In my review of David Potter’s album, Man of Sorrows Glorious King, I forgot to mention that he kindly sent me 4 CDs to give away. So I thought I’d do that this weekend.
Just leave a comment below on why you think it’s helpful for hymns to be updated musically. I’m interested in compelling responses to those who say in reference to changing lyrics/melodies of familiar hymns, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
At the end of Monday I’ll pick 4 comments at random to receive a free copy of the CD.
We sing many old hymns at my church, and while the words are wonderful, the melodies are often distracting and hard to catch onto. I have found it helpful personally, and notice a big difference in the congregation, when the melodies are updated.
I think it is important for hymns to be updated from time to time ’cause the lyrics are usually so strong theologically and biblically, but oftentimes the music gets in the way of people receiving what the songs have to offer.
Although I personally dislike it when we learn a song one way and then start singing it differently 5 years later, I do appreciate the efforts to keep things fresh and I never mind adding drums. ;-) ;-)
I actually have never heard of David Potter, but I am always looking for hymns done well. Sounds like Potter is a great place to start. Thanks for the review.
When I sing or hear an “old” hymn text set to a new tune (or a new arrangement/setting of the original tune), it actually makes me think of the lyrics more. I think we can sometimes get stuck in a rut when texts and tunes are so familiar that neither the mind nor the heart are truly engaged.
Thanks for the review – I had completely missed this album.
The older Hymns are a great treasures for any age group or era in time. Recreating such hymns create a more relevant tone for the current and future generations as well as reinforcing their message and meaning. The poetry that’s used in so many hymns is beautiful to me. One thing I have learned as a musician is that a great song can and sometimes must be rearranged to impact more people.
Although we should write new songs in our “own modern language” at first, it is really helpful to learn from the wisdom of church (and music) history!
One aspect of this learning from the old hymns is to sing them again. We can sing them in their original tune, but we can use the chance to update their music:
This is important and helpful, because we should be able to express our thinking and our feelings in singing the old lyrics – and that is (in my opinion) even more possible when we use contemporary music. We can identify with the music and concentrate on the text! And the text is of real importance for hymns.
By the way: Thanks Bob for your insightful Articles! Is your second book coming out soon?
@jjh – My writing of the book has taken a back seat to a few other projects. I hope to devote some time to it this year. I’d appreciate your prayers to that end!
Thanks for your review, and for the offer to give away a few copies. I am always looking for more “updated” hymns to use in worship. The movement to updating hymns has caused many great lyrics, which would have been otherwise lost, to be brought back to our attention. While there are some good lyricists out there writing great new songs, these hymns lyrics are time tested and written from a different perspective.
Many hymns are so embedded in my memory that I am easily able to sing right through them without thinking about, or even really hearing the words. When the music is changed, I often hear the words as if they were new to me, and afterward I enjoy both the “old” and the new version in a deeper way.
I think it’s important because in the technological age (unlike previous eras) there are greater opportunities for wide spread distribution, multi-lingual translation, hi-fidelity production and it also gives artists opportunity to image forth their Creator(to the praise of His glorious grace) through the creative process.
There are often rhythmic, harmonic, or even instrumental choices that are available today that were not available to the original writers. Updating allows us to see wonderful time tested truths (hymns) communicated theough the tools and media of a current generation.
Updating hymns is a great way to connect this generation with the generations of the past. Not only do many (older) hymns contain great poetic and heartfelt expressions of the Faith, doctrine and personal experience, but by refreshing or updating them, we can speak them in current musical vernacular. By combining their timeless truths and sentiment with newer music we are reminded that the Faith spans ages; it is not just during our era that God is at work. Personally I favor the updates that maintain the historic melody line (if the hymn has just one associated with it), but breathe new musical life.
I think it’s helpful as there are many in the Church today who likely haven’t heard many of the old hymns that carry such lyrical depth and truth. As much as I love today’s contemporary worship, I still love many of the old hymns and leading them as well, but know many who don’t particulary care for the “old style” music and may never hear a hymn if the music weren’t updated for the muscial palates of this generation.
Why should I win this CD:
1 – I am the first to respond
2 – My children love everytime a new SG CD comes in the mail and they fight over it, which gives me a great teaching moment about love.
3 – I cannot find this CD in a local music shop
4 – The updating of hymns has allowed me to introduce wonderful lyrics to a modern congregation (younger) without feeling guilt over watered down words for uptempo creative music. My (younger) church loves all the “new” music we are using not knowing that some of what we use is hundreds of years old.
5 – Lastly, I am a single staff minister in a multi-staff position church. If it is cleaned, taught, sung, or planned guess who gets to do it? That is not a complaint – I just could really use the help seeing that my musical talent limits me to being able to play that radio and nothing else.
These hymns are a treasury of our faith! To think that my heart can resonate with the same theology/passion of the church of years past is just incredible.
The focus on theology that many hymn writers had is breathtaking. I think that when we properly combine their rich theology with the passion and musicianship of the church of today, something beautiful and God-honoring takes place.
Just my 2¢. Thanks!
Sometimes we get in a rut due to the fact that our hymns are so familiar we don’t take time to actually listen to their message. An occasional updating addresses our complacency and lets us listen to the theological content of what we are singing.
The context of history allows us to prevent against cultural myopia. By updating the hymns we make accessible a treasure trove of theological insight and poetic beauty that encourages us, challenges us, and keeps us on the right track.
It helps make a connection between the old and new. It helps connect different generations and gives people a different learning opportunity in church. We were doing this back in the early nineties with our praise team. We sang hymns with drums, electric guitar, bass, keyboards, and different percussion insturments. We actually did something we called the “hymn of the month” with information about its writer and how it came about. It was great!
I think it is helpful to update Hymns stylistically. There is a need to connect each generation with the Hymns that have embodied theological and spiritual truths for decades or centuries. Updating the music just allows new generations to connect easily, while not sacrificing the truth and mission of the music. The more worship the better!!
No matter how many new songs I hear, many are great, I always go back to hymbs during times of trouble. They are the songs that always seem to flow from my soul.
Many church plants do not have a traditional piano or organ that is culturally associated with hymns. Modern rhythms and instrumentation help communicate the Gospel truths in older hymns.
Lyrically, hymns contain rich truths that are souls can feed on. They help us rejoice in Lord and to taste and see He is good. To update them musically is to perpetuate those hymns; preserving those rich truths and at the same time pairing them with musical styles we are more familiar with, and perhaps even helping to expose those hymns to the next generation for the first time
I’m really encouraged when hymns are updated musically in a skillful way.
Right or wrong, people may avoid certain melodic and harmonic structures simply because of the sound. An updated sound might grab someone’s attention who otherwise wouldn’t care. The sound can be used as a tool for these persons to participate in corporate worship. It may help them to better see and hear promises and truths about our great God and build up their faith as they sing.
A different angle is that sometimes a different setting of a hymn can make you think of great lyrics in a light you hadn’t before. An example for me is Indelible Grace’s setting of “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go.” Their version helped me to hear the words, when, if I’m being honest, the original melody was a roadblock.
An example where an updated musical setting has been successful is the hymn, “My Jesus, I Love Thee.” Very few congregations, if any, sing its original melody. This is because in the 1870s, Dr. Adoniram Gordon loved the text but did not love the melody. He came up with a different one. I believe if he hadn’t, the hymn wouldn’t be well-known at all today, and would live in obscurity among thousands of texts in old hymnals on shelves, but never in our hearts.
It helps us bring the truth of God to every generation. Most of the older hymns have great lyrical truth. Truth that needs to be proclaimed well. The music is always secondary to the lyrics.
