Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)
A current trend in modern worship music involves taking a pre-existing strophic text and adding a new refrain (which is actually not new at all--see “Marching to Zion,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 733, a very popular example in which Robert Lowry did the very same thing in 1867 to a text of Isaac Watts, “Come, We That Love the Lord”). This practice pays homage to the hymns of the past, while adding a bit of character from current approaches to songwriting. I still marvel at how well Chris Tomlin and Louis Giglio took “Amazing Grace,” which many would consider to be “untouchable” because of its popularity, and had a result so successful. This work is accessible to congregations of all shapes and sizes, and people will sing it. Be sure, however, that this doesn’t completely replace the singing of “Amazing Grace.” While congregations do appreciate and sing this song, it should not take the place of this monumental hymn every time the message of “Amazing Grace” is needed. Accompaniment can be simple to more complex, from piano alone to full band. Many interpretations of this call for the last stanza to be accompanied by piano alone, even if using a band. Ideal key is Eb, which is what is printed in Worship & Song, although D or E can also work, if needed. Read the Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone) Hymn Study »
As mentioned above, sometimes “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)” simply cannot replace the singing of this classic hymn. Sung in a variety of different styles across the globe, use whatever style and accompaniment seem appropriate this week. Feel free to use a traditional style as written, but don’t be afraid if this is the week the random bagpiper in your congregation wants to play along. Or you may prefer to change the harmonies just a bit and provide a more chromatic, gospel accompaniment with slight swing rhythms and a heavy, slow tempo. Rest assured that the focus of the hymn is on God’s grace, and this can be expressed in a number of ways. View and download a choral setting that can be used to support congregational singing »
Baptized in Water
One of the greatest elements of this hymn is the opening of each stanza. The marriage of this text and tune creates an upward motion that resembles the rising movement out of the waters of baptism. In this instance, the newly baptized spring forth from the water, boldly willing to accept the call to Christian discipleship. One criticism is the low ending of each stanza on the words, “God’s praises we sing.” My suggestion would be for the cantor or worship leader to at least sing B-A-B-C on the last four notes of the last stanza to remain in a joyful range of praise. If you are a fan of the Cat Stevens’ version of “Morning Has Broken,” you can purchase the piano score for it here (make note that you must follow the copyright regulations set forth by musicnotes.com when using their scores) and play the famous opening before the first stanza, and possibly between stanzas as well. Ideal accompaniment is organ, piano, or guitar, but any variety of instruments work well. Read History of Hymns: "Baptized in Water" »
We Were Baptized in Christ Jesus
Hymn writer John Ylvisaker (probably most famous for his hymn, “I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry”) embraces the folk idiom of the 1960s and 1970s with many of his works. The melody of this particular hymn can vary from gentle and nurturing to joyous and bold, depending on the accompaniment. I recommend a different approach in style between stanzas 2 and 3, at which point the hymn pivots into a Gloria Patri. Before this pivot, try a softer organ registration or a gentle accompaniment on guitar or piano, and transition to something more regal and pesante on stanza 3. If outside, as recommended in this service, however, feel free to accompany on guitar throughout.
Christ Has Risen
Continuing the tradition of the Easter proclamation, “Christ is risen!”, John Bell of the Iona Community and Wild Goose Resource Group has created a hymn that embraces this Easter greeting. Each stanza begins with the words, “Christ has risen.” Ever the wordsmith, Bell gives the congregation the opportunity to sing words that don’t appear in hymns often--“messed or mangled,” “all who find religion strange”--each word with its own prophetic power as it is sung. The juxtaposition of the text and tune creates an interesting commentary in combining such an edgy, modern text, with an old, shape-note tune. However, HOLY MANNA creates a lively setting for the text, and particularly frames the end of the first stanza well with the melodic line in the last phrase: “Christ is risen, God is here!” The exclamation isn’t lost within the tune here, and the pairing of text and tune is well chosen. Accompany with organ, piano, guitar, or even a full band. The wonderful element of shape-note, pentatonic (5-note) hymn writing is the adaptability of the tune to fit any context.
The Easter Song
This most interesting song from 1971 has found its place in contemporary Christian music as one of the top songs from that genre in the twentieth century. One of the greatest arrangements and recordings of this song was released by the a cappella vocal group, GLAD. The song brings those in worship into the Resurrection story and, in its somewhat through-composed form, creates a musical narrative that progresses along with the story. A wonderful choral setting of the work with accompaniment is found in Worship & Song, and a setting with optional handbell accompaniment can be found here. Accompaniment can vary, but piano offers the best option.