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Entries in hymn (8)

Monday
Dec122011

Old Hymns to New Music…Now in Spanish

I honestly can’t believe that this day is here.  There is something very important about the prospect of the hymns movement going Spanish.  In general, Spanish-speaking Christianity (at least of the Latin American variety) by and large is one of two brands—Catholic or Pentecostal.  The latter, as far as I have observed, doesn't often engage the rich history of hymnody that is a part of our Christian heritage.  And, as I’ve advocated over and over again, hymnody indoctrinates.  There is a robust theological education and a deep spiritual formation (not that the two don’t overlap considerably) when the people of God sing historic hymns.  I have longed to see this hunger develop among the Latino culture in the US and broader west.

With the dawn of Alabanzaré, perhaps these hopes and dreams can harden into some real-world concrete.  Their himnario features forty hymns at the moment.  I noticed a Spanish version of Indelible Grace’s setting of “Jesus, Everlasting King”: “Señor Jesús, eterno Rey.”  There are also original-tuned translations of popular hymns like “Holy, Holy, Holy” and “Be Thou My Vision.”

In my opinion, the next step for the outfit at Alabanzaré would be to work hard engaging the popular Latino musical idioms, seeing if hymnody can translate.  It’s an experiment worth pursuing.  Perhaps they could start by analyzing some of the popular contemporary Christian Latino worship artists like Jesus Adrian Romero and others (my knowledge is pretty limited!).  It will be interesting to see what kind of traction the Latino hymns movement gets in the next five to ten years, but, until then, I salute the effort and hope that more will join their ranks!

Monday
Aug082011

Song Reflection: "All People That on Earth Do Dwell"

In preparation for the release of our album, Without Our Aid, on September 13, 2011, we're beginning a series of posts reflecting on the hymns incorporated into the project. 

Many do not realize that the Protestant Reformation was just as much about worship as it was about doctrine.  In fact, reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin would have seen little division between the former and the latter.  Luther championed three emphases in particular, which all serve the goal of elevating the congregation's participation in worship against the backdrop of the passive, clergy-driven liturgy of the medieval Church:

(1) The priesthood of all believers
(2) Worship in the vernacular
(3) Scripture and doctrine in the hands of the laity

As the Reformation spread, a revolution in songwriting occurred, and Christian musicians began reaping the harvest of writing songs in their native tongue.  It was an exciting time.  In England in the 1500s, the dominant strain of the Reformation was that of Calvin, whose own worship emphases strongly advocated the singing of Psalms.  And in 1562, a fresh edition of newly Anglicized hymns appeared, commonly referred to as "Sternhold and Hopkins," the editors' names.  Many of those metrical psalms (psalms set to poetic meter) have fallen into disuse, but one has endured and can still be found in some hymnals today--"All People That on Earth Do Dwell," by William Kethe.  This hymn is a metrical version of Psalm 100, one of the most popular psalms in the Bible.  Our album, Without Our Aid, gets its title from the second line of the second verse, emphasizing the sovereignty and power of God over against the helplessness and inability of humanity.

Our setting of the psalm is a driving, mid-tempo arrangement, with an added chorus that is nearly completely derived from Psalm 100 (NIV).  Of our songs, it has been one of our congregation's favorites for several years now.  The song's ending repeats the psalm's final words ("for the Lord is good and His love endureth forever...") over and over again.  It is a "surprise refrain" in the sense that it introduces a new melodic and harmonic section of the song, painting the picture that God's eternal, heavenly love and faithfulness are like nothing we've experienced before.  We sing it repeatedly to emphasize this eternality and to offer a moment of meditation on this portion of Scripture.

Here are the words:

All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice;
Him serve with joy, His praise forth tell,
Come ye before Him and rejoice.

Know that the Lord is God indeed;
Without our aid He did us make;
We are His folk, He doth us feed,
And for His sheep He doth us take.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth!
Worship Him with gladness;
Come before Him with joyful songs!
Praise the Lord, all the earth!
Enter with thanksgiving;
Shout for joy to God, all the earth!

O enter then His gates with praise,
Approach with joy His courts unto;
Praise, laud, and bless His name always,
For it is seemly so to do.

For why? The Lord our God is good,
His mercy is forever sure;
His truth at all times firmly stood,
And shall from age to age endure.

For the Lord is good,
And His love endureth forever,
And His faithfulness continues through all generations.

