Apologies for the title to Nick Herbert, who hosted a song-writing workshop for Spring Harvest this afternoon. Nick is a prolific writer of worship songs and favours collaborative approaches. Pick a popular modern worship song with a list of authors and there is a good chance his name will be there!
At the end of the session, he took time to work through questions posted in the chat. My contribution was slightly cheeky: “How do you feel about people re-arranging your songs? After all the hard-work, are they signed, sealed and delivered or open for adaptation?”. Nick explained that he felt honoured when people chose to sing his songs and was very open to them adjusting them to their local settings and needs. He cautioned that a lot of time was put into the arrangement for recording, so there was valuable craft to learn from how they were presented, but was quite relaxed about them being cut or extended to fit.
I think that was quite graceful; I don’t think he could have answered it better. I’m not, of course, thinking about re-writing all the lyrics of a song. There might well be a verse cut – either for time or because it seems out of place for the mood. Indeed, we have to do this all the time with some well-known songs: Amazing Grace is found with two entirely different final verses, both of which are widely used. There might also be a phrase which tends to come out a little differently from what is on the page. For more wholesale revisions, I’d be inclined just to use a different song, of which there are myriad myriads.
However, it is nice to know that at least one significant author of contemporary worship music isn’t breaking out in a cold sweat when I add or remove a chord, alter the shape of the bass line or even sing the melody just a little differently to what the dots say. Lucy Grimes, who led worship this morning with her band, seems to think so too – ditching the hook riff, re-harmonising and even changing the shape of the melody for Strength Will Rise, a popular contemporary song… and jolly good it sounded, too.