Category Archives: the Branches Band

Branches Band – WELS

How Can We Keep From Singing Your Praise?

How Can We Keep From Singing Your Praise?

Attention WELS and ELS Churches Using Contemporary Music!

I would like to create a database of churches in our fellowship that are currently using contemporary music.  As this list grows, we can use it to contact one another for help, for prayers, for resources, or just to have someone to talk to that share your beliefs.

I am calling this project “How Can We Keep from Singing Your Praise?”  Because…

God has put a new song into our hearts!
We can respond to the Gospel with a new song!
We are kindred Spirits!
God blesses Unity!
We see the same truth!
We sing the same truth!
How can we keep from singing your praise?

Recently, a WELS worship leader in TX asked me who else was doing contemporary worship in the WELS besides me.  I knew of only a handful of churches and none near TX.  How pathetic is that?  Hence the need for this list.

Please consider adding your name to the list and also feel free to pass the link to other WELS/ELS churches that you know are using contemporary music.

If you need a definition for using contemporary music and worship I would try this test out. Have you used the Getty and Townend song titled “In Christ Alone” and accompanied it with anything other than an organ (as in piano and guitar)?  Have you heard of Chris Tomlin? Have you hosted the Branches Band at your church?  If you’ve answered “yes” to all these questions, then go ahead, be bold and sign up. Oh you can just go ahead and sign if only one of these are true and you want to belong to this group because we are not exclusive!

You can add your contact information at the following link:

Thank you and may God continue to bless your music ministries!

PS – This list of contact information will be kept private and will only be shared with those people who sign-up.

Worship Review!

Worship Review!

Worship this past Sunday was exciting, uplifting, worshipful and confessional – all rolled up into one Lutheran ball of biblically driven, Christ-centered reverent blessedness. This was a unique service for us as a guest band (The Branches Band) accompanied the musical portions of the liturgy. I knew things would be different when I saw all the Facebook activity including comments, emails and “likes” floating back and forth between members of our church discussing the upcoming worship service. This just doesn’t happen when things are routine. Every church should have the chance to experience something like this.

The Branches Band is comprised of Andy Braun (acoustic guitar, harmonica and vocals), his wife, Rachel Braun (vocals, bongos, tambourine and shaker) and Jeremy Bakken (keyboards, bass guitar, acoustic 12 string guitar and vocals.) Their sound was tight and their harmonies inspiring in spite of the fact that I put them through the test of musical professionalism, which I would think, most Pastors and worship planners in our Synod would do. That is, I asked the band to play songs that thematically matched our worship theme and the scripture readings of the day. This forces the worship team to learn new pieces and puts the focus where it belongs. I got the impression that the band was used to this and that they handled the musical diversity that we required extremely well.

The Branches Band at Messiah Lutheran Church
The Branches Band at Messiah Lutheran Church – Concert Photo

Branches arrangements of our Lutheran hymns are truly refreshing. I was moved from the very start by the gathering hymn (“Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” – CW234) which set the stage for the entire worship service to follow. As a musician, I caught myself glancing over at Andy’s fret hand and saw that he was playing in the key of F, but capoed at the first fret and used chords in the key of E. The chord voicings were complex and colorful with a variety of open strings played in upper neck positions. I was so moved that after the service I raced out to their merchandise table to purchase a copy of the sheet music for the piece – which by the way contains all the chord shapes shown in grid diagrams (a very nice touch for us guitarists!).

After a well attended and participatory worship we were treated to a concert of mostly Pentecost themed music. My favorites were the contemporary pieces: “Holy is the Lord” by Chris Tomlin, “You Never Let Go” by Matt Redman and “My Savior My God” by Aaron Shust but the band’s arrangement of “Nothing but the Blood” was equally incredible as Rachel’s gospel-styled vocals filled the sanctuary. I also greatly enjoyed a very unique arrangement of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” which interestingly enough was marked by Braun’s subtle blues-like accompaniment. Technically he did this by hammering and pulling notes off the first position E-chord changing it from E to Em (a famous guitar blues-lick in any key). I was sitting with my fellow band mate, another guitarist, and we just looked at each other and grinned when we heard Brauns’ fretwork because we understood musically where he was coming from. From a worship perspective, the nicely muted blues vibe made it interesting for several reasons – first, I’ve sung that hymn well over a hundred times and it’s one of those hymns that I don’t need to look at the music because it’s committed to memory, so to me the stylistic change was just enough to make me think about those great lyrics again. And second, if you know the background of the hymn-writers life, you can understand why the blues can work. It is a fact that we can bring our “blues” to God in prayer, and know without a hint of doubt that He is listening, and answering as He sees fit. The congregation was asked to join in on this piece and I will also say that it brought a few tears to my eyes, something that this hymn has not done to me for decades. That’s how good and effective it was. This, the work of the Holy Spirit, for me using Braun’s accompaniment to affect me on some hidden level.


