This week we will be meeting together once again to worship our great God. Like I wrote about in last week’s blog, we will be meeting together to feast and we will consider once again how to stir up one another to love and good works. As we prepare to do that this week I would like to discuss something that has become a bit of a renewed trend with worship music. It’s something that I believe is a very good thing. I am talking about the practice of taking familiar hymn texts and setting them to different hymn tunes.
To discuss this, we should first discuss the idea of having certain texts that are “married” to certain tunes. This is a fairly recent phenomena in the grand scheme of church hymn writing. Prior to the late 19th century, hymn texts were almost always written apart from hymn tunes. Hymn writers would write their hymns using poetic meter. These metered poems could then be set to many different hymn tunes, which fit the same metric pattern. Most churches during this time would have a number of different hymn tunes memorized and their hymn books would simply contain the words to many different hymns. The pastors and musicians would choose which hymn tunes to sing the selected hymns for worship to on any given worship service.
While this may seem very odd to many of us who live in this modern information age, there were many good things about this model. One of the great things would be the possibility of being able to sing one hymn to different hymn tune settings. You could take an amazing hymn such as Amazing Grace or And Can It Be and experience the powerful words in different ways. It would be sort of like viewing a diamond from different angles. Depending on the way the melodies and harmonies were written you could experience emphasis and stress on different words and syllables. This would help the people of the church to experience these hymns in different ways and deepen their understanding of the great biblical truths contained within the text.
For a while now we have seen a movement of many musicians in the church music world taking older hymns and setting them to new hymn tunes. I think this is very good thing and it has the ability to help draw our hearts to greater understanding of the truths of who God is. It helps us to experience hymns that are rooted in the history of the church and connect us with the saints of the past in new ways. You may have noticed that we have sung some of these songs at Grace. This Sunday we will be introducing a new setting of a song that is based on the familiar hymn How Firm a Foundation. You may remember the choir singing this song last year.