Most hymns were meant to be paired with new tunes. Here’s to preserving great texts, and to discerning selections on Sunday mornings.
It would be helpful to update hymns musically because they were written for different instruments, not for full worship bands. Updated hymn versions should take advantage of the fuller sound available through worship bands.
Because it is important to keep the legacy of our faith to be shared with new generations of believers. Much of today’s worship songs lack the depth of the lyrics of these hymns which we know, love, and resdiscover.
Music style is not static and it does not, render a song less spiritual but is an important vehicle by which each generation worships. Tastes in styles change with the seasons of each generation much like a language does. It is however the empowerment of the Spirit and Truth that brings true power to any music and because of this we should not be afraid to head into new styles as they change nor should we disregard older styles either but respect them for the role they played. So because of this I believe it is greatly important to retool the styles of some older hymns so the truth of these wonderful songs remains fresh and vital for generation but do it respectfully.
I think it’s helpful to update hymns because you get to maintain the truth that is in them, but you also are able to feel the music in your heart. Especially for the younger generations this is a great blessing. When you take the words of a hymn and update the music, you meet the younger person where they are at. Just like when you want to minister to someone, you try to meet them where they are. I think these updated hymns are some of the biggest blessings, for me specifically, that exist in the church of today. We all know the words to hymns and with that knowledge, we don’t have to focus on getting the words right, we simply get to focus on directing those words to the great God whom we serve.
Although I love to sing hymns with the original music, updated music allows a wider variety of modern ears to appreciate the God-centered lyrics that have been passed through multiple generations.
It proves that lyrics are not bound by the music!
I love the deeply thought out and powerful statements in Hymns. It seems theology was more potent in the subject matter, which is why singing them today is important.
I think it’s important for churches who appreciate hymns, but they have an updated worship style. As a drummer for my church, I typically don’t play when we do hymns in a traditional way, it’s really hard to play along. When hymns are updated musically, it’s much easier for a whole worship band to play.
To me, it all depends on what “updated” means. Should we change the original intent of the Constitution in our zeal to apply it to today? Should we forget the original autographs of the Bible when developing a “new translation” or try to make it readable and yet very, very close to the original?
The answers to those questions are hopefully obvious–not quite so much with hymns, as they are not the “inpsired word of God.” But I think we do an injustice to the memories and, sometimes, the theology, of those who write them by trying to, as my dear departed mom used to say, “jazz them up.” As a teen growing up in the 1970s I thought she was so behind the times. Now I look to those old arrangements as comfort food. Yes, let’s have some CCM (contemporary Christian music)–it has its place. But its place is not to DISPLACE the great hymns of old. “A Mighty Fortress” was never meant to be blaring rock and roll or, worse yet, rap! Perform it well and even those who at first will not relate to the style will soon, or eventually anyway, appreciate the intricacies of the melody–and at the same time remember the theology. And that is the point.
It’s easy for people to mindlessly sing the same song they have sung for years, but a new tune forces attention. Also, the bible commands us to sing a new song.
1. Updating the music makes those of us who have been singing great hymns for decades re-engage our minds and think about what we are singing.
2. Updating the music helps those who are “chronological snobs” gladly sing some great old lyrics they might otherwise not be willing to sing.
My reasoning would be like someone else mentioned above that they can become so familiar the old way that you don’t even think about them anymore. I grew up in a church singing the old hymns week after week and eventually just did them by habit without thinking about what I was saying. New tunes bring life back into them. One that is going around a lot right now is Glorious Day, a new version of the hymn One Day.
Also, as a worship leader who leads from guitar, a lot of the old hymn tunes and chord progressions don’t transfer over very well. So newer more contemporary versions allow for these great songs with great lyrics to come back into churches.
Well, because it’s always been that way. If you look in any hymnal there are some setting variations for some of our most favorite hymns. Most of the time a favorite won out. . but this method of setting the texts in new ways is not “new”, so why are afraid of it, or are speaking against it?
Words carry the Gospel to the heart. Music can often open the ears to the words of the song. The music, therefore, should be beautiful and worth listening to if our goal is indeed to get the Gospel to people’s hearts.
Music and musical tastes change. Music as a creative art form is as varied as the people who create it. I’m sure they had similar discussions when moving away from cantors and a choir of priests. However, the truth of the Gospel captured in the content of the lyrics is unchanging and can serve to point us to Christ now just as it did then. I would argue that there is a beauty and richness in the lyrics that is missing in some of our poetics today. I also think that’s one reason they’ve stood the test of time. So, to bring this unchanging truth into a more current musical genre preserves the intent of the music, to help us glorify Christ, and helps us join our voices with the saints before us to do the same.
I personally love, LOVE hymns because of how theologically rich the text is and being a classical pianist and enthusiast, the “old school” harmonic progressions and chord structures are (in my opinion) far better than some of the contemporary Christian music that exhausts the I, IV, V, I progression. If they’re feeling extra creative, they might even throw in a vi chord too! *gasp!* :)
I also have many issues with the poor theology and self-centric tendencies contemporary Christian lyrics seem to exhibit, whereas many hymns are Christ-focused and proclaim the Gospel, not self-focused and what I’m going to do for God (because really, we all know He doesn’t need anything from us).
In regards to changing hymns up, I’ve been a fan of musicians who add some sort of additional chorus or bridge either using a line from the hymn and repeating it or taking a theme from the hymn and adding repeating lyrics of some sort. I’m only a fan of changing the melody or the rhythm of the melody if it’s a difficult or unfamiliar melody because then people are just stuck on the fact that they can’t sing the melody and miss the richness of the text.
When we take the theology and often rallying ‘war-cries’ of hymns and set them to new music we reach each generation all over again. Young people are our future, where many years ago we were the future generation. We were exposed to and came to appreciate hymns in traditional, and then in more contemporary music, now we need to pass that on to the next generation.
I sometimes joke that God created all types of music. Except hip-hop and rap, where the other side created those, but then I finish by saying that while my preference is not for hip-hop and rap there is value to all music, because we reach people that might otherwise never be reached.
Many people will not listen to traditional hymns, but unreached people will often listen to Christian rock or metal because it is the type of music they are receptive to. If we take the Christian message from hymns into the type of music others will listen to, they will hear and be inspired by the fire and passion of the original hymn writer, often even in our own churches.
The worship leader who re-envisions a hymn for a new generation is much like the Bible translator or the expositor. There are certain cultural elements that, to understand the intent of the Scriptural author, must be mined by the student of the Word for the sake of those he teaches.
Any way you look at it, there are gaps culturally, linguistically, and otherwise that must be overcome for the riches of the Word of God to be faithfully taught in a modern context, 2000 or more years separated from when it was inspired through men in their own context.
In the same way, there are gaps in understanding created by archaic uses of the English language, making it helpful to have modern translations at hand, to the disappointment of those who raise up the former translations higher than they ought to be held.
The theological content, then, of a good hymn, is invaluable to the body of Christ, yet only if it reaches ears and penetrates hearts. When it does this, worship through music functions as a teaching ministry as seen in Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
Not only do those who grew up with hymns often relate better to a new cultural expression of these hymns, but more and more believers never experienced hymns in the first place and without giving the hymns a contextualized chance at rebirth, their heritage and spiritual weight is sure to be lost on future generations.
There is much more lyrical variety and power in the really good old hymns, which have a depth of meaning untouched by modern cliches and forced or inevitable-seeming rhymes. Many contemporary worship songs sound like first draft material to me–in desperate need of editing for more vivid, active, and precise language. Those hymns also contain more continuity of thought: many of the more contemporary variety strike me as collages of unrelated images strung together, so that they are impressionistic and create an unspecific emotional response rather than leading your mind to reflect on truth and thus promoting a defined emotion in response to that certain set of thoughts.
