By guest author Marcia Washburn
The theme for the upcoming Rocky Mountain Homeschool Conference is “Christ the Cornerstone.” As you prepare your family for the messages you will hear, consider studying some of the great hymns of the faith that speak of the firm foundation of the Christian faith.
Every generation contributes its own hymns and spiritual songs.
A hymn isn’t great merely because it is old, and a praise song is not great simply because it is new and fresh. Evaluate each song or hymn on its own merits: Does it lead believers to worship? Is it theologically sound? Does it have enough depth of insight to encourage the singer to “chew” on it, deriving deeper meanings with repeated hearings?
We don’t yet know which of today’s praise songs and hymns will become classics. In our eagerness to embrace the new, let’s not forget those traditional hymns that are so rich in meaning that they have survived to become classics.
Activities for Studying Hymns
Consider singing the same hymn every day during your family worship time until you are familiar with it — perhaps a“hymn of the week.” Take advantage of your child’s natural ability to memorize. Learn as many hymns (all the verses) as you can. The music makes remembering the words easier.
Parents, you learn them, too. You will be surprised how many times the Lord will whisper words that you need from the storehouse of Scripture and hymns that you’ve hidden in your heart along with your child. Write the words on a notecard and learn the hymns as you go about your daily tasks. I still treasure the hymns that I memorized while walking between buildings during my college years many years ago.
It is fascinating to hear how the hymns came to be written and to learn more about the men and women who wrote them. Do an online search for “hymn stories” at one of the major Christian booksellers to find books that interest you.
Net Hymnal.org lists hymns by title. Just type the title into the search box on their webpage and it will take you straight to the words. In some cases, there will be additional information about the hymn including some fascinating stories.
Play quiet hymns and Bible choruses to greet the new day — they set the tone for worship so much better than the blaring of the TV. I like to collect recordings of Christian music played on different instruments — hammered dulcimers, mandolins, fife & drum, harp, and even bagpipes. Hearing folk instruments from many countries reminds me of the worldwide church and the fellowship we enjoy with believers near and far.
Ask God, the Father of music, to show you how to bring music into your home. Soon you and your family will be “making a joyful noise.”
Here are some of my favorite hymns on the theme of Christ, the Cornerstone.
The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock
This well-known children’s song helps all of us understand the importance of setting our lives on a firm foundation with Christ as the Cornerstone.
A Mighty Fortress
Written by Martin Luther between 1527 and 1529, this favorite is often sung on Reformation Sunday, the Sunday closest to Oct. 31. This was the day in 1517 that Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses on the church door at Wittenberg.
Perhaps Luther was thinking of Wartburg Castle as he wrote this hymn. He was whisked away by masked horsemen and hidden there for his own protection at one point in his life. The words are based on Psalm 46. Here are some links to various recordings of this beloved hymn.
Wartburg Castle, Eisenach
- This video shows the Salzburg Fortress while a soprano sings. Words are on the screen; it is easy for children to sing along since the vocalist’s voice is in their singing range. Click here.
- The a cappella group, Glad, sings it here. Words are on the screen.
- Steve Green sings the hymn a cappella (without instruments) here. Talk with your children about the power of conviction that makes his delivery a sermon, not just a performance.
- Bach used the “Mighty Fortress” melody in his chorale prelude Ein fest Burg is unser Gott, BWV 80. Listen at 1:25 for the tympani roll and the entrance of the brass section. At 2:40 the growl of the tubas resembles the lowest pipes of the organ. This arrangement is much too slow for singing, but it will give your children a feel for largo (very slow tempo) and the dignity and air of royalty that a piece of this nature conveys. View some fortress-style castles while listening. Click here.
- Click here to see Bach’s original version for organ. Notice that there are three staves of music in each group. The organist’s right hand plays the top staff, the left hand plays the middle staff, and the feet play the lower staff. Also notice that the hands and feet take turns playing the melody; the foot pedals take the melody at 1:31.
- Mendelssohn used the melody briefly in his Symphony No. 5 (the Reformation Symphony). Click here. To hear only the section based on the hymn, slide the red ball over to 20:00 where the theme is introduced with woodwind instruments, joined by strings, then brass. He varies each verse and seems to lose the melody until 24:50 where you can again hear the Fortress theme. Listen for the rhythm of “mighty fortress” repeated over and over. At 26:13 the brass instruments repeat the melody. At 27:59 the theme is repeated one final time tutti (by the full orchestra).
How Firm a Foundation
- Played on a mountain dulcimer here.
- This is a fascinating look at hymnody using “How Firm a Foundation” as an example. Click here. The narrator talks about how poets find melodies for their hymns.
The Church’s One Foundation
- Sung by a congregation with piano and organ in the traditional style, with words displayed here.
The Solid Rock
- A large gathering of men singing with piano accompaniment and words here.
There are many hymns that proclaim the firm foundation of Christ upon which the Church is built. Extend your own search beyond those listed here to enrich your family’s own times of worship.
To read a fascinating article on the so-called Worship Wars presently dividing many Christian churches, click here.
© 2016 by Marcia K. Washburn. The above article is excerpted and adapted from Marcia’s unique, award-winning music appreciation course, Beethoven Who? Family Fun with Music, available at MarciaWashburn.com.