There’s so much to this band – Rachel’s lovely voice and her tastefully added percussion, Braun’s guitar work and Bakken’s thumb-thumping bass lines (and he does play with his thumb!) but one other surprise that I wasn’t expecting was the falsetto that both Jeremy and Andy have and they do it well – especially on the a capella pieces.


Apply It!

You can contact the band at their website if you are interested in having them accompany worship at your church or to host a concert – I highly recommend this because in our church; both hymn-lovers and contemporary music aficionados alike, were pleased, were comfortable with the worship, and more importantly were all participating in resounding brotherly love. And that, unfortunately, is not an easy thing to do these days!

Third Sunday After Pentecost – Contemporary Worship

Third Sunday After Pentecost – Contemporary Worship

“Worship must be a priority and must not be approached lightly, haphazardly, or without passion.”

On June 17, we will be blessed by having the Branches Band accompany our worship service. Over the past several weeks I have been working with the Branches Band via email to plan and prepare for the service. After discussing the idea with our Pastor, it was decided to follow our typical contemporary worship format. This is a worship service meant to be accompanied by a keyboard/guitar style of music. The entire worship bulletin is included below. I have inserted a view videos of the Branches music where appropriate.

Worship is not from tradition but from the heart.  The following is contemporary worship.

Messiah Evangelical Lutheran Church
Member of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod
300 Buckland Road, P.O. Box 1156, South Windsor, CT 06074

Pastor Timothy J. Ehlers Church Office: (860) 644-2110

Third Sunday after Pentecost June 17, 2012

Our faith is based on Jesus our risen Lord


PRE-SERVICE: “I Rejoiced” ……………………………………………………………………………………….Branches Band
“Fill Me Up”
“O Holy Spirit, Enter In” (arranged by the Branches Band)

OPENING SONG: CW234 “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” arranged by the Branches Band

M: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you.
C: And also with you.


M: Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?
C: He who has clean hands and a pure heart, he will receive blessing from God his Savior
(Psalm 24:3-5)

M: What does God say about each of us in his holy Word?
C: He says that I am a sinner and deserve only his punishment.

M: What should each of us do if we are not aware of our personal sins or are not troubled by them?
C: I should examine myself according to the Ten Commandments and ask how well I have carried out my responsibilities as a husband or wife or single person, as a parent or child, an employer or employee, a teacher or student. Have I loved God with all my heart, gladly heard his Word, and patiently endured affliction? Have I been disobedient, proud, or unforgiving? Have I been selfish, lazy, envious, or quarrelsome? Have I lied or deceived, taken something not mine, or given anyone a bad name? Have I abused my body or permitted indecent thoughts to linger in my mind? Have I failed to do what is right and good?

Silence for personal reflection

M: When each of us realize that we have sinned against God and deserve his punishment, what should each of us do?
C: I will confess before God all my sins, those which I remember as well as those of which I am unaware. I will pray to God for his mercy and forgiveness.

M: Dear friends, let us approach God with a true heart and confess our sins, asking him in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to forgive us.
C: Lord of life, I confess that I am by nature dead in sin. For faithless worrying and selfish pride, for sins of habit and sins of choice, for the evil I have done and the good I have failed to do, you should cast me away from your presence forever. O Lord, I am sorry for my sins. Forgive me, for Jesus sake.

M: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. In his great mercy, God made us alive in Christ even when we were dead in our sins. Hear the word of Christ through his called servant:

I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
C: Amen.
M: In the peace of forgiveness, let us sing praise to our Lord.

YOU ARE GOD WE PRAISE YOU (Te Deum by Marty Haugen)


M: Let us pray.
O God, the strength of all who trust in you, mercifully hear our prayers. Be gracious to us in our weakness
and give us strength to keep your commandments in all we say and do; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our
Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.