Words: William Kethe, 1561; Zac Hicks, 2009 (add’l lyrics adapted from Psalm 100)
Music: Zac Hicks, 2009
©2011 Unbudding Fig Music (ASCAP)
Winner of the Church of the Servant 2010 New Psalm Contest

In memory of Ben Fackler
Monday
Mar282011

A Significant Achievement in Bridging the Hymns Movement and Mainstream Modern Worship

Last Friday, the worshiptogether.com blog gave away a beautiful re-tuning of the famous Wesley hymn, “And Can it Be.”  Worshiptogether is the unifying umbrella-brand under which almost all the major heavy-hitters in mainstream modern worship reside.  Besides the fact that this version of “And Can it Be” is very tasteful and inspiring (I’ve heard some that don’t quite hit the mark), there is a bigger story behind this track.  It is a part of an entire album called Love Divine, scheduled for US release through EMI CMG on April 19, 2011, whose subtitle reads: “The Songs of Charles Wesley for Today’s Generation.”

Screeeeeeeeeeeeech!  What?  Folks, this is a big deal.  Let me try to paint the picture for you (keep in mind that these are broad-brush generalizations).  Contemporary worship, birthed in the 70s, matured in the 80s and 90s, and firmly established in the early 2000s, began as an anti-traditional movement.  It emerged out of a youth culture that despised hardened religiosity and sought authentic, meaningful, intimate fellowship and relationship with Jesus.  For this generation, the traditional hymns of the church were a chief illustration of the deadness they were reacting against.  Contemporary worship was lyrically anti-traditional—texts were simple, not complex; forms were repetitive, not through-composed; subject-matter was intimate, not transcendent.  It was musically anti-traditional—classical choirs and organ were out; pop bands were in.

This is not to say that the contemporary worship fully abandoned hymnody.  They kept a few hymns.  But they kept them on their terms.  The evidence of this is found that for every contemporary worship “hymns” album out there, the same twenty or so hymns are being recycled (e.g. “How Great Thou Art,” “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” etc.), with very little awareness that the hundreds of years prior to but especially after the Protestant Reformation yielded a treasure trove of thousands upon thousands of verses of glorious ecclesiastical poetry (see, for example, the comments in my review of the iWorship hymns album).  Some have asked me if I was excited to see Passion produce a hymns album (Hymns Ancient and Modern, 2004), and my response was, “a little.”  It was encouraging, but it was still a rendering of the more popular hymns that betrayed a lack of true engagement of modern worship with the Christian hymn tradition.

But, in less than a month, the modern worship world will be treated to this track-listing, from these fairly well-known mainstream modern worship artists:

01) I Know That My Redeemer Lives – Tim Hughes (of “Here I Am to Worship”)
02) Rejoice The Lord Is King – John Ellis
03) And Can It Be – Jason Roy (of Building 429)
04) Jesus We Look To Thee – Kim Walker-Smith (of Jesus Culture)
05) Jesus Lover Of My Soul – Chris Eaton
06) Come Thou Long Expected Jesus – Brian Johnson
07) Praise The Lord Who Reigns Above – Leigh Nash (of Sixpence None the Richer)
08) Jesus The Name High Over All – Chris Quilala (of Jesus Culture)
09) O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing – Chris McClarney
10) Love Divine – Jenn Johnson (of Bethel Live)
11) Christ The Lord Is Risen Today – Aaron Keyes
12) Christ Whose Glory Fills The Skies – Mark Roach
13) O For A Heart To Praise my God – Brenton Brown (of “Hallelujah (Your Love is Amazing),” and a lot of others)

What is significant about this track-listing is that the songwriters who pulled these artists together (Chris Eaton and John Hartley) have drilled down deep into hymnody.  They did some research.  They were aware.  They acknowledged that the texts written by Charles Wesley over two hundred years ago have lasting value for modern worship today.  This album, from an historical standpoint in church music, is much more significant than Passion’s hymns album. 

I have to believe that the influence of the hymns movement is coming of age.  Something important has taken place.  Modern worship is continuing to turn its head backward as it moves forward.  I do not know how closely the tracks on Love Divine will stick to the original texts of Wesley.  I do not know whether all the arrangements will be as appealing as the one I heard.  But I have high hopes, and I look forward to hearing and reviewing this album, Lord-willing.  I hope there will be more like it.