And sometimes those solid lyrics were originally set to unsuitable tunes (too “happy-happy” or too doleful, for example), so I appreciate new music when done well. Sometimes the hymn is rather short and needs a chorus that builds musically on the verses–but there, I think extra care is required to make sure that the lyrical quality of the new chorus is strong enough to stand beside the verses.
I do think some hymns have such lovely, powerful, or familiar melodies that they shouldn’t be essentially changed–but those can be updated in instrumentation, rhythm, etc to give a fresh feel that helps us to notice the words anew.
I would also love to see revivals of some of the old-time (theologically solid) hymns that are a part of both our spiritual and our cultural heritage–I am sad for the many kids who are growing up with no knowledge of those hymns (like “Blessed Assurance,” “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” etc) that have echoed in my mind since I was little.
Music changes over time – like any part of culture, it grows as culture grows. We live and minister in a different culture than many hymns were written, and some of them benefit greatly from updated music.
I grew up singing the traditional hymns–many of which are lyrically/theologically great. I still enjoy singing many of those songs today set to fresh, updated tunes.
Wait to go, David – I know your dad – worked with him recording “Bonds of Love” for years. Nice to see a local Omaha guy making good!
I like singing hymns that have been “updated” by changing the tune. I think that, for one thing, it can make them easier for us to sing. Even more so, I think it is neat to see the different types of worship it can inspire…for example changing from a slow worship song to a fast-paced joyful one
Personally I think hymns should be updated musically, not lyrically. Most hymns music is such that with all the various forms of contemporary worship music it just doesn’t fit in. So when you’re going through the line-up your option is to make contemporary songs sound like hymns, make hymns contemporary or leave both alone. My church at home seems to do the first of those three, where as my church at school follows the 2nd option, and it works. Often I feel disconnected when we sign hymns but when they’re made contemporary it just works.
It can be helpful to update the music of hymns when it helps us to focus on the lyrics. Changing it up can be helpful at times because we can fall into the trap of forgetting about the content of a song when the melody is too familiar.
I love that God is a God of regeneration and renewal. He is often reminding us that He “makes all things new,” His “mercies are new every morning,” to “sing a new song” and more. However, He is also reminding us to “remember the former days,” “do this in remembrance of me,” and to always remember the work He has already accomplished so that we can rest and rejoice in it.
I think the same can be applied to the refreshing of hymns. The lyrics transcend time because they express the truth of a God who transcends time. However, musical styles come and go and evolve continually. To match the timeless truth of solid, Biblical hymn lyrics to new expressions of musical style is a perfect combination of the never-changing AND renewing parts of God’s character.
I love old hymns and it’s great to bring them into modern worship times. The nice thing about the more modern versions though is they seem easier for congregational singing. Especially ones that add an extra chorus into the song (like Shane & Shane’s Before the Throne or Enfield’s Lead on O King Eternal). Today’s congregation is very used to a specific formula for their songs. A verse, a chorus, and a bridge in every song. Because of that it feels much easier to sing more modern versions of hymns.
mmm the theological truths found in so many hymns is what i really love — the melodies can change (and will change! so many artists these days are so creative and new arrangements are so beautiful) but I’m thankful for updates that keep the truths in tact :)
I think it is incredibly important to continue rewriting Hymns Every new generation of Christians will express themselves slightly (sometimes drastically) different. In the attempt to do that the possibilty of going off course is ever present. What hymns do is help each new generation to tie itself to the history of the church theologically. When we rewrite the melody to beloved hymns we reenergize rich truth and make it accessible to yet another generation in their own voice and style.
There are some really excellent comments here, and I don’t have much to add. But I like the cd, so here goes: timeless gospel truths+fresh music=another means of worshiping a timeless God in a Christ-honoring way.
I love old words to new tunes, new words to old tunes, and any combination of these. But not all words, and not all tunes. There are lots of different ways to sing truth, but they’re not all my favorites. We’ve all got our musical preferences. I also don’t think melodies have to be ‘broke’ to be ‘fixed’ – they can just be another option in a musical worship repertoire that facilitates the stirring of a Christian’s affections for Christ.
Thanks, Bob, for encouraging us to think about these things. And for giving away cd’s.
I love the timelessness of hymn lyrics. Like some people savor the way the King James version flows off their lips, reminding them about verses they memorized as a child or hearing grandparents quote truth to them, the memories associated with hymns evoke similar emotional responses. The symbolic language and the scriptural depth of hymns makes them touchstones of the faith. Updating them musically freshens the hymns and while some new arrangements are better than others, the effort to make the old new is laudable – and hopefully more singable and accessible. Thanks.
The best hymns have a development of thought as you move through the verses of the song that engages both the mind and the affections of the singers – they “stretch” us, if you will. Putting these songs to modern instrumentation opens that stretching up to new generations. (Plus, many of the old hymns don’t have any music at all, and I love to see when groups like Indelible Grace bring those old beauties out for all of us to share!)
Since many great hymns were set to popular tune structures of the day (especially Charles Wesley) it seems in keeping with the nature of a hymn to update its melody in so far as it it is still singable by the congregation!
I’m a fan of modernizing hymns because many instruments have become modernized. Synths and other electronic instruments can make so many more sounds than the traditional pianos that many hymns are scored for. And now Christians utilize guitars, strings, drums, and many other instruments because they are within reach. The Internet makes access to these instruments both possible and cost-effective.
I’m also a fan of modernizing the Psalter for the same reason. Singing modern Psalms isn’t yet popular, but should be! Think of all the Scripture we would have in our minds if we could simply sing a catchy modern Psalm tune.
While the truths of biblically-oriented lyrics are timeless, linguistics, phrasing, colloquialisms, definitions evolve over time. This is, in a sense, also true regarding music. Preferences within the realm of beauty can be broad and still all be god-centered. He is not easily contained. So the updating of music across the spectrum of genres is helpful to continue the biblical process of encouraging the heart (of both artist and hearer), teaching the mind, and witnessing of God’s immeasurable power and love to those within and without the camp of the saints.
In my opinion, the Christian Church should be developing a distinct form for Christian music. A form which would lead any unbeliever to, upon hearing it, immediately recognize it as Christian. This is no small task, but reworking the music from older hymns is a step in the right direction.
As musical styles evolve over time, what is deemed interesting and attention-keeping also changes. Thus if anything can be changed musically to enhance the integrity of the truth being proclaimed in such a way that would be most effective here and now, then by all means, let such changes be made!
Music (harmony, rhythm and flow, etc.) seems to change much more quickly than the meaning of words (lyrics). To keep a hymn useful and enjoyable, new arrangements, whether subtle or significant, are very helpful. Thanks for raising the question! db
Many of them have great lyrics and for better or for worse musical style and ability changes. New music can help stick great lyrics in my head with music I can sing to easily.
Listened to it yesterday and especially loved his treatment of All Creatures of Our God and King. The words to so many of the older hymns still hold magnificently true, but musically can leave newer generations of seekers and believers cold. The fresh treatment by talented song writers open a lot of doors/hearts.
Just like a diamond can be diminished by a poor setting, so a hymn can be elevated in beauty upon a new setting that fits the tone and right response required from the subject matter.
I loved this! It was fun and a blessing to read everyone’s thoughts–there are a lot of good ideas posted!!
I think it’s helpful to update the hymns because it glorifies God and helps us to enjoy Him even more! I imagine Him delighting in musicians using their gifts and talents to express God’s beauty in their own, new way, sharing with their brothers and sisters a fresh melody to praise God in a fresh way. I’m sure God loves it!