THE FIRST LESSON: Genesis 3:8-15

8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”
10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from? ”
12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
14 So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
“Cursed are you above all the livestock
and all the wild animals!

You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”

PSALM OF THE DAY: “The Heart of Worship” by Matt Redman song #209 in Songbook
(Responsive Reading of Psalm 51 with music)

M: Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
C: according to your great compassion, blot out my transgressions.

M: Wash away all my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
C: For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.

M: Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
C: Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.

Congregation Sings: Verse 1 & Chorus

M: Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
C: Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

M: Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.
C: Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

M: O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
C: The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Congregation Sings: Verse 2 & Chorus

THE SECOND LESSON: 2 Corinthians 4:13-18
13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead
will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.


C: Alleluia. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Alleluia.


20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebub ! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”

23 So Jesus called them and spoke to them in parables:“How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house. 28 I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. 29 But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.”

30 He said this because they were saying, “He has an evil spirit.”

31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

CHILDREN’S TALK (All children are invited to the front of church.)

HYMN OF THE DAY: 387 “Drawn to the Cross” arranged by the Branches Band



Offertory Music – “Hearts of Stone” by the Branches Band


M: O Lord, our God, you are wise and powerful, good and gracious. Your mercies are new every morning.
Each day you open your hand and provide for the needs of your children on earth.
C: We praise you for every grace and blessing.

M: Strengthen your Church in all the world. Let your comforting message of salvation in Christ Jesus be
proclaimed to troubled souls everywhere.
C: Use our ministries and offerings to extend your healing and your hope.

M: We bring you our requests for the various structures of our society. Bless our nation, state, and local
C: Grant us civil servants who are worthy of honor and respect.

M: Grant prosperity to our businesses and industries. Give employers a sense of fairness toward their
workers, and employees a feeling of joy and pride in their workmanship.
C: Help us find satisfaction in all work well done.

M: Invigorate the schools of our land. Give success to every effort that helps students read, think, and
communicate in ways that will promote an informed and responsible citizenry. Arouse curious minds to
discover the wonders of your created order.
C: Give us teachers and students who pursue excellence.

M: Strengthen the families of our country. Give fathers and mothers a renewed commitment to be good
parents. Give children and young people the wisdom to regard their parents as your representatives.
C: Lead us to love one another as you have loved us.

M: Hear us, Lord, as we bring you our private petitions.

Silent prayer.

M: Gracious Father, we pray boldly as Jesus taught, with the confidence that you will hear and with the faith
that you will respond for our welfare.
C: Amen.


Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.


CLOSING SONG: 745 “May the Peace of God” by Keith & Kristin Getty see insert


Welcome to Worship

We’re so glad to have you with us today! We consider it a privilege to gather together to worship our Lord and hear from Him as he speaks to us from the Bible, His Word. If you are here with us for the first time, please introduce yourself to us and, when you have the opportunity, please sign our guest register, located in the back of the worship area. If you are in need of any assistance at all, please speak with one of our ushers who would be very happy to assist you. May God bless our worship together today!


Prayer Upon Entering Church

O Lord – our Maker, Redeemer, and Comforter – we are assembled in your presence to hear your holy Word. We pray that you would open our hearts by your Holy Spirit that through the preaching of your Word we may repent of our sins, believe in Jesus, and grow day by day in grace and holiness. Hear us for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Children’s Prayer Before Church

Lord Jesus, bless the pastor’s word, Upon my heart, I pray;

That after all is said and heard, I gladly may obey. Amen.

A Personal Confession of Sin

Father, I have sinned against you and am no longer worthy to be called your child. Especially am I sorry for ___________. Yet in mercy you sacrificed your only Son to purge away my guilt. For his sake, O God, be merciful to me, a sinner, and in the joy of your Holy Spirit let me serve you all my days. Amen.

For Obedience to God’s Will

Lord God, give me strength and willingness to say with your Son, “Not my will but your will be done.” Make me cheerful and trusting to bear whatever you let happen to me. From your hand I am willing to take the good and the bad, the joy and the sorrow. Keep me from sin, gracious Father, and comfort me with your kind Word. Amen.