If this album intrigues you, there is a wonderful, lengthy description, with many helpful details, over at emusicwire.com. 



Thursday
Jan202011

The Theology and Background of the Hymn, “Of The Father’s Love Begotten”

Kevin DeYoung recently posted a marvelous explanation of the background and theology of the ancient hymn we often associate with Christmas and Advent, “Of the Father’s Love Begotten.”  We sing this song at our church frequently in its original, a capella, plainsong chant-setting (and not just during Advent and Christmas).  I’ve found that modern worship crowds love it!  The hymn is quite long.  DeYoung prints all nine verses.  Verse seven was a shocker to me:

Righteous judge of souls departed,
Righteous King of them that live,
On the Father’s throne exalted
None in might with Thee may strive;
Who at last in vengeance coming
Sinners from Thy face shalt drive,
Evermore and evermore!

We probably don’t sing this verse today because we are uncomfortable lauding God for His wrath, vengeance, and justice.  It’s just not P.C.  But this is reason #573 why the modern church needs ancient hymnody. 

Perhaps most surprising to me is that the hymn-writer, Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (ca. 348-413), only started writing hymns in his fifties after a late mid-life crisis!  I, for one, am grateful that God stirred his pot, and the church is the beneficiary.  Please read DeYoung’s full post.



Monday
Jan032011

Worship Leaders Should Be Theologians, and Theologians Should Be Worship Leaders

In preparations for a sermon on Psalm 29, I re-opened two influential works in my own life and theological development: Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology and A. W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy.  The two theologians share a feature in their respective works—a feature which is instructive to both theologians and worship leaders alike (not that the two have to or should be separate offices).

For too long, the church has functionally made theology (study and meditation upon God and the Bible) and doxology (worship) two separate enterprises.  We have “theologians” and “pastors” on one side, and we have “worship leaders” on the other.  And the church has suffered greatly because of this bifurcation.  At least part of the reason that critics of modern worship are justified when they accuse contemporary churches of “dumbing down” the sacred expression of the gathered people of God is that we’ve made this split between theologians and worship leaders okay.  We’ve fostered it with our employment structures.  We’ve encouraged it with our niched resources and industry.  We’ve catered to it with our degree programs. 

Grudem and Tozer show us that there is a different way.  They’ve peppered doxology throughout their theology.  In fact, both The Knowledge of the Holy and Systematic Theology end each chapter with the text of a hymn.  For example, after expounding “The Infinitude of God,” Tozer ends with two verses of a Joseph Hart hymn:1

This, this is the God we adore,
Our faithful, unchangeable Friend,
Whose love is as great as His power,
And neither knows measure nor end.

‘Tis Jesus, the first and the last,
Whose Spirit shall guide us safe home;
We’ll praise Him for all that is past,
And trust Him for all that’s to come.

Similarly, Grudem ends his Chapter 11, on the “Incommunicable Attributes of God,” with the famous hymn, “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise.”2  He explains why he does this in his preface:

I do not believe that God intended the study of theology to be dry and boring. Theology is the study of God and all his works! Theology is meant to be lived and prayed and sung! All of the great doctrinal writings of the Bible…are full of praise to God.  …True theology is “teaching which accords with godliness” (1 Tim 6:3), and theology when studied rightly will lead to growth in our Christian lives, and to worship.3

Just because theology is an academic discipline, complete with published works and degree programs, does not mean it should lack passion and praise.  Just because worship is artistic, expressive, and emotional does not mean it should lack theological reflection.  There are many implications for all of this, but here are some:

·   Theology should drive our worship—what we know about God should fuel our praise of God.

·   Worship songs, even simple ones, communicate theological truths and therefore shape the thinking and spirituality of the people of God.

·   Professional theologians should therefore be some of the most passionate worshipers in our congregations.

·   Professional worship leaders should therefore be some of the most rigorous theologians in our congregations.

·   Good worship leaders will examine and evaluate the songs they lead not only for musicality but for theological content.

·   Good theologians will regularly worship, on the spot, with their pupils, turning the classroom into a sanctuary.

 

*****

1 A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1978), 48.
2 Wayne Grudem,
Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 183-184.
3 Ibid., 16-17.



