This past Sunday was the first Sunday in Advent. I love the music of Advent and Christmas! There are so many great songs that just have just permeated the soundtrack of the season; Silent Night, Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, O Come O Come Emmanuel, Joy to the World… But are the carols of old still relevant in a contemporary setting of worship?
I think so. After all, if we do not bring our history into the present, where is our reference for these modern songs of worship? The songs written over a hundred years ago have stood a test of time that many songs we listen to today will not pass (let’s be real) – so we would be almost negligent to ignore the wealth that the old carols posses. The challenge is how do we bring the songs we have heard every year into a modern setting, have them be appropriate and meaningful?
We must respect how the songs have shaped our congregations’ experience of Advent and how they hear them. Can we first hold onto the melody. Try changing the chords underneath the melody (if in major switch it to the relative minor) or add a chorus/tag/transition between versus. Or perhaps changing the style of the song while maintaining the melody. I have always found “What Child Is This” works great with a Dave Brubeck/Take 5 kind of edge. One of the wildest adaptations we have done is with the carol, “Sing We Now of Christmas.” The changes are great and we have molded it into a very funky/groovy/James Brown song (and it is a funky tune)! And this year in The Journey we’ll be doing “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” in a Nashville/country style – while still keeping the melody we know from the hymn.
But when the song isn’t wanting to change, as they will because sometimes the traditional way of singing a song is so present that it is difficult to let go. We might feel the need to take the lyrics and go in a completely different direction. This can be incredibly rewarding, yet very challenging. The rub here lies in that one must write a new song that captured the spirit of the song we all know and have loved, yet take it in a new and refreshing way so that it becomes a new song. This is where our craft as songwriters must come into play and we must listen to the Spirit and not force something upon the song. For example, a few years ago I wrote new music to the hymn, “Silent Night,” and it never quite felt right. Then a year later a chorus and bridge emerged one afternoon and then the song was complete. But I had to wait for the song to come…
The sounds of Advent are special. They call for us to wait patiently for the Lord. And in these crazy times of Facebook/Twitter/24-hourNews… patience… is hard to do sometimes. Hopefully, by rethinking some of the songs we have known and loved, we can bring them into our busy lives today and prepare the way.
So if you’d like to hear some of these crazy tunes, feel free to drop in for worship in The Journey at St. John’s in Fort Mill. Sundays at 11.00 am in the Fellowship Center of the church.
I was just wondering what you thought about the importance of the traditional carols in a
contemporary worship setting:
And this video is an awesome adaptation of “Silent Night” by Sixpence None The Richer (ft. Dan Haseltine).