Focus | RISE UP!
Lift Every Voice and Sing (UMH 519)
A monumental hymn in African American churches across the country, this hymn by the creator of “God’s Trombones,” James Weldon Johnson, is a rousing call for people to praise the God of hope and freedom. “Lift Every Voice and Sing” recalls the “dark past” (stanza 1) and the power of God to liberate and bring people to victory. In addition to its place in African American history, the hymn is full of narrative imagery, and the music is incredibly dramatic. Singing this hymn takes some time because of the long text and slow tempo required to sing it appropriately. A suggested tempo would be around 132 (per eighth note). Accompany with piano, organ, or rhythm section (piano and/or organ, bass, drums). Read History of Hymns: "Lift Every Voice and Sing" »
All the Poor and Powerless (CCLI #5881130)
This work speaks to the transformative, liberating work of God and is a great interactive piece for congregations that can be divided into multiple parts. The modern nature of the song makes it ideal for adults, youth, and children, and all of these groups can be used in leading the song. Just after the singing of the bridge, divide the congregation into two parts (this can be done with the appropriate cueing from appointed song leaders), with one section singing the chorus, and the other section singing the bridge simultaneously. Use the chord progression from the bridge to make this work. If you are able to allow multigenerational leadership with choirs, have all the groups sing together on the chorus every time. When the bridge arrives, have a children’s choir sing the bridge melody alone to teach it. Then welcome the congregation to join them on each successive time. Beginning the third time, invite a youth choir to begin singing the chorus simultaneously. Ideal accompaniment would be guitar, piano, or full band. As I say often, however, allow the voice to lead, and do not play the melody with a piano. The best key for congregational singing is G, which will also allow a seamless transition with the previous hymn.
Our God (CCLI #5677416)
Echoing the words from Romans 8, this bold song of affirmation lifts up the nature and power of the living God. Within the liturgy this week, it is recommended to invite the congregation to recite the Apostles’ Creed during the instrumental section before the bridge. The repeated statement of the bridge then becomes a musical response and outpouring of the affirmation of faith. The ideal accompaniment is either guitar or full band, although a piano would work if not playing the melody. The ideal key is G, and I recommend a tempo a bit quicker than the one listed on the score on the CCLI site, with a quarter note = 116.
We Believe in One True God (UMH 85)
This sung creed is very compact and concise in its structure, and it fits within the bounds of appropriate Wesleyan doctrine and theology. Each stanza is focused upon a different person of the Trinity. RATISBON is a beautiful tune and, for the most part, easily singable. If it is unfamiliar to your congregation, don’t hesitate to use the tune DIX (commonly associated with “For the Beauty of the Earth”) instead. Accompany with organ or piano, and keep the tempo somewhere between 104-108. Your congregation will appreciate a slightly brisk tempo on this hymn when working to support the higher notes of the RATISBON tune. View and download a remarkable choral setting of this work by composer Tom Council »
Total Praise (Africana Hymnal 4021 or CCLI #2110330)
Richard Smallwood has created what has become an anthem of modern musical literature with this composition, which largely finds its scriptural basis in Psalm 121. Increasingly popular with churches of all backgrounds, this work both evokes and requires power and confidence in its singing. Accompaniment can range from piano to full band. When using The Africana Hymnal, the key printed (Db) is vocally ideal, but it may prove quite difficult for many pianists and choir vocalists because of the double flats in the final section. Another option would be to access the choral parts on the CCLI website and change the key to C. The time signature also varies depending on the source, so be sure to keep the tempo at a slow place–around 90 (CCLI) or 47 (Africana Hymnal).
Bless His Holy Name (TFWS 2015 or CCLI #17566)
This song by Andraé Crouch is a perfect Act of Thanksgiving or general song of praise within any service. “Doing great things” is the business of God, and the text allows each member of the congregation to reflect upon the great things witnessed by each person, but also by the community. Worship is a public act of witness, and the affirmation that God “has done great things” builds unity as a community of faith and gives testimony to the power of God. The recommended tempo is around 80, and the ideal accompaniment can range from piano and/or organ to a rhythm section. Listen to a recording of Crouch singing this song »
I Love the Lord (W&S 3142)
Another Richard Smallwood work somewhat reminiscent of “Total Praise,” this short song offers a statement of love for God for hearing our cries and being an ever-present help in times of despair. Keep the tempo slow, with a quarter note around 50, and if possible, allow a choir to lead in four-part harmony. If a choir is not available, a unison melody accompanied by a piano or organ will also work. Begin softly, and allow the melodic line to gradually crescendo to the climax in measures 10-11. On a note of performance practice for choirs: It is also possible to sing with a brief space between each quarter note (not underneath the sustained melodic notes) and a gentle swell on each note to embody the spirit and character of a gospel choir.
Bless That Wonderful Name (Africana Hymnal 4008)
For an energetic song to transition from the serving and receiving of Communion toward a movement of departing from the table in praise and celebration, sing this short work featured in The Africana Hymnal. The piano part is quite challenging, but it would also be possible to sing this song a cappella with percussion and hand claps. The piano adds another layer of interest, but singing it without harmonic instrumentation can also work well. If possible, clap on the offbeats and add some stomps on beats 1 and 3.
Marching to Zion (UMH 733)
There are numerous ways to accompany this classic hymn, which comes from the gospel movement and Sunday school singing of the nineteenth century. Each congregation may be familiar with singing the tune in a different style, so it is important to be aware of the history of the song within your context. Also allow the liturgical framework to determine how you sing it. Since it is the closing hymn this week, make sure it is joyous, regardless of the tempo and style chosen. Accompaniment can vary between organ and/or piano to a rhythm section or full band. Keep the rhythm swinging and encourage the congregation to move or clap (on beats 2,3,5, and 6) if desired. If your congregation has a choir, it might even be appropriate to invite them to begin singing positioned around the sanctuary and lead a procession out of the worship space. Not many hymns can be sung so successfully while outdoors! The pulse and rhythm make this possible with this well-known hymn.