Here’s another song we’ve been singing this week at our Genesis Arts Camp for kids. It’s the first two verses of Psalm 121: “I Lift My Eyes.”
It’s been almost a month since I last contributed anything helpful on Worthily Magnify, and that might be the longest stretch of non-posting since I started this blog in 2009. It’s been a very full summer for me, including several additional ministry things going on (I’ll share more on those later) and a seminary course through RTS’s online campus which I finished last week.
To dust off the blog a bit, I’m just going to share a little song I wrote for “Genesis Arts Camp” that we’re hosting at my church these week for about 200 kids. We need something fun and peppy to start off our sessions with, so for that purpose, “Hey Everybody” was born:
Last year I came across the album Psalm Songs, Vol. 1 by The Corner Room (the music ministry of Cahaba Park Church in Birmingham, AL, led by Adam Wright). I was struck by so many things about that album: the beautiful arrangements, the excellent way the text of Psalms was set to music word-for-word, and how effective it was at helping me not only memorize, but also sing the Psalms. I had that album on repeat for most of 2016.
Here’s the lyric video to the setting of Psalm 121 from that album:
“Love Never Ends is a three movement suite of 1 Corinthians 13 verbatim from the ESV Bible. Written for piano, strings and brass, the resulting cinematic landscape make this a truly breathtaking journey through one of the most familiar passages in Scripture. This project is designed to help anyone, from children to adults, know and treasure God’s Word.”
Here’s a quick video sample:
I asked Adam to share with us a bit of his story, and the heart behind The Corner Room and their recent album. Here’s a short interview:
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Adam Wright and I have lived in Birmingham, AL my entire life. It’s definitely home! I have a beautiful wife of almost 11 years named Jessica and two adorable daughters: Nora, 3 and Jill, 1. I love to read and listen to music constantly. I also enjoy a deep, thought provoking movie from time to time – Christopher Nolan’s films have been some of my favorites (especially The Dark Knight Trilogy). I also am a stickler for correct grammar and punctuation. Did I mention I’m a nerd? I must have forgotten that part, but you’ve probably gathered that by now…
How did God call you into worship leading?
Music has always been a natural part of life. From childhood to young adult years, there were always opportunities to grow and serve at church – youth and adult choirs, handbells, contemporary worship services, youth group worship, solos, etc. There were more opportunities in college – some at churches and some with college ministries on campus at the University of Montevallo. After graduating college, I got a part time job playing piano for a church which had both a traditional and a contemporary service. After three years serving that church “behind the scenes,” I began working at Cahaba Park, which has been a wonderful place to use and develop God’s good gifts. Initially, my perception of my job was to choose and lead four songs in the service – easy enough, right? Wrong! As I grew in my understanding of worship leadership, I found that there was a spiritual component that transcends executing songs. There is a pastoral role in what I am choosing and planning every week for our congregation and for me, the weekly process is devotional. I have loved working at Cahaba Park and am thankful for the opportunity to serve such a great group of folks.
Tell us about your worship ministry and the heart behind some of your recent projects.
In 2016, I created The Corner Room, a music resource ministry of Cahaba Park Church. While we do have an EP of hymns (What Great Mystery, 2016), our specific focus is setting Scripture verbatim from the ESV Bible (the translation that our church uses in worship) to music. The Corner Room has released two “Scripture song” projects: Psalm Songs, Volume I, a collection of ten psalms set to original music; and Love Never Ends, a three movement suite of 1 Corinthians 13. Our hope is that these songs would create opportunities for people to experience the Word of God in a fresh and unique way, and serve as a tool for Scripture meditation and memorization. While these projects are not intended for congregational singing, I believe that singing the Word of God to those in our services as they follow along is a powerful tool in corporate worship. We played Psalm 8 in worship this past week and as I looked into the congregation, I saw husbands and wives, parents and children, youth and singles, following along in their Bibles while the Scripture was sung. I’d like to encourage more music leaders to do this occasionally (or often), as it provides a moment for people to be still and reflect on the words and truths of Scripture.
Tell us about your latest project: “Love Never Ends”
All of the Corner Room projects to date have originated from the books of the Bible preached in our services. Seeking to thematically incorporate the sermon text into the service, I took the texts that were going to be preached and prepared musical arrangements for them – both for Psalms and for 1 Corinthians 13. Recording these songs was a natural extension of what our church was learning and created more opportunity for our people to reflect upon the text.
