5 Reasons to love singing the Gospel in Christmas carols

Sometimes in the busyness of Christmastime our enthusiasm for carolling can run pretty low. This article by modern hymn writer Keith Getty may provide some inspiration.

5 Reasons for Church leaders and musicians to love carolling the story

The ever-approaching beat of Christmas is enough for many church musicians (and their staff, family, and pastors) to feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and lacking in creative freshness. We have to work harder, produce better, innovate wider, and handle over-committed volunteers and their opinions. All the while we’re stressed, budget-squeezed, and of course, must still deal with all the usual personal and family pressures while wondering how on earth we can find a “new angle” on the Christmas story.As a local church musician and composer who’s involved in an annual touring Christmas production, I offer several instructive principles for this highly anticipated time of year.
1. Remember that Christmas is a huge opportunity to sing the gospel.There are more people in our churches over Christmas who are on the outside looking in than at any other time of the year—children, children’s families, nominals, friends, neighbors, and the needy of every description.Moreover we have inherited this privilege through the faithful witness of generations of faithful believers. This season may not always be such an open evangelistic opportunity.My high school music teacher opened my eyes to the real beauty of Christmas carols. He claims he wants his funeral to be a service of carols. Why? Because they tell the story of our faith. Indeed, the greatest carols tell the gospel story in all its undeniable richness. They tell it more beautifully, more succinctly, more elegantly than almost anywhere else.Let’s start with the rest so many long for in the advent season:Come thou long expected Jesus
born to set they people free.
From our fears and sins release us
let us find our rest in thee.

Or the beautiful sense of forgiveness in the face of deep regret that pervades the season in Phillips Brooks’s masterpiece:

How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given
so God imparts to human hearts
the blessings of his heaven
no ear may hear his coming
but in this world of sin
where meek souls will receive him still
the dear Christ enters in.

These songs speak of the One who gives the peace and rest every soul craves to find. And while this gospel story should be the core of every Sunday worship service, it finds new hearers during Christmas when many who don’t yet know the Lord attend a church service. What a great opportunity; what a great challenge—to clearly and artfully present this world-changing story in the songs we select, present, and sing together! In the eagerness for musical innovation let’s not compromise on content.

2. Explore and immerse yourself in the abundance of historic church Christmas music.

These are the real “crossover” songs of Christian music—appearing in movies, musicals, television shows, commercials, novels, and radio charts; affecting the education of countless generations; sung more frequently and knowingly and passionately in the public square than any modern song likely ever will.

With traditional carols, there is a sense of familiarity, quality, depth, and relevance to the whole church body that a modern-based diet can almost never bring. Christmas music is the best place to see this contrast. The most widely known carols are written by the greatest composers in history, including Beethoven, Handel, Holst, and Mendelssohn. Others are a unique hybrid of folk music and church music traditions that have stood the test of time. The poems of Christina Rossetti, Phillips Brooks, as well as Charles Wesley and Isaac Watts arrest both the mind and heart.

Certainly congregations enjoy both innovation and the familiarity of tradition, new sounds and also the sounds they grew up hearing and singing. While everyone has different tastes, one thing the majority of young and old, the churched and unchurched have in common is that they love to sing carols at Christmas.

Let’s worry less about being cool or doing something new and more about playing these hymns beautifully and creatively. Then when we add something it can be genuinely fresh.

3. Educate and reinvigorate your congregation to sing well.

Congregational singing throughout time is a huge witness—seen in the Old Testament, New Testament, and church history.

These are the days to confront your congregation with this truth: they will be a witness to the unbeliever who visits your church. They have no choice in the matter. By their engagement with the songs and participation in the singing, they will testify to the joy of an excited believer or betray the chill of a disinterested spectator.

By singing great songs they already know, in a season of joy and celebration, with more inspiring instruments, choirs, and arrangements, you have a great chance to really encourage your congregation to sing well. Let’s make sure pastoral leaders are behind this goal of witness through congregational praise and that together you are preparing the church for it. Ultimately, the deepest part of ourselves—and of your non-believing guests—will respond better to authentic, passionate, a cappella singing of timeless carols than even the slickest production our churches can inspire.

4. Challenge and broaden the musical vocabulary of the church.

Traditional music invites re-interpretation—new sounds, new voices, new instruments. It’s an opportunity to be more of what you aren’t at other times of the year.

Think of it like this: If you were to chart the breadth of your personal musical taste as represented in your iTunes library, how would the breadth of your church musical expression compare? The natural posture and tendency of corporate leadership is to reduce, to find the common denominator, to extend the easy handle.

Christmas is about expansion—in the world of musical production from classical to pop almost everyone acknowledges that audience tastes are wider and more eclectic. And it’s a season when most churches welcome the role of performance music of all kinds in a worship context, from children to adult choirs, from instrumental to vocal solos.

