From The Archives: Part Of The Formula For Good Hymn-Writing

This post is from 10-5-10. It seems the interview was deleted from Worship Leader Magazine’s website, so I’m glad I copied some of the quotes down (see below for a few favorites). But the link below won’t find you the actual article. Sorry about that.

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I recently read this interview in Worship Leader Magazine (a publication I don’t always agree with). This piece is particularly good, though; it’s an interview with Keith Getty, co-writer (with Stuart Townend) of the modern hymn “In Christ Alone.” It’s funny to me that the article focuses on “In Christ Alone” (which I love, by the way), as if it’s Getty’s greatest achievement as a songwriter. He does, however, have several other very well-known works, written more recently than “In Christ Alone,” and he has a pretty big body of really good work that almost totally goes unmentioned here. This makes the focus of some of the interview seem a bit dated if you’re familiar with Getty’s work at all. But Getty’s comments are very timely and insightful, and transcend beyond the questions of Worship Leader Magazine.

The interview touches on Getty’s mindset behind writing good, congregational worship music, and what continues to influences his creativity as a songwriter in this particular “genre” (if you can call hymns a genre). I found his thoughts really compelling and really encouraging. The following are three of my favorite quotes from the interview:

“My melodies tend to be heavily influenced by Irish music, and the Irish melodic style is essentially congregational. Although Irish music isn’t particularly spectacular compared to say, African rhythm or to the unusual tones of Chinese music, or even the sophistication of much contemporary music, it has tremendous strength in its ability to be experienced and sung by large groups of people – whether in our homes, schools, or even at a sports match. It can be sung with or without instrumental accompaniment. I think the underlying sense of lilting pathos in Celtic melodies (which can also be heard in our speaking voices and is tied closely to our history) also helps the songs tell a story with all its raw emotion and passion. All Irish music centers on stories, whether of love or war or of people and places.”

“I think it’s of huge importance to us as worship leaders in preparation and in reviewing Sunday services to ask ourselves these two questions: What were the words we put into our congregations’ mouths, minds, and memories? And how well did our congregation sing? Our role is simply to be an accompaniment to them as they sing.”

“I also encourage lyricists to read beautiful poetry. Consider the fact that almost 20 percent of the story of Scripture is told through poetry. This speaks to the power of words. And to the enduring power of beauty. And perhaps most of all to the unending creative potential the story of the gospel releases in each of us.”

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