Conversation: Keith and Kristyn Getty
A revival of hymns
Composers and artists Keith and Kristyn Getty have been at
the forefront of the current hymn revival. Keith co-wrote the very popular “In
Christ Alone.” They spoke with Editor Ken Horn earlier this year in Portland,
tpe: How has your spiritual background shaped your music
KEITH: We both come from Ireland. I come from just south of
Belfast, and Kristyn comes from just north of Belfast. I grew up in a
Presbyterian home and my mother was actually Plymouth Brethren, so I had a
little bit of influence there as well. I had accepted Christ from as young an
age as I can remember.
KRISTYN: My dad was a church planter from a Brethren
background. I’m a pastor’s kid. Dad led a new church with very contemporary
worship music. We’d arrange our favorite hymns for our worship band, so a lot
of my knowledge of traditional hymns has come a little later to me than Keith.
Keith has very much a classical background and hymn-singing tradition. I’m much
more pop and folk. But that blending gives an artistic nuance in what we do.
tpe: Could you explain the importance of hymns in your
KEITH: We’re not trying to honor any one form of worshipful
singing above another. There are many great hymns; there are many awful hymns;
there are many good contemporary worship songs; there are many awful worship
songs. We really have two goals. First, we want to write songs that teach
— that teach the core doctrines of the Christian faith in which we live
and move and have our being, and that teach passages of Scripture in a way we
can remember them. Second, we want to write songs every generation can sing
— that is, with older people, with younger people, with pipe organs, with
rock bands, with no band at all. So I believe in that sense our songs have
sounded more like hymns and are more aligned with the hymn movement than the
current praise and worship movement.
KRISTYN: A lot of what we do is connected to our upbringing,
our understanding of faith and our love for the local church. We both grew up
with very strong Bible teaching — not just in church, but also in the
home — and we took so much joy out of the local church and the support
and development of our music there. One of our greatest desires is to sing
about these wonderful truths we hear Sunday to Sunday, and to experience all
these different voices of the whole congregation singing together. I believe
the most exciting and authentic expression of Christian song worship is when we
do it all together.
tpe: What makes a good hymn or worship song?
KEITH: First, I believe it is critical in all our worship
services that the words we put in our congregation’s hearts are about God. As
Paul the apostle reminded the Colossian believers, God’s Word should dwell
richly in believers and be expressed in “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with
gratitude in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16, NIV). Think of the Psalms of
the Old Testament. Think of the angels singing in the New Testament about the
Lamb who was slain (Revelation 5:12).
Second, these should be songs everybody can sing. In the Old
Testament the Psalms command us to sing as a body of people. In the New
Testament, when the church is suffering unbelievable persecution, Paul is
writing to people from so many backgrounds — slave and free, and probably
linguistically, educationally, culturally and socially different — and
telling them to get together and sing.
tpe: Could you tell us a little bit about your songwriting
KEITH: It’s very difficult. I have several cousins who are
in business, and they often remind me that if even their worst salesman had as
many struggles as I’ve had, they’d be fired. Almost every songwriter I know
tells me they write songs in 10 minutes — God just speaks to them or the
inspiration just strikes them and they suddenly get these ideas. That never
happens for me.
KRISTYN: Sometimes one line or the beginning of a song will
come quickly, but in terms of a complete song that is going to be useful in
church, that’s a long process.
tpe: You co-wrote with Stuart Townend “In Christ Alone,”
which has had such a great impact. Is there a specific story about that?
KEITH: I had heard Stuart’s “How Deep the Father’s Love for
Us,” which is a beautiful song. Our publisher wanted to introduce us to Stuart.
We met, and we said we would write one song together. And that was the one
song. He wanted to go through the life of Christ.
We actually talked about the song “Lord, I Lift Your Name on
High,” the worship song that was then the No. 1 seller in the world. It went
through the life of Christ, but it didn’t explain anything else. And we said,
“That’s a good song, but wouldn’t it be great if it actually explained each
part of it as we went along?”
I had a melody, which I could imagine a big crowd at a
football match singing. When you’re waiting at a sports match in Britain, you
sing a song. I thought it was a great melody. So we worked awhile, and he sent
the lyrics through. I changed the title to “In Christ Alone” and changed the first
line in reverse, and he changed verses three and four back again. We eventually
came to it.
tpe: What brought you to the United States for ministry?
KEITH: We had just married and the hymns had begun to catch
on in Britain, but there weren’t really any over here. A number of Christians
and Christian leaders had heard about our songs and were taking an interest. We
were living in Switzerland at the time, and we traveled here for a tour of
services. By the end of it there was such an interest from so many churches and
ministries to really see a new generation of hymns coming into the church. It’s
a unique window in our lives to travel and to release the songs we’ve written.
tpe: Has the continuous travel been a challenge?
KRISTYN: It’s been wonderful. We love getting to do our
writing and traveling together. We’ve met so many great people. We now have
friends all over the place, which means we miss them quite regularly because we
see them for a weekend and then don’t see them for another few months. But we
have been traveling so much recently we’re starting to hold back a little so we
can write more of the songs.
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