Release Day Review: Gettymusic 2016
Getty, Keith and Kristyn. Facing a Task Unfinished. Nashville: Gettymusic, 2016. Audio CD. $13.99. (Discounts and digital and deluxe versions are available.) www.gettymusic.com
Today, Facing a Task Unfinished, the new album by Keith and Kristyn Getty releases.
The album is notable for its many mission hymns and for the many collaborative compositions, arrangements, and recordings it features.
This isn't the first time we've reviewed the modern hymns of Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. Longtime readers may remember the following:
According to the final meeting minutes of the former LCMS Commission on Worship (June 23-24, 2010), twenty-two hymns by Keith Getty (and co-writers Kristyn Getty, Stuart Townend, et al) were approved by LCMS Doctrinal Review. http://lhpqbr.blogspot.com/2011/04/new-hymnody.html
The list of 22:
· Across the Lands
· All Around the World
· Beneath the Cross
· Benediction (May the Peace of God)
· By Faith
· Come, People of the Risen King
· Compassion Hymn
· Creation Sings
· Every Promise
· Father, We Have Sinned
· Hear the Call of the Kingdom
· Hear O Israel
· In Christ Alone
· Jesus Draw Me Ever Nearer
· O Church Arise
· See What a Morning
· Speak O Lord
· Still, My Soul, Be Still
· The Power of the Cross
· There is a Higher Throne
· What Grace is Mine
· When Trials Come
These are but a sampling of posts that review Getty/Townend collaboration hymns, recordings, or share what they have to say about composing and hymnwriting in their own words:
(sheet music collection by another publisher)
(includes one of their LCEF concerts with an appearance by LCMS President Harrison)
The Association of Classical and Christian Schools, of which my classical Lutheran school is a member, did an interview with Keith recently in advance of their concert at the summer ACCS conference (http://www.classicaldifference.com/and-can-it-be-new-hymns/).
What inspires your work as you create new hymns in today’s world?
After we looked at Old Testament patterns of worship, New Testament patterns of worship, and eternal patterns of worship in Revelation, and indeed as we look at church music as it walks though Christian history, there were three consistents and we felt they were all under attack as we looked at the whole thing in the year 2000. So, we approached our work with three principles in mind:
1) TEACHING: God’s people learn their faith in significant part, intellectually, emotionally, and artistically, through what they sing. … So, we wanted to write hymns that really taught the full canon of the God of Scripture. We live in a generation where there are more Christians in the world than at any point in human history, and yet the average person who calls himself evangelical knows less about the Scriptures than the average person who went to normal government school in 1950 in the West.
2) CONGREGATIONAL SINGING: All through history, God’s people have been singing together. Congregational singing is a holy act and the Bible talks about the joy of being together, and that every tribe and tongue will sing together. So we wanted to write music that was all about congregational singing. We write melodies that borrow their structure more from classic music or traditional folk music that can be sung apace, with an organ, with a Chinese instrument, or in a rock band. Songs where the medium doesn’t matter. That’s the centerpiece.
3) EXCELLENCE: The third thing that emanates from the first two is … that a biblical view of artistry means to take God seriously and to take creativity seriously. We want to write songs that lead to true theology, good music, and beautiful poetry.
On 13 June, LCMS President Harrison posted the following picture and text to Facebook:
I was delighted to get a text from Keith Getty yesterday, and that he was able to come visit us at the LCMS IC today. What fun. He is a profound purveyor of modern hymnody, believes deeply in the significance of congregational singing, and singing hymns that are all about Christ and the serious themes of the Christian life. Thanks Keith Getty! http://www.gettymusic.com/ — with Jon Vieker.
Previously, we at Lutheran Book Review/Liturgy, Hymnody, and Pulpit Quarterly Book Review have noted issues that Lutherans would have with hymn texts by Getty and Townend, e.g.:
"Holy Spirit" raises concerns with regard to properly distinguishing justification and sanctification with its first phrase, "Holy Spirit, living Breath of God, breathe new life into my willing soul," that could be made more like Psalm 51 by changing "willing" to "sinful."
Notably, "Communion Hymn," aka, "Behold the Lamb," has survived Pr. Wolfmueller's Praise Song Cruncher (http://www.tabletalkradio.org/documents/praise%20song%20list.pdf http://tabletalkradio.org/content/sites/default/files/audio/ttr155_0.mp3)
For the purposes of this review, I was given access to pre-release audio recordings, sheet music by request, and was mailed a copy of the CD. I was not required to write a positive review. This is something I would never agree to, not even if asked by our synodical publishing house. The following is my honest assessment after living with the music for a time and after reflection and discussion with my brother pastors.
