Tony Cummings quizzed singer and raconteur JONATHAN VEIRA about his 'The Hymns Project'
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Jonathan: We all have different favourites for different reasons. Over the period of the recording my wife Sue kept changing her mind about her favourite - she found herself falling in love with each new song! Maybe it is too simple to say the favourites but as to which ones stand out for me - that's probably different. Of the new ones, the catchy tune 'To God Be The Glory' stands out for me. Probably because it was a tune I wrote for another set of words, which just didn't work, but then we incorporated it for the words of 'To God Be The Glory' and it worked beautifully. Like a lot of the new tunes it is rather an "earworm". Having trialled this with a number of audiences, they have loved it, picked it up quickly and left humming the tune! It is also a hymn from my youth, which I remember being a little bit more upbeat than usual so it has a fond memory attached.
Many people have written saying that their favourite is the beautiful version of "O Love That Will Not Let Me Go". The words seem to be striking people afresh and touching their souls. I always love the story associated with this hymn and I took particular care with writing this melody. Written as a lyrical ballad it is great for singers to sing. I was aided and abetted in the writing by my very own Sue Veira - her first ever song credit! "I Stand Amazed In The Presence" to the original tune we have recorded in a very soulful style and put very close harmony to make it sound more gospel-like. This brings back many memories for me and still makes the hairs stand up on my neck. Listening to it now I am very happy with this track and that people are singing it more and more in churches - it has found its new, well-deserved popularity before I recorded it.
I also love "O For A Thousand" written with my son Matthew, "Just As I Am" and "Love Divine" - all new tunes that have become firmly established in my mind as favourites. You see - I can't find a single favourite!
Tony: The Church has now moved into an era where many young Christians worship God solely with modern worship songs. Does it matter that they're unfamiliar with the classic hymns?
Jonathan: Times change, styles change, life changes. All of these things are necessary and I remember being in my teens/early 20s hoping and praying that we wouldn't have to sing the same old hymns over and over again! Then Youth Praise came out and the blues and a hymn were brought together and we were singing "Jesus is the Saviour whom I love to know"! I thought that there had been a revolution in the church overnight! As Karen Lafferty wrote "Seek Ye First" there was a revolution and a proliferation of so-called Christian songwriters. I loved it but didn't see the day when nothing or very little of the musical heritage of the Church in the last 200 years would be almost totally lost. With every move of God comes a musical expression and new songs and this is vital and necessary, but the cry of the people of Israel "Sing to the Lord for his love endures forever" is not a song that we need to lose! In fact we need to look again, put a new tune to it and keep it at the forefront of our minds. Many of the older songs from the likes of Wesley WERE sung until fairly recently, but they have disappeared in the need to be singing the latest, newest song (hey that includes mine - I am not excluding myself from this analysis).
Our children (30, 26 and 24) will describe as 'old school' anything older than two years and described Kendrick as the olden days! This is part of our throw-away culture where the next best thing is the next best thing. What I am trying to do is to say that there is great value in some deep insights of some of the older hymns that we can rediscover and sing with energy and celebration.
Tony: I was speaking to Keith Getty recently and he was passionate that many classic hymns are far better at conveying sound doctrine, and indeed much deeper theologically, than many modern worship songs. Do you agree with this?
Jonathan: The words of Keith are his words and not mine and I do not want to be drawn into criticising people who with honest hearts are seeking to write songs of inspiration and truth for a modern-day Church. We must understand WHY much of pre-Victorian and Victorian hymnody was written. Vast swathes of the population were illiterate and yet needed to understand the story of how God interacted with his people. They needed to understand the narratives of the Gospels from birth (Carols) to life (the Ministry of Jesus) to death and resurrection (Easter Hymns). Where they could not read they could remember the songs - "Once In Royal David's City", "There Is A Green Hill", etc. The nature of our spiritual experience today - in particular through the charismatic church tradition - has rediscovered Tozer-type Christianity where praise and worship on an intimate level (Keys To The Deeper Life) is expressed in a church context. So the songs reflect that more than a retelling of the truth of Scripture. I make these generalised comments but I think you know what I mean. Hence nowadays we get less a retelling of the Biblical narrative but more an expression of personalised praise to God (a generalisation). Therefore often the theological - ie, the song as an education and highlighting of the truths of God - is not such a priority any more. The problem with this of course is that in general people's Biblical literacy can be lower rather than higher and their approach to God can be simply "Isn't God good?' Well, he is but he is also a multi-faceted God who loves mercy and justice, he is a God who did this, did that and all this is reflected in the biblical narrative. He is a God who demands our soul, our life our all.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
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