Monday, August 23, 2010

Hymnody Review: Townend

St. Michael's Singers (Recorded in Coventry Cathedral). Conducted by Paul Leddington Wright. Graham Eccles, Organist. The New Hymn Makers: Stuart Townend (How Deep the Father's Love). Eastbourne, East Sussex, UK: Kingsway Music, 2003. Audio CD. (mp3 album downoad available on iTunes for $11.99.) / (H)

Townend, Stuart. Personal Worship/Say the Word. Eastbourne, East Sussex, UK: Kingsway Music, 2005. 2 Audio CDs. (mp3 download available on iTunes for $9.99 for each album.) (H)

Townend, Stuart. The Best of Stuart Townend Live... Eastbourne, East Sussex, UK: Kingsway Music, 2007. 2 Audio CDs. (H)

Townend, Stuart. There Is a Hope: Live Worship from Ireland with Guests Kelly Minter & Aaron Keyes. Eastbourne, East Sussex, UK: Kingsway Music, 2008. Audio CD. (H)

Townend, Stuart. Creation Sings. Eastbourne, East Sussex, UK: Kingsway Music, 2009. Audio CD and DVD. (mp3 album download available on iTunes for $9.99.) /  (H)

St. Michael's Singers (Recorded in Coventry Cathedral). Conducted by Paul Leddington Wright. Alistair Reid, Organist. The New Hymn Makers: Stuart Townend (The Power of the Cross). Eastbourne, East Sussex, UK: Kingsway Music, 2009. Audio CD. (H)

Townend, Stuart. The Ultimate Stewart Townend Songbook: 50 Best Loved Songs. Eastbourne, UK: Kingsway Music, 2010. CD-Rom including sheet music, chord charts & words masters. £10.99. (About $16.50.) (H)

Stuart Townend is a modern hymn writer.

His life has prepared him uniquely to write words and melodies that can be sung by a variety of Christian congregations. His father was a pastor in the Church of the Nazarene who became an Anglican vicar. Stuart himself studied at the London and Royal Colleges of Music. At University, he was president of the Christian Union. He joined New Frontiers Church, Clarendon, now called the Church of Christ the King. He shared his musical gives at worship and in concert. He became head of the music department of Kingsway communications.

His signature hymn is "How Deep the Father's Love for Us," a hymn that our congregation used to welcome the congregation back for part three of the Triduum on Good Friday.

How deep the Father's love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure
How great the pain of searing loss
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory

Behold the man upon a cross
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything
No gifts no power no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection
Why should I gain from His reward
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

Stuart Townend
Copyright © 1995 Thankyou Music

Townend himself tells the story behind the hymn. He woke up one morning saying to himself, "I'm going to write a hymn. I'm going to write a hymn?" It became the first in a series of modern hymns that show a growing musical and theological maturity.

His early albums have a very different feel than much of 90's Christian pop Christian feel. Personal Worship is to be noted for acoustic piano and guitar. Be sure to listen to an earthy Christmas hymn, "From the Squalor of a Borrowed Stable (Immanuel)."

The earlier collection, Say the Word, has more of a pop groove, yet hints at all the good that is to come. Lyrics have yet to find the depth Townend achieves later and are more at home in pentecostal and Reformed circles. "How Deep" is a standout here. "The King of Love" takes the first line of an historic hymn and develops it in a new way, as the subtitle (The King has come) indicates.

The best introduction to Stuart Townend is actually a different CD set, the 2003 and 2009 collections in the Kingsway series called The New Hymn Makers.  The soaring vocals and organ arrangements by the St. Michael Singers and Paul Leddington Wright with Graham Eccles or Alistair Reid are to be cherished.

These recordings give proof of the great variety found within Townend's hymn texts and hymn tunes and examples of their distinctive versatility.

