Monday, March 17, 2014

Music Monday- An Interview with Keith Getty, of The Gettys, a Modern Hymnwriter

The Gettys are heading off on a new US /Canada Tour starting this month, and we're going to be lucky enough to catch them on the 2nd stop (surprise birthday gift for Miss Grace, as she has to listen to their music every night before going to sleep, since she discovered them!). You can check to see if the tour is coming near your town on the Gettys website, on the Tour page!

the gettys

A little about Keith and his wife, Kristyn:

Born and raised in northern Ireland, Keith & Kristyn Getty have emerged as two of the most prolific and popular 21st century Christian hymn writers, penning the modern classic “In Christ Alone,” which has been recorded over 100 times. The award-winning couple currently live in the United States with their daughters. Writing with fellow Irishman, Stuart Townsend, they have been at the forefront of the modern hymn movement over the past decade, bridging the gap between the traditional and contemporary.

I was able to get a wonderful phone interview with Keith (Thanks for being so patient Keith, my interview skills were a bit rusty!), recently and I wanted to share it with you!

Nicole: Congrats to you and Kristyn on your new baby Charlotte! How is everyone adjusting?

Keith: Thanks for asking! It is funny how as your world expands, with children, it also contracts and how things that used to be so important aren't quite so much. I'e found myself to less obsessive than I used to be!

Nicole: I think ALL parents can relate to that, I know I can! Having the second baby now, will it change how you tour?

Keith: Our tour has always been about family. We have a family bus so we can always be together. We will be touring for 12 weeks a year only. Kristyn gets to spend the day with the girls, and I'll be instructing church leaders at our luncheons (more on that in a moment), and then we can get the girls dinner and ready for bed, before we head off for the concert. We do have a nanny with us, and our fiddle player, Debra, also brings her kids, so it really is a family themed tour!

Nicole: Speaking of the leadership luncheons, that you hold, speaking with church leaders about how to improve congregational singing and modern hymnology, do you feel that is a calling for you?

Keith: In many ways it is actually MORE important to me than the concert. Sharing the ministry on a personal level is so important. The concert is really more of a part of the ministry, not the whole thing. It helps to emphasis and support the leadership luncheons.

Nicole: There is a debate among some theologians that todays praise music and hymns can't meet the 'majesty' of the old hymns. That the 'entertainment' value overrides any inherent reverence in the words, and because the new generation doesn't have the same legacy of education in the bible, as the older generations have had, that they prefer 'simpler' songs. What are your thoughts on that?

Keith: Well, I'm not one to get on a discourse on theology, but in regards to hymns/songs it is more a matter of the QUALITY of the hymn/song, that makes the difference. Every generation needs it's own form of expression and creativity, that means more to them. The change in hymns/songs has really been going on for multiple generations, and is not so simple to pin down as a certain time period. As the word changes, our forms of expression change.There some very good praise songs out there, that incorporate our Christian teachings.

But we also need to learn and respect the old hymns for the knowledge of the bible and bible teachings they have. In the old days, people learned about their faith through hymns like "Come to the Garden Alone", "Tell Out My Soul" and "Before the Throne of God Above". These hymns are very important. They have a value and quality we need to learn from, that is one of the reasons we close every concert with an old hymn. Newer generations are not always getting the whole aspect of our God-they learn the good, but not the wrath of God.

Nicole: Speaking of, that was the issue with the Presbyterians dropping your amazing hymn, "In Christ Alone", which just reached number 10 on the CCLI list of Christian hymns/songs- congrats on that, from their new hymnal. (If you didn't hear about this late last year- they wanted to change 2 lines that took away the power of God's wrath and sacrifice required of us). You refused to allow the change, and thus it was dropped.

Do you feel that is was almost a third child that you and Stuart had to protect?

Keith: I wouldn't equate it to a child, as obviously children are so much more important. Bono (another famous fellow Irishman!) has said that "your songs are really like a parent, as they take you where you are meant to go", and this has been the case with "In Christ Alone". But yes, we did feel protective of it. It was written to share a story. We have been surprised by how many people it has reached over the years, and supported them in their varied times of need. The goal of our company (music) has always been to make a hymn well known and for it to be effective for the greater church population in broadening their faith. To change it, would be to take meaning from them.

We purposedly chose to delay in responding to the uproar over the removal, so that we would be in control of what was said, and that is was in keeping with our goals for the company and our music. That hymn opened doors for us and started us on the path we are on today. We were surprised to have some many mainstream media outlets contacting us. There is always the challenge of staying true to your music and being 'commercial'. That has not ever been our primary goal,obviously we're thrilled with it's success however.

Nicole: But in a way it might have been God's hand at work. As those that were contacting you may never have heard the hymn before, or even listed to modern Christian music, and if it brought even just 1 of them closer to God, there was a purpose in it. And it brought the subject of the biblical view of God to the fore front of mainstream thinking for a bit.