1 Corinthians 13 is one of those passages that is almost too familiar and it’s a challenge to create a musical arrangement that evokes a fresh sense of wonder and awe. It’s such a tender text, but it’s also extremely vibrant in it’s descriptions of love. Any previous interpretation I’d heard was extremely “ballady” and I challenged myself to think beyond the natural tendency to approach it that way. Previous Corner Room projects had a very “rootsy” focus – I’m definitely inclined to write in that vein. As I began these arrangements, I decided to use the both delicate and percussive piano as the main instrument and invited Grammy-nominated arranger/composer Don Hart, to score the accompanying (and phenomenal!) strings and brass.
This project has moved me to consider more deeply the love Christ has demonstrated towards me and the love to which he calls me to exemplify to others. I remember my initial listen of the first movement. In tears, I had to stop halfway through, drop to my knees and thank the Lord for his grace in Christ, and for the opportunity and gifts to create something like this. I was overwhelmed with gratitude. It was a truly humbling moment.
What’s next for you?
I am currently at work on Psalm Songs, Volume II! I hope to have it completed by winter of 2017-2018. Stay tuned!
Any chance you have any freebies you could give away?
I will gladly give away some freebies! How about 3 digital downloads?
Thanks, Adam, for your ministry, and for sharing your heart with us.
If you’d like to get one of those free digital downloads Adam is offering, please comment below. At 12:00pm tomorrow I’ll randomly pick three commenters, and will put Adam in touch with you.
You can follow The Corner Room on Twitter @cornerroommusic.
A few weeks ago, my colleague and friend Andrew Cote wrote an instrumental piece for string quartet to be used as the call to worship at our church’s Easter services. He entitled it “Triumph of the Resurrection”. I love it – and here’s the live recording from our Easter 11:30am service.
You can purchase the score – or just find out more about Andrew at his website here.
A few weeks ago I wrote a song called “O God of Perfect Holiness”, and wanted to share the free chord chart, lead sheet/choir parts, and video below.
The song was written for one of our services where I wanted something that focused us upward on God’s attributes of holiness, faithfulness, righteousness, gentleness, tenderness, and loveliness, in contrast to our sinfulness. It’s a simple four-verse modern hymn.
The lyrics are:
O God of perfect holiness
Seated high above
What ocean-depths of faithfulness
And sacrificial love
That all of our iniquities
Were placed on Jesus’ head
So we, who once were enemies
Are now his heirs instead
Oh God of perfect righteousness
True in all your ways
What kindness in your promises
What all sufficient grace
That you would send your Son
To live and die upon the cross
That through his victory he would give
That victory to us
O God of perfect tenderness
Who welcomes sinners home
What Father-hearted gentleness
In Jesus you have shown
And we will spend eternity
With angels and the saints
Who day and night forever sing
His never-ceasing praise
Oh God of perfect loveliness
Who made us from the dust
Who saved us from our wretchedness
In you we place our trust
And now to him who sits upon
The throne and to the Lamb
Be blessing, honor, glory, power
Jamie Brown. © 2017 Worthily Magnify Music. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Yesterday I had the privilege of teaching a seminar at the National Worship Leader Conference held in Centerville, VA. The title given to my seminar was “You CAN Write a Worship Song”. Obviously, with my reputation as the writer of such well-known songs as “Be Thou My Vision”, “It is Well with My Soul”, and “How Great Thou Art”, I was the perfect person for this seminar.
I had to laugh when I got the email asking me to teach this seminar. It came on the very day I had been working on a song I was trying to write, and literally saying to myself (and my wife) “I can’t write a worship song”. God has a sense of humor.
I’ve written a few songs that have seemed to work well in a congregational setting. I’ve written far more songs that have never seen the light of day. So I share the following song writing advice as encouragement first and foremost to MYSELF, and then hopefully it can be helpful to you too.
The most important thing in a discussion about writing songs for worship is to agree on the fundamentals of worship leading. Why? Because songs are the tip of the worship spear. I suggest that the fundamentals of worship leading can be summed up with the “three Cs”: Christ centered, congregationally accessible, and consistent.
If our heart is for Christ to be exalted, for people to be singing along and magnifying the Lord together, and for our congregations to experience this kind of focus on a consistent basis (even from song to song, much less Sunday to Sunday), then that will impact not only our worship leading, but also our song writing. If the soil of our hearts is conditioned rightly, then the songs that sprout up will be fruitful.