I appreciated the Churchly English choral sound. One will hear Townend's collaboration with Keith Getty on "King of the Ages," "In Christ Alone," and "You're the Word of God the Father," on the 2003 disc as well as most of the tracks on the 2009 release. Townend shines on his own with "To You We Bring Our Hymn of Praise (Glory be to God)" (2009) and a second signature hymn, "All My Days (Beautiful Savior)" (2003).

Our next pair of CDs for consideration is The Best of Stuart Townend Live...

Townend is commonly depicted with the same cap, as you can see on the next several album covers.

The recordings have a distinct concert feel, incorporating a full band, grand piano, vocalists, and plenty of vocals from fans.

Musicians are highly-skilled and arrangements are quite lively.  Townend shows his musicianship and artistic flexibility, seemlessly transitioning from one style or one instrument to another.

Will I duplicate these particular arrangements and performances on a Sunday morning at my parish? Probably not. But I can and will enjoy them as an audio concert and be edified by them.

The most current two albums are among my favorite recent Christian releases!

There Is a Hope melds a modern band sound with traditional Irish and English instrumentation and arrangment. Frequent readers of QBR won't be surprised to hear that I think the drum set is often overpowering and even unnecessary. Subtle is better, I believe.

This album reminds me of one the strengths of modern hymn arrangements like these: instrumental interludes between stanzas. That is a tradition common in organ hymn leading that should be recovered.

Some highlights:
  • "Hear the Call of the Kingdom" has a similar feel to "Go Tell It on the Mountain" and I believe the two would work well in an arrangement together.
  • "There Is a Hope" is a hymn on hope with a foundation in Christ!
  • "My Soul Finds Rest" is one of many hymns by Townend that paraphrases a psalm, 62 in this case, and incorporates an Alleluia refrain from the tune LASST UNS ERFREUEN.
  • This arrangement of "From the Breaking of the Dawn (Every Promise)" prompted its use at our Wyoming District Spring Pastoral Conference.
  • "Will You Hide Me (Healing Streams)," featured Kelly Minter on vocals. She has recorded a compelling version of "How Deep."
  • "Spirit of Heaven (Christ in Me)" has many strengths textually, but the action of the Spirit seems to be separated from the means of Christ, Word and Sacrament.
We would love to see the DVD version of this release when it is available to us!

Creation Sings "is Stuart Townend’s seventh solo album, following hot on the heels of the successful 'Best Of' and 'There Is A Hope' albums.

"It’s a studio recording with a strongly acoustic sound, drawing on the strong melodic traditions of English, Scottish and Irish folk and combining them with classical, country and gospel influences to create a distinctive worship sound that will appeal to a broad market.

"There are instruments that don’t usually make it onto worship albums: alongside the guitars and drums there is double bass, fiddle, accordion and tin whistle, as well as banjo, bouzouki, pedal steel guitar, harmonium.... sounds that set this album apart from the usual offerings that cram the shelves of the worship section of the local store. [Don't forget the Melodica!]

"So the sound is varied, new and fresh: but Stuart’s commitment to singable melodies and lyrics of poetic and theological depth remains evident throughout this album. As we have now come to expect from the world’s leading worship writer, Stuart delivers a fresh outpouring of great new worship songs. Songs that will undoubtedly prove an invaluable resource for churches of all streams and denominations for years to come" (publisher's website).

I agree with the publicity department's glowing praise. Song that is strongly Biblical textually and creatively and naturally accompanied will edify Christians of every background.

As noted before on other texts, "O For a Closer Walk with God" needs to anchor the work of God the Holy Spirit in God's promises in the Word, in Holy Baptism, in Absolution, and in Holy Communion. Christians may well be able to "fill in the blanks" theologically, but shouldn't have to be forced to.

I appreciated the five-track video DVD with interviews. The drum set was more in the background. Guitar technique on "O Church Arise" is amazing!

And now, one of the real treasures of this review:

"The Digital Songbook Series is an indispensable resource for today’s worship leaders. By focusing on the work of individual songwriters and worship leaders each Digital Songbook offers up a comprehensive guide to some of the most significant songs of our time. Each CD-ROM brings home easily accessed and printable sheet music, chord charts and word masters for fifty of the very best songs within each artist’s back catalogue.

"The writer of countless modern classics, few songwriters have had greater impact than Stuart Townend. By reclaiming the art of the lyricist and the power of the collective voice, Stuart’s songs have united the Church worldwide. From ‘In Christ Alone’ to ‘How Deep The Father’s Love’, from ‘There Is A Hope’ to ‘The Lord’s My Shepherd (Psalm 63)’, this Digital Songbook contains them all.

"Lord I’m Grateful (Grace) / See What A Morning (Resurrection Hymn) / What Wonder Of Grace (My Desire) / Your Love (Pour Over Me) / We Have Sung Our Songs Of Victory (How Long) / Oh To See The Dawn (The Power Of The Cross) / All My Days (Beautiful Saviour) / O My Soul Arise And Bless Your Maker / Speak O Lord / Who Paints The Skies (River Of Fire) / Lord How Majestic You Are (You Are My Everything) / My Heart Is Filled With Thankfulness / My God / Jesus Is Lord / Joy Has Dawned Upon The World / The Lord’s My Shepherd (Psalm 23) / My First Love (Like A Child) / You’re The Word Of God (Across The Lands) / In Christ Alone / How Deep The Father’s Love For Us / With A Prayer (Love Incarnate) / Holy Spirit How I Love You / From The Squalor Of A Borrowed Stable (Immanuel) / The King Of Love (The King Has Come) / Our God Is Strong And Mighty (Breaking Out) / I Have Heard (I Won’t Let Go) / O Church Arise / Behold The Lamb (The Communion Hymn) / Beloved And Blessed / You Are My Anchor (The Father’s Embrace) / Giver Of Grace (You Are Good To Me) / Every Promise / Come People Of The Risen King / Creation Sings / O For A Closer Walk With God / The Light Of The World / Holy Spirit Living Breath Of God / Let The Earth Resound / Salvations Song / There Is A Hope / Hear The Call Of The Kingdom / Psalm 62 / Healing Streams / Glory Be To God / Spirit Of Heaven / My Soul Will Sing (Psalm 103) / May The Peace Of God (Benediction) / Hear O Israel / By Faith / Still My Soul Be Still

"Includes Word Masters, Chord Charts and Sheet Music for each song" (publisher's website).

This is an impressive, versatile, and varied collection. QBR readers will note some titles of popular modern hymns that Townend wrote in collaboration with Keith Getty and his wife Kristyn.

These modern hymns are worth considering as additions to the successor or supplement to Lutheran Service Book.

"In Christ Alone" and "How Deep the Father's Love" are included in the list called "The Song of the People" prepared by the former Commission on Worship of The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod. I believe these two modern hymns in particular will wear well. Both were sung at the recent LCMS Convention. "In Christ Alone" was sung at last November's Lutheran Church Extention Fund "Leadership Week."

Further, I hope that "O Church, Arise" will soon join the list of regularly used Townend/Getty hymns in our LCMS. It was featured at the 2009 Wyoming District Pastor-Teacher Conference and as the opening hymn Divine Service at the January 2010 LCMS CoW/CTCR Model Theological Conference on Worship. All three of the hymns mentioned in the last two paragraphs are in this year's hymn book for our classical Lutheran grammar school.

I would love to see a Townend hymn version of Psalm 141 for use at Evening Prayer/Vespers/Evensong, metrical modern hymns of psalms appropriate for Compline, a modern hymn paraphrase of Psalm 95 for Matins/Morning Prayer, and, if I may be so bold, hymn versions of the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, and Nunc Dimmitis for use at Eucharist/Mass/Divine Service.

Some day, I hope to meet Mr. Townend in person. I look forward to his future individual work as well as his collaborative work with the Gettys and others.

The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, a member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.