The Music Exchange from Richard Simpkin: Wincing in worship!

Being a sensitive muso (and most of us musos are ever so sensitive), I have a long memory.

Even though I’m always saying that it’s important to focus on the words of songs, I often find myself thinking about the comments people have made about a particular song rather than about the song itself.

So this article is me getting some of them on the table. If you’re a church musician you’ll have many more to add, but please indulge me just this once for an article that serves less to help musicians in their godliness, but more to remind me of how much I need to grow in humility. It would be worth saying that the views below are not all from those who attend the same church as me either.

New tunes
I’m going to start with a comment about a hymn that I’d written a new tune to. The tune had just received its first outing, and I was looking forward to some positive feedback: ‘I was just wondering if there might be another tune for that new song we sang this morning. The lyrics are absolutely fantastic but wasn’t so sure about the music.’

About a different song: ‘Simpo, did you write that new tune?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Not one of your best.’

Sounds familiar?
Here are tune similarities that some have picked up.

‘No eye has seen and no ear has heard’ — the tune for the chorus is the same as the Toys R Us theme tune. ‘Give thanks with a grateful heart’ — a dead ringer for ‘Go West’ by the Pet Shop Boys, (though I think ‘Give thanks’ pre-dates ‘Go West’, which was originally written for the Village People in 1979).

In addition to these, there are often comments about which tune to sing to which hymn. There are many who have problems with singing the Londonderry Air (‘Danny Boy’) and Austria (to ‘Glorious things of you are spoken’), though some are quite vocal about their preference of Austria over Abbot’s Leigh.

Misheard lyrics
Here are some comments about lyric misunderstandings.

‘I am the Lord of the Dance, said he’ — ‘What’s a dance settee?’ ‘My Jesus, my Saviour’ — ‘I can’t stop thinking about icing cakes in the chorus (‘Icing for joy at the work of your hands’)’.

Here are a couple of comments about some of the stylistic decisions I’ve made.

Minor intro into ‘In Christ Alone’ — ‘I hate it’. ‘Be thou my vision’ in 4 time rather than 3 — ‘I hate it’ (different person this time!).

There have been various theological points made, all of which could be disputed as they are comments about man-written songs rather than the Word of God itself.

‘Blessing and honour’ — The choreography’s the wrong way round, ‘Your kingdom shall reign over all the earth’ should refer to the one like a son of man who is presented to the Ancient of Days, not the Ancient of Days himself.

‘Oh, to see the dawn’ — comes over as being Catholic (because of seemingly wanting to see Jesus’s wounds). ‘You’re the Lion of Judah’ — Jesus didn’t descend into hell.

And here are a couple of very subjective comments about particular songs.

‘Everlasting God’ (‘Yesterday, today and forever’) — ‘Is there any way we could make sure that song disappears and never comes back?’ ‘Indescribable’ — ‘Unsingable, unscannable’.

There we go. Who’d be a church musician? As I said, I’ve only gone for a small selection, and I’m very blessed that I don’t get much negative feedback from my own church family at all. Please pray that we church musicians would remain focused on our responsibility to lead people in the praise of God, and that we would praise him ourselves while leading others. This is the best way we can be of service to God and to his people, rather than becoming slaves to our long memories.


Richard Simpkin is Director of Music at St. Helen’s Church, Bishopsgate, London.

This article was first published in the July 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 0845 225 0057