O Church Arise – Tim Hughes style

I was sent Keith and Krystyn Getty’s Christmas newsletter a couple of days ago, as I guess many of you reading this were (available from http://www.gettymusic.com). In the e-newsletter this month there was a link to the great song/hymn ‘O Church Arise’, strange I thought because I was expecting a new song and ‘O Church Arise’ is widely sung and very well known already? Then I noticed who arranged the version….Tim Hughes!

Copy and paste the link below in your web browser and see what you think…

Some thoughts from me…

1. The arrangement makes it more song than hymn, which for certain demographics is fantastic, especially given those people will be singing great meaty theology as a result.

2. The song is great to listen to, but to sing it is nearly impossible. Any bloke attempting singing this in F (originally in D) should be warned, ‘your vocal chords will be damaged in the process’!

This begs the question, ‘should artists with squeaky high voices’ record in keys that few can sing along to? Of course men can sing along but at some point they will resign themselves to that embarrassing ‘drop an octave’ moment, after already straining every stomach muscle and vocal chord to reach the ‘oooh oooh’s’ of the bridge! I thought songs like this were written to build up the church, to encourage them to ‘sing Psalms hymns and spiritual songs in your heart to the Lord’ (Eph  5:19). Perhaps the ‘in your heart’ of Eph 5 is consider literal by some artists and therefore it doesn’t matter what key they record in because as you listen to the track in the car, you can sing along ‘in your heart’ without making a noise!

Perhaps also another question emerges regarding recordings and its role in the church – should recording artists always record in keys that are singable or can they choose whatever key suits their voice best?

Something to consider…if they can raise the key from D to F (as in Tim Hughes’ version above) does that suggest that many recording artists consider that listening is as good for the church of God as singing? Is that right and does that show itself in different constituencies and in what ways? Would love to hear your thoughts?

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3 comments

  1. Firstly, agreed, its FAR to high for a congregation, (just tried singing along sotto voce in the office couldn’t manage it) plus whilst its a great arrangement, I feel the arrangement detracts from the structure of the song and does not allow you the same ability to reflect on the words.

    As to the second point, I think we can distinguish the purpose of recorded music and congregational music. Tim Hughes Matt Redman etc are professional “worship leaders” but are also recording artists. Looking at music through the ages, people have always learnt songs by heart to sing along to during the day. Indeed if you look at a lot of old hymn books, in the Preface the people are encouraged to learn the words so they can focus on “worship” when they sing in church, so it is meant to be in your heart as well as in your hands.

    The psalms are there to be read, but also they were to be learned as well.

    So with that in mind, I think we can find a dual role for the Christian recording artist, who wants to make a song and an arrangement which sounds sonically pleasing and speaks to the listners heart and ears and then when he leads from the front can adjust his arrangements accordingly. After all, when we hear a recorded Christian song, is it not just another medium for that artist to sing to us “psalms hymns and spiritual songs”.

    If this is the case, those with the “squeaky voices” such as Hughes and Tomlin can be free to write how they wish for their recordings, but if putting pen to paper for the purpose of sung worship by the congregation, maybe its right to have in mind the range and abilities of the congregations and take things down a tone or two.

  2. I’m not sure I would want to sing the ‘oooh oooh’s’ of the bridge anyway but I’d agree that musicians need to know what they’re doing. If a song is meant for congregational use, it should be recorded in a congregational-friendly key, nine out of ten times anyway.

    There is a place for performing and listening to music and it can be an edifying place, too! But O Church Arise sounds to me like a joining-in piece, except that it doesn’t in this recording.

  3. Why don’t we just drop the key? Isn’t that the easiest solution? It might be that Tim Hughes singing in F or Matt Redman singing in Bb brings out the best in their voices – but it doesn’t mean it will for us. Although that depends on the vocal range of the song – some songs have great words and fantastic tune, but because they cover such a wide range of notes it makes it harder to transpose downwards. Funnily enough though the song that got Tim noticed “Light of the World” uses probably the fewest number of notes!

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