One of the things that keeps our worship music alive is the beautiful, graceful and unexpected evolutions that constantly reshape it.
New songs carry our core, unchanging message into new and uncharted times. They deliver it to new ears, in much the same way that new wine skins convey new but familiar fruits from age-old vines.
I used to have a favorite example for this evolution, but nowadays I seem to find new examples around every corner. Last Thursday I discovered one that left me speechless.
My Old Favorite Example: “The Solid Rock”
There is almost no way to describe the unfettered joy a bass player experiences in playing Charlie Hall’s version of “The Solid Rock,” especially when you’re playing with a drummer you trust and whose groove matches your own. I can’t count the number of times we’ve used the dizzying dynamics of this song to usher our congregation into a time of worship.
Incredibly, this up-tempo contemporary crowd-pleaser is actually 181 years old. Edward Mote penned the words in 1834, and in 1863 William Bradbury put them to a nineteenth-century score. Together they sounded like this.
Fast forward to the Charlie Hall version and we see how “The Solid Rock” has been changed: Same words, and in some respects the same melody. But the song has been completely, utterly, and wholly remade by Charlie’s team to fit the ears, hearts and sensibilities of 21st-century Christians. (And it fits, as well, the astonishing capabilities of our 21st-century instruments, like my lead guitarist’s PRS Custom 24 and my Fender Jazz 5-string with its samarium pickups.)
It’s nothing less than an evolution in worship: The same fundamental message, delivered in a new dialect for hungry new listeners.
My Newest Favorite Example: “What If”
My wife has always been a huge fan of Nichole Nordeman, and with due cause. Nicole is a piercing writer, a gifted vocalist and an inspired musician. It’s not the first time one of my wife’s favorites has become one of my favorites.
The song “What If”, from her Brave album, has always been a perfect example of Nordeman’s ability to craft words and melodies that draw us right into the middle of our faith’s fundamental promise.
In a move that many found surprising, Prince (yes, that Prince, the “Purple Rain” Prince) released last Thursday his own updated version of “What If.” With a heavy pop vibe, the syncopated beat and the surging soul touches of his backing band 3rdEyeGirl, it feels like a very different song … but it’s very much the same.
In these gifted hands “What If” has evolved, to again fit new sensibilities, new hearts and new instruments.
Click below to listen:
(NOTE: the above soundtrack has been pulled from the Internet since we published this post. Trust us, it was both a great rendition and a song with its own unique feel.)
I admit that it’s not as quantum a change as the evolution from the Mote/Bradbury hymn to the Charlie Hall power chords, but it’s a powerful shift. It will not appeal to all, or maybe even most, of the fans who loved Nicole’s version. But it’s the same fundamental message delivered, again, in a new dialect for a hungry new breed of listeners
It is, in effect, new wine poured into new wine skins, but from a treasured and well-known root stock.