How to Modernize a Hymn – Part one of a two part series

How to Modernize a Hymn – Part one of a two part series

I don’t think there are many Christians, even those who use nothing but Contemporary music, that doubt or question the depth and the beauty of the lyrics contained in our wealth of hymns. But sometimes, they are difficult to comprehend or are just too musically foreign to those that we are Called to reach.

There is a process to modernize these hymns and to put chords to them but it’s not easy to do and there are a lot of subtleties that only come with experience and knowledge. In this two-part series, I will try to address one basic approach to do this.

In this first installment, we will consider a step-by-step approach written for a beginner’s level and the second installment will show an example where these types of techniques have been used successfully.

So let’s start…

Step One – Put Chords to it

Here is the process you will need to add your own chords:

  1. Identify the key signature by looking at the number of sharps and flats.

No sharps or flats – key of C or Am
1 Sharp – key of G or Em
2 Sharps – key of D or Bm
3 Sharps – key of A or F#m
4 Sharps – key of E or C#m
5 Sharps – key of B or G#m (rarely used)
6 Sharps – key of F# or D#m (rarely used)
1 flat – key of F or Dm
2 flats – key of Bb or Gm
3 flats – key of Eb or Cm
4 flats – key of Ab or Fm
5 flats – key of Db or Bbm
6 flats – key of Gb or Ebm (rarely used)

  1. Know the typical chords used in each key signature (these are referred to as the harmonized scales):
MAJOR SCALE   R   -   2   -    3    4   -   5   -   6   -   7 
   C  maj.:   C   -   Dm   -   Em   F   -   G   -   Am  -  rarely
   Db maj.:   Db  -   Ebm  -   Fm   Gb  -   Ab  -   Bbm -  used
   D  maj.:   D   -   Em   -   F#m  G   -   A   -   Bm
   Eb maj.:   Eb  -   Fm   -   Gm   Ab  -   Bb  -   Cm
   E  maj.:   E   -   F#m  -   G#m  A   -   B   -   C#m
   F  maj.:   F   -   Gm   -   Am   Bb  -   C   -   Dm
   F# maj.:   F#  -   G#m  -   A#m  B   -   C#  -   D#m
   G  maj.:   G   -   Am   -   Bm   C   -   D   -   Em
   Ab maj.:   Ab  -   Bbm  -   Cm   Db  -   Eb  -   Fm
   A  maj.:   A   -   Bm   -   C#m  D   -   E   -   F#m
   Bb maj.:   Bb  -   Cm   -   Dm   Eb  -   F   -   Gm 
   B  maj.:   B   -   C#m  -   D#m  E   -   F#  -   G#m 

MINOR SCALE   R   -    2      b3  -   4    -       5      b6  -   b7
   A  min.:   Am   -   Bdim   C   -   Dm   -   Em or E    F
   Bb min.:   Bbm  -   Cbdim  Db  -   Ebm  -   Fm or F    Gb
   B  min.:   Bm   -   C#dim  D   -   Em   -   F#m or F#  G 
   C  min.:   Cm   -   Ddim   Eb  -   Fm   -   Gm or G    Ab
   C# min.:   C#m  -   D#dim  E   -   F#m  -   G#m or G#  A
   D  min.:   Dm   -   Edim   F   -   Gm   -   Am or A    Bb
   Eb min.:   Ebm  -   Fdim   Gb  -   Abm  -   Bbm or Bb (B)
   E  min.:   Em   -   F#dim  G   -   Am   -   Bm or B    C 
   F  min.:   Fm   -   Gdim   Ab  -   Bbm  -   Cm or C    Db 
   F# min.:   F#m  -   G#dim  A   -   Bm   -   C#m or C#  D
   G  min.:   Gm   -   Adim   Bb  -   Cm   -   Dm or D    Eb 
   G# min.:   G#m  -   A#dim  B   -   C#m  -   D#m or D#  E
  1. Know what each line and space represent on the treble and bass clefs. (See below)

Image source:

4. Now the hard part. If you know the key signature by the number of sharps and flats (item 1 above), then you know the basic chords to look for (item 2), and now you should be able to identify all the notes in each grouping of chords on your sheet music by using the chart in item 3. You will also need to know the notes that comprise each chord. Here’s a little help:

