The Modern Hymnal: An interview with Keith Getty
Together the Gettys and the community of musicians with whom they work are revitalizing the church by providing this generation with robust and moving church music.Over the past decade or so, the Protestant church in North America has experienced a revival of sorts. The revival of which I speak is the renaissance of hymnody. I first encountered this movement to resurrect the ancient hymns of the church in 2009 when a band called Page CXVI released an album entitled “Hymns.” With the clear intent of “making hymns accessible and known again,” countless musicians have repurposed, rearranged, or revamped the great hymns of old. Preeminent among these are Keith and Kristyn Getty.
Standing on the shoulders of giants, the Gettys have distinguished themselves as leaders in the hymnody revival. Though they are among the vanguard of artists reintroducing the church to her musical heritage, they are perhaps best known for their original compositions like “In Christ Alone” (penned by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend). Together the Gettys and the community of musicians with whom they work are revitalizing the church by providing this generation with robust and moving church music.
The following interview of Keith Getty was conducted via email.
KA: I’ve heard you describe your calling as that of a “steward” of the great hymns of the church. Can you unpack this a bit?
KG: We are hymn-writers and stewards of those hymns, but part of that wider responsibility is pointing people to all songs that they can carry with them through life, whether they are old hymns or new.
KA: Who are your top three favorite hymn writers? Why do you favor these three?
KG: Martin Luther, Cecil Frances Alexander, and Charles Wesley.
Luther because he rebirthed a vision for reforming the church through the preaching and singing of the Word and had the courage to take time out of his life to write, collate, and inspire others. Wesley because for every hymn I’ve ever written on any subject he has a better one! Alexander, because she took her Irish heritage and wrote for her local church and realized that Christian catechizing through hymns begins at a young age.
KA: What is your all-time favorite hymn? Why?
KG: St. Patrick’s Breastplate because it is the essence of Christianity, the essence of poetry, and because it’s lasted 17 centuries.
KA: Contemporary Christian music is sometimes criticized for being uncreative and shallow, especially when compared with the great hymns of the church. What are your thoughts on this? Can you offer any thoughts on why modern church music doesn’t quite pack the punch of an Isaac Watts or Charles Wesley?
KG: I think there are two things. In defense of church music, we are comparing what was written yesterday against the very best 0.1% of what was written in Church History. However, my concern is that the values have changed in the world of church music.
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