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Saturday, January 16, 2016

Updating the Classics…Or Not

A number of years ago I purchased a 3 CD collection of hymns entitled “Rock of Ages: Where Classic Hymns Meet Classic Rock.” I bought it partly because I thought some of the folks at church might like them and partly because the songs were produced, arranged, recorded and mixed by Dez Dickerson – famous guitarist from Prince’s band, The Revolution.

We got it out and played a few songs from it tonight, and I remembered why I haven’t used it much at church programming. Without disrespecting either Dickerson’s faith or his skill as a musician, the collection is uneven and not especially great.

Several of the songs are all but unsingable as arranged – which is problematic as hymns are intended to be congregational, not solos.  “Joyful, Joyful (Ode to Joy)” in this recording is so incredibly, awkwardly slow that is difficult to sing along. 

A number of the hymns are ‘mashed up’ with pop/rocks songs from the 80s: “He’s God the Whole World in His Hands” is mashed with Billy Idol’s “Dancing with Myself,” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” mixed with “Big Country.” U2 makes a couple of appearances: “Holy, Holy, Holy” is played over “With or Without You” and “I’ll Fly Away” over “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” You might think that the hymn “There’s Power in the Blood of Jesus” wouldn’t fit very well with Tears for Fears’ song “Everybody Wants To Rule the World,” … and you’d be right.  “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus” played in the style of Twisted Sister may be amusing, but only once or twice…

I like the idea-the continually updating of the traditional aspects of our worship (Ecclesia semper reformanda est – and all that) while retaining the essential message, but sometimes old meets new doesn’t work so well.

But, lest you think I’m unfairly ragging on Dez Dickerson’s work I should offer up two things: 1) my friend Jim really liked the music and thanked us repeatedly for playing a couple of songs from the collection. (He was amused by “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus” …) and 2) I had spent an earlier part of the evening writing a limerick version of “the Founder’s Hymn,” so who am I to say anything about the perils of updating the classics?

O boundless Salvation, love’s ocean,
the fullness of mercy’s devotion
the whole world it redeems
how rich, how free it seems
it’s flowing and rolling o’er all men.

And now, hallelujah! all my days
I’ll gladly spend promoting his praise
who opened up for me
love’s ocean, endlessly,
this boundless Salvation does amaze!

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