In Christ Alone - October
In the 1960s easy recording of music on to cassette tapes (some of us even still have them!) enabled an ever increasing Christian music industry to start to develop alongside the secular music industry. Popular music books such as "Youth Praise" and "Psalm Praise" were published in cheap paperback editions. Acoustic and bass guitars as well as electric keyboards were readily available, and within the budget and playing ability of many. Once CDs were on the market the amount of new Christian music began to increase in what seemed an exponential fashion; however, unfortunately much of it seemed to discerning listeners and worshippers to be driven by market forces so that the main aim was an ever increasing profit for the manufacturing industry rather than edification of the Christian worshipper.
Fortunately though, it seems that over the past 20 or so years most congregations have sensibly taken stock of what is available and rather than trying to learn an ever increasing number of new songs, many of which can be regarded as of a rather dubious quality, they have aimed to build a solid repertoire out of the new material which is available, rather than having a cool playlist. In time congregations are therefore maintaining the best of previous generations’ hymns (Charles Wesley wrote over 2000 hymns, only of which a handful are used these days) and adopting current songs which are not just ‘of the moment’ but will be of long term worth. Christian song writers rightly need an appropriate recompense for the time and expertise they give to develop their God given talents which encourage Christian worshippers so much. Churches register with Christian Copyright International Ltd and pay an annual fee so that payment is made to the writers for the use of their material.
Last month we looked at a hymn which has been very popular with "Songs of Praise" listeners; this month we look at a hymn which was top of a poll held by Tearfund earlier this year. "In Christ Alone" was written in the year 2000 with words by Stuart Townend and music by Keith Getty.
"In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
this cornerstone, this solid ground,
firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my all in all,
here in the love of Christ I stand"
Stuart Townend is regarded as one of the main worship leaders/ songwriters of our generation. His songs are sung in churches and at events worldwide. His lyrics are often acclaimed in the same breath as those by Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley. For many of his songs he has written both music and lyrics. Those who have studied the development of Christian hymn and song writing anticipate that many of his compositions will support the Christian church for generations to come. He is an accomplished keyboard player and guitarist as well as being an engaging worship leader.
He usually plays the guitar with a distinctive style of acoustic folk which sets him apart from much of the current mainstream "rock worship" style of the Christian music scene — although this can be uplifting to listen to when performed well it is not often suitable for congregational singing because of the complexities of rhythm and "melody" lines which can be very hard to follow and remember even when there is a good worship leader.
Stuart was born in West Yorkshire but emigrated from God's own county to Brighton; Keith Getty was born in Ireland and over recent years has chosen to live in the USA. In the year 2000 they had met at a conference and decided to develop song ideas. Keith sent Stuart a CD which had the recording of 3 tunes he had composed and played on the piano. In his music book ‘The Stuart Townend Collection’ Stuart wrote that he was so taken with the first of the 3 melodies (which had a distinctive hymn like quality and also a beautiful Celtic lilt ) that he began to write down some lines about the life of Christ. He comments in his book that sometimes song lyrics come to him in a haphazard way and he has to piece them together gradually to obtain continuity and shape. However, when he wrote "In Christ alone" the process was much more linear — he worked out a rhyming structure so that lines 1 and 3 rhymed as well as the more usual 2 and 4. The remaining 4 lines of each verse do not rhyme.
In all the song has 4 verses.
The first verse sets the scene with a fairly subjective exploration of what Christ means to the Christian. In verses 2 and 3 Stuart works through Christ's life, death and resurrection. In verse 4 there is a great declaration of the impact of all these amazing events in our lives. It seems that the song is so popular because although it can stir emotions, emotions are not the central feature of the song, but rather, the lyrics fix on the unchanging truths of Christian salvation so faith is engendered and spirits can be strengthened. As well as being sung all through the year it is often sung at both weddings and funerals. It is a lovely hymn to sing with other worshippers or to listen to during a time of personal meditation.
Sunday 29th November is Advent Sunday so it will just be possible to look at an Advent hymn in November's Parish Magazine, for what is the beginning of the church year.