Thursday, July 05, 2007

Baz Luhrman and hymns

What has Baz Luhrman got to do with hymns, you might ask? Good question.

I've been doing a lot of posting lately about modernizing old hymns - same lyrics and tunes, just modernized arrangements. I was listening to one of the Mars Hill recordings of All Creatures of Our God and King, and noticed the lyrics "Thou rushing wind that art so strong". What an old fashioned way to speak. Many of the hymns are like this - with smatterings of King James English and plenty of "thees" and "thous".

What do we do with these when trying to modernize the hymn?

This is where the old Baz comes in. Have you seen his version of Romeo + Juliet? Brilliant movie. The whole thing is spoken in Elizabethan English, just as per Shakespeare's original script. Baz has taken the raw product, and given it a thoroughly modern facelift but without changing the underlying story or words. The result is a work of pure artistic genius. There's no doubting this is a modern film, but there's also no doubting it's Shakespeare's original words. The viewer barely flinches when the characters speak in language from 400 years ago.

Same thing with hymns. Keep the tune, keep the lyrics, but give it a modern facelift. If you can carry it off like Baz did, then you'll have a distinctly modern feel, but with language that reminds you that the writers of these hymns lived in another era, but still worshipped the same God and Saviour we worship today, the same God and Saviour that has been worshipped down the ages.

There's something enriching about listening to Shakespeare and his other worldly language. And I think there's also something enriching about singing these old hymns with their language from another time. Change the words too much, and you risk changing the rich poetry of those hymns. And remember, it is only the odd word here and there - it's not like we're trying to sing in Latin!

Perhaps sometimes there's a bit of a cultural gap that results, but that's where the modern arrangement comes in - to bridge that gap and give a modern edge that is relevant to today's times, while retaining the rich heritage left by our forebears.


Guthers said...

great analogy! I'm all for it

Owls said...

Had a listen. Like Be Thou My Vision a lot. But When I Survey was appalling -- tacky and affected. If you ever do it like that I'll never... well okay I will forgive you, but only after you repent...

Mattt said...

Baz did a great job on that one. I think to pull something like those songs you need a very gifted music team.

Andy M said...

Thanks for your comment mattt. Yes you're right, you need a pretty darn good band to pull that exact sound off. But I still think for the more amateur church band (such as mine) it is possible to make things sound a lot better by following the same kind of principles that Mars Hill do - i.e. taking a hymn and doing a simple modern arrangement that is guitar friendly, rather than pipe organ friendly. I've been trying it in my church and it's been working - people seem to have liked the fresh take on old hymns. We don't have a fancy band by any means, and very few instruments, but manage to pull off a half decent sound.

Justin S said...

Here is a version of the Doxology that one our bands arranged.

we use lots of scripture and old hymns in our songs as well as write original lyrics.

Andy M said...

Thanks Justin. Yes, I'm aware of Mars Hill's use of old hymns and I've done a few posts on it. I've got a heap of them on my iPod and am really enjoying listening to them.

Are you involved with the music team at Mars Hill?

Justin S said...

No I am the campus administrator for our Mars Hill | Shoreline Campus - about 15 minutes north of our large Ballard campus.

The Northern Conpsiracy is our main band - "The Doxology".

I administrate our Shoreline blog - so I found yours through your comment on paedo-baptism.

I am amazed at how many people in Australia follow the ministries at Mars Hill - It would definitely seem that the great majority of non-US visitors to the VoxPop network are Australian.

Andy M said...

That's interesting that there's so many Aussies following Mars Hill's ministries.

I suspect it might be because, at least when it comes to Anglicans in Sydney, there is a lot that is shared with Mars Hill in terms of reformed gospel-centred theology.

Personally, I haven't had a chance to listen to any of Mark Driscoll's sermons yet, but others rave about him. I'm just really enjoying the Mars Hill music at the moment.