937) at DePauw University (1911-1937), served under future bishops Francis J. McConnell (1871-1953; President, 1909-1912) and G. Bromley Oxnam (1891-1963), President from 1928 to 1936.  McCutchan retired in 1937.

Above:  Part of the Title Page of The Methodist Hymnal (1905)

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

The time for Methodist hymnal revision had come around again.  Decades had passed since the publication of The Methodist Protestant Church Hymnal (1901) and The Methodist Hymnal (1905).  The hymnal of 1905 had been a joint project of the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.  Steps toward the new hymnal started in 1928.  In 1931, in the depths of the Great Depression, the three denominations cooperated on a joint hymnal.  That year, McCutchan also became the editor.

Above:  Part of the Title Page of The Methodist Hymnal (1935) Prior to the Merger of 1939

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

McCutchan had his bona fides.  He had collaborated on Better Music in Our Churches (1925) and Music in Worship (1927).  Our saint had also served as the music editor of the American Junior and Church School Hymnal (1928).  And he had written monographs and articles.  Furthermore, McCutchan had composed three hymn tunes (FOWLER, DEPAUW, and OXNAM) and two responses (“The Beatitudes of Our Lord” and “Thy Testimonies are Very Sure”), which he eventually included in The Methodist Hymnal (1935).

Above:  Part of the Title Page of The Methodist Hymnal (1935) After the Merger of 1939

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

McCutchan had a strong sense of propriety.  While serving as the hymnal editor, he composed three more hymn tunes (ALL THE WORLD, MASEFIELD, and TIPLADY) and another response (“O Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness).  These, included in The Methodist Hymnal (1935), bore the alleged name of the composer:  John Porter, born in 1877.  In Our Hymnody (1937), McCutchan wrote:

“John Porter” is the nom de plume if a hymn-writer who prefers to remain anonymous.


Elsewhere, McCutchan explained:

It simply would not do for it to be known that the editor was their composer.

–Quoted in Carlton R. Young, Companion to the Hymnal (1970), 605

McCutchan also harmonized the hymn tune CAMPMEETING, found in The Methodist Hymnal (1966) and The United Methodist Hymnal (1989).

McCutchan’s subsequent publications included:

  1. Aldersgate, 1738-1938 (1938),
  2. Hymns in the Lives of Men (1945),
  3. Hymns of the American Frontier (1950), and
  4. Hymn Tune Names:  Their Sources and Significance (1957).

McCutchan, as a hymnologist, was ecumenical and down-to-earth.  He was a Methodist, of course, and he spent much time thinking about the realities of music in churches ranging from rural, wood-frame structures to Gothic buildings in urban settings.  His work entailed collecting many American hymnals and song books–more than a thousand at the time of this death.  He bequeathed that collection to the associated colleges at Claremont, California.  And McCutchan devoted much time to music in Adventist, Brethren, and Congregationalist churches, too.  He devoted his life to helping worshipers in churches sing great hymns.

McCutchan suffered from cancer during his final years.   His wit, according to his widow, 

came to his aid and those who cared for him through all the difficult days.

–Quoted in Young, Companion to the Hymnal (1970), 606

McCutchan, aged 80 years, died in Claremont, California, on May 15, 1958.  His first wife, Carrie, had predeceased him.

McCutchan spent his life well, in the service of God.  He spent that life in the field of hymnody. 

Hymns, being sung theology, have long been crucial to the faith of many Christians.  St. Paul the Apostle quoted a portion of a hymn in Philippians 2:6-11.  Many people have matched the words and tunes of hymns they have used to renew their faith.  And many have derived spiritual highs from wonderfully-composed and beautifully-performed descants.  McCutchan’s contribution to church music and his grasp of hymnody mattered greatly.





Holy God, whose majesty surpasses all human definitions and capacity to grasp,

thank you for those (especially Robert Guy McCutchan)

who have nurtured and encouraged the reverent worship of you.

May their work inspire us to worship you in knowledge, truth, and beauty.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

1 Chronicles 25:1-8

Psalm 145

Revelation 15:1-4

John 4:19-26







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