Monthly archives "January 2019"

TAO July 2015–Embracing God’s New Songs


I love the Psalms, don’t you? From Alpha to Omega, it has been and will always be the repository of our heritage as sacred music makers, a font of inspiration, the measure for all our creative endeavors. One of my favorites is Psalm 96, “Sing a new song unto the Lord.” Here is the promise of something new and fresh for our lives; here is our community bubbling with excitement; here is hope for the future bottled like a new vintage wine. “Sing a NEW song”– do we mean it, really?
In the past decades, we organists have to come to realize the price we might have to pay for singing Psalm 96. Frankly, we are not comfortable with the way some of us have been marginalized to make room for the new songs that Contemporary Christian Music has brought into the palette of worship resources. David Music’s April essay, “What’s Wrong with Christian Contemporary Music?” effectively neutralized most of the arguments against its use in worship. More importantly, he has built a positive case for its inclusion and provided some common-sense guidelines. Clearly, CCM is the biggest musical wave of creativity in the American church today. What do you think of his statement, “As a genre, contemporary Christian music has value for the church and contributions to make for its betterment?”
I would like to present an even more compelling reason for including CCM in your congregation’s worship repertory. We need to sing these new songs, because it is the music of the very people we want to make a home for in our churches. CCM is the music of the next generation, and the next generation needs to hear their music as much as we need to sing the traditional hymns we grew up with. It is a matter of pastoral concern that we seek ways to engage our children and grandchildren by meeting them half way. Home is where the heart is, and music is a direct pathway to the heart. So, why not sing those new songs, and play them heartily?
Rather than allowing the organ to be marginalized, I recommend exploring this music as a great way to make friends for the organ! Let’s play a prelude that welcomes new generations to church with songs they can hum. Alas, the organ faces a dilemma in gaining access to this literature. Clearly, our publishers are at least ten years behind the curve, so let’s see what is available, and then figure out some solutions to fill the gap. Lyndell Leatherman’s Hymns for Praise and Worship (Lorenz 70/1882L) is a nice, simple volume that offers several of the best-known Getty/Townend and Michael W. Smith hymns along with an effective “Here I Am to Worship.” These are tunes that easily translate into both languages of our parallel worship universes.
One tried and true strategy for keeping everyone engaged is to blend a traditional hymn with a contemporary song. Ron Sprunger’s Organ Praise and Worship (Lillenas 978083417176) offers some nice combinations that include slightly older selections such as “As the Deer,” “A New Day Dawns,” and “God is So Good.” So does Peggy Bettcher’s Praise and Worship for Organ (Hope 8131). There are varieties of mixed medleys available in Praise Organist, Vols. 1 & 2 (Word 806089423383) as arranged by Don Wyrtzen.
As you travel back in time, it becomes easier to find organ arrangements. I have found these volumes to be very useful both in morning worship and for memorial service requests: Douglas Wagner’s Sing a New Song (Hope 8022675), Seek Ye First (Hope 3236094), and Songs of Praise (Hope 8226), as well as John Carter’s two volumes of Today’s Hymns and Songs for Organ (Hope 5798764 and 8260). These are the tunes from the generation that saw “On Eagles’ Wings,” “Seek Ye First,” “Be Not Afraid,” “Shout to the Lord,” and “Lamb of God” move into the sanctuary.
It might be necessary to resort to some alternative strategies if you want to get closer to the contemporary music that is relevant today. For instance, piano arrangements of new songs come out much earlier than organ versions. A good arrangement is a good arrangement, so find a simple one in the piano literature, highlight the bass notes you want to play, simplify the accompaniment figures, straighten out some of those rhythms, and choose a couple of colorful solo stops for the melodies. 25 Top Praise and Worship Songs, Vols 1-5, arranged by Carol Tornquist (Word 806089461385), is filled with the songs you need to know if you are going to be in the know about now. A little earlier literature is available in her series, Sunday Morning Blend: Keepsake Edition (Word 080689437380), which follows the pattern of blending a traditional hymn with a praise song. Today’s big name artists are Matt Redman and Chris Tomlin. Both are well represented in The Heart of Worship, arranged by Bill Wolaver (Word 080689436383). Here are “How Great is Our God,” “Blessed Be Your Name,” and “Forever.” A couple more volumes for you to investigate are Praise…Light Jazz-Style by Teresa Wilhelmi (Word 080689381386) and Contemporary Praise, arr. Mark Kellner (Lillenas 9780834172128).
Adapting piano arrangements still doesn’t really solve the problem of keeping up to date with CCM’s top title songs. If you really want to find what the “Rockin’ Church” is up to this very minute, you need to go to one of the sources, such as web-based music service, There, you will find arrangements for just about anything your contemporary worship leader can name. Not everything will work, of course. Choose carefully to avoid heavily syncopated tunes that even contemporary congregations stumble over. I have learned to listen for “proper” music style before adapting them to the organ, and I make sure the congregation knows the song before I program it as a part of the prelude.
I confess that I am the first to be critical of this music, yet some of the songs have won me over. More lovely songs as “10,000 Reasons” and “Untitled Hymn (Come to Jesus)” cannot be found; our traditional congregation loves them. My young worship team, Luke Graham (contemporary) and Liz Virkler (traditional), works closely to craft meaningful blended combinations, which they call “mash ups.” Try “Lord, I Need You” followed by “I Need Thee Every Hour,” “Here I Am to Worship” with “O Worship the King,” “We Fall Down” with “Holy, Holy, Holy” and “Man of Sorrows” with “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” We have found some single songs with crossover appeal: “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us,” “I Lift My Eyes Up (Psalm 121),” “Jesus Paid it All,” and “In Christ Alone.” New literature is going to take time to grow on us, and we don’t always know which ones are the classics of tomorrow. We need to give them a chance.
Being faithful to Psalm 96’s encouragement for us to sing new songs unto the Lord means giving up some control to the inspiration of the Spirit. Reggie Kidd’s book, With One Voice (Baker Books) reminds us that there are musics in the church for everyone: Bach for classics lovers, trend-conscious music for the Blues Brothers crowd, and even simple folk music for those Kidd identifies as his just-folks, “Bubba’s.” Here is my best advice: be responsive to the needs of the church body and work to keep the organ engaged in worship, regardless of musical style. And finally, sing those new songs the Lord is sending your way with all the verve you put into your postludes. If you do, maybe someone new will listen to them!