About a year ago I began serving at Worship Arts Director for First Free Methodist Church in Seattle, WA. This church has been in its location just across the street from Seattle Pacific University for decades. Within the last 2 years they have transitioned from having 2 services, 1 traditional and 1 contemporary, to having a single service. My “assignment” is to present worship music within our weekly worship service that features selections from centuries of hymns and more recent modern worship compositions.
One of the great challenges when pairing a modern worship song with a hymn is that hymns are often considerably more harmonically complex than modern worship songs. Whereas modern worship songs tend to limit themselves to four chords within the key, hymns often feature chords “outside” the key, known as non-diatonic chords.
With the hope of presenting sets of songs that feel cohesive rather than disjointed stylistically, I often choose to simplify the harmonies of a hymn. Have you ever taken on the challenge of doing this? In a recent service at my church our final song was the classic hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy”. What powerful lyrics permeate that song. Over the next few posts here, I’m going to present some of the options available to you as an arranger. Don’t let the term “arranger” intimidate you. It doesn’t imply here that you’ll be writing out parts for bassoon and tenor sax or notating glissandi for a harpist. In this context, it simply means that you’ll be considering the chords at your disposal and choosing which to use. It’s a very exciting and rewarding task, this reharmonization of a hymn. I hope you’ll enjoy the process and make it part of your worship leader tool kit.
For now, here’s an example of the harmonization we use for verse 1 of “Holy, Holy, Holy”.