C# (or Db)….. C#-F-G# or (Db-F-Ab)
C#m (or Dbm).C#-E-G# or (Db-E-Ab)
Ebm …………Eb-Gb-Bb
Em………….. E-G-B
Fm………….. F-Ab-C
F# (or Gb)……F#-A#-C#
F#m (or Gbm).F#-A-C#
G…………… G-B-D

5. Many hymns that don’t have guitar chords do so for a reason, and typically it is because every note in the melody line theoretically requires a different guitar chord. If this is the case, your song will sound too choppy with a chord change on every beat. Songs that lend themselves well to guitar accompaniment typically have a chord change at the start of the measures or sometimes at the mid-point of the measures. For example, a song in 4/4 time might have a chord change before the first and maybe the third beats. Even if you’re hymn requires a unique chord for each note in the melody line – don’t do it! If 4/4 time, stick to the chord changes on the first and third beats. Also, listen for the “strong beats” and put the chord changes on those particular notes.

6. When you have finished putting chords to a musical piece, sit back and look at the song in its entirety, as opposed to the note-by-note study that you have just finished. Look for overriding chord patterns or progressions. Sometimes, you can delete certain chords that you have identified and use fewer chords that fit into an overall theme for the song. It also sometimes helps to replace the chord names with Roman numerals and then to look for repeating patterns.

This technique should get you started. There are other more advanced issues such as numbered chords (C2, C5, Csus, C7, etc.) and slash chords (D/A, D/F#, D/G, etc.) but these can come later.

Step Two – Consider adding a Chorus and maybe a Bridge

The Chorus:
Most hymns only have verses. Lots of verses. These verses tell a story. Sometimes it’s nice to respond to these verses with either a chorus or refrain and sometimes it’s nice to alter the musical accompaniment with a bridge.

When writing a chorus, think of it as an answer to the story being told in the verse. Also, the chorus is usually sung a bit higher than the verse and with more energy. Choruses are usually the “hook” of the song; they are the part that people will remember and sing throughout the upcoming week. The chorus will have a stronger chord progression than the more fragile verses and the chorus will typically use more of the tonic key notes than in the verses. Choruses can also talk about feelings, or how you should feel about the story being told in the verses. A good example of a hymn with a great chorus that you undoubtedly know is “Onward Christian Soldiers.” Another good example would be Chris Tomlin’s recent adaptation of “Amazing Grace” with his iconic chorus “My chains are gone, I’ve been set free. My God, my Savior, has ransomed me. And like a flood, His mercy reigns. Unending love. Amazing Grace.” Wow!

The Bridge:
The bridge offers melodic, lyrical and even harmonic variation. Bridges can be a welcome addition to hymns because the verses and even the chorus can be very repetitive. Oftentimes, bridges in songs written in major keys start with a minor chord and vice versa, and they almost never start with the tonic chord.

Next you will need a formula for the structure of your new hymn. Consider something like:
Verse 1, Verse 2, Chorus, Verse 3, Chorus, Bridge, Verse 4, Chorus, End

But there are unlimited combinations.

Step Three – Consider updating the lyrics

Read through the hymn lyrics. If they are in our CW hymnbook, they will be pretty awesome. However, some hymns use too many churchy words, too many archaic words, phrases no longer in use, old English, phrases that just didn’t translate well into English from the original language the hymn was written in and what I’ll call reverse poetry. Keep all these things if the hymn sings well and makes sense to you. Only make changes if the lyrics require you to research and study them immensly before you get the picture. Our hymnal has actually already come a long way. There were massive revisions between our current hymnal and it’s predecessor so you might be OK in this regard.

If you change lyrics, make sure that you do not change the message, the rhythm, or the meter (the number of syllables per measure). You may find a rhyming dictionary and a thesaurus to be helpful in this regard.

Step Four – Consider adding a Musical Turn Around

Most hymns just seem to run into a musical brick wall at the end of a verse and then awkwardly go back to the beginning. Update this! Add a short musical turn-around, perhaps just a measure or two, but find a way to musically tie the ending back to the beginning.

I know that many of you reading this post are in my denomination and have probably heard the band known as “Branches.” They have a great example of a musical turn around in their arrangement of “How Great Thou Art.” Just listen to Andy Braun and the band use a few simple chords to turn the end of each verse into a transition to get back to the beginning and you will know exactly what I am talking about. Braun’s turn-around makes an incredible hymn even more incredible and that’s the point of this effort.