I’ve found that many traditional hymn melodies are difficult for modern congregations to sing. They aren’t the pop melodies that we’re used to hearing and singing outside of a worship setting. Adding a new melody and arrangement can bring new life to lyrics rich in theology and history.
Since some folks are very musically geared – and listen for beat, rhythm. But, some aren’t concerned with lyrics. So with most theologically rich hymns, unbelievers who just like “music” may not even listen to the “old” hymns. When we aren’t afraid to put new music to old hymns, keeping the theologically rich text of most of the ones that have been carried on now for 200+ years, the Spirit may use the new music to introduce sound theology to folks who may never hear it otherwise.
It can be a great evangelistic tool.
My experience, in keeping with that of others above, has been that well selected melodic changes can often bring the truth of the lyrics of many well known hymns to life in a fresh way by helping us to engage and respond. In short change can combat familiarity so that these enternal truths that so easily roll off our tongues have a fresh impact on our lives and draw worship from us in response.
From a “flow” perspective I have found that some alternative melodies help the integration of the richness of hymns into a time of sung worship without a sense of what can sometimes seem like an ackward gear change.
Sometimes where the most well known hymn tunes are maintained we have also found that adding short refrains has often helped the congregation to engage with the rich texts of the hymn. Doing this creates regular responsive space in the course of the hymn. We have found this gives the hymn “room to breathe” and gives space for us to reflect, dwell and respond to the truth we have just sung.
Thank you for your continued ministry to us all via the blog.
I trust you enjoy your time at New Word Alive.
We sing many old hymns in our community a lot of the old hymns are so gospel-centered, back when people weren’t even talking about being “gospel-centered”….they were just living it and writing songs about it. Our community is mostly 25-40 year olds, it would be an absolute travesty not to allow the words of these songs to cry out the greatness of our God in this generation.
Consequently I think it is our privilege, if not our duty, to arrange these old songs to be sang by this generation and the ones to come…so that the message found within can continue to be used by God to transform lives for years to come.
It’s so incredibly important to be mindful of the words we’re singing. I know oftentimes we’ll be singing, “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken” and I find myself thinking about halfway through, wow, do I really mean what I’m singing? (Good) hymns are a rich blend of theology and poetry, but the familiarity of the melody/arrangement gives opportunity for one to simply move their vocal chords without using their noggins. A slight change or variation may reawaken one’s mind to the truth being proclaimed, or to even notice a particular verse or line they missed due to the familiarity with that particular tune.
The original NIV translation was done in the 70’s with an update in 1984. And of course if you’re a regular on Bible Gateway, you know that the NIV also got a facelift in the last year as well.
Language subtly changes over time. That’s why watching those old black and white movies makes you think they either spoke so “eloquent” or so “weird” back then. American English has subtly changed over time. Read letters from the early 20th century, or 19th century. Very different use of words.
Music is a language. Even if the lyrics of some of these classic hymns don’t change much, the process of going from organ and choir to rock band is a major jump. What about a band that plays jazz. Or an acoustic folk band that features a hammered dulcimer?
The truth of the hymns does not change. If it helps us center our hears on Jesus, praise God for that unchanging nature. But if the musical language changes over considerable time, or from 2 months ago when you did a different arrangement in your church, the evolving musical language puts the old truth, in a new light for every believer to sing with freshness.
I am grateful for the new tunes that breathe fresh life into old standard hymns that rightly put forth the gospel. Look forward to listening!
Hello Bob Kauflin,
Before I give my 2 cents on re-making hymns, I’d really like to thank you for Worship Matters. I’m not doing this to chide you into giving me the CD’s, but your book seriously is such a huge blessing and encouragement; you called me out on certain incorrect mentalities towards worship/leading and gently guided me towards a more Biblical form of worship. Thanks a lot!
I’ve joked with certain people that the reasons why we re-make hymns are because fewer people are willing to play the hymns the way the hymns were written and to give other people, other than the pianist, something to play. On a more serious note, I think remaking hymns should more limited to adding choruses and/or adding instrumental melodies.
I love the richness and depth of the old hymn lyrics. Updating the melodies and arrangements really helps to introduce these songs to a new generation. I know for me personally, hearing and appreciating the updated versions made me want to search out the originals that much more. Sometimes I like the new versions, sometimes the old. Either way, they glorify God.
I think that updating hymns is important because most hymns, when written, were seemingly written with the instruments available at the time. Therefore, when we update them musically we can use all the instrumentation available to us.
New tunes to old hymns can help people refocus on the words as they “learn” the song again.
Timeless truths; timely tunes.
I find myself with a foot in the camp of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” to many of the choruses added to hymns. My main concern is that we are getting to the point where there are multiple choruses being used in evangelical churches for the same hymn, which takes the joy of the universality of the hymn away. Still, I absolutely love the fact that this generation of Christians (myself being 27 years old) is connecting to the fathers/mothers in the faith from the last few centuries through the lyrics that they penned.
I can see three aspects that could merit updating an “old standard” hymn.
1. The existing melody is hard to sing — either due to “jumps” in intervals from note to note, or the overall pitch being too high for the average congregation member to sing comfortably.
2. The language is archaic and does not communicate an otherwise valid message as clearly is it could with a minor re-write.
3. The hymn is so familiar that we sing it “on auto-pilot” and the message does not impact us as it should, or we fail to use it effectively to express our heart towards God.
Being a foreigner, hymns were new to me for many years. Therefore, at the beginning I did not know if I was singing an original or reworked version.
Now, after 15 years leading worship in the US, I can say that sometimes you cannot improve upon the original.
Having said that, I always remember “Truth transcends tunes” from Bob Kauflin. Therefore, I believe hymns and songs with strong truths will outlast tunes and therefore, it will be OK for somebody in the future to take a song from today and change the tune.
Therefore, I think, when it is done well and without taking away from the original, adding a chorus, another verse or even making the phrasing of words and/or chords more contemporary, really helps in making the hymns easier and more exciting to sing for our generation. Specially when you realize that many of these Hymns were written for organ and/or piano, in a time when drums, electric keyboards and guitars did not exist.
“Well, if it aint broke, don’t fix it.”
–“Yeah, but if we sing rote, we might miss it.”
So redo the hymns! and THINK! :)
Or sing new songs… but still THINK! :)
((World English Dictionary
rote 1 (rəʊt)
1. a habitual or mechanical routine or procedure ))
In the same way that minor remodeling or decorating changes can highlight the beauty of a house in a very new way, likewise with the melodies to which we sing hymns. These changes give us an opportunity to notice new nooks and crannies of the ancient lyrics which we might have previously ignored.
I think that old hymns being updated to more modern music is beneficial for three reasons:
1. Younger generations do not tend to always view older music as exciting or engaging. Whether or not their perspective is correct, bringing a fresher or more popular arrangement to a hymn provides all generations with a song they might have otherwise not sung or chosen to sing. With old hymns normally containing such wonderful truth, this can only be a grea thing!
2. I’ve personally enjoyed recent hymns being updated. I think one of the reasons is that if I am overly familiar with a
song, I can tend to miss the truth it contains. Bringing a fresh arrangement to any song can really aid God’s people in engaging with truth in a new music way.
3. Last, I think new arrangements of old hymns can be a tool for modern worship songwriters to learn how rich truth can be married with fresh musical arrangements. Often times, it seems modern worship songs might be lacking in the area of rich truth. Songs do not need to be, and should not be light and fluffy in order to promote fresh music and even popular music. Music is not an end, but a bridge or a medium through which God’s truth can be made available. Music is a tool through which truth is carried to the minds and hearts of God’s people. Re-arranging old hymns can be a way for future generations and older generations to learn that music and rich truth can and should go hand in hand.
