By Chaplain (Col) Stephen W. Leonard, USA, Ret.
“O, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together.” Psalm 34:3
I had the great honor of having a very fine church organist when I pastored a church in the Pacific Northwest for ten years. Specifically, he was an outstanding hymnologist, along with being a very talented musician. He knew not only the theology of good hymns; he knew how to play them and arrange the music in accordance with that theology. Not all verses of a hymn ought to be played exactly alike. Such is pedantic and truly ignores the words, what each verse is really saying.
A case in point is from the Charles Wesley hymn, “And Can It Be.” When in the 4th verse, we sing, “Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature’s night,” he played this in a minor key to emphasize the words and the pall of the position they described. But when he came to “Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,” he transitioned to a major key to emphasize the quickening power of the Holy Spirit in the regeneration of the soul.
And with the result of that regenerating power, “I woke! The dungeon flamed with light,” his organ leaped with the power and exertion of waking to the marvelous light and spark of rebirth. Then, exuberant chords to say with the theology of the hymn, “My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose! went forth, and followed Thee.” The organ leads you well in sensing the powerful truth of new birth and the freedom from sin.
Think of “Amazing Grace,” which, like so many hymns, lends itself to the various ways the verses can be treated. For example, the third verse goes, “Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come”; the way the music is played can reflect the “dangers, toils, and snares.” Then, the glorious strains of the 4th verse, “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise,” lends itself to majestic organ chords to bring the congregation to a crescendo of choral sound.
In the 4th verse of “Abide with Me,” when we sing, “Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies. Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee, In life, in death, O LORD, abide with me,” the organ can set your voice to piercing the gloom with the glorious sunlight of the Son.
Every hymn lends itself in its theology to varying the chords in volume, minor, and major chords, etc., to lead the congregation in recognizing the words and themes and singing accordingly. We ought to praise the LORD with understanding and intelligence with which He has mightily blessed us, always singing appropriately with what the words are saying concerning God and his truths.
“Praise Him with trumpet sound; praise Him with lute and harp! Praise Him with tambourine and dance; praise Him with strings and pipe! Praise Him with sounding cymbals; praise Him with loud clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!”