Variations on a Hymn

When it comes to composers/arrangers/authors in the Christian worship world, Bob Kauflin is one of my favorites. He is the author of an excellent book called Worship Matters, and writes a blog by the same name. He is the director of worship development for Sovereign Grace Music, the organization responsible for many hymns and songs that we have used in our worship services at Stevens Street, including Before the Throne of God Above, O the Deep Deep Love of Jesus, I Will Glory in My Redeemer, and It Is Not Death to Die.

One of the reasons I love Kauflin so much is his commitment to bringing the rich lyric tradition of Christian hymnody into a contemporary context through the composition of new songs and the “resurrection” of old hymns by setting them to new music. One thing I didn’t realize until recently, though, was that he’s been doing this much longer than I thought! Here’s a clip of the group GLAD (of which Kauflin was a member from 1976-1984, and for whom he was a writer/arranger until 2008) performing an arrangement of “We Praise Thee Oh God” written by Kauflin. I love what he says (Kauflin is the man speaking at the beginning of the video) about the history of contemporary Christian music:

For an “a capella” group, those guys sure can play some guitar!


In Christ Alone – 10 Years of Modern Hymns

It was ten years ago this month that Keith & Kristyn Getty recorded their hymn “In Christ Alone”, co-written with Stuart Townend. Here is Keith talking a bit about songwriting, followed by a video of (a very pregnant) Kristyn singing a new arrangement of “In Christ Alone”, recorded recently at Shadow Mountain Community Church in San Diego:

Behold the Lamb of God

Robert posted his favorite holiday videos below, so I thought I’d share something I’ve really been enjoying as well. Over on my blog, I’ve been writing some devotions based on each of the tracks from my favorite Christmas album, Andrew Peterson’s “Behold the Lamb of God”. Here’s the song from today:

I invite you to follow along as I wrap up the series in the next few days. Here’s a link to the first song, and you can click through the rest from there.

Have a Merry Christmas!

Instrumentation Notes

Today I thought I’d take some time to answer some instrument-related questions that people have asked recently, as well as offering a few thoughts about the way instrumentation can be used to enhance or change the music we sing and play.

As our choir & orchestra (and children’s choir!) were preparing the song “By Faith”, written by Keith & Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townend, several people were wondering about the instrument heard at the beginning of the rehearsal track. Before I tell you about it, here is a video of a live performance of this song, featuring this “mystery” instrument:

Right at the beginning you can see Skip Cleavinger, who is an Irish instrument specialist who does a lot of recording work with Christian artists, and was a featured soloist recently with Allison Krauss and the Nashville Symphony. You can read more about him and hear a few selections from his recent solo album on his MySpace page. On this track, he begins by playing the Uilleann pipes, which is the traditional bagpipe of Ireland. These differ quite a bit, both in appearance and sound, from Highland bagpipes, which are Scottish. All bagpipes have some basic similarities, though, in that they are played by filling a bag (called the bellows) with air, and then squeezing the bellows to force air into the instrument. There are a series of “drone” pipes which always play the same note, and a “chanter”, which plays the melody. Uillean pipes are much more complex than Highland pipes, and can play a lot more notes. For a more detailed explanation of the similarities and differences between Irish and Scottish pipes, click here.

After the introduction, Cleavinger switches to playing the Irish tin whistle, which is an instrument that has appeared on many recordings of songs our choir & orchestra have played. The rest of the instruments used by the Getty’s on this recording are piano (Keith Getty), violin/fiddle (Deborah Klemme), keyboard synthesizer (Joni McCabe), guitar (Bobby McKee), bass (Peter Wahlers), drums (Dustin Rohrer), and a computer drum loop (which you can hear most prominently about 3:28 into the recording). We have used computerized loops on several songs recently.

It is amazing the way instrumentation can affect how a song sounds, and the impact that it has on its audience. While it is important to remember that, ultimately, God is our audience, and that we sing our praise to Him alone, it is also important to remember that ours is a creative God. It brings Him glory when His children worship Him in creative ways, because when we do so we are imaging our Creator!

There are several reasons why arrangers will write for a certain instrumentation. Here are just a few:

  1. To reflect a certain ethnic or cultural background
  2. To fit the musicians available
  3. To match a musical style or genre
  4. To convey a message in the music itself; we call this “programmatic” writing

In the coming weeks I’ll show some examples of each of these, and hopefully provide some insight into the orchestrating process. In the meantime, here are two more videos that will show what a difference can be made in a song simply by changing the instrumentation. This is another song that we’ll be singing and playing here soon, also written by the Getty’s and Stuart Townend. Both have recorded this track on recent albums. The first video is the Getty’s performing this song, using almost exactly the same arrangement that we’ll have when we do it.