Musicianship on the recording is professional and of the highest quality. Arrangements and instrumentation are not always what you would see and hear at my congregation, yet as Keith acknowledged earlier, the melodies that support the texts can usually be played on a variety of instruments, even the organ, piano, trumpet, and acoustic guitar we most commonly hear.
"Modern Hymns" are known for being entirely new compositions, but also for providing a new text for an old tune, a new tune for an old text, and often, the addition of a refrain to a hymn and tune that never had one before.
Let's take the tracks in order:
1. "Facing a Task Unfinished" reworks a text by Anglican missionary Bishop to China, Frank Houghton paired with AURELIA, the Samuel Wesley tune used for "The Church's One Foundation," and a new refrain. In February 2016, Christian congregations around the world sang this hymn on the First Sunday in Lent (with a Lenten musical arrangement) to focus on world mission and evangelism.
2. "May the Peoples Praise You" isn't my cup of tea. It seems to be in more of the praise song style (that I liked that the Gettys had thus far avoided). The influence of co-writer Ed Cash is evident.
3. "Living Waters" was also co-written by Ed Cash. Stylistically, I would find it difficult to see this one led with an organ. Textually, I don't have as much of an issue with the content, except that this hymn is a missed opportunity to confess what Scripture says about Holy Baptism.
4. "O Children Come" is from the most recent Getty Christmas album. The world music feel is clear since the track features Ladysmith Black Mambazo. A different arrangement would likely be more edifying and less shocking for "Grandma Schmidtke" in my pews.
5. "My Worth Is Not in What I Own" is by far my favorite hymn, arrangement, and recording on the album. I have long appreciated the arrangements, playing and singing of Fernando Ortega, who is currently affiliated with the Anglican Church in North America. The duet of Fernando and Kristyn works well. If you are looking for a hymn to consider for a choir, solo, or eventually congregational use, start here. Co-writer Graham Kendrick, famous/infamous for "Shine, Jesus, Shine" has his best work in this hymn written with Keith and Kristyn. I particularly appreciate the dual confession of stanza five: "Two wonders here that I confess: My worth and my unworthiness. My value fixed-my ransom paid at the cross." An improvement to be considered would be a stanza connecting the cross to the means of grace in word and sacrament. Perhaps some future songs, hymns and canticles could be Getty/Ortega collaborations.
6. "For the Cause," a 2016 Getty/Getty/Townend collaboration was the pleasant surprise of the album for me. It follows the typical Modern Hymn pattern of stanza, stanza, refrain, stanza, stanza, refrain, final stanza, refrain. As a Lutheran, I understood stanza 2's phrase "As many see and many put their trust In the Son" in an end of Acts 2 way rather than in a "decision theology" way. See also John 15:16. I appreciate the steady and lively arrangement. I heard a different one in my own head: trumpet. In transposing the melody to play on my trumpet the syncopation really works!
7. "Lift High the Name of Jesus," was the sole new hymn on Live at the Gospel Coalition: Modern and Traditional Hymns from 2013. Fionán de Barra, Getty, Getty, and Ed Cash collaborated on this one. I never really considered this one for use at our Lutheran Divine Service or Daily Office. I have also since noted that it really has no rhyme structure at all. The closest false rhymes are Him and sin in stanza one and grace and praise in stanza two. This text celebrates "the legacy of the first missionary to Ireland, St. Patrick," but lacks the rigor of true hymnody.
8. "The Lord Is My Salvation" reminded me of the duo Watermark and with good reason. Nathan Nockles is a co-writer along with both Gettys and Jonas Myrin. The melody would best suit a soloist or a practiced choir. The book of Micah is an influence on the text, but it needs to be more anchored in God in Christ. After stanza 5 it becomes more of a 90s praise song than a Modern Hymn. I did note a change in the sheet music version compared to the recording, and one for the better. In stanza 5, "He will call me home" becomes "Christ will call me home." Thank you for making this more clear!