Around 2008 and 2009 I had probably my worst ever period of creative drought—didn’t write a single good congregational melody. So I decided to change things up. I started writing solo music for Kristyn, went back to my roots and wrote choral music, collaborated with a traditional Irish musician, and wrote instrumental music and carol arrangements. Then when Kristyn became pregnant we wrote children’s carols and lullabies. It refreshed our creativity and we ended up being able to write better congregational hymns afterward.

If you are a church piano player, singer, choir director or writer—use Christmas to try new flavors or to refresh your artistry. If you’re music hasn’t grown for a few years you’re probably really boring the people whose imaginations you are supposed to inspire.

5. Seek fresh opportunities to think outwardly and to take music outside of the church building.

For every 1 car that drives into your church 99 drive past—and I bet almost all love Christmas music.

The acceptance of Christmas music in certain parts of our wider culture allows a unique occasion for witness and thinking outside the walls of our chapel. Talk to your church leaders about how you can work together to reach the community around you. Perhaps we can use our innovation to play at schools, in retirement homes, and for military groups. We can go door-to-door carolling, host neighborhood open air events, hire a concert hall, or bring music to a house party. Many of us need to understand our musical gifts as being more in tune with the wider mission of our churches.

Christmas is a huge opportunity for church musicians. If we can get that right, it sets us up for the next year and helps us re-adjust our thinking to ensure other things can find their rightful place.


This Christmas – Idea of North

This ChristmasI somehow missed a great Christmas album two years ago. You may have done the same. The album is ‘This Christmas’ by the Idea of North. You can read the review below, or simply go and listen online. I’m sure you will enjoy it.

“If you want your Christmas to groove along with some stunning arrangements, then The Idea of North’s latest recording is an absolutely must.

This ensemble, known for its contemporary flavour and mellow vocal blend, has captured the joy of the season with a selection of traditional carols. American Christmas-themed songs (Have Yourself a Merry Christmas, The Christmas Song / Chestnuts Roasting, and I’ll Be Home for Christmas), also features along with some more modern numbers (Angel, Candlelight Carol), and are all mixed together with sophisticated jazz harmonies and some wonderfully rich orchestrations.

James Morrison’s inclusion (playing trombone) in Mary’s Boy Child lends an improvisatory edge to the setting, whilst the reprise of this song as a band mix has a more Latin feel. The title track, This Christmas, has an all-encompassing Christmas appeal (and some additional fine solo guitar work).

The inspirational song Angel (In the Arms of the Angel) has seen performances from all over the world, including from the song-writer Sarah McLachlan, Josh Groban, Westlife, Angelis, The King’s Singers, and Katherine Jenkins, not to mention this Australian version, which is as powerful as those famous renderings before it.

Australia’s most recognised contribution to the Australian carol tradition is not forgotten either, with William James’s The Silver Stars are in the Sky, which shows the group’s ability to find new harmonic gestures throughout the lullaby-like verses.

The Christmas Medley seamlessly merges rhythmic responses of Once in Royal David’s City and Hark The Herald Angels Sing, with a more straight forward God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. Poverty is hymn-like in its four-part traditional harmonies, giving a respite to the rhythmically energised arrangements that occupy the bulk of this recording.

Poignancy and simplicity is found in the Thad Jones signature tune, A Child is Born (complete with trumpet doubling the melody).

This CD should get a real workout this Christmas season, and become a favourite for many. Beautifully sung and meticulously recorded, The Idea of North has produced another gem in this recording, where every track has real musical magic.”


The spiritual orphan mindset

I really like the challenge of this post….to examine our thinking about where we stand in Christ, and in relation to the Father, our Father!

In My Father's House

man_sunsetEvery once and a while I’ll turn my radio back on and expose myself to the theology of popular Christian music, only to be reminded again why I don’t listen to it. The other day was no exception.

To be fair, there are also many good songs being written.

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Mary did you know?

Just watch this!


To know Christ means to . . . ?

Sharing a signicant post I wrote a few years ago….very early in the blog journey. Would love to hear your comments on what it means to ‘know Christ’.


Knowing-Christ-Screen-530x397” . . . everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ”.
Philippians 3:8 (NLT)

Knowing Christ is what makes us Christians. We know Christ and have decided to follow Him. We want to know Him better. We wouldn’t be following Him if we had never met him or realised his worth. But how well do we go at explaining, in practical and understandable terms, what it means to “know Christ”, to “know God”. This is something that non-Christians really want to know. What does it mean to have a relationship with God, what does that look like? We need to get a whole lot better at explaining this.
Probably a good place to start is to talk about what it means to…

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Tonight our life begins

Greetings all! Thanks for reading along and welcome to my new followers!
Just a quick post to share a lovely song for a wedding reception. If you’ve got one coming up, check it out! The song is called TONIGHT by JJ Heller, a gentle slow (dance) song, from the album The Pretty and the Plain. Listen here on itunes (track 6). Enjoy.