Saturday
Dec252010

The Warrior Baby: A Different Side of Christmas, Courtesy of Benjamin Britten

My colleague, our organist and choirmaster, Douglas Macomber, introduced me to this glorious piece which is a part of Benjamin Britten's A Ceremony of Carols (Opus 28).  The text of "This Little Babe" is outstanding, ringing a seldom-heard bell about what Christmas ushers in--the paradox of a baby who conquers through weakness.  Our choir sang this at our Christmas Eve Candlelight Service.  It's a bit feisty, but I wonder whether we couldn't re-tune this text for congregational singing.  Don't get me wrong, the original tune and arrangement are spot-on, but they are meant to be performed by a choir and harpist.  It would be powerful, in my opinion, if congregations could sing it, too.  And, no, those aren't typos.  They're old English words.

This little Babe so few days old, is come to rifle Satan's fold;
All hell doth at his presence quake, though he himself for cold do shake;
For in this weak unarmed wise the gates of hell he will surprise.

With tears he fights and wins the field, His naked breast stands for a shield;
His battering shot are babish cries, His arrows looks of weeping eyes,
His martial ensigns Cold and Need, and feeble Flesh his warrior's steed.

His camp is pitched in a stall, His bulwark but a broken wall;
The crib his trench, haystalks his stakes; of shepherds he his muster makes;
And thus, as sure his foe to wound, the angels' trumps alarum sound.

My soul, with Christ join thou in fight; stick to the tents that he hath pight.*
Within his crib is surest ward; this little Babe will be thy guard.
If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy, then flit not from this heavenly Boy.

*"pight" = pitched

Thursday
Dec092010

A hymn that helps us realize that God's grace is only as amazing as our brokenness is admitted

Red Mountain Music's new album, All Things New, has been monopolizing my personal airwaves since Tuesday.  I wrote my review in haste, for a fourth "favorite" song has appeared.  The longer I am a Christian, the more I realize that sin "slides itself into my prayer."  The longer I am a worship leader, the more I truly feel how, Sunday after Sunday, "sin twines itself about my praise."  This makes me cry, because in some sense, I can be no more righteous than this.  This is my plight until the day I die.  And yet, I am loved radically, and the blood of Christ covers me: "The Lord shall be my righteousness."  Thank you, Red Mountain, for this offering.

The Lord Forever Mine

My God! how perfect are Thy ways!
But mine polluted are;
Sin twines itself about my praise,
And slides into my prayer.

When I would speak what Thou hast done
To save me from my sin;
I cannot make Thy mercies known
But self-applause creeps in.

Divine desire, that holy flame
Thy grace creates in me;
Alas! impatience is its name,
When it returns to Thee.

*This heart, a fountain of vile thoughts,
How does it overflow?
While self upon the surface floats
Still bubbling from below.

Let others in the gaudy dress
Of fancied merit shine;
The Lord shall be my righteousness
The Lord for ever mine.

Words: William Cowper, 1779

*this verse not included in the recording

Wednesday
Dec082010

All Things New: Red Mountain’s Last and Finest Album

Yesterday, All Things New was digitally released to the public.  (They are in the middle of printing and will have physical copies available soon.)  It is a remarkable album and definitely Red Mountain Music’s finest work to date.

You’ll notice a subtle change to the “artist name.”  No longer on the album are they called “Red Mountain Church,” but “Red Mountain Music.”  Brian T. Murphy, Red Mountain’s architect over the last several years, explained the shift to me in a recent email:

[The] biggest reason for it being our final record is I moved to NYC, and am no longer working for Red Mountain Church.  ‘Red Mountain Music’ is essentially a separate entity from the church, but at the same time the two ideas are so closely linked that it’s probably time for some closure.

Red Mountain Church/Music has had a rich and glorious history: Depth of Mercy (2003), Heaven (2004), The Gadsby Project (2005), Help My Unbelief (2006), This Breaks My Heart of Stone (2007), and Silent Night (2008).  Each album chronicles their growth—especially stylistically—with the common thread being their unwavering commitment to setting old hymns to new music.  To classify their music as “contemporary” is too general, quite unhelpful, and even misleading.  Red Mountain Music has never been mainstream pop.  They began with a more Americana/bluegrass-rock style and have shifted over the years to a meditative indie-ambient rock, light on the drums and heavy on the layers of electric guitars (courtesy of the creativity of Clint Wells, co-producer and now in-demand Nashville session musician and gigging artist).

