New hymnal

I posted some pics on the FB group, but I thought I’d write a few thoughts about it here as well, in case they’re helpful for others.

Last week I received advance copies in the mail for an upcoming hymnal I just finished for our church. I printed it through RR Donnelley and was really pleased with the quality of the final product, particularly the binding (which is of first importance in hymnals, since they get heavily used!). This book came out to 372 hymns, 464 pages, and is printed on an 80gsm stock; not quite the smoothness I would have wanted, but between opacity, caliper, smoothness, and cost, something has to give!

I engraved it entirely in Dorico, obviously, one hymn per project file. This is the sixth hymnal I’ve completed in Dorico. Manual note spacing and lyric adjustments probably constitute 50% of the work, and Dorico excels here. In particular, I love being able to select all the handles in a measure and use Alt-right arrow to help the lyrics in that measure to breathe a bit.

There are some small workflow improvements I’d still like to see added in Dorico, which I’ve requested elsewhere and won’t bring up here, but they’re quite niche. I laid the hymnal out in InDesign, and I don’t see that changing. With the Stream Deck and some custom commands, I can work nearly as fast as I can make decisions, which is a huge help when you’re making 50,000 small adjustments over the course of the project.

I’ve said it before, but thank you to Daniel and the team for such an incredible product. Looking forward to version 4!


A monumental achievement Dan, very well done. I think you are now entitled to call yourself a “Dorico Guru”. How long did it take you?

Congratulation! By the pics you posted, it looks very airy and very well legible!



Lovely, Dan. Congratulations.

I always thought that Dorico’s Master pages might enable a hymnbook to be written entirely within one project file, with the flow number used as the hymn number! But I’m sure there are reasons why that’s not possible yet.

Dan, I’m glad you cross-posted here as I got off of FB 5 years ago. It looks beautiful. I’m always in awe whenever I study your engraving. It is so clean and clear. Truly superb!


Thanks all!

@RobF it’s hard to say, as this was the amalgamation of several years of work, and this is the third edition of our hymnal. I’d say a new hymnal of comparable size probably would take me 400 hours.

@benwiggy I would love to keep it in one project, but there are several reasons why I don’t. First, there is so much data stored within each hymn in the form of small tweaks. The notes and lyrics probably represent only 40% of the time required to set a hymn, maybe less. Moving flows around makes it too easy to lose that data. Plus there would be some 460 flows, which aren’t easily managed, since the layout process is very much like putting a puzzle together. And finally, I make each hymn available for other projects, so importing a flow would lose all that manual work.

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Dear Romano,
You got off FB five years ago… But five years ago, Dorico was just born! Is there a link between those two events? :wink:

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That just sounds like a healthy life choice.


I actually tried reproducing your first system of #145 last night just to get an idea of the work involved. It seems like you have a ton of tiny little spacing tweaks just in that one system! The amount of effort to do an entire hymnal is quite impressive!


Yes, every lyric syllable gets touched, and every voice column box is red! Oh, and every staff handle too.

I’ve tried over the years to adjust Dorico’s settings to lessen this, but I don’t think there’s a way around it. Hymnals are usually tight, and there’s just too much to adjust. Particularly if you want note spacing to be what I call “minimum proportions”: that is, an eighth note must not be wider than a quarter note in the same bar (or any other comparative longer and shorter durations), even if the syllable on the eighth is “through” and the syllable on the quarter is “all”! It means thousands of small compromises and shifts, even between stanzas. I don’t know of any major hymnals out there that demand these minimum rhythmic proportions, and it drives me nuts.

And it doesn’t work to just uncheck “make space for lyrics,” because I need Dorico to get me part of the way there. Maybe an option to force that “minimum proportion” spacing I mentioned, combined with a negative value for “minimum width between lyrics,” would be a significant solution.

But even if this could be a solution, I’d be afraid to ask for it for fear it would break the thousands of hymnal files I’ve already created.