Step Five – Consider Jazzing it Up

There are many ways to do this. Consider modulating the last verse up or down a whole step, or even a minor third, depending on the mood of the song. Or, take an instrumental break in between verses or simply add an intro. Another idea would be to use some chord extensions like ninths, elevenths, thirteenths or even major sevenths. Another thing you can do is add a few slash chords with inherent bass runs to connect the chords together.

Step Six – Say a Prayer of Thanks; you’ve made it.

Whew! That was a lot of work; but that hymn you’re considering redoing is worth it.

Tomorrow we will consider an example. “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” that was redone by musician Michael Schroeder in 2010.

A Commentary on Hymns

A Commentary on Hymns

Hymns are great.  However…

I believe that one of the issues with hymns is the fact that the style of musical accompaniment has become foreign to our modern ears; especially to those who might not have grown up in the church.  We are accustomed to hearing music that is accompanied by chords – either played by a piano, or the guitar, or some other polyphonic instrument and whose beat is carried by a percussion or rhythmic instrument.  Yes, we can separate our church music from the other music that we listen to; but perhaps there is a different way (not necessarily a better way) while still keeping the lyrics and the melody (singability) as high priority.

It’s my understanding that hymns are not usually accompanied by chords but are accompanied by a grouping of notes (usually four notes) for each note in the melody line.  These four notes correspond with the SATB notes typically used in a four-part harmony.  This is a pleasing sound if used in a four-part harmony but most congregations that use hymns do not sing in this style so the accompanying music tends to sound “stilted” and rhythmically rigid because every note in the melody line will have a different “chord” associated with it, that really isn’t even a chord in the traditional sense.  This is also the reason why most hymns do not lend themselves to a chorded accompaniment and if a guitarist (for example) tries to change chords at each note change in the melody, then again the music sounds choppy, stilted and anything but fluidic; which is the goal of most music.   Hymns do sound great when played on the organ and sung by a well seasoned group of Lutherans.

The bottom line is that most hymns in use today are abundantly sound lyrically but musically foreign – at least to some and especially the unchurched.  I am not trying to trash hymns, in fact my goal is the opposite.  I love hymns – especially their lyrics and the stories behind their creation, but I want worshipers to sing them with the same zeal, vigor and passion as young people sing contemporary music.  I know, I know, there are many who do sing hymns with zeal and incredible confidence but please understand that I am talking about the unchurched, or those young in faith who might not be as enthusiastic over hymns as us long-time pew dwellers (self included).  Like most, I have a heart for reaching out to the unchurched.  Are we not to break down any potentially unnecessary barriers for them?  With hymns, there exists this issue which I’ve tried my best to describe but it is difficult to verbalize.  Actually, many traditional churches that are intent on using hymns have tried to rewrite them into modern arrangements or to use complex MIDI accompaniment with a myriad of instruments to jazz up the accompaniment and sometimes these are done with great success and other times its simply best to leave well enough alone.

Unless you are fortunate enough to be served by musicians of the caliber of either Koine’ or the Branches Band; I do not know the answer to this dilemma or how we in the traditional denominations are to respond.  I know that in our Synod, the new Hymnal Supplement has made a huge step toward finding hymns that aren’t written in this older format.  These new hymns however, frustrate the choirs that try to sing them in an SATB format because they weren’t written that way, but they do sound more modern if played as intended.

I once invited an unchurched young man to worship during one of our blended worship services.  He enjoyed it very much and returned for more.  The following weeks were traditional services.  He returned two or three times then stopped coming.  I asked why and the response I got was “What happened? – this music is for old people!”  I cringed, I responded (and I do know the proper responses – I’ve been in my denomination for over 30 years), I reasoned, I instructed, I prayed – all to no apparent avail.  At least not as far as I could see.  Several years later I ran into this young man.  He is now attending a contemporary church in a different denomination as a result of this experience.  Should I be happy?  Did the Holy Spirit do His work with the seed that I planted?  I may never know but this experience continues to haunt me.

Perhaps someone else reading these words might have some other ideas to help us to retain these musical gems that our ancestors have been singing for centuries and that have brought them such great comfort.  I do fear that our traditional churches will be facing some hard times when the current older generation of hymn-lovers move on to their heavenly homes, not to mention the fact that talented organists are getting hard to find.

