Because Hymns often help Christians to think theologically while we’re worshipping, I decided to review — not a book about theology, but an album of music featuring hymns and songs with rich theological thought.
I recently asked Sherri Hampton to share a bit about herself, her music, and her heart for using some of our favorite hymns in a unique soft/smooth jazz project she finished this year called Savior Friend.
Enjoy our interview, and links to Sherri’s music and videos below. Read, listen, and watch. You’ll be blessed!
TT – What inspired you to do this hymns project?
SH – I was raised in church around hymns, so there is that history. I’ve always loved so many of them and it is a natural progression to want to record them myself.
This project kind of came about while I was learning to play piano–I would take a hymn and start putting “pretty” chords with it. I love jazz chords! So I had built up a repertoire of all these hymns with jazz chords.
I went to do a simple piano/voice recording at a studio nearby where I lived at the time (Cider Mountain Recorders), and the owner of the studio encouraged me to “do it up right” with jazz musicians. Very soon afterward he had it all set up with musicians from Spokane, WA and we had a “jazz-hymns” album recorded! The album also features one of those original piano/voice “takes” from my first visit to the studio, which happens to be my husband’s favorite on the album– In The Garden, Live.
TT – Tell us what these hymns mean to you personally? Do you have a favorite?
SH – For every song on the album, there are five more not on there that I would also consider favorites! These are the ones that I had put down on paper to play at that time and so they are the ones on the album. Of course, I had reasons for wanting to play each of these and the inspiration varied.
For example, when I decided to put chords to In The Garden, I was having a quiet moment with the Lord on my front porch and was just struck by the beauty of everything in bloom and the smells of summer in Idaho. It’s not one I would have normally chosen perhaps, but it still chokes me up when I sing about the reality that “He walks with me and talks with me and tells me I am His own.”
TT – You did some other unique things with a couple of hymns in addition to the jazz chording. Tell us about that.
SH – Yes, one of my favorite hymns is My Jesus, I Love Thee…I paired it with O How I Love Jesus on the album, and both songs are deeply meaningful to me because they express my testimony – “I love Him because He first loved me.” I always enjoy singing Give Me Jesus (which is more of a “spiritual”) because it resonates with people and always feels appropriate.
TT – We’ve been focused on Hymns here, but you also did a couple of pretty cool arrangements of some other songs on the album. To give the readers a hint at what I mean, it’s standard knowledge that many hymns borrowed melodies from contemporary songs back when they were written, and put Christian lyrics to them. You’ve done something similar, but on a different level here. Tell us about those.
SH – You caught me! Yes, two of the songs on Savior, Friend are not actually hymns but jazz standards and I re-wrote the lyrics to be Biblical and worshipful. To mention just one of them here –“Nearness Of You” was the first song I took in to my piano teacher to learn and the chords were my inspiration to use for hymns. It was my piano teacher that encouraged me to re-write the song and it became a love song to the Lord.
TT – Do you agree with the often-heard perspective that the hymns tend to be more theologically rich than a lot of the contemporary worship music being produced today?
SH – Of course! So many hymns are musical vehicles for expressing truth and doctrines of the Faith and I love that! The Bible encourages “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” – in fact that verse is worth repeating!
Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.
There is a place for all three of those musical expressions.
TT – This isn’t your first recording, is it. You’ve done another project too with the same set of values driving your lyrical content. Tell us about that one.
SH – My first album (Your Words) is entirely Scripture-put-to-music songs, which is my favorite type of “contemporary worship music.” I think both “psalms” and “hymns” have been under-appreciated and neglected in many contemporary churches today, just as one could make the case that the “psalms and spiritual songs” have been neglected in some more traditional-styled churches. As much as I want to see contemporary churches use their musical talents to sing hymns, I would love to see the Church as a whole sing more songs that are straight from Scripture. And you’re right — many hymns incorporate Scripture and great doctrinal understanding and some were the “spiritual songs” of their day. Either way, people and churches would do well to make all three, “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” a regular part of worship.
TT – Okay, speaking of hymns in church, does your church use hymns?
SH – Yes! In fact, our church recently took a survey from the congregation of their favorite hymns, chose the top 20-25 or so, and sang the first verse and chorus of each, one after the other, the next Sunday. Besides the obvious “In The Garden” and “Amazing Grace,” there were others that I hadn’t heard in a long while like, “I Know Whom I Have Believed” and “I Stand Amazed In The Presence.” Once my tears started (about the 8th song or so!), they didn’t stop for the entire thing. (Not really unusual for me, but still, it was very impactful…!)
TT – Wow! What a cool idea. Okay pastors and worship leaders — Sherri has just given you an amazing idea here. Run with it! Okay, two more questions. Tell us why you chose to do these songs in this particular style.
SH – On a musical note, I am convinced of the importance that hymns be presented in a musically relevant style for today’s believer, especially for the sake of those who weren’t brought up in church. I think this is a major reason why many people/churches have lost touch with hymns–they associate the style of the music with past generations and aren’t able to enjoy them. Savior, Friend was my attempt to showcase a few special hymns in a soft jazz style that can be appreciated by any generation. I love it when artists and worship leaders bring out the wonderful lyrics of old hymns by using contemporary music. “Come Thou Fount” is a good example of a hymn that has been brought to light in a modern way on a large scale and I just love it when that happens.
TT – I agree! In our own ministry context, I always appreciate freshened-up arrangements to great hymns. I think you’ve really hit on something here with your arrangements. So, here’s the final question. What’s the future for hymns? Are they going to stick around, or have they outlived their usefulness to present-day Christians?
SH – Here’s my heart on that. I see a ripple of trending in the Christian music world towards re-discovery of hymns. I hope the ripple turns into a wave of Truth that washes over and revives the Church to a deeper understanding of God and His Word.
TT – Amen! Thanks Sherri.
If you’d like to learn more about Sherri Hampton, here’s how to do it.
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