9. "We Believe (The Apostles' Creed)" does not appear to have any text that is blatantly false or untrue based on my initial readings and listenings, but it doesn't have the doctrinal rigor or crystal clarity that I would need in order to use it for worship. A recent convention of The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod discouraged the use of locally-written creeds and "creedal hymns" other than those found in our hymnal. The sheet music has the correct punctuation. The album title citation, "We Believe (Apostle's Creed) does not. Since "We" is used instead of "I," one would be tempted to call it "We Believe (Nicene Creed)" instead, but the hymn text is obviously influenced by the baptismal creed rather than the one confessed at Nicea and Constantinople. The hymn and text may well be a step up in content and orthodoxy for congregations who have not used any historic Christian creed thus far.
10. "He Will Hold Me Fast (When I Fear My Faith Will Fail)" is a Matt Merker rework and expansion upon text by Ada Habershon with some borrowed introductory music from FINLANDIA by Sibelius. I have yet to decide if this would be used in our congregation's corporate worship. I need to know more about the original hymn, the congregational context of Merker, and further study of the hymn. It too sounds much like a "praise song," yet is to be commended for its focus on the difficulty of the Christian life and how it holds on to Christ.
11. "Psalm 24 (The King of Glory)" is a Getty/Getty/Cash/Chris Tomlin collaboration. I like that they are working to sing more Psalm texts, but this one did not positively resonate with me. It sounded much like Townend arrangement, though he had nothing to do with it. The sitar is very noticeable, as is the voice of one singer (unpleasantly jarring) particularly in stanza three and following. I did not care for this version of Psalm 24.
12. "O Church Arise (Arise, Shine)" features Christ Tomlin, like the previous track. It is the 2005 Getty/Townend hymn with a new and unnecessary refrain. The liner notes say:
We finish the album with the words of this hymn Keith and Stuart wrote back in 2005, inspired by our admiration for the hymns of Martin Luther. Luther believed that to take a courageous stand for the Gospel and to build churches required congregations whose love for the Lord and each other was fortified by the songs they would sing. As we approach the 500th anniversary of Luther's Reformation, we thought it appropriate to bring this song back an dare grateful to our friend, Chris Tomlin, who helped us write a new chorus for this new version.
With respect, I would encourage that a future version be done with a Lutheran who takes Luther's hymnic legacy and Luther's Bible doctrine seriously. How about Rev. Dr. Harrison?
I'm not going to use this version. The new text is not untrue. I do feel that the new refrain takes away from the main hymn text. It seems out of character for how I have come to appreciate their original text.
That said, I must address what I consider to be a doctrinal error in stanza three: "And as the stone is rolled away, And Christ emerges from the grave..." This seems to be contrary to what Scripture (and FC SD Article VII 100) confesses in that Christ rose from the dead and then the rolled-away stone revealed an empty tomb. The text as-is may be understood to mean that the stone had to be rolled away before Christ could emerge from the grave. Consider this proposed correction: "Before the stone is rolled away, Our Christ emerges from the grave..." The most prolific hymnwriter in all Christendom may well be Mr. "alt.", as hymn texts are amended and emended by hymnal editors and committees often to make good texts even better.
Track 13 is an incredible display of musicianship. 14, "Consider the Stars," rejoices in gifts that our ours from primarily the First Article of the Creed. Both feature the talented John Patitucci.
The Digital Deluxe version of the album also includes "Jesus, Tender Shepherd, Hear Me," "Let the Earth Resound," and "Thou Who Wast Rich Beyond All Splendor."
97-99% of all hymns, songs, canticles, and psalms sung at my congregation and at my school come from Lutheran Service Book. I believe that hymns by Getty and Townend will be in a future supplement to that hymnal and will be in its successor some day.
I do believe that Facing a Task Unfinished will encourage the Church of Christ to be bold in mission and personal evangelism with the Gospel of Christ. The mission focus of the album is clear. One hears the Gospel on the album. Yet, perhaps too much was attempted on one album with all the different styles, different collaborators, and so many new songs and hymns all at once. I do not wish to sound or be negative about this project. One can appreciate, encourage, and be encouraged by a living artist without liking or using every piece of their art.
I was personally honored by the invitation to travel to Nashville in April to be a part of the congregation for this recording. Regrettably, I was not able to attend due to my other vocations. I would like to meet the Gettys and Mr. Townend someday. Their work deserves our attention, our kind consideration, and as appropriate to our confession, even our use.
To watch tonight's live stream celebration of the album release, click below: