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Will traditional churches find these hymn arrangements useful?

One would think so. Renewing the church’s great music to make it more accessible to today’s worshippers seems like a good idea. But traditionalists can be a bit…


…can be a bit resistant to change. Downright mulish at times. And woefully misinformed about the history of the church’s music.

Javier, a doctoral candidate at a leading Midwest conservatory, visited this site early on and was quite disturbed with what I was doing (his research interest was church music history). We exchanged several pointed but civilized emails. He was particularly offended by the idea that Were You There was arranged as a rock ballad. I was simply amazed that he would choose that hymn as the poster-child of his defense. It’s a spiritual! A worship band of guitar, bass, drums, and horns is far and away more authentic to how that tune was first performed than a typical four-part, organ-led hymnal version. If you’re gonna scream “authenticity”, at least know and accept what authentic is.

In the link under “Why arrange hymns…” [here] I explained why updating hymns is consistent with precedents established in the church tradition centuries ago. Despite historical evidence to the contrary, there are still too many traditionalists who foolishly insist that hymns should be done the way they’ve always been done (even though we often don’t know precisely how they were originally done) and that changing them borders on heresy.

I can’t know for sure what motivates such an immovable, blinders-on mindset. Some people are threatened by new approaches when they think their work may somehow be invalidated. Some are just too lazy to learn new material or styles. I’m quite certain, however, that the audience for hymns presented in the traditional, organ-led style is shrinking and to stubbornly force that style on worshippers who don’t understand or appreciate it will only hasten the demise of hymns.

Some just don’t “like” particular arrangements or approaches. That’s fine! I can easily appreciate how someone might dislike The Old Rugged Cross set as a jazz waltz. But “I like…” is usually not a relevant defense when it comes to worship music. Isn’t it supposed to be about what God likes? He says He likes true worshippers. Worshippers can only be “true” when they understand and can relate to what is happening in the service. If a segment of a congregation doesn’t “get” traditional hymn presentations, it becomes a responsibility of leadership to sometimes serve those folks with worship tools they do find meaningful.

Conclusion and answer: Traditional churches will be as likely as anyone to find useful hymn arrangements here. The tunes and lyrics have, in most cases, been left unchanged; it’s only the style that has been renewed. Contrary to some, I think modern worshippers can even tolerate some archaic language now and then (thee, thou, thine, etc.) For those who really want to dig in their heels on the style issue, don’t fret – you’ll be left alone soon enough. All alone in big empty churches with absolutely nobody to trouble you. Or pray with or play for.