Keith: Well, I hadn't really though of it like that, but yes, you can see God's hand in it.

Nicole: And of course the upswing was that the you now have 12 hymns in the new Southern Baptist hymnal, more than any other living song/hymn writer! Congratulations, that is wonderful testament to your hymn writing!

Keith: Yes that was a blessing! And thank you.

Let's let those who haven't heard "In Christ Alone" check out a great video of it, and then we'll be back to talk about hymn writing:

Nicole: As our readers can hear from the video above, there is a profound Celtic/Irish influence on your hymns. Do you think it is natural, as many of the old hymns we all love, also have a Celtic influence. Does the natural emotion inherent in the music, help to make the hymn better?

Keith: Obviously I write form my experiences, and I come from a family that sang hymns and folk songs at home.It's difficult for today's culture to understand, how we would go to someone's house to SING, and rejoice in the Lord, through the hymns, together. I hear this influence when I write my hymns, so it is natural for me.

Obviously the Celtic settlers brought the same experiences with them when they came to American, and many of the hymns we celebrate have very similar melodies to traditional Irish folk songs, making them almost first cousins of each other! It was natural to use them, as they were comforting and remind them of home and their families.And the traditional Irish folk songs are actually very easy to sing without music, so using them for hymns, for a large congregation to sing together is also natural, from a hymn writers point of view.

Nicole: Speaking of America- since moving to Nashville, has the area's Bluegrass music affected your hymn writing? Obviously singing with Alison Krauss ("In Christ Alone") and Ricky Skaggs ("Simple Living ,A Rich Young Man") on the last album (Hymns for a Christian Life- note this was the cd that hooked Miss Grace and I on the Gettys' music!) was a wonderful experience, judging from the recordings.

Keith: I have actually heard that from many people, that they are hearing the influence in the newer hymns, so it must be! And yes, it was great to sing with them! our new projects has definitely been influenced by it!

Note:  It was the 10th Anniversary of 'In Christ Alone", when they recorded the album and changed the traditional arrangement to a Bluegrass one. In commemoration of his 30th anniversary at the Grand Ole Opry, Ricky asked Kristyn and Alison Krauss to sing ‘In Christ Alone’ with him for the finale! 

Nicole: Can we expect to hear it soon?

Keith: We only have 3 hymns ready, so it will be awhile.We really take our time perfectly the hymns to say what we want them to say.

Nicole: You recently had 5,000 people at the National Conference of the Gospel Coalition  (Live album recorded there: Live at The Gospel Coalition, Keith & Kristyn Getty) singing along with you- as a hymn writer and performer, would you say that was more amazing and soul enriching, or would it be a congregation singing your hymn for the first time with joy and exaltation, or a child singing your hymn?

Keith: As a father, my reaction would be to say a child, as that means so much as a parent. But as a hymn writer, I would say the congregation, as that is more in line with our goals for our hymns! 

Nicole: My daughter, who is a HUGE fan, wants to know if you and Kristyn sing silly songs to your kids, besides hymns.

Keith: We sing LOTS of them (laughing), and our current favorite is " Brush Away the Bugs, Bugs, Bugs) as Eliza Joy brushes her teeth!

Nicole: As a hymn writer do you have a hymn, that you would love to be remembered for? What do you wish your legacy as hymn writer to be?

Keith: "The Power of the Cross" and "Speak, O Lord".are some of my best written hymns, and I think they have a great ability to connect with people and share our faith.

I would like to see that modern hymns that we are writing are bringing more people to the Christian faith, and helping Christians to understand the bible and their faith, and that their quality is great!

Nicole: Looking into the future- so you see less traveling, and more focusing on your leadership training, or maybe scoring Christian films?

Keith: I haven't actually ever been asked to score any of the new films! My concentration has remained with hymn writing, as that is where I feel our calling is.For now we enjoy spending the academic year here in the states touring and working on our music and leadership, and spending the Summer in Ireland, at our house there (matter of fact, the first thing I have to do when I go home is to go to a football (rugby) game (in fact Ireland took the win for the Six Nations Rugby over the weekend, just in time for St Patty's Day- Keith was obviously VERY thrilled)!

Nicole: We can't wait to see you later this month, have a great start to your tour!

Keith: Thank you- you know a trivia tidbit is we always take a survey at the end of the tour for which city was best for different things, and Louisiana always seems to end as the BEST FOOD winner!

Nicole: Thanks Keith, I'm not surprised (grin) and I hope we win again! Thanks for taking the time out to speak with me today!

Keith: You're very welcome, we appreciate you getting out the word about our hymns and tour!

And now for another concert clip, to make you want to see the Gettys for yourself! 

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