I’m always on the look out for those who share my love of renewing old hymns for the church. I think that re-writing hymns can be a beautiful and refreshing approach to worship, delving into the rich theology and poetry of our grandmother’s church, but sometimes I think we can ruin a good hymn by trying to make it modern and relevant. We musically water things down, taking out the rising and falling melodies that feel intricate and nuanced in an effort to make them more singable. We try and make them fit our modern worship mould of soaring U2 guitars and anthemic choruses. This isn’t necessarily bad all the time, it’s just a fine line to walk between accessibility and creativity, and there are a few artists and groups out there that I think walk this line really beautifully and I am excited to introduce them to you.
First Up: Sandra McCracken. In the fall of last year we had the honor and pleasure of hosting a night of hymns with Sandra and guest musician Chelsey Scott, and it was a beautiful night where Sandra not only played us her re-workings of well-known and not so well-known hymns but was also able to tell us stories of the songs and their writers. My favorite album of hers consists of a mixture of old and new hymns from Sandra, entitled “In Feast or Fallow”. Here’s the title track, featuring Derek Webb and Thadd Cockrell
Next Up: Isaac Wardell and Bifrost Arts. I listened to Bifrost Arts’ album “Come, O Spirit!” on repeat last year, to the point where my 4 year old was singing the flute parts at random times of the day. This particular group of writers and performers treat the hymns with a lyrical and dignified hand, keeping a raw bare bones quality for some songs and flourishing orchestral arrangements the next. The album has an indie sensibility, and with artists such as David Bazan, the Welcome Wagon, and Laura Gibson I found this collection of hymns to be completely refreshing from start to finish. Here’s one of my personal favorites, the title track sung by Aimee Wilson, “Come O Spirit” (Also be sure to check out their GORGEOUS Christmas album “Salvation is Created”)
Lastly, Page CXVI. From what I understand they are named after a page number in C.S Lewis’ book “The Magician’s Nephew”, in which Aslan sings the stars into existence. I’ve so far been really delighted by these folks and their many new offerings on old familiar hymns. I find they do balance the fine line of creativity and worship accessibility very well, and here’s a perk: free music on their website!
Here’s a gorgeous live version of “How Deep The Father’s Love For Us”, (one of the tracks you can get for free)
Renovatus, I’d love to know what hymns are currently stirring your soul. Use the comment section to share your favorite hymns and writers!