The second most important thing in a discussion about writing songs for worship is to distinguish between the KIND of song we’re writing. I suggest there are three types: personal, presentational, and congregational. The first two types are not meant for the congregation to sing along. In the “personal” category, you can write whatever you want. It’s for your own personal devotional life. In the “presentational” category, you are writing songs to be sung FOR your people, almost like a message is preached over them. There’s nothing wrong with personal or presentational songs. But we go off track as worship leaders when we expect our congregations to sing along with them.
Writing congregational worship songs is tricky. It’s not as easy as it looks, there are a lot of competing pressures and temptations pulling on us, we struggle with cliches and overused chord progressions, and we always have the nagging desire for our desire to get picked up by Chris Tomlin. So how do we proceed with writing congregational worship songs?
Ten quick tips:
- Write for your people
- Picture them in your mind.
- Don’t write for an arena if you’re not in an arena, or for a big band if you don’t use a big band. Write for your people who stand in front of you
- Write for a specific purpose/season
- Ask “What is our congregation’s SONG during this season?”. Or “where am I unable to find an existing song to serve this particular purpose?”.
- The Psalms are always tied to an event… Are your songs?
- Write a lot
- I once heard Keith and Kristyn say that they may write hundreds of songs per year. They might only harvest 5-10 usable ones out of that lot. And this is the Gettys we’re talking about! If we only try to write a song once every few months, it’s no wonder that perfect songs aren’t just flowing from our fingertips.
- Exercise your muscles or they atrophy! Write more than you’re writing now and you’ll improve as a writer.
- Write with focus
- What is this song about? It should be about one thing. Can the title of your song fit into any verse or bridge?
- Stay focused.
- Write enjoyable melodies
- Lyrics matter most. But melodies make those lyrics memorable! Oh the power of an enjoyable, memorable, melody. Can people remember the melody, or the main melodic hook, of your song after hearing it once, or at most, twice? If not, you have work to do.
- Regurgitate biblical truth
- Scripture is the sword of the Spirit!
- What are you listening to? What are you reading?
- Experiencing writer’s block? The problem (I guarantee it) is a problem FIRST of diet.
- Remove filler
- “Don’t bore us. Get to the chorus”
- Get to the point.
- I like to ask myself a strange question when I write: “What would I want to sing if I stood up in the middle of international arrivals at Dulles Airport?” I would need to say what I wanted to say pretty clearly. I would want to get the meat of who God is pretty quickly.
- Request and receive feedback
- Record it. Send it out. Get feedback. Make changes.
- Every good song writer in the world does this.
- Bob Kauflin did this with me (and the filler point too) with my song “Come You Sinners”. My first draft had a chorus full of “oh oh ohs” and cliches. He said I could do better. He was write. I went back to the drawing board, which is when the Augustine quote came to mind, and a more interesting melody came out of nowhere. I’m glad he gave me his honest critique.
- Resist the urge to pursue fame
- The odds of getting attacked by an elephant hiding in the trunk of your car are probably greater than you making it big with your worship song.
- Wanting your worship songs to get famous will seriously impede your ability to write for YOUR PEOPLE.
- We need more faithful, pastoral worship leaders, who SHUN the spotlight. The worship world has enough celebrities. Serve your people, and write for them.
- Repeat as needed
- Don’t get discouraged
- Even if no one else ever hears or sings your song, you should still write
- Why? Because you’ve been raised from death to life.
I’ve always loved the text to the old hymn “He Giveth More Grace” by Annie Johnson Flint, and the story behind it too. Annie endured incredible physical suffering throughout her life, and clung to God’s inexhaustible grace through it all. This hymn is a profound acknowledgement of the heaviness and burdens of this life – and a wonderful proclamation of the great power of God, and His generous grace in Jesus Christ that are available to us.
I wrote a new melody for this hymn a few years ago, and since then I’ve been amazed at how these lyrics have blessed people who have heard and/or sung it.
Below you’ll find a video of me singing the song, along with links to a free chord chart, and lead sheets as well. I hope this song is a blessing to you!
He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater
He sendeth more strength as our labors increase
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy
To multiplied trials He multiplies His peace
When we have exhausted our store of endurance
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun
Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision
Our God ever yearns His resources to share
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing
The Father both thee and thy load will upbear
His love has no limits, His grace has no measure
His power no boundary known unto men
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again
Words: Annie Johnson Flint. Music: Jamie Brown.
© 2013 Worthily Magnify Music. All rights reserved. CCLI Song # 7055874.