It’s simple: melody is culture bound
So often what appropriately reflects emotional response to the truth in one culture won’t in another culture. That’s why we have 150 Psalms with no leadsheets attached.
Thanks for taking the time to review albums like this. There is far too much out there for the average person to keep up with. I personally like singing “new” hymns. I agree that the lyrics are usually very theologically strong, but the language can be out dated and hard to actually understand. The music however doesn’t always need to be changed. I think sometimes we can get so wrapped up in arrangements that we lose focus of the content of the song. New arrangements can be helpful and/or enjoyable, but I also think they can be distracting. Lets keep our focus on who we are worshiping and not be overly concerned with how!
I just want the free CD. Howbeit, I totally agree with re-writing melodies and re-working hymns. It’s almost like the hymn is sacred. Why don’t we insist preachers preach the same sermons that have always been preached or read from the pulpit Spurgeon’s sermons, etc. No, we expect and hope the preacher preaches the word of God unashamedly, but undoubtedly expect the preacher to be himself. Somehow, the music isn’t supposed to change. Interesting how we pick and choose what changes and what doesn’t.
Some hymns just have the perfect marriage of tune and text; Come Thou Fount, for example, or Holy Holy Holy (Lord God Almighty). But that usually takes time. It took the text of Amazing Grace over 100 years to find and settle into the perfect tune, which we now all know and love and can’t imagine any other way. So there is an incredible wealth of texts out there with only adequate music attached to them (which is part of why they are unknown to so many believers), and it is good and healthy for musicians to find new ways to express those great texts.
I think hymns need to be updated musically is because church have different instruments to be used during worship. Prehaps when the old hymn was first written, only a piano was used along with that hymn. We should never change the lyrics unless it goes against scrpiture but we can express on old song in a new way. As far as adding choruses like what Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman did to “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” I think it is good because we are adding to a song that express how we truly appreciate and understand the Cross.
Although the message of Christ should never change, sometimes the method of delivering that message needs to change as our society changes. The traditional (or original) way of the hymn – in spite of having Biblically sound lyrics – can be very boring. Giving an old hymn new appeal can meet the newer, or ‘contemporary’ preference of many of our newer and younger Christians. Eventually, as they mature in their walk with Christ, the ‘style’ will no longer matter to them, but if changing things up a bit brings them closer to Christ, then we are doing what we are called to do: Reach the lost!
I think updating hymns musically helps with the clarity and expressing of the hymns. Specifically, instrument-wise, I think the folding in of more instruments and their unique sounds help with highlighting certain portions of songs. And even if people don’t understand the portions that are being highlighted, they’ll at least wonder why the worship team started playing more excitedly when it came to that particular verse or refrain. And of course, the changing of words could help the people who may not regularly sing hymns and aren’t familiar with the traditional “hymn language”. But I guess a response to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, I think what contemporary worship leaders (er, lead worshipers?) are trying to do has nothing to do with “fixing” the hymns, but rather they’re just trying to make the hymns better. So that the hymns can better serve the congregation, or the youth group, or gathering of believers. And I don’t think that’s a problem. I would say just be okay with it and be willing to allow let people have this liberty.
Besides the idea of keeping things fresh, I think a key reason to update hymns (or any strong lyrical song for that matter) is to make the congregation remember what it is they are singing. When a melody becomes so familiar it is easy to just sing and not meditate on the words. Being familiar with a song is definitely good because it allows you to not have to worry about singing correctly but after awhile you can begin to sing out of routine. Because of how easy it is to space out when singing out of routine, I think updated melodies are very helpful. (It’ll even allow you to go back to the original melody after you have done the updated one a few times!)
Hymns like When I survey the wondrous cross, and Before the throne of God above have so much biblical truth and content to be lost or ignored. Updating them musically allows a new generation to rediscover these gems of truths that God gave the body through hymn writers like Isaac Watts.
Whoever was putting the words of a hymn to music (whether the lyracist themselves or someone else), obviously chooses the type of music that most appropriately portrays or expresses what the words are saying.
So for a hymn put to music for example in 1850, the one doing so would have chosen the type of music (style, rythm, feel, melody etc) that best portrays those hymn lyrics.
Now if that same hymn had new music written for it today, the person doing so would have a whole new range styles, genres, types etc. of music within their influence (that have been invented or discovered in the time since the hymn was written) which would affect music they write to match the words.
What I’m saying is that sometimes (not always) there is a particular type or style of music that better fits the lyrics of a hymn than the styles or types of music avaliable back then when a previous version of the music for it was written, so therefore better music for that hymn would be able to be composed now than before.
Another rather simple element to consider is that perhaps simply a better song could be written now by a different songwriter (perhaps a more technically skilled or gifted songwriter for example, but not even necessarily so). Often times old hymns who’s music has been played so often over decades or even centuries can recieve a new life when new music is written for it – the old hymn can often times reach out to scores more people (even often a new generation) with new music. It can give a hymn a new lease of life.
Just some thoughts
Rooting our generations to the those of our brothers and sisters who have gone before us. It helps teach us Protestants what we affirm in the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in the communion of saints…”
I think hymns can be updated musically because the “meat” of the song is in the lyrics. In my opinion, you can change the music/arrangement without changing the objective meaning of the hymn. Truth is truth regardless of what music playing in the background is.
I do think that changing or adding words/choruses has to be done extremely carefully. I have heard some hymns that have been updated in this way where the added lyrics fall into the style of modern CCM mushiness and it all but ruins the song. You end up with solid hymn truth punctuated with sloppy borderline-unorthodox words. It can really ruin everything.
There is one particular version of “Amazing Grace” I am thinking of where I can’t even sing the “updated” lyrics in good conscience and this just makes me depressed when I hear the song.
When the hymn was written, the melody was relevant at the time. Updating the music will help a whole new generation connect with the powerful lyrics.
Updating the music to an old hymn is not a matter of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” — no one is saying that the hymns are broken! In fact, the desire to revive what might be a lost hymn is a testimony to its un-brokenness! But, the hymns are here to serve the people of God, and it might only be that the best way for the eternal truths of a hymn to serve God’s people in our current context is to wrap them in a dressing that is pleasing and familiar to our ears.
I personally believe lyrics of hymns are simply beautiful.
Updating it musically draws the younger generation closer to these songs and to the words being sung.
I love old hymns updated I feel that many times those old hymns theologically are more sound than many of the music that is created today but but reworking the music to make use of more recent music style and techniques allows you to reach a new audience with those great old hymns of the past
We serve a creative God – who is also a God of diversity and variety – as spring approaches – we can look around and see so many different kinds of flowers and so many different colors of one kind of flower.
What I like most about this recording is it’s singability. So much music today is not really singable by the average believer in “the pew”… These are down to earth songs that express devotion to God…
I think its useful to update melodies so that this generation can ‘own’ the song and fully embrace it. Also there might be more of a barrier to the heart of the song when someone hears a traditional hymn.
I think it’s important to update hymns because music draws our attention! And if the music is not updated, or well preformed, then maybe we won’t be paying attention to what the song actually expresses!! So, updating the music is a great idea when it comes to hyms, cause they already have WONDERFUL lyrics, and most important: they’re biblical!
Tunes serve the texts of songs. Old tunes many times certainly are not “broke.” However, new tunes can often serve us by freshly opening up the texts of the songs to our minds and hearts.
They need to be updated musically for younger generations to relate to. They will be more open to accepting the old hymns if they’re in a style they relate to. Also changing old hymns musically makes all of us get out of our traditional mold and recognize it’s about the truths that the lyrics articulate rather than the tune that accompanies them.
