Sojourn: ‘Over The Grave’ sees the glorious God behind the music

Over The GraveSojourn Church, based in Louisville, Ky., is another one of those groups (like Indelible Grace and Red Mountain Music) who take old hymns and refresh them. A few years ago they did the wonderful Advent Songs album, which was a great way to prepare for the Christmas season and the birth of Christ. They have produced another effort that sounds worth at least a listen called Over the Grave. According to the Sojourn Church site, the new CD is the “first installment of the Isaac Watts Project: songs inspired by and adapted from his hymns. The record was written and performed entirely by musicians from Sojourn Community Church — 35 in all. It is our hope that this project, like Watts’s hymns, will point us beyond the music and lyrics to see the glorious Savior who inspires them.”

Justin Taylor, at his blog, has posted one of the songs, Only Your Blood Is Enough, along with the lyrics. Give it a listen and see for yourself the fine work this group of musicians is doing.

Hopeful harmony: Salve for the weary soul

I love to sing, and I love to hear good singing. While it is always a blessing for me to sing with other believers in church, it is especially sweet to hear those who sing harmony. A couple of weeks ago, I stood next to (we stand when we sing at my church) my wife at church and enjoyed singing while also listening for the sweet sounds of her harmonizing with the songs. She usually sings with the worship team and so I don’t always get to experience that.

Sadly, it is a sound that is going away it seems because fewer and fewer people sing harmony. I would point to the increasing use of PowerPoint and the decreasing use of hymnals as one theory. I don’t want to go down the path of arguing against the use of PowerPoint because we can still lift our voices and sing and praise God. But when you don’t see notes, you may not think of different singing parts and therefore little harmonizing happens. I miss it.

Thankfully, I had my spirits raised this morning by a wonderful clip that Robert Cottrill posted on his Wordwise Hymns site. On this date composer Joseph Philbrick Webster was born. Among many compositions, he wrote the music for Sweet By and By. I nearly cried when I heard this  — for the beauty of the words I was hearing and because it had been a long time since I had sung in a group that way: people singing parts with no accompaniment! I just savored that. Today, it was a salve for me as I live between two worlds.

We shall sing on that beautiful shore
The melodious songs of the blessed
And our spirits shall sorrow no more,
Not a sigh for the blessing of rest

In the sweet by and by,
We shall meet on that beautiful shore;
In the sweet by and by,
We shall meet on that beautiful shore.

By Thy Mercy: Indelible Grace Acoustic is almost here

By Thy MercyOne of my favorite groups of artists, Indelible Grace, is just about to release its fifth album, called “By The Mercy: Indelible Grace Acoustic.”  To hear the title track, you can go here.

If you have spent any time here, you know that I deeply appreciate the work of these artists. The group’s stated purpose is “to help the church recover the tradition of putting old hymns to new music for each generation, and to enrich our worship with a huge view of God and His indelible grace.

Kevin Twit, who is the campus pastor at Belmont University and is the founder of Indelible Grace, writes on the group’s Facebook page some of the background of the group and more of its goals:

Indelible Grace Music grew out of ministering to college students, primarily through Reformed University Fellowship (RUF). We saw many touched by the gospel, and gripped by the rich theology and great poetry of the hymns of the Church. As these students began to taste more of the depth of the gospel and the richness of the hymn tradition, many began to join the music of their culture with the words of our forefathers (and mothers!), and a movement was born.
But actually, this is not really a “new” movement at all! Up until the beginning of the 20th century, it was common for people to compose new music for each generation for many of the hymns that they loved. There is no rule that says each hymn can only have one musical setting, and in fact, hymnals are designed for you to be able to mix and match words and music — that’s why they have a metrical index. But unfortunately, we lost this tradition and got stuck in a more modern traditionalism of associating one particular tune with one particular hymn. I am reminded of an incident a few years ago at the national meeting of our own denomination after a worship group had played a new version of Wesley’s “And Can It Be” (the one that is on our 1st CD by the way.) Many were upset by the new music and one gentleman stood and protested the new music saying that Wesley had written this hymn to majestic music and that he must be turning over in his grave. At this point, the organist for the convention rose and told the man (correctly) that the critic had probably never heard the music Wesley wrote the hymn to (if he even did write it to music when he composed it), and that the tune the man thought was the original was actually a bar tune!
Our goal is not change for change’s sake, but to rekindle a love of hymns and to invite many who would never associate rich passion with hymns to actually read the words. We believe that we are impoverished if we cut off our ties with the saints of the past, and that we fail to be faithful to God in our own moment of history if we don’t attempt to praise Him in forms that are authentic to who we are.Read More »

My Friend, my Friend indeed

Click on the image to hear Matthew Smith's excellent rendition of this great song
Click on the image to hear Matthew Smith's excellent rendition of this great song

I am very excited that one of my favorite artists, Matthew Smith, will be releasing this fall a new CD comprised on songs off two of his “road” albums. If you’re not familiar with him, what he does is take hymns — many that have been long forgotten — and refreshes the music and smoothes out in some cases archaic lyrics. Great lyrics are wed with great music. The song below is a perfect example. Guitarist Clint Wells provides a musical vehicle for profound lyrics written by Samuel Crossman. I love this song and what it says about a wonderful savior we have in Jesus. I hope it speaks to you as well.

My Song Is Love Unknown

My song is love unknown

My Savior’s love to me

Love to the loveless shown

That they might lovely be

O who am I, that for my sake

My Lord should take, frail flesh and die?

O who am I, that for my sake

My Lord should take, frail flesh and die?

He came from His blest throne

Salvation to bestow

But men made strange, and none

The longed-for Christ would know

But oh my Friend, my Friend indeed

Who at my need His life did spend

But oh my Friend, my Friend indeed

Who at my need His life did spend

Here might I stay and sing

No story so divine

Never was love, dear King

Never was grief like Thine

This is my Friend, in Whose sweet praise

I all my days could gladly spend

This is my Friend, in Whose sweet praise

I all my days will gladly spend