Song of the Month: I Have a Shelter

Come Weary SaintsI’ve decided to be more formal with song introduction at Christ Church Hilton. So, starting in the month of January, I’m going to introduce a song each month that I think should join our music teams’ repertoire. I’m going to try to pick songs that can be played pretty easily and, preferably, that are not dependent on either a piano maestro or a guitar aficionado (so anyone can play it).

January’s song was “I Have a Shelter” by Steve Cook, Vikki Cook and Bob Kauflin of Sovereign Grace Music. You can find it on its official page.

Sovereign Grace Music has done an excellent job of establishing itself as a high quality source of music that is both lyrically engaging and musically interesting. The composers are all well known in church music circles and it’s well deserved.

This song plays with the image of “shelter in the storm”. The image used in the first verse as simple encouragement, “comfort in all my sorrows”. In the second verse, the image shifts to grace that, in spite of sin, “will not refuse me”. Finally, in the third verse, the image is of the Christian life and the burdens and weaknesses of Christians for whom shelter in the storm is “faithful hands that cannot fail”.

It has a beautiful melody. We play it in D but we can’t quite do the final harmonies that they’ve put together (they go pretty high). It may be easier to sing it a bit lower but without the harmonies D works well. Also, because it’s Sovereign Grace, you can get their lead sheets, guitar chords and piano score for free.

If you haven’t heard it, it’s really worth having a look at:

Four Congregational Christmas Songs

Christmas MusicI love the classic Christmas carols. I love walking through a shopping center and, through the glittering ribbons and bells and commercialised chaos, faintly hearing “veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail incarnate deity”. I love the rousing descant at the words in the final chorus “Gloria, in excelsis deo” (i.e. “Glory to God in the highest”).

That said, I hope the incarnation will never cease to inspire the best songwriters of the generation to try to capture a fraction of its wonder. So rich a source of inspiration is unlikely to dry up. Yet we often get stuck singing tired songs in the same way. So here are four, hopefully new, Christmas songs that I think would work in a church context.

On a scale of 1 to Rachmaninov, they’re all quite easy to play. Most have some syncopation but it’s not too difficult. They’re written in easy (and mostly singable) keys and don’t have any modulation. I’ve arranged them in inreasing order of difficulty (so it’s somewhat subjective but it’s a guide).

1. Look to the Skies

By Graham Kendrick

I first came across this song at the church I grew up in but I haven’t heard any other churches perform it. Graham Kendrick is going to go down with Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley in terms of the proliferation of songs he has produced. Look to the Skies is much easier to play than many of Kendrick’s songs and as usual, the lyrics are great. I think the chorus is a bit plain but choruses often are. The melody is quite simple but has enough of its own variation that it doesn’t get boring and it’s easy to make it triumphant. Overall, it’s a great song (much better than a lot of Christmas songs out there) so I’m surprised it’s not more well known.

My favourite line has to be “Swift through the skies he will burst with splendour on the earth to reign.”

Click here for sheet Music (F with chords in D for Capo 3)

2. On Christmas Day

By Matt Osgood

When I first discovered Resound Worship I was excited to see what they would produce. Unfortunately, most of it has failed to impress. Nevertheless, there are a number of gems on their site and it’s worth keeping track of what they’re up to – I’m still excited to see what’s to come. On Christmas Day was released quite some time ago but I haven’t come across it in any churches. The tune is simple enough, the bridge is, perhaps, a bit superfluous (I would consider dropping it for the congregation) but the lyrics are great. I enjoy the refrain “This is Immanuel”. Some of the rhymes get on my nerves (“sin” / “him”) but some are great (“mysterious” / “near to us”).

None of the lines leap out at me but I enjoy this one from the second verse “hands that once split night from day now feebly clutch a blade of hay”

Click here for Chords / Lead Sheet (D)

3. Christ the Lord is Born Today

By Mark Altrogge

Once again, I came across this song at the church I grew up in. It’s potentially the most well known in my current circles because it’s put out by Sovereign Grace Music (SGM). SGM is almost predictably good. Mark Altrogge has done some awesome music (“No Eye Has Seen”, “I’m Forever Grateful”, and “You Are Beautiful Beyond Description” spring to mind). The SGM recording makes it sound easy to make this song sound awesome with a strong guitar at the beginning and a fanastic harmony on the last verse but I don’t think my music group could make it sound anywhere near as good. That said, it’s got very easy chords and apart from some syncopation on the last line of the chorus it’s quite doable, variation between the three verses will be the challenge.

I really enjoy the lyrics in this song and the chorus is good. My favourite line is probably “death and darkness surely tremble, light has come to all the people.”

Click here for Lead Sheet / Score / Chords (G)

4. Hope is Born this Night

By Sidewalk Prophets

I wouldn’t know of this song were it not for the Sunday School performance this year. I don’t know anything about “Sidewalk Prophets” apart from this song. It was written in G and we transposed it to D (which is quite a bit lower) mainly because of one line in the chorus. I’ve had moments of enjoying this song and moments thinking it’s not saying anything. It’s also a bit foreign with reference to “snowy fields” and “Christmas bells”. You’ll have to decide how to end the song because the recording ends with a nice harmony but it may throw off congregations (it certainly wasn’t going to work with Sunday School children) and you could drop the bridge (or at least some of the repetitions). It’s also a bit harder for a pianist because there’s some inconsistency in the timing of the words in the verses. Even so, the melody is really catching and the chorus builds beautifully. Now I’m finding it a lot of fun to play.

I think the reason I overlook the lack of genuinely meaningful content in the verses is that my favourite line is in the chorus and so gets repeated, “Let all of the world sing the chorus of joy because hope was born this night” (it is also a cool part of the melody).

Click here for Chords (G) – it’s worth transposing these! (and here’s a link to a youtube video since the chords are all I can point you to)

Music with Meaning

singing-in-the-carWhen do we utter words least true about our convictions, beliefs and attitudes if not during song? Often our words declared to melody lack scrutiny and we are not held accountable to them. In song the most unfaithful partner is permitted to declare themselves the most devoted lover; the timid observer morphs into an outraged blasphemer; for a few moments we become the very company we would never keep and others pledge allegiance to a belief they would never truly hold.

 

But of course we can say that the inverse is also true. It is when the music plays that our most private thoughts and intimate emotions are released, often revealing a fuller explanation to not only the hearer but ourselves. What we could never put into words suddenly flows freely off the tongue and takes on new and fresh meaning.

I doubt I need to persuade anyone about the power of music, especially in the church context. For it is under many steeples that our leaders have carefully structured the presentation and selection of music, knowing that it has often be used as a tool, a manipulator, to bring about superficial following and devotion. But how should we incorporate music? While we are all aware of its power I think most of us are also aware of its necessity; that we should not, simply out of fear, go without it.

An older person commented on a song we sang in church just the other day, talking about how difficult it is to sing these ‘new’ songs. ‘On the contrary’ I said, ‘many of the modern songs are repetitive and easy to sing in comparison to the range and melody line of some of the hymns.’ As with all our senses, we have preferences to certain tastes, smells and sounds. But these preferences do not come from no-where. They have been molded and influenced by experience.

Music Old vs NewTo quote a favorite writer of mine, F.W Boreham, “And thus music revives, as nothing else can do, the tender grace of a day that is dead…There is a sublime virtue in anything that brings us into vital touch with the glorious past.” When we are transported back into a time that was wonderful we cannot help but sing the song with gladness and joy. Even when we are reminded of times of sadness it allows us to sing with deeper meaning and reflection. It is our ability to feel and be driven by unexplainable emotion that connects us to music, for it is the music that pulls on these strings that are so seldom awakened throughout our tedious routine of life.

When we read the songs in Scripture indeed we are meant to reflect back on some past event and remember with emotion filled praise. Think of Moses & Mariam’s song in Exodus 15 “Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea”; David’s Psalm in 1 Chronicles 16 “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts”; the song of Mary and Zechariah in Luke 1, praising God for what he has done for his people. We are to remember and be moved to praise. But not only to look back and praise, longing for a past experience to be repeated, but to look forward in great expectation of what is to come. This is what sets songs of worship apart from ordinary music.

“These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” C.S Lewis

St Augustine rightly treated music with caution. Aware of its power he wrestled with the balance of the moving melody and lyrical content, determined to always uphold the latter. He described himself as having ‘grievously sinned’ when being ‘more moved by the singing rather than the thing that is sung’.  But is it not also true that some words are sung with inappropriate melody? Moving music is not something we should altogether avoid but rather use appropriately. I have often read the words of the Psalms and hymns and been so moved by them, only to hear them sung and feel indifferent and removed. The mood should match the message and when it does I don’t think we should be afraid.

The fact that we are called to sing and not simply to recite tells me that there is an appropriate emotion expected from us as worshippers which we seldom experience or express without song. So while we are to be careful of extravagant emotions we should likewise be warned not to suppress those that are necessary – for we should not only sing as the expression of our minds’ understanding for then we could simply speak, but in song our souls should praise and our spirits rejoice!

Doodle: Idolatry Of The Lesser Known

Movie: Nick And Norah “Do you think that they’re too cool now?
Being popular is lame.
You’re the one who made them popular,
all their songs are still the same.”

 I don’t know when it happened, but sometime over the last 15 years the less popular the music you listened to became directly proportionate to your image. ‘Alternative’ was born as the catchphrase for bands whose recordings were done in garages, hadn’t signed with major record companies, and were too diverse in genre for the uneducated to label. An identity was found under the umbrella of ‘alternative’ where anything contra the status quo was deemed cool. On the other hand, words like ‘mainstream’ and ‘pop’ were demonised and spoken with distaste by those who had liberated themselves from the consumerism of MTV and popular radio shows. I have heard of a tee-shirt with the print: I listen to bands that don’t even exist yet. And I think that cleverly captures the desperation many have to distance themselves from popular music.

I am writing about this because I notice this attitude amongst my friends, and often catch myself thinking along similar lines. Last year I confronted this sort of attitude visiting close friends in Durban. We were reminiscing about the 2012 London Olympics over a cup of tea, watching some of the ‘best moments’ flash on the TV as iTunes randomly worked through a playlist in the background. Then, a familiar song came on. I could not place the song or recall the band’s name so I asked about it. When my friend informed me of the band’s name I clicked, and went straight to the same band on my phone because, as it turned out, I already had the CD (free from NoiseTrade). But this realisation was met with dissatisfaction from my friend; when I announced I had that same CD on my phone his expression turned to disappointment. I only concluded later that this band was recently uncovered and that my knowledge reduced the pedigree of the band, as well as my friends’ music library.

The whole experience brought to mind some Five Iron Frenzy lyrics, “You found a way to draw a line / Between the world and you / Faking your identity it’s true / Did you think the word “alternative” / Was only meant for the likes of you?” These lyrics brilliantly capture how our contemporary culture thinks about music. Unlike other self-debasing lyrics – a hallmark of the punk genre – Five Iron Frenzy were not under the illusion of the ‘alternative revolution.’ The identity they offered is the one we find in Christ. They didn’t want to present a place where non-conformers could be in unanimity. Instead they bemoaned what the music industry had become, and how it was changing its consumers. They conclude the song with these words, “You sunk your worth in being different / Just to be like your own kind / You traded in objectiveness / For the underground you follow blindly.”

I guess my own conclusion is in order. For the Christian there is great danger in seeking recognition from the exclusivity of being ‘alternative.’ In closing I admit that I am perhaps writing this post to my teenage self and that it’s a few years late, but here goes: Music is a wonderful gift from God and therefore we should share it; on the other hand, keeping bands to yourself because they provide an identity is idolatry.

FIF

Worth Hearing: Showbread – Matthias Replaces Judas

no sir, nihilism is not practicalI was driving around town with a friend the other day when this song started playing. As soon as it came on he turned to me and told me to shut up. He then turned up the volume to the point where I felt droplets of blood trickling out of my ear. Since I had nothing else to do I figured I might as well give the song a listen. I wasn’t disappointed.

And neither will you be. I say this because I feel it would be remarkably sinister for me to not share this song with you. In fact, I feel so strongly about this that I even endured the painfully slow speed of my ADSL connection to grab you both a youtube video and the lyrics. I have since found out that I do not have the necessary technical skills to get the youtube video to appear on this page. So instead I provide you with a link to the video (http://bit.ly/eo01qH) and the lyrics below. [Ed: easily fixed by any fantastic webmaster]

Enjoy.

Lyrics:

It is so that my transgressions have born a withered fruit,
The sun has scorched the rising plants, alas they have no root,
The bleached bones of animals bound by leather strips,
Dance through the air with laughter as I wield this wicked whip.

As you did warn me carpenter, this world has weakened my heart,
So easily I disparage, self-seeking the work of my art,
And there you have come to me, at the moment I bathe in my sorrow,
So in love with myself, sought after avoiding tomorrow,

Where do you find the love to offer he who betrays you?
And offer to wash my feet as I offer to disobey you,
Your beauty does bereave me, and how my words do fail,
So faithfully and dutifully I award you with betrayal.

The weak and the downtrodden fall on broken legs,
As I walk past a smile I cast, fervor in my stead,
But my bones like plastic, do buckle backward now,
I lay in this field by Judas, anticipate the plow.

I cannot be forgiven, my wages will be paid,
For those more lovely and admirable is least among the saved,
And where would I fit, Jesus? What place is left for me?
The price of atonement is more than I’ve found to offer up as my plea.

Jesus, my heart is all I have to give to you, so weak and so unworthy,
This simply will not do, no alabaster jar, no diamond in the rough,
For your body that was broken, how can this be enough?
By me you were abandoned, by me you were betrayed,
Yet in your arms and in your heart forever I have stayed.

Your glory illuminates my life, and no darkness will descend,
For you have lived forever and your love will never end.

Watch The Rising Day with me

Perhaps you’ve noticed that I have an interest in quality music that is quality in two ways; musically and lyrically.
Well, I believe that Tim Challies has pointed me to just such an artist in Matthew Smith. These words were modified from a hymn written by William Cowper (a contemporary of John Newton who wrote “Amazing Grace”, if you don’t know who Cowper is, check out the biographies John Piper has done) but Smith has written new music for it and it sounds great. You can stream his whole album for free (14 tracks) here. By the way, don’t only listen to this one – there are a few other really good tracks there; I really appreciated “Goodnight”.

Watch The Rising Day
~
My former hopes are fled
My terror now begins
I feel, alas, that I am dead
In trespasses and sins
Ah, whither shall I fly?
I hear the thunder roar
The Law proclaims Destruction nigh,
And Vengeance at the door
Vengeance at the door, Vengeance at the door
When I review my ways
I dread impending doom
But sure a friendly whisper says
“Flee from the wrath to come.”
I see, or think I see, a glimmering from afar
A beam of day that shines for me
To save me from despair
Save me from despair, save me from despair
Forerunner of the sun
It marks the pilgrim’s way
I’ll gaze upon it while I run
And watch the rising day
Forerunner of the sun
It marks the pilgrim’s way
I’ll gaze upon it while I run, and watch the rising day
Watch the rising day, watch the rising day