…because after repeated exposure to a song, the power of the message is lost and only an emotional attachment to the song is retained. Basically, we stop thinking about the message and are only responding to the memories of the song. New tunes or new arrangements can bring back the freshness.
Our hope should be those who sing the hymns are drawn into the truths in the lyrics and to the God they are about.
I might say something like, “Imagine if all of our church music had remained in the style of liturgical chant. Would you or those in your generation have connected with the message of the songs as strongly as you have with the hymns you have come to love? (I think most would answer ‘no’) The same is true for this generation. The music of hymns has come to be very familiar and comfortable, yet still powerful, for those who have been raised on them. But for those who have not grown up with them, hymn music is rather foreign and may even be a hindrance for a newer generation to connect with the message.”
Another thought I had is that some hymns match their lyrics better than other hymns. One example of a good match in my opinion is the music that accompanies the phrase Hallelujah! What a Savior (in the song of the same name). Each verse ends with those lyrics where the music peaks dynamically and melodically. I think some hymns could be improved in those regards.
Setting an old hymn to new music can bring a fresh perspective to theologically solid lyrics that have become covered with the dust of years with old melodies. For example, when Stuart Townend does the Cowper hymn “O For A Closer Walk With God,” it hits me with a force that the original doesn’t. Same goes for David Crowder’s version of Wesley’s “O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing.”
For me, new tunes often open my eyes to phrases and concepts in a hymn which I had never considered before. They give a glimpse into eternity as styles from every tribe and tongue and nation are used to proclaim the same glorious truth. No single tune can contain the breadth and magnitude of gospel truth. All our creativity must be brought into service of the King.
I don’t think old hymns need to be “upgraded,” but it’s nice to have them remixed. If the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection has really sunk into the human heart, it doesn’t matter what the musical style is. I appreciate singing the hymn both ways.
Hymns need to be musically updated for several reasons. First is the importance of the words. Often hymns are littered with scripture and powerful soul wrenching lyrics. Often hymns declare the glory of God in a way some modern songs do not.
Second is because when we sing those hymns we join in with the choir of saints who have come before us and have found those songs to profoundly impact their lives. There is something very cool about musically worshipping God to the same song Christians throughout the ages have also sang.
Third, to see a revitalization of the hymns. Often people dont like to sing the hymns because they cant get past the archaic way they have been traditionally sung. Updating the hymns puts a new musical spin to them and makes them more attractive for singing. Not to mention it makes a pretty good CD!
I love hymns.
I think it can be helpful to update hymns because, although the truth is timeless and transcends all cultures and styles, melodies do not. Truth is truth no matter how it is packaged; but melodies represent different styles of music and have different associations. Sometimes changing a melody is helpful to make it work with a different instrumental set up or to reflect a different mood or to engage with a certain culture, etc. The important thing is getting the truth right.
Updating hymns allows the singer to see the theologically deep songs in a refreshing way. This helps them pay attention to the lyrics more than they would singing the traditional melody in the same way. I think it promotes worship.
Leading at a more traditional congregation does not often lend to changing melodies and lyrics. However, this has become an area of personal worship and a joy in attempting to create melodies and arrangements that can communicate timeless truths in timely manner. Zach Sprowls comment above is excellent and I wholeheartedly agree with him. Having people sing songs like “God Moves” that would never sing the original hymn is a way to magnify God and make Him bigger for a different generation.
In hymns, you find the best and the worst. Some of the most memorable tunes are hymn tunes. Unfortunately, that memorable music is foiled by hymn tunes that never quite worked.
Just like the lyrics, the music of a hymn needs to be evaluated before it is sung. Does it fit the text? Is it distracting in its complexity? Is it irritating in its redundancy? Is it singable?
Not all hymn tunes pass this test. That’s why I’m grateful for people who compose new music thoughtfully, allowing us to pass along the theology and beauty of the text when a tune doesn’t necessarily merit being remembered.
Of course, this is definitely not always the case with hymns. Many hymns are timeless, and redoing them is unnecessary. To redo or not to redo must always be a matter of prayer and taste.
There are some hymns that have just been lost but their lyrics are great, so putting fresh music to is for our current generation is a way to get folks hooked on hymns…
Setting hymns and psalms to different music is nothing new. Christian hymnody has a long tradition of setting texts to new tunes. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it :-)
If the goal of congregational singing is to use music to affectionately exalt in the truth of Jesus Christ, then I think it makes a lot of sense that worship music (including hymns) needs to be updated over time.
If you would take a survey of me, my father, and my grandfather (or in the case of some hymns, my great great grandfather) and ask what music affects us the most, we would answer very differently. That’s because, to a very large degree, the way our affections are stirred by music is subjective. Just look through the genre list at Amazon—lots of different people are affected very differently by different types of music.
In contrast, the truth about the Gospel never changes, no matter how much time passes or what cultural divides you cross. And so it makes sense that the objective message in the lyrics can be very successfully put to (subjectively) more engaging music for today’s culture of worshipers.
I would ask the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” crowd if they really think the original music for many of these hymns has the same affect on us today as it did the original singers. Music (and the way we engage music as a culture) has changed so much in 20 years (let alone 200 years), that I think a lot of these tunes, while lyrically sound, are musically “broken” because of the subjective relationship between music and the affections.
I’m not trashing the hymns—I love them. I want people to sing them with the same vigor and passion as the original worshipers did decades or centuries ago. That tradition of heart-felt, passionate, lose-everything-for-His-sake worship of Jesus Christ is so much more important to me than the tradition of melody and four part harmony, which for many (though certainly not for all) produces yawning instead of exalting.
I was raised in a pretty traditional (musically) church where we sang predominately hymns and the music always seemed so old and out of touch. So much so i never really listened to the words. Most of this was my own unregenerate heart. After coming to Christ modern praise and worship dominated my musical tastes. I had a very arrogant attitude toward hymns until i noticed many of the praise songs seemed to say the same thing. As i grew deeper theologically it seemed the songs i was singing were a little shallow. Then i discovered Indelible Grace. This was a breathe of fresh air. I have dived into the richness of hymns with the enjoyment of modern melodies.
As a worship leader in a small church who has mostly youth as band members i have seen these new melodies tear down walls so they can listen to the words and worship to the richness of the texts. It is amazing to watch these young people worship with songs like “Jesus I My Cross Have Taken”, “What a Savior” and “Arise My Soul Arise”. I wish this movement had been around when i was a youth.
It’s been encouraging to read through the comments here! I don’t think that all hymns need an automatic rewrite of tune, but I think it is a helpful way to connect truth to modern hearts who are stirred by different types of music. Guide Me O Great Jehovah was rewritten with different music by Indelible Grace and the song has been a great blessing to me as I walk by faith in these days. The original tune did not convey the lyrics to me in as clear a way as the new. This in my opinion is the main benefit of updating tunes to old hymns.
I think the melodies to the old hymns are often awkward and distracting. Modern music isn’t so “rigid” rhythmically – so it’s harder to sing hymns that are. It’s hard to articulate or define what I mean without sounding wishy-washy, I’m afraid! Worship should be thoughtful, for sure. But with hymns for me, often it’s *only* cerebral. When the music is more fluid, not so stilted, it’s easier to reflect more deeply on the words and engage my heart/emotions, somehow.
As a worship leader I find that one of my main struggles is connecting the music with both the older and younger generations. The older generation loves the classic, traditional hymns and the younger generation has nothing against hymns, but they struggle to be moved by the traditional music style.
As a response to this struggle, the younger generation tends to shun the older hymns because of the style of music that accompanies them.
I love it when new tunes are given to the old lyrics because it connects those great old texts with the younger generation. If we did not utilize newer tunes and apply them to the older texts I fear that we would produce a generation that has no respect at all for the spirituality and theology of the saints who have gone before us.
I’ve been a huge fan of rewriting and rearranging hymns for each generation, but it’s not only for the sake of outdated or distracting tunes.
I remember a day when a friend sat on our couch listening to Fernando Ortega’s Hymns and Meditations while going through a very difficult time. She suddenly burst into tears while listening to an instrumental of “Just As I Am.” She looked at us and said, “I’ve never really heard the words of this song before until now.” This is especially poignant when you consider that she had probably played and sung the song a hundred times as an accomplished church pianist.
Sometimes, the familiarity of a tune gets in the way of the text. We are lulled into the friendly harmonies and we let the words pass by, as if they merely carry the melody from verse to chorus. A new tune, even more than a new arrangement, can force us to reaquaint ourselves with the words that have disappeared into the rhythms of a familiar tune.
One of my favorite examples of a totally unnecessary new tune for a hymn is “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood” from Red Mountain Music. It is unnecessary because the the hymn tune is still fresh, memorable, and it serves the text well. However, it forced me to reexamine the words in a very helpful way. Plus, it is excellent. The goal wasn’t to squeeze out a tune over four chords, but to write a beautiful and singable tune that illuminates the text.
I appreciate the depths of the old hymns. Updating the styles of the hymns makes them more appealing to the current generation musically thereby giving them exposure to the truths they contain. This must be done carefully as modern styles sometimes tend to make the words harder to understand.
Music is merely the vehicle for the words we sing and therefore one of the primary purposes of music is to enable God’s people to engage with His word. To achieve this the music should not distract but rather engage and invite listeners to the words.
If people are mostly listening to popular secular rock music then this would be a natural vehicle for God’s word to those same people.
Having said all that we must always make sure that in all that we do musically we do not create a stumbling block for our brothers and sisters.
Applying a new tune to and old hymn can be like taking a great painting into a different light. You may see things you had never seen before, even though they were always there.
After gaining a new appreciation for an old song with a new tune I have at times come to love an old arrangement too, such as “And can it be”.
What is so helpful about music is the freedom we have with it. God didn’t preserve melodies for the Psalms, He only left us God exalting lyrics. When we change the melodies or lyrics for any given song, it is not because it is necessarily “broken” (an entirely relative term anyways), it is not because we think we are better than the original composer, it is because we desire the people of God to be able to experience and understand something else we find helpful for their worship. What a joy it is to be able to take a skillfully written hymn about the cross and add a chorus about responding to the Gospel! To take a hymn that lifts high a characteristic of God and add a verse that helps us focus on our need for God to make us more like Himself!
Regarding melodic changes, I think it can be argued that melodies are not always timeless (see above statement about the lack of sheet music for the Psalms). If a different melody to a given song helps us to more passionately worship the Savior, I hope the original authors of the song would rejoice! That they would be joyfully humbled that something they wrote is being used to glorify God among the people of God.
Changing lyrics and melodies to songs are only as helpful and edifying as it helps us to more deeply engage God with the truth of the lyrics we are singing about.
Some hymns are chocked full of rich truths about God’s character, Jesus’ saving work, and our redemption. However, the accompanying music move worshipers through the words so quickly that they do not have a chance to process and personalize what they are declaring. They are rushed from one verse to the next (and the next and the next and the next…) while still trying to figure out which Ebenezer they are suppose to be raising and why.
The structure of worship songs should provide the proper space for worshipers to digest what they are singing, providing more opportunity for wholehearted worship. When I rearrange hymns, I create “space” by adding a chorus that summarizes the call of the song, make sure the arrangement allows for a musical gap of one or two bars between verses, or even change the meter/rhythm of the song.
This same principle applies to preaching, teaching and small group leadership– you must give the audience space to take in what God is speaking to them (or what they are speaking to God). In preaching, if you present point after point without any expounding or contextualizing, people can get lost and at worst stop listening. If there is no space in worship songs, worshipers can get lost in the sea of words and not offer God the wholehearted worship He deserves and desires.
As worship leaders, our responsibility is to shepherd our church through corporate worship experiences. The structures of the songs we present can either hinder or help that goal.
You can hear samples of the hymns I have rewritten here:
It’s important to update hymns because it can help to bridge a generation gap in our churches. The older generation will appreciate singing hymns and not forgetting the past and the younger generation will appreciate a contemporary style that is more of the present.
I also think it’s important for flow. Oftentimes it seems abrupt and awkward to go from a contemporary song into a traditional hymn. Updating hymns aids this transition.
Hymns are so valuable – so rich in theology. We don’t want to lose that but we want to do them in a way that is in step with the style of our own church and the vision our of worship ministry.
Often times, the hymn music doesn’t match the feeling of the words. New tunes can help us keep these songs fresh and accurate to our feelings.
Also, many of the tunes sound good on a piano or organ but not so much on modern instruments. As a intermediate guitarist attempting to lead hymns on a guitar every sunday, it is difficult to find user friendly chords for many of the hymns that don’t rely on complex chord changes and alternate fingerings.
Quite simply, because it was all about the words all along anyway, so putting those great words to music that isn’t 100 years old just makes sense.
Simply Put: They will sound better to those listening.
Music changes with time so when you can preserve amazing lyrics by adjusting how the music is played it is great thing.
Resetting old texts to newer tunes is something that has been going on for a long time. The tunes we associate with those old hymns were once new tunes being used to “refresh” them, and they’ve just lasted for this long.
I think it’s very important and helpful to create new tunes for old texts because it makes people stop and think about the words. These texts are so rich and powerful, but how often do we go into “auto-pilot” and not really think about what we’re saying? Also, as mentioned in previous comments, using music to convey the message of the text is crucial and can make the hymn have an even more lasting effect.
I hope I win a copy; what a great recording! Thanks for doing this!
It’s appropriate to update a hymn’s melody and lyrics for several reasons. First, popular music changes over time. What once was mainstream now sounds foreign. Modern melodies make a hymn more accessible to a larger audience. Second, language changes over time as well. It’s possible to replace many older words such as thee, thou, and thine with you and your without changing the meaning of the song. Third, current songwriters understand the zeitgeist of our modern world, which allows them to apply the timeless truths contained in hymns to issues facing the church today. The new choruses to Chris Tomlin’s “Amazing Grace” and Kristian Stanfill’s “Jesus Paid It All” exemplify this by pointing out Christ’s debt paying death on our behalf, a theme that stands in stark contrast to the recent attacks on penal substitution.
In this age, it can be good, especially for the younger generation, for songs to be given a more modern sound, while keeping the same saving truth that the hymns give. That doesn’t mean we try to become seeker friendly, but it can help when dealing with rebellious kids who want to break away from “old” sounding hymns to new “hip” music.
One of my favorite bands is Page CXVI and all they do is change the musical structure of hymns. For me it’s a new way to engage my emotions in the same gospel truth. We want music to complement the words of the song. Since we are singing exciting news, we want to sing to music that is exciting.
For me personally, updated (but not distracting) music for old familiar lyrics helps me to connect not only on an intellectual level with the words, but also on an emotional one.
The gospel is the same through the ages, however we contextualize it in every age.
The gospel was proclaimed through hymns in ages past, however we now contextualize them in this age and call on our children to follow us in ages to come.
I like the practice of setting old texts to new music because it illustrates the timeless truth of scripture and the timeless God it speaks of. Music is subject to time and trends but strong biblical truths are able to transcend time and trend because the represent the God that does not chance with the shifting shadows.
I look at it this way… The timeless truths of God are like fine wine. The music is like the vessel that carries the wine. Vessel and wine are not one and the same. Sure the vessel can have some level of inherent value but the reality is, its true value rests in the wine it carries.
Setting old texts to new music (or arrangements) is a fantastic way to celebrate the depth and breadth of the ANCHENT Of Days. Its a great way of bridging the generation gap to bring God’s children together. Because young and old everyone of God’s children are relevant to Jesus.
I use revamped hymns every week in worship. I have always rewritten a few myself… Here are some links if you care to check them out.
I TO THE HILLS
I WILL GLORY IN THE CROSS (see the last two links)
As much as I hate to admit it (I revel in the D’s and E’s of hymns and find many contemporary songs uncomfortably low), the reality is that “normal” singing range has shifted downward over time. You hear this in contemporary music. You see it in contemporary worship songs. In the past the congregation was more comfortable singing in parts so if you could not reach the high notes of the melody, you could drop down to alto (or tenor or bass). By putting hymn lyrics to new melodies you can make the hymn more singable for the contemporary church-goer while maintaining the deep truths for which hymns are so well known.
I am not a big fan of small tweaks to the well-known melodies. It is distracting and hard to relearn the small changes to something well-ingrained into one’s muscle-memory. But new melodies that complement the lyrics can bring new life to the hymns so that they can continue to bless and build up the current generation of Christians.
Updated hymns allow timeless lyrics to be joined in more modern styles and better serve congregants in engaging in worship because the melodies are more relatable and enjoyable. New music to old lyrics also adds a freshness and revitalization that can allow the truths to be appreciated in new and different ways.
I love old hymns, but I definitely have not always felt that way. One of the biggest things that has played a part in my growing appreciation for hymn texts is the project Indelible Grace… and it seems to be growing in popularity among other groups. There are some classics that I would not touch, but I think the message of most hymns is exemplified by new arrangement. It’s a way of making music culturally relevant without sacrificing the depth of meaning. And I also appreciate being able to jam to something that my Grandma sang in church many years ago.
Updating the melodic and harmonic structure of a hymn is a means of connecting saints in the past with saints in the present. There is very little that we have in common with Isaac Watts or William Cowper in the way of daily life. If they had written songs about the wonders of modern conveniences in their lifetimes, we would never have heard of them. Instead, we have a means of connection that is worth repeating again and again because they wrote about the cross of Christ. Those who set Watts’ and Cowper’s lyrics to music employed the music of their day, and the instrumentation that was popular. We are seeking to honor these heroes of the faith, affirm the same truths that they cherished and connect our faith with those who have gone before us by taking their work and setting it to music that makes sense to our ears, and employing the instrumentation of our day.
For younger folks like me – it’s good to hear “where we’ve been” and hear the great truths our fathers/grandfathers discovered and wrote down in hymns. Updating the melodies and making new recordings of these hymns with modern technology and voicings can help highlight words we had not noticed before.
Bob, it is critical that we update hymns so that the doctrinal truth that lives there is not lost to the next generation. I have used some SG versions of hymns and had kids at church ask what this great new song is! I reply, “It’s from 1750! We must pass the torch of doctrine on to our young believers. It is part of the biblical mandate of older teaching younger in the faith. Thanks! Paul
It’s important for us to keep the sanctity of hymns because its the core of our Church music. Like Paul was to the early church, or Elvis to rock-n-roll, so is hymnody to worship music.
We need the hymns and we need to keep them fresh. We need to adapt the importance and the theology of the hymns to culture and make sure they stay a vital part of Church music.
Now, gimmie that awesome CD!
I won’t be saying anything that anyone hasn’t said already, but the doctrine in most hymns is so spot on. The only thing about some of the hymns is that now the music and melodies they were written too can actually become a somewhat of a distraction to the message they bring.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that the music isn’t good, but it’s not modern. What happens when old hymns are rewritten for modern times is that the beauty of the words is actually brought to the light through the music and melodies. These modern melodies and musical styles resonate more clearly with people and they are able to more easily sing along.
Without question David Potter does an outstanding job of merging the beauty of the lyrics in the hymns with melodies that work today. Each of his tunes capture the depth of the and beauty of the gospel…and the tunes they are laid over are easy to grasp and sing along with.
I love the album.
As nostalgic as some older spiritual songs are, their worth is found primarily lyrically but not melodically. Many melodies simply don’t fit the text.
Take “And Can It Be” for instance. I find that hymnbook melody terrible. It is plodding, march-like and even martial in tone. Not what I feel when I think of God’s mercy to me a filthy wretch.
When GLAD released an a Capella album about 20 years ago the song was arranged beautifully matching those poignant old lyrics to a thoughtful melodic line.
That is just one example of many. Sometimes it’s best not to leave “good enough” alone.
I see hymns as a great truth/theology delivery system. Since many of the hymns of old were written to old pub tunes and children’s songs, I don’t see any issue with updating the melodies when it is tasteful and appropriate. If a hymn can be packaged musically so that it is easier for the next generation to learn the lyrics, then I say go for it.
I wrote on the subject of updating hymns and why they’re just as important in today’s church as they have always been.
I wonder if somebody has already said this.
The reason why I think it is great to still rearrange the melody of a hymn, and yet still sing them at this age and time; is because it helps me remember that it is not the melody of the song that is causing me to worship God, but the lyrics that have been written, that cause for me to respond in worship.
In hymns, we see songs tested through time that still hold to the gospel, with clarity and beautiful eloquence.
The old hymns were written to point us to God and to honor and worship HIM. Why not take advantage of them as a “tool” to point the younger generation to God by changing the music a little? I think the words should remain the same, but I don’t see a problem with changing the arrangement a little.
Just found your blog – you have a new follower for sure!
I though I would weigh in even though the drawing is over.
Hymns provide a generational unity within churches. However, we are not called to be stagnant in our approach to how we worship and give glory to our God. We are called to “sing a new song” (Psalm 33) and that also we all have a time for everything (Ecc 3). I believe this also relates to the music we prepare week to week. We are in this day and age for a specific reason, and we are to live within that appointment.
Because of this, we should strive to not fall behind in terms of our appointed place, including our music. The phrase “we’ve always done it that way” is can be very dangerous.
Re-imagining hymns keeps them from becoming simply habitual or comfortable within a worship setting. We have all seen youth that do not connect to a traditional piano-led hymn, as well as older generations that disengage in times of a contemporary song.
Another element I think we as a body must keep in mind are those outside the church that visit us. I have had people say “wow, I didn’t know church could have electric guitar and drums!” People like that are instantly more engaged in the music, and often more likely to actually listen to the lyrical content.
Recently, our worship team led “There is a Fountain.” (The hymn). We had no piano, but had a full band with electric guitar, with huge dynamic (think Third Day). People for the last few weeks (mostly middle aged and youth) have come up asking, “where can I get that song?”, “is that on the radio?”. Some were stunned to learn it was a hymn!
Can every hymn be re-worked to fit a contemporary sound? Probably not. But many, many hymns can be revised (sometimes even only instrumentation) to create a song that reaches every generation. God has called us to unify-this is a great way to unify musically.
I engage with music that I like and is familiar. I would even be for reusing melodies from other popular songs, aside from copyright issues :-/
I would love to win this
I like updated hymns just for the simple fact that some of the traditional hymn melodies are very difficult for people to sing. Not everyone has a voice with a big vocal range. I do however like the updates to stay fairly close to the traditional melody so people who know the hymn ar not totally lost with the new arrangement. In other words I guess I like it when the update is more of a simplified version of the classic! :)