A faithful reader of "...in the Meantime" sent me the following tips for writing a successful hymn from Stuart Townsend, one of the more prolific hymn writers of our age. Composer of such popular hymns as "In Christ Alone" and "Beautiful Savior," Townsend has been writing hymns for almost thirty years and, at age 50, likely has a number more in him.
In his brief article, he offers practical advice for writing a hymn that will stand the test of time. But I suspect that the excellent advice he offers isn't applicable only to musicians and composers but also to preacher. Take a look and let me know what you think. Or, if you're a preacher, try putting it into practice.
- Study the Scriptures. The best hymns demonstrate insight and understanding of the Bible, and consequently bring the truths of the Christian faith to life. If you don't know the message of the gospel, you can't write something that will enable others to worship in spirit and truth.
- Be poetic, not pompous. Sometimes when people set out to write a hymn, they use phrases which might sound 'hymny', but actually mean very little. Make your phrases mean something!
- Combine objective truth and subjective response. When a hymn is just a statement of theological truth, it may be accurate, but it can be dry. Equally, when a hymn is just about how we feel, it's wishy washy. The best hymns powerfully express the emotions of the worshipper, but as an emotional response to the objective truth of the gospel.
- Look for musical dynamics. A hymn should have musical peaks and troughs, and there should be a sense of building to a climax where the melody soars while expressing the main theme of the hymn.
- Make every line count. I see hymns that contain a few good ideas, but some of the lines are clearly there as just 'filler', and let the whole thing down. Don't just stick in a line because it rhymes, or because you couldn't think of anything else to say.
- Prune it mercilessly. Once you think you've finished, go through it carefully, and get rid of anything that distracts from the main theme you're expressing. Better to have two compact, punchy verses than four rambling, unfocused ones.
If you want to read the rest of the brief article, you can find it here.
Note: I can't find the original email of the person who sent this to me...and my memory fails me in the moment...but you know who you are - thank you!