Here the band uses the same instrumentation (minus the whistle & pipes) they used in the above recording of By Faith. Our version will be a little different, because we’ll also be incorporating brass and woodwind instruments. This second video is Stuart Townend’s version, using vastly different instrumentation. Here you’ll see banjo, upright bass, fiddle, acoustic guitar, drums, piano, penny whistle, and accordion. Notice the difference compared to the Getty recording.

Townend not only uses creative instrumentation, but uses the instruments in creative ways. For instance, these are all acoustic instruments that might typically be found in a bluegrass or Celtic band, but they are playing neither in a traditional bluegrass nor Celtic style. Also, you’ll notice that the accordion player achieves several unique sounds. First of all, by striking the accordion with a small mallet to add a percussive effect (similar to playing a washboard). Secondly, by playing near an upright piano with the front removed to expose the strings. This allows the piano strings to pick up the resonating frequencies from the accordion, so that the piano strings will vibrate on the same pitches that the accordion is playing. It’s a neat trick!

What makes this song great is not the instrumentation, but the fact that the lyrics contain so much Truth! Still, the musicianship and creativity of both bands allows this song to be expressed and enjoyed in different ways in worship of our God. I believe that He smiles on such things… I know I sure do!

Holy Hip Hop

Continuing with the theme of the mercy seat from the last post, here’s a song by Christian hip-hop artist Shai Linne, called “High Priest”. The theological depth of  the lyrics should hopefully put to rest any concerns about God’s ability to redeem all music styles and forms for His Glory! (Apologies for the numerous misspellings in the video; nothing we can do about that!)

This is from Shai Linne’s newest album, “Storiez”, available here. Below is an additional song from the same album, called “The Greatest Story Ever Told”, in which he takes us through the entire Bible in about four minutes. Incredible!


Alright check it: let’s go back in time, brethren. Divine lessons always keep your mind guessing. The glory of the Triune God is what I’m stressing. The origin of humankind was fine. Blessings were plenteous. God is amazingly generous. Crazy benefits in a state of innocence. God told the man what he could taste was limited. Not long after came our nemesis in Genesis. He scammed well, man fell, damned to hell. The whole human race—he represented it. Fooled by the serpent, man through his work, woman through birth—even the earth ruled by the curses. But instead of a wake immediately. God said her Seed would be the One to crush the head of the snake. Yo, wait what is this? Whoa, a gracious gift! In Jehovah’s faithfulness He clothed their nakedness. This was so they would know their Savior’s kiss and bliss. But first, many growing pains exist suffering in the worst form, ugly deeds. Eve’s firstborn seed made his brother bleed. Indeed things got progressively worse. Every section of the earth is been affected by the curse. And though God’s judgments against sin were gory, praise the Lord! It’s not the end of the story.

It’s the greatest story ever told.
A God pursues foes whose hearts turned cold.
The greatest story ever told.
Restoring all that the enemy stole.
The greatest story ever told.
The glory of Christ is the goal, behold.
The greatest story ever told.
It’s the greatest.

Next scene: man’s sin was extreme. God gets steamed, man gets creamed. The Lord is so Holy that He drowned them in the water. Fire in the valley of slaughter – Sodom and Gomorrah. But at the same time, He’s so gracious and patient that from one man He created a whole nation. Eventually enslaved by the mentally depraved, they cried out to the only One with the strength that He could save. He brought them out with signs and wonders – satisfied their hunger. Then He appeared on Mount Sinai in thunder. Where He laid down the law for God-ruled government. Commonly referred to as the Mosaic covenant. Sin was imputed. So for man to know he’s unrighteous, God instituted animal sacrifices. This was to show our constant need for atonement. And when it came to sin, the Lord would never condone it. And when His people disobeyed and went astray, He raised up prophets and kings to lead them in the way. But they would get foul with their idolatry—wet and wild prophecy—send them into exile. To take their punishment like a grown man. Then with His own hand He placed them back in their homeland. And while in their forefather’s land they dwelt, they awaited the arrival of Emmanuel.


After 400 silent years filled with sighs and tears. In Bethlehem the Messiah appears. God in the flesh—Second Person of the Trinity. At thirty begins His earthly ministry. Baffling cats with accurate, exact facts and back-to-back miraculous acts. A stumbling block to the self righteous. But the humbled—His flock, said “There’s no one else like this.” He came from heaven to awake the numb. Demonstrated His power over nature, son. A foretaste of the Kingdom and the age to come. But the reason He came was to pay the sum for the depths of our wickedness, our wretched sinfulness. Bless His magnificence! He is perfect and innocent. Yet He was wrecked and His death. He predicted it. Next He was stretched, paid a debt that was infinite. He said that He finished it. Resurrected so the elect would be the recipients of its benefits. Through faith and penitence we get to be intimate. His grace is heaven sent, it never diminishes. Now the Holy Spirit indwelling is the evidence for heaven’s future residents who truly represent Jesus, the Author, Producer, Director, and Star of a story that will never, ever end!