pretty and the plain“Tonight”
Love, you are lovely
You have put the stars to shame
I have lost my senses, and you’re the one to blame
Bluer than the sky above, closer than my skin
Tonight our life begins

Now we are dancing
We spin like falling leaves
Hold me tighter darling
I never want to leave
As we move across the floor it’s starting to sink in
Tonight our life begins

You are mine beloved
And I am yours to keep
Take my heart forever
You have captured me
God is singing over us,

we hear it in the wind
Tonight our life begins

And here’s another song with wedding potential – and a video clip. THE BOAT SONG – beautiful!
And you should also check this one out: WHAT LOVE REALLY MEANS


The Music of the Written Word

This is a short demonstration of the power and music of words. If you are a blog writer you should enjoy this!

This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.

Gary Provost, quoted in Roy Peter Clark’s (terrific) Writing Tools



The blessing of songs from across the sea!


12 Apostles – Great Ocean Road Victoria Australia

Thanks to Tim Challies for a recent post on his blog entitled “Songs we sing that you probably don’t”. His aim was to share some lesser known songs that have greatly blessed his church. This got me thinking, since most followers of SevenNotes are not from Australia (and I am) there are probably many songs that have become popular here that you are missing out on! What follows is my attempt to cover the best offerings for congregational singing which we have enjoyed from Australian songwriters in the last decade or so. Most of the lead sheets will be available through Song Select (CCLI) and part or full recordings of the songs are on the net. In fact, I have compiled a playlist on Spotify called Church Songs Australia where you can find them all! I will start with most recent and work backwards (and if I have already shared something on one of them, I’ll send you to that post to explore). Clicking on song titles below will take you to an mp3 and sheet music (most of the time). (NOTE: I’ve just discovered EMU’s homepage is down at the moment so some of the links may not work! Sorry – should be fixed soon.)

OVERFLOWED, NO OTHER NAME, SEE THE MAN (all 3 by Trevor Hodgehttp://www.trevorhodgemusic.com/

MY SAVIOUR’S CROSS (Rob Smith 2013)


THIS LIFE I LIVE (Michael Morrow)


STRONGER (Reuben Morgan)

HOLDING ON TO ME (Garage Hymnal)


NEVER ALONE (Phillip Percival and Simone Richardson)


SEE HIM COMING (Mark Peterson)

WE ARE HIS PEOPLE (Phillip Percival)

HIGHEST PLACE (Mark Peterson)

MAY THE MIND OF CHRIST MY SAVIOUR (Words: Katie Barclay Wilkinson 1859-1928. Music: © 1997 Mark Peterson)

The Perfect Gift – lovely Christmas clip!

Love this new Christmas song I’ve just found by JJ Heller – THE PERFECT GIFT. It was released two days ago. Guess what video clip we will be playing at our carols this year?
He was the perfect gift, Oh..
He came to bring us peace, Oh..
Holy Child, our King!

Here are the lyrics:


Have we forgotten, with all the rushing around,

With all the shops and the cards, and the chaos in this town?

Have we forgotten we need some sorting out?

Clear our minds we will find what the story is all about. oh…


He was the perfect gift, Oh..

He came to bring us peace, Oh..

Holy Child, our King!

Do we remember the wonders of his love?

Will our voices join with the chorus up above?

Do we remember how on that silent night

There was a baby who came to recall us back to life? Oh..


Fill our hearts with wonder

Turn our winter into summer

Fill our lungs with laughter, peace and joy, peace and joy

The perfect gift, bringing peace….Oh

He was the perfect gift, Oh..

He came to bring us peace, Oh..

Holy Child, our King!

Holy Child, our King!

And in case you’ve not encountered JJ Heller before, he is one of her older and most charming songs: THE BOAT SONG

I’ve been trying to buy one of her albums on iTunes but apparently Taylor Swift has blown up iTunes! “Try again later.”



God rejoices in his loving initiatives

rejoiceI’ve recently been studying the amazing covenant promises of God and tracing them through his Word (as part of my external studies with Moore College, a subject called Promise to Fulfilment). While reading that famous passage about God establishing relationship with us and writing his law in our hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-36) I was reminded of a less famous but equally gracious promise located nearby. Here it is:

“They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul.”
(Jeremiah 32:38-41 NIV)

These verses have been highlighted in my old NIV bible for a long time. The passage contains so many elements of grace and blessings unimaginable! God is the one who ‘inspires us to fear him’ and gives us ‘singleness of heart and action’. Our faith is a gift; the Spirit is a gift that enables us to follow him and secures our relationship with him. God gives this and does this because it brings him pleasure; he rejoices in doing good to us. We can rejoice that he has ‘assuredly planted’ us in Christ, in his growing family of believers, the Church. We have a home in heaven that Christ is preparing for us. None of this is down to us, to our own making. God graciously provided our salvation and he rejoices in it. How could we do anything else?