I was recently in a crowd of more than a thousand worshippers. The echoing cords of the final note of the chorus we had just sung were still hanging in the air. The very talented praise band beautifully transitioned to the next song, and its lyrics appeared on the large screens overhead.
You could feel the energy and delight run through the 1300 worshippers as they enthusiastically sang the opening line.
Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
The energy and volume of the singing were double that of the previous song. We were well into
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
when we realized that the song leaders were no longer singing. At that moment I, too, was overwhelmed with the full-throated worship as we sang praises to our Provider. It was totally appropriate for the band to pull back and let the praises of the thronging worshippers bless the Lord unlead and unadorned.
But the band had not spontaneously stopped singing to allow this amazing worship naturally flow towards its heavenly audience.
They had stopped singing because, unbeknownst to the people of God, they were singing a different song.
We were singing King’s Kaleidoscope’s 2012 version of Come Thou Fount. This is a great version of the classic hymn, but in this context it didn’t go over very well.
The singing collapsed. The worship ceased. Attention was wrenched from The Fount of Every Blessing and diverted to the song leaders so we could figure out what we were supposed to do.
The audience was going with the traditional song, but the band was doing something else–a four beats after each line and a syncopated rhythm. In one place, the words were even different.
On the surface, it seems as if we realized our mistakes quickly, adapted to the new style and continued in this new manner. But the energy of the singing was half of what it was when we started. I felt disappointed and a little betrayed. It was fine; I too carried on. I tried to turn my focus back to worshipping our God, but something beautiful was lost. I don’t think it was just the old folks that sensed this. The crowd was filled with 20-somethings, and they, too, had lost some of their verve.
I want to implore all Worship leaders, while you add new instrumentation and alternate styles to these hymns that you, at least, stick to the same melodies. I’d be happy if you keep the same rhythms and chords, as well; I love to sing the the bass part.
I have no problem with King’s Kaleidoscope altering this or any other traditional song. These new versions can add new life to an old hymn, but altered versions are appropriate for a performance, or for Christian Radio. Not for purposes of corporate worship. I suppose we could add a caveat: because the old melodies are so familiar, you need to give us some warning if we are going to be singing something considerably different.
My suggestion would be to just stick to the familiar version. At least for another 30 years, when no one remembers the incredible experience of one’s small voice joined to a throng of others, in four-part harmony, singing poetry, with heart and mind and imagination, essentially unplugged, to the one who gives us breath.