I was raised in upstate New York. My mother and father were home missionaries, planting four new churches around the state. My earliest memories are rooted in these small churches where the only instrument played was that of my mother playing piano, and eventually my brothers joining in on their respective instruments – alto saxophone, clarinet, drums, and trombone. As I began learning to play the trumpet I soon joined in.
I vividly recall my first experiences playing trumpet in church – I was asked to play with a mute in the bell so that I was not so loud. I‘m not certain how to interpret that request. Did I sound horrible? Was my trumpet sound so bad that Psalm 150:3 “Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet” did not apply to me? Or were my parents and siblings simply using their gift of musical discernment to balance our church’s instrumentation for an appropriate worship environment? I like to think it was the latter!
Central to my musical experience at the time was the repertoire learned in thousands of church services – primarily hymns found in the “Let Us Praise Him,” and “Sing Unto the Lord” hymnals (available from Pentecostal Publishing House).
This was the only music I was exposed to outside of my public school music education. By Jr. High School I started to become interested in jazz and began adding these stylistic traits to my church music playing. Occasionally I was even permitted to remove the mute!
Such childhood musical experiences shaped my attitude toward hymns, placing them in a significantly higher position within my hierarchy of musical preferences. Hearing these hymns now possesses the power to transport me to specific services in my youth. These services could be one of thousands in a small home missions church in New York. Therefore, the absence of hearing the hymns today on a regular basis limits the frequency to which I remember these precious moments with fellow believers. Secondly, and more importantly, the hymns of my past contain a wealth of doctrinal comfort (Calvary, The Blood, Heaven, etc.). Singing or playing these hymns provides an immense amount of theological content to ponder, apply to daily life, and give comfort in today’s chaotic world.
While I do possess an appreciation for modern church music, my roots, my history growing up in the small home missions church singing and playing from the hymnal, has shaped my musical preferences in such a way that I personally cannot allow the traditional hymn to be relegated to the “back seat” of the christian repertoire in my life.
It is from this view of hymns that I wish to begin a personal journey and revisit the hymns that played a significant role in shaping my church music preferences and provides for me a canon of music with a strong doctrinal foundation. In this new series, entitled Hymn Sketches, I seek to examine one hymn per month by 1) reflecting on the impact the lyrics have on my personal life, 2) study the musical structure written for the hymn, and 3) arrange and record a sketch of the hymn that musically reflects how it speaks to me.
Such arrangements and recordings of the hymn sketches will surely present opportunities for them to be presented in a musical style different than they were originally written, yet still maintain their value in my spiritual walk. (The recordings of Hymn Sketches are not intended to be professionally mastered works at this time but will be produced using inexpensive equipment in my home studio. Eventually, the tracks may be available for download should anyone desire a copy.)
I invite you to join me on this journey as I revisit these hymns and sketch arrangements reflecting their importance to my spiritual well-being. At the core of this process is Eph. 5:19-20, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”
Hymn Sketch #1, I Surrender All, coming soon!