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
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!

Maybe it’s just me.  Anyone?  Ideas?  Comments?

In the meantime, there are a lot of heroic efforts ongoing to save and revive hymns.  These resources have all been mentioned in the past at this website and are recommended to help keep hymns alive:

Sources of Chorded Hymns:         (Note: Requires registration on CONNECT)

Sources of Modernized Hymns:  (Arrangments for purchase)  (Arrangements for purchase)

Sources of Sound Contemporary Song Recommendations:

Ideas to Revive Hymns:

Hymnal Supplement Review:

CW Hymnal Scripture References:

Two bands mentioned in this post that do a fine job of modernizing hymns:

Concert Review – Branches Band

Concert Review – Branches Band

The band known as “Branches” performed at our church on Wednesday evening from 7:00 – 8:15.  It really was a remarkable event and for everyone in attendance; it was much more than a performance, it was in fact worship.

Branches consists of four musicians; Rachel, Andy, Jeremy and Joel.  Rachel plays percussion and sings, Andy plays a Martin guitar and sings, Jeremy mostly played the electric bass guitar but also played the keyboards for one song, a recorder-like instrument for another and sang as well.  And last but not least, Joel played the keyboards and the twelve string guitar and also sang harmony on a few pieces.

The band arrived around 3:00 for the 7:00 PM show and quickly set-up and did their sound check within about an hour.  After this time, they were gracious enough to play a few songs with two members of our local band (Kenaniah) before heading out for a quick bite to eat.  Kenaniah was missing the heart of their band (Ruth – our keyboard player and lead singer) but we glided through three of the songs that we were learning for an upcoming service on Sunday – “Shout to the Lord”, “Did You Hear the Mountains Tremble?” and “More Love, More Power”, of which, Branches was only musically familiar with the first piece but that didn’t seem to have much bearing on their ability to play along and embellish our strumming.

The first thing that impressed me about Branches was their upfront planning and legwork.  It was incredible and actually paid off.  Weeks before the concert, Jeremy sent out emails to the nearby churches within our fellowship to alert them of the event and he also sent us posters and press-releases to use ourselves to reach out to the community.  We put the materials to good use and had about 6 visitors in attendance; most from neighboring churches, but one local person dropped by as a result of an email sent out to our prospect list announcing the concert.

Branches played mostly their own arrangements of hymns but added a few original pieces and a couple of contemporary favorites as well (“Holy is the Lord” by Chris Tomlin and “Speak O Lord” by Keith and Kristin Getty).

From a technical and musical perspective, their sound is soft but clear and apparently very well rehearsed.  Their vocals are exceptional with tight harmonies not only between the wedded team of Rachel & Andy, but both Joel and Jeremey chimed in on two breath taking a-cappella arrangements; one being of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” which almost brought me to my knees as I sat there listening in awe of the Fortress they were describing through music.  What can I say, I’m a Lutheran and these guys proved that hymnody can sound hip and cool while still being worshipful and respectful as those words of Christ dwelt in us richly.

Branches do not use any effect pedals and plug each instrument directly into their Mackie PA system for a clean sound.  Each player also used a Shure in-ear monitor and as a band; they knew each other very well and did not invade each other’s musical space.  By this, I mean that the band sounded really well together and they knew how to add just the right amount of instrumentation to let those wonderful lyrics shine with just the right amount of accompaniment.  Their timing really jumped out at me as impeccable and has reminded me of my own need for improvement.  In fact, during warm-up, I asked if they had a click track in their monitors because it sounded that good.  I liked Andy’s response: “No, Rachel is our click track.”  At one point during the concert, I thought that I heard a backing track; but then I looked at Andy and realized that it was his guitar work, and I do mean this as a compliment.  Branches does not rely on any backing tracks or loops.

One last point that I’d like to make is that the band made liberal use of scripture throughout the evening by interspersing selected texts in between the songs that for me helped to draw attention to the songs, gave the reasoning behind their song choices, and, it helped make the difference between a performance and worship.

But the coup-de-gras awaited me in the parking lot.  As the wife and I left, we were struck by the loud ringing of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” which emanated from the vehicle in front of us as we left the facility; undoubtedly a product of their recent purchase of a Branches CD.  Now that’s a Lutheran.

You can reach the band at this site if you are interested in booking them for your church: