Friday, June 15, 2007

On hymnody

Some more thoughts on church and music, this time on hymns:

1. I've always loved hymns. How good is it to bellow out an old Charles Welsey song? Some of these hymn writers of old wrote such gold, words so rich and deep and true and soaked in scripture, wonderful words pointing to a Wonderful Saviour. And accompanied by such soaring tunes, how could you not want to sing them?

2. Yet, since I've started choosing music at church this year, I seem to have avoided hymns for some reason. And I think it's because I've realised that culturally, hymns can grate somewhat. They can have a thumping, sometimes staid sound to them, even the brighter ones.

3. Further, traditional hymn arrangements were written for organs. They kind of work when just played on piano, though even then can have a thumping sound that is slightly jarring, but when you're trying to develop a small contemporary band where guitars have greater prominence, the hymns just don't work. There is the tedium of the chord changing for nearly every note, every strum, each syl-la-ble-of-the-song. It's not the natural way a guitar is played, so winds up sounding weird.

4. The answer? Keep the tune, keep the lyrics, but work up a new arrangement. Not a completely new tune as is common (and often works well). No, this is much easier. Just smooth out the chords. One chord per bar, two at most. Maybe have four bars where the bass note is kept constant. Change a couple of the chords from the original arrangement to give it a slightly different sound - make it a similar chord, but different nonetheless - B minor instead of G major, for example.

5. The result. Great lyrics, great tune. No need to teach a new song, but you have breathed new life into an old song. The guitar can play it and it sounds natural. The changed chords give a few little suprises that keep it sounding interesting. The bass can play along without having to play every note. The piano can muck around with the chords, without having to sound like it's thumping. The congregation is hopefully uplifted having sung great words of praise to God without it feeling tiresome to do so. And the visitor who already finds singing in public to be a little weird, at least finds that the music sounds half decent and not trapped in some cultural time warp.

I'm trying it this coming Sunday with a new arrangement I've penned this evening for "The Church's One Foundation". Will keep you posted as to how it goes.

1 comment:

Nixter said...

I love old hymns, I went to a Brethren church last week and we sang some I haven't sang in a long time - it was great!