Evolution of Christian Worship Music in the Last 100 Years

Research Introduction:

I am presenting the evolution of Christian worship music over the last one hundred years. The first bit of research I did was to look up popular Christian hymns of all time. I wanted to choose songs that most people would know and would be representative of the Christian worship at the time they were written. The website I referenced was unlockingthebible.org, the material looked as if the author thoroughly researched the material. From this list I chose the songs to represent music roughly one hundred years ago and modern music.

The songs I chose were Great is Thy Faithfulness and 10,000 Reasons, both of which I knew and loved before beginning to research. I began with reading the Wikipedia page for both songs to get some general knowledge. From there I read a paper titled “The Historical Development of the Modern Worship Song”. It is from here that I drew conclusions with my own experience.

 

Great Is Thy Faithfulness, Written by Thomas Chrisholm, Composed by William M. Runyan, 1923, U.S.A.

 

10,000 Reasons, Written by Matt Redman and Jonas Myrin, 2012, United Kingdom.

 

Lyrics:

The first musical aspect to be analyzed is the lyrics. Great is Thy Faithfulness was first written as a poem by Thomas Chrisholm before music was given to the words by William M. Runyan. Many other songs around this time also were written and composed by different people (Tubb). The song is formed in an AB style with verses and a refrain/chorus. Every other line rhymes starting with the second line.

10,000 Reasons was originally written to be a song. Matt Redman and Jonas Myrin wrote the lyrics and tune together. Redman said, “He [Myrin] played me an idea for some of the chorus melody, and I found it immediately inspiring. In fact, it felt like a perfect fit for a song based on the opening of Psalm 103. The song came together really quickly – a good chunk of the song was actually a spontaneous moment” (10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)). The song also does not have structured rhyming.

Both songs are based on scriptures from the Bible, Great being based on Lamentations 3:23 and 10,000 based on Psalm 103. However the first is written in a vertical manner where as the second is written in a horizontal manner. The term vertical refers to a song being written about God and the connection with him versus horizontal which is more about the people in the church and how they connect with each other (Reginald & Doucette). This movement has taken place over the years to go towards more vertical to horizontal songs. Great is considered vertical because the message has to do with God and his nature. 10,000 is considered horizontal because it has to do with the action of the singer (or group of singers) and how their response with others is used to glorify God. I have included the lyrics for both songs below.

Great is Thy Faithfulness:

Great is Thy faithfulness, oh God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.

Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
to Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
And all I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness,
Great is Thy faithfulness,
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

 

10,000 Reasons:
 
Bless the Lord O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
oh
I’ll worship Your holy name
The sun comes up
It’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes
Bless the Lord O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
oh
I’ll worship Your holy name
You’re rich in love and You’re slow to anger
Your name is great and Your heart is kind
For all Your goodness I will keep on singing
10,000 reasons for my heart to find
Bless the Lord O my soul
O my soul
Worship his holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
oh
I’ll worship Your holy name
And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
10,000 years and then forever more
Bless the Lord O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
oh
I’ll worship Your holy name
Bless the Lord O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
oh
I’ll worship Your holy name (repeat 3x)
Sing like never before
O my soul
oh
I’ll worship Your holy name (repeat 3x)

Rhythm:

The greatest difference between worship songs one hundred years ago and now to me is the rhythm. Older hymns were written “generally of even time value” where as more modern songs have “notes of varied time value” (Reginald & Doucette). This can be seen from the pictures below of each song: Great Is Thy Faithfulness is written in 4/4 time with the majority of the rhythm being quarter notes and 10,000 Reasons also in 4/4 time having many eighth-note rhythms and off beat melodies.

 

See the source image

http://songsofpraises.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/great-is-thy-faithfulness.html

 

See the source image

https://www.sheetmusicdirect.us/sheetmusic/song/1000159963&name=10000-reasons-bless-the-lord?redirect=1

 

Chord Progression:

To the average singer this aspect may not be as obvious, however as someone who plays piano for church worship I can say that the chord progression of these songs are vastly different. Great Is Thy Faithfulness almost has a different chord for each note which can be seen with the four part harmony where as 10,000 Reasons has mainly two chord changes every measure. This makes for a very pleasing a capella version of the old hymns. Over the years instruments, like the piano, have become more accessible to the general public, specifically in the form of cheap electronic keyboards. Modern church worship in turn has included more instruments. 10,000 Reasons is performed with many instruments and even has a dedicated instrumental part in the middle where as Great Is Thy Faithfulness was originally composed for singing. Since a capella parts are easier to change chords, older hymns have more chord changes.

Personal Reaction:

I tend to favor the older hymns over the modern worship songs simply because the lyrics are more meaningful. Modern Christian worship is easier to follow but sacrifices the depth that older hymns have. This is probably due to the difference in taking poems and writing melody after versus writing lyrics and melody at the same time. Even though I prefer the older hymns I do like to play my piano in worship services, and in those moments I appreciate the simplicity of modern worship. It has been on my mind for awhile to try to write some of my own songs and I will try to incorporate the best of each style. Honestly as long as people are singing and enjoying worshiping God, the technicalities don’t matter.

 

Sources

“10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 22 Feb. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/10,000_Reasons_(Bless_the_Lord).

“Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 26 Feb. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Is_Thy_Faithfulness.

Halloran, Kevin. “The 25 Most Popular Christian Hymns.” Unlocking the Bible, 24 Feb. 2017, unlockingthebible.org/2013/07/most-popular-christian-hymns/.
Reginald, Travis, and Joseph Doucette. “THE HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT OF THE MODERN WORSHIP SONG .” Digitalcommons, 2008, digitalcommons.liberty.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1081&context=honors.

Tubb, Benjamin Robert. “Music from 1900-1923includingMusic from World War I (1914-1918).” Music from 1900-1923 Including Music from World War I (1914-1918), 17 Jan. 2015, www.pdmusic.org/1900s.html.

 

 

One thought on “Evolution of Christian Worship Music in the Last 100 Years

  1. McArthur, thank you for sharing your research about the “Evolution of Christian Worship Music in the Last 100 Years.” I had mentioned in my innovation paper, in the village recording gospel singing was a big deal back then. The song you chose, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”, is one of the songs I remember hearing and singing often. Also, I had no idea that the term horizontal and the term vertical had specific religious meaning . . . that is very interesting. Thank you for sharing.

    Like

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