Is All Things New the end of Red Mountain Music?  Not exactly.  As Murphy explained to me:

I still plan to be working on future hymn / sacred projects (have one in San Fran going on in early 2011, and a project I'm planning to kick off after the new year here in NYC); [it] just might not be "Red Mountain" going forward.  I've actually been getting a number of requests to collaborate with other artists and songwriters and that is something I'm really looking forward to, since that was really part of the hallmark of Red Mountain anyway.  Anyway, I guess all that is a long way of saying, I'm pretty excited about the next chapter.

I, for one, am glad for this.  Murphy and Wells have too much to offer the church music community, in my opinion, to abandon the enterprise altogether.  We need their voice.

All Things New, from top to bottom, is an incredible album.  If you want track-listing and information on the original hymns that inspired the album, check out Cardiphonia’s post yesterday.  My own brief comments are:

  • Textually and theologically solid as always.   The lyrics are taken from old hymns, usually from the 1600-1850 era, which was a golden age for English hymn-writing.
  • Musically rich.  The production is more inviting and professional than ever.  The layers are dense and sonically interesting.  One hears some interesting use of panning and distancing in the mic-placement to allow for some tasteful, creative sounds.  (This album is worth a listen on a good set of headphones or a nice stereo system.)
  • Never too rockin’.  I’ve noticed over the years that Red Mountain (esp. Murphy and Wells) have found their angle in soft, meditative, ambient reflection.  All Things New reflects that bent.  Not one song is fast-paced; high-energy drumming is not to be found on any track.
  • Congregationally friendly.  In songwriting for congregational material, a tension exists.  Though they aren’t mutually exclusive, there is a push and pull between accessibility and musicality.  If you’re writing material that is meant to be sung by congregations, it needs to be simple enough in melody and chord structure to be singable.  At the same time, if that is one’s only concern, it becomes musically “blah.”  Red Mountain has always found that sweet spot between these two poles.  Many of the songs on All Things New are congregation-ready, and yet they hold their musical integrity as songs and as arranged, recorded material.  The tone of the songs is fairly homogeneous across the album—reflective and humble.  Nevertheless, they are accessible for congregations.

In my opinion, Red Mountain’s legacy will be that they were one of the front-runners in the hymns movement.  Whenever you hear anyone talk about the movement, two names are always referenced: Indelible Grace and Red Mountain.  Red Mountain will always be known for being one of the first (in the modern worship era) to stick their necks out there in the enterprise of setting old hymns to new music, and, unlike other projects and artists that have come and gone, Red Mountain has a seven-album longevity.  In a day and age when mainstream evangelical worship music continues to be the choice of the masses in American Christianity, Red Mountain’s achievement is truly remarkable.

I have three favorite tracks on this album.  The first is its title track, “All Things New.”  It is singable, accessible, and lyrical.  Its text is from the great hymn-writer Horatius Bonar, and it sets forth an eschatological vision which fuels the church with energy and hope.  Track five, “My Business Lies at Jesus’ Gate” is equally moving.  Here is John Berridge’s beautiful text from the Gadsby hymnal:

My business lies at Jesus’ gate,
Where many a Lazar comes;
And here I sue, and here I wait
For mercy’s falling crumbs.

My rags and wounds my wants proclaim,
And help from him implore;
The wounds do witness I am lame,
The rags that I am poor.

The Lord, I hear, the hungry feeds,
And cheereth souls distressed;
He loves to bind up broken reeds,
And heal a bleeding breast.

His name is Jesus, full of grace,
Which draws me to his door;
And will not Jesus show his face,
And bring his gospel store?

Supplies of every grace I want,
And each day want supply;
And if no grace the Lord will grant,
I must lie down and die.  

The third song of choice is Psalm 126 (“When God Revealed His Gracious Name”).  This song was written as a part of Cardiphonia’s Psalms of Ascents grant from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship…a glorious text-and-tune pairing.

This final offering of Red Mountain Music is certainly its pinnacle achievement.  Just as the prayer of “All Things New” is that Christ would consummate the kingdom He inaugurated upon His first advent, so my prayer for Brian, Clint, and the rest of the Red Mountain gang is that, in this new chapter of their lives, God would make all things new in them and through them as well, to the glory of Christ and for the sake of His Bride.

Praise God for the legacy of Red Mountain.  Today, I raise a glass to eight plus years of great hymns and great music.