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Here are two examples that illustrate that lack of minimum proportion. These are otherwise very nice hymnals.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship:

Lift Up Your Hearts:

Indeed. I also ditched twitter a few years back.
The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was a news exposé that revealed that FB was doing studies on its users by deliberately altering what content showed up in their feeds and seeing how various groups reacted to the content’s appearance or disappearance. This was coupled in with the other phenomena that they were studying such as when everyone applies filters to their profile pic and whatnot. Even before the article, I had noticed that my feed was changing in odd ways not-infrequently, and people who used to show up daily—with whom I interacted and didn’t just scroll past—were actively being filtered out.
I decided that a.) social media tends to bring out the worst in humanity and b.) I wasn’t going to be FB’s lab rat any longer.
(Sorry to go OT.)


Yes. I also engrave hymns although nothing on the scale of what Dan does. But I do a few per week for worship aids and whatnot. It is very tedious work if you want it to look really good. I’m not quite to the “every single handle is red” phase, but I’m not all that far off either. I end up doing additional textual adjustments in affinity publisher too.

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The threshold for me is 87 (poetic meter, 15 syllables per line). When I have to engrave an 87 87 D, I know it’s going to be a lot of work. Once in a blue moon I squeeze an LM (88) onto a single line, but that’s rare, and I usually don’t like it. Old Hundredth is one example.

The obvious solution would be to reduce the point size of the text, but I don’t want to do that.

Nor do the PiP’s.

Congratulations, Dan! I blanched when I read

I’m glad to know the additional info on your methods. I have been recopying hymns (melody only) for my church’s bulletins for some 16 years now. I’m up to 257 in one Sibelius file, and it is only 780K on disk. For some years now I have been wanting to switch from Opus/Palatino to Norfolk/Georgia, which of course I could do for all of them in one go, and have minimal tweaking to redo. Dorico is still not the right tool for me for a large collection of short pieces. (But oh boy is it making this opera project a joy!)

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Actually I decided partway through my first hymnal to change from Garamond to Minion. It really wasn’t that bad, although it was more than 300 files. I created a macro for it that made the job go pretty easily. Open the file, click click click click, save, close.

Of course that was back in Finale, where changes to lyrics would not reset their spacing adjustments. But Daniel has said this is coming in the next version, if I remember correctly… (Edit: actually I’m confusing myself a bit… I believe it’s also the case in Dorico presently that if you change the font, the spacing will not reset.)

What I lose in fragmentation across multiple files, I gain in peace of mind and complete control.

I agree with your emphasis on the importance of the binding. How often have I opened a book of music–hymns, pop songs, classical–and found the book will not stay open to the pages I want to play?

Glad the binding satisfies you. The entire package looks amazing!

There are a couple of advantages to this approach, I’ve found. At one point, I fancied having all my hymn files in one Dorico file, but I abandoned that too. Among other reasons:

  1. One hymn-tune per file allows you to keep the melody but pair multiple texts if necessary, without affecting what comes after it in the hymnal.
  2. If you need one hymn for some project (in my case, a worship aid) I don’t have to try extracting it from a larger file with hundreds of flows. I can create a new layout and deal with that one hymn and then move on without dealing with anything else.
  3. Dorico doesn’t slow down because you don’t have a million flows with thousands of manual tweaks.
  4. In my case, I’ve arranged my files by hymn tune name, so it’s really easy to find something. I use common melodies paired with various texts (metrical translations of gregorian propers). It’s really easy to check the text, decide on which melody I want and then find it immediately. I can open that melody and duplicate the existing flow and change the text.
  5. You don’t lose any formatting if you decide down the road that you want the flows in a different order, so page order changes. If you handle this latter portion in publishing software, you’re no worse for wear, whereas the current state of Dorico could really mess this up, depending on how you make your edits.

That’s a particularly ugly beam wedge there. Augmentation dot positioning in the first bar below seems wrong too. Slurs are a touch loopy for me. Centered chord positioning on the Bb7? Even without mentioning the spacing, I’d say your work with Dorico looks far superior to this:

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