Worship

In My Humble Opinion…The One with the Modernized Hymns

I don’t often share my personal, completely subjective opinions with y’all. I figure there’s enough of that in the world and what’s sorely lacking is unambiguous biblical truth. So that’s what I try to share instead.

But today, I have an opinion. I’m sure it’ll be wildly unpopular and generate a bunch of hate mail, but that’s in my wheelhouse, so here goes:

I don’t really like most modernizations of hymns.

I didn’t say, “I don’t like modern hymns.” There are several of those I like, and contemporary hymn writers like the Gettys are doing a bang up job of writing lovely new, doctrinally sound hymns. Frankly, we need more theologically rich contemporary hymns.

What I mean is that I don’t like some well-meaning hipster to pick up How Great Thou Art and go, “Hey, those words – most of them anyway…or…at least a few of them – are cool, but that melody, harmony, tempo, and syncopation? Haul out the mothballs! We can’t be singing THAT in church! It’s gotta sound like something on CCM radio! Relevant! Fresh! Cutting edge!”. And then they proceed to put their grubby little paws all over someone else’s hard work and mangle it into something barely reminiscent of the work of art it once was.

It’s kind of the same reason I hate modern remakes of movies of yesteryear. It takes something that was great the way it was and ends up diminishing it to make it palatable and marketable to today’s consumer.

Hymn modernizers are often melody driven. They take a melody they like and force the original hymn lyrics to fit it – leading to awkward phrasing or the need to change words – rather than letting the lyrics lead and crafting a melody around them.

What’s wrong with the original music? I mean it. What on earth is wrong with the original music to the hymn? Nobody’s clamoring for the modernization of Gregorian chant or classical music or big band or 50’s rock, or 60’s folk music, or disco. People listen to those genres and appreciate them for what they are, and if they want to listen to a different genre, they switch genres, they don’t play musical Silly Putty with the current genre. If every generation of people had taken the hymn modernizers’ approach, we’d currently be listening to the 21st century version of Nebuchadnezzar’s horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, and bagpipe.

To me, it’s functionally musical plagiarism even if it doesn’t fit the technical legal definition. They take an existing piece of someone else’s work, change at least 50% of it (sometimes more if they change some of the lyrics in addition to the music) and popularize it under their own name. Whatever happened to “Keep your eyes on your own paper and do your own work.”?

Most of the hymns now being modernized were written at a time when people sang like normal human beings, which nobody seems to know how to do any more. Today, when listening to modernized hymns, you have two choices of “artists”: the wispy, breathy ones who sound like a stiff breeze would knock them over, or the moany, growly ones whose vocalizations are more fit for a Barry White ditty (let the reader understand) than a hymn.

But…but…but…

Yes, I know all the exceptions to everything I’ve just said. I know various hymns have been modernized from time immemorial. I know lyrics of songs are often changed to fit existing melodies. I know some people like modernized hymns and growly or wispy singers.

But that’s kind of the point of why I posted an opinion today. This is my personal preference. I get to like what I like and dislike what I dislike as long as I’m within the confines of Scripture. So do you. So does everybody in the Body. And that’s OK.

Varied personal opinions and preferences – not biblical truth, mind you; we have to know the difference – are not things to divide over. We need to make sure we’re listening to each other, understanding each other, and valuing the unique quirks and characteristics God created in each other. God put each of us together differently for His glory. Those differences show the kind of creativity and diversity He is capable of.

So you have your subjective opinion and I’ll have mine, and we’ll love each other and have those opinions to the glory of God.

Just keep your mitts off How Great Thou Art, if you please.

13 thoughts on “In My Humble Opinion…The One with the Modernized Hymns”

  1. Amen!! I couldn’t agree with you more. Hymns have stood the test of time for a reason; they are theologically sound and have beautiful melodies. Don’t mess with them.

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  2. Ugh, I totally agree. I’m very bias, having spent so much time in the WoF the weird modern sound of singing brings back bad memories lol. A congregation singing harmoniously to a song written some time in church history…ahhh that’s my preference!

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  3. Yep. Yep. And Yep. 😁.

    I’m no curmudgeon, and neither are you.
    There is comfort in singing a hymn, especially in congregational worship, in a traditional manner. Everyone already knows it; no new learning curve.

    As for recordings…..I agree about the style of singing so prevalent now. Not sure *why* it’s necessary to rasp, whine or heavily styalize a sound. A singer with a beautiful voice has a wonderful gift to share. Please use it…..and thank you for allowing those of us with *naturally raspy* voices to sing along and enjoy your gift too.

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  4. I mostly agree. The words are the most important because of the sound theology in them. Every now and then I hear an old hymn sung with a peppier tempo and enjoy that. Time, what’s even worse than changing up the melody all together, which I don’t like, is slowing the tempo down so much I can practically take a nap between verses. Opinions: everybody has one. This is your blog and you can share as many as you choose to share. 🤓

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  5. I don’t really like any modern music. If that makes me an old fuddy duddy, then so be it. When I am alone at work or in my yard, hymns comes out of me. The words and melodies seem so right for a person looking for a way to praise God. Thanks for posting this

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  6. I agree! It bothers me more when it sounds mostly like the original version (especially at the beginning), but then there’s some new bridge thrown in, and/or the words are changed in a verse when the original was much better (like in a popular modernized version of Amazing Grace). Also, as a musician, I can’t understand why bands want to get quiet and extra solemn leading into the last verse of some hymns, when the last verse is typically the one that is focused on our hope for eternity, victory, etc. It’s supposed to be sung robustly and joyfully, not solemnly. It’s important for the tone of the music to complement the lyrics.

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  7. Thanks so much for writing this piece! I post YouTube videos of hymns on my blog each Sunday, and it’s getting harder each week to find ones that haven’t had additional verses or bridges thrown in. Very discouraging!

    Stay healthy there in Louisiana, dear friend. I’m praying for you.

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    1. Thank you, DebbieLynne! I know what you mean- it’s also hard to find YT hymn videos recorded by somebody that’s not connected to false doctrine or a heretical “church”!

      I hope y’all are doing OK up there in MA, too!

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  8. I agree. I think it’s just lazy on the part of the writer, instead of coming up with their own songs they have to alter an original.

    The first time I heard (I think it was) Amazing Grace re-done it was during a worship service and it stopped me short… I was so disappointed and I actually chose not to sing along with the chorus. And I DO love the new worship songs, though I spend a lot of my first time hearing them checking out who has the copyright and whether the words are Scriptural, which is becoming exhausting and grieves my heart.

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  9. I’ve never liked it and thought I was the only one. Now I don’t need to be silent about it. To me, it’s just ruined a good hymn (ha ha ha says someone who can’t carry a tune.)
    (Can’t wait to read your thoughts on this.)

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