For the Worship of the Saints

By Jenny Bennett | managing editor,
Posted: Mon, 10/26/2009 - 19:26

album promo image for For the Worship of the Saints

"My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music. Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth." –Psalm 57:7-11

I will sing and make music...Over the verdant hills and misty seaside cliffs of the Emerald Isle, an enchanted melody rises. Perhaps a haunting folk song or a lively jig, it is nonetheless a beloved and familiar sound. The music of Ireland is at once nostalgic and fresh, and for centuries it has resonated deeply with people throughout the world from all walks of life.

After spending more than two years presenting their music in churches and at various conferences and events throughout the United States, acclaimed Irish hymn writers and recording artists Keith and Kristyn Getty saw firsthand how the melodies of their homeland transcended cultures and generations.

The couple's critically acclaimed 2007 stateside debut, In Christ Alone, featured the immensely popular Celtic-flavored title-cut co-penned by Keith and award-winning British songwriter Stuart Townend; an extraordinary song that has been recorded by numerous artists and has quickly taken root in churches around the globe. recently sat down with the Gettys to talk about why they do what they do and more importantly, why it matters. To what do you attribute the success and acceptance of In Christ Alone across the world? Why has the message resonated?

Keith Getty: The first song that Stuart and I wrote together was a hymn that helped take us through the love of Christ, the core of the Gospels. We began by taking an Irish melody and forming it to the story of Christ; the story in verses two and three, with verse four as the conclusion. Its popularity has really surprised us. A four-verse hymn with 32 lines was not exactly trendy in 2001. The key for us, for all of our songs, is to create something that can be sung by all ages, something for all generations. We tried to reinvent a folk melody in a new way, geared more for second and third-world countries, songs that they can sing to. There was really no big plan around it. It's something that raises everyone to the breadth and depth of the love of Christ, something that inspires us to worship Him.

Kristyn Getty: "In Christ Alone" is often used in context at dedications, funerals, and weddings. The basics of the Gospels are there, sung somewhere that can attract unbelievers. It's the Gospel in a musical form, a sometimes better way of explaining. The hymn format also allows a lot of room to expand so you can say many things. It's a wonderful opportunity to present the Gospel message for those who need to hear it, and for those who know it well. What impact has it had?

Kristyn: We hear stories every week of how it has inspired or strengthened someone. It's been translated into several languages, [including] French and Dutch. It's amazing to see how a song can be used not only in one particular style or country, but in multiple ways in multiple countries. Youth groups love it, but people in their 90s enjoy it too. One of the most significant things to us is reaching our generation. Usually there has to be a gimmick, it has to be clothed right, but Christianity doesn't need to be dumbed down. At the heart of any gospel music heritage, be it Irish or American, African American or Asian, or any nationality, don't you think it's the corporate nature of gospel music that makes it both so powerful and compelling?

Keith: The most glorious heritage of singing as a body of believers, the people of God, whether it be an army or in a synagogue, all throughout church history, the soloist, is the congregation. The audience is God, but the congregation is the choir. I'm not writing to serve our career, or to further my artistic vision. Congregations are the main thing. In your own gospel music heritage, who are the composers and the hymn writers and musicians who have had the most impact, and who continue to shape the way you approach your work for the Church?

Keith: Irish traditional musician George Gerschwin, Martin Luther, who were, ironically, drunks...The devotion of the last 30 years of theologians has been to look back at church fathers, reformers, puritans, and early missionary pioneers. The heritage we have as Christian musicians has been so reaching, and yet almost completely untapped.

Kristyn: An eclectic dinner party. They illustrate the different styles and eras. Part of our process is opening our ears to hear all different musical styles. Do you ever think of the historical impact of what you do?

Kristyn: I'm constantly reminded, 'In all these things, teach me, oh Lord, to measure my days.' It is by the grace of God we have another day. The greatest joy is knowing God and following him, and if he gives us work to do, it's wonderful, but it's even greater to see God's work in lives, in hearts...

Keith: The highest honor for any songwriter, what everyone aspires to, is that their works have durability, but as a Christian, it's more than that. I can make plans, but I can wake up tomorrow with a lump in my neck. Men make plans and God loves. C.S. Lewis said 'The great symphonies, the paintings of this world are not eternal, they turn to dust. The person you sit beside on the bus tomorrow is eternal. Treat them with more respect than the greatest art in the world.'

Small as it may seem – anchored between the shores of the Irish Sea and the Atlantic Ocean – Ireland has given the world both a rich treasury of music and a lineage of faithful missionaries sent forth to spread the Good News to the ends of the earth. Keith & Kristyn Getty are modern embodiments of both traditions, eloquently crafting new songs with timeless melodies, songs that awaken the dawn with the message of Hope – the message of Christ for all nations and peoples.

Interview by Melissa Riddle
Additional reporting by Andrew Robison

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