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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The History of a Modern Hymn: Gloria Exaltus (Sing of His Loveliness)

By Brian Nixon
Special to ASSIST News Service

ALBUQUERQUE, NM (ANS) -- Michael Bowen, the arranger of the hymn, Gloria Exaltus, recently asked what I was thinking when I wrote the music to this modern hymn.

Members of the Voices of Promise choir

Though I don’t recall all the details, here is what I remember.

Background

My family and I were living in Costa Mesa, California. I was serving at Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, under the leadership of Chuck Smith. I was the Superintendent of the school as well as teacher at both the Calvary Chapel College and School of Worship (a school for worship leaders). At the time I was teaching a class called, Hymnology, the study and history of hymns.

As a means to teach them how to write a hymn I used this song (then called, Sing of His Loveliness) as an example of how I, personally, wrote one.

I vaguely remember writing the hymn several months before. The melody came from a guitar motif I was working on in the key of G. I was fiddling around with some basic finger picking runs, coming upon this tune quite naturally.

Once I found a melody, the phrase, “Sing of His Loveliness” sort of flowed off my lips, as we will see, influenced by a poem by George Herbert. The phrase stuck and I used it as the ‘base’ for the rest of the song.

After this, my thought was to write a hymn-like song that was both ‘modern’ and rooted in the past.

Around this time I was listening to a lot of Arvo Part and John Tavener (two modern composers who are greatly touched by the past). Also, I was influenced by my ongoing love for Celtic music. These influences may, or may not, come out in the song. Yet, upon hearing, there is a definite Celtic influence.

If my memory serves me correctly, I was listening to several Irish folk groups at the time: Lunasa, Danu, and Dervish, as well as music by the Irish fiddler, Martin Hayes.

All of this must have happened sometime around the year 2003- 2004.

Verse 1

Like most hymns, I turned to the Bible for lyrical inspiration. The early insight was from the nativity story in Luke:

“Glory to God in the highest,” as sung by the angels.

I wanted the song to honor Christ in a beautiful and majestic way. To start the song with praise was the best way I knew how to capture the grandeur of the moment.

Next, I turned to the lyrics in some of the Part and Tavener CD’s. As mentioned above, one song that struck me was John Tavener’s adaptation of a poem by the English pastor, George Herbert. The song was called “Love Bade Me Welcome.”

The whole idea of Christ’s love rang true. I formulated, “Sing of His Loveliness” and tried to build the theme from there.

The Arvo Part I was listening to at the time was his Te Deum. I read over the Latin lyrics included in the sleeve, finding words and ideas I liked.

The next line, “Laud Him with praise and adoration,” seemed to go nicely with the nativity theme found in Luke, and ‘Laud’ was one word I kept coming back to from the Part lyrics.

Refrain

The refrain consisted of several attributes of God. As was part of my practice, I always read books on theology. Though I don’t specifically remember what I was reading, I do remember that I was working on my Master’s thesis, studying books on education and the attributes of God.

In my Master’s thesis I included a section on education and the characteristics of God. I am sure I was inspired by my studies.

The original refrain was:

“All glory and honor and power are his
All justice and goodness flow from him.
Infinite, eternal, and righteous is He.
I will sing His praise.”

Verse 2

Trying to keep with the ‘nativity’ theme, I wrote the next verse,

“Born in a manger in Bethlehem’s wake.
Sing of His loveliness.”

Yet, for some reason, I came to a halt after this line. It was around this time that I began to loose focus on the song, stopping my work on the lyrics. I am not sure why. Lack of inspiration? Who knows?

One thing I did know, however, was that the melody was strong.

Pause

Throughout the next two years or so, I continued to hum the song and sing it over and over, but adding no new lyrics. I continued to believe that the melody was the main element, playing it often on my guitar.

Every now and then I thought of writing additional lyrics. I never did.

Gloria

It wasn’t until the year 2008 that I brought the hymn back to life- adding new words and the “Gloria” chorus.

The reason for the resurrection was that I was working on a hymn to show Skip Heitzig (I was now living in New Mexico, serving at Calvary of Albuquerque) for a Christmas CD we were producing.

I went to the church sanctuary and wrote the ‘Gloria’ section on the piano. The sanctuary was dark, and the mood penetrating. Once I sat at the piano- it came- “Gloria, Exaltus.”

I really liked it. I sang it over and over. It was a nice contrast to the rest of the melody, and rooted the song in the world of the Baroque.

I added the ‘Gloria’ to the refrain, and began to meld the words together. More thoughts began to flow.

“A Child of mercy a Child of Grace.
Born to earth to save.
Shepherds and angels proclaim His name.”

I eventually finished some general words to the hymn, consisting of three versus, two refrains, and the Gloria.

Skip and Kenny

By the time I showed it to Skip Heitzig and Kenny Riley (producer of Gloria Exaltus) the song was almost complete, though I must confess that I wasn’t crazy about some of the phrasing and new words. I turned to Skip for help.

Skip and I began to rearrange some of the lyrics. As Skip read and though the words, he pointed out that they relate nicely to Philippians 2, known as the “kenosis” passage. Instead of just repeating “Loveliness” over and over, Skip added, “lowliness” and “worthiness” to correspond to the Philippians passage.

Eventually, Skip redrafted the lyrics (the day before we were to start recording), adding new lines, and getting the final copy:

Gloria Exaltus

Glory to God all you nations. Sing of His loveliness
Laud Him with pure adoration. Sing of His loveliness. Sing of His loveliness!
All glory and honor and power are His; Magnificent, wonderful King.
Immortal, eternal and righteous is He. I will sing…His praise.

Born in a manger in Bethlehem’s wake. Sing of His lowliness.
Love is abounding for poor sinners’ sake. Sing of His lowliness. Sing of His lowliness!
Shepherds all join with the heavenly host, An anthem of gratitude bring.
Immutable, faithful and gracious is He. We will sing…We will sing…

Gloria Exaltus! Gloria Exaltus! Holy is His Name
Gloria Exaltus! Gloria Exaltus! Holy is His Name

Child of mercy, a Child of grace. Sing of His worthiness.
Born to the earth for salvation’s embrace. Sing of His worthiness. Sing of His worthiness
Gloria Exaltus! Gloria Exaltus! Holy is His Name

Skip changed the name from, “Sing of His Loveliness,” to “Gloria Exaltus” after the chorus. He felt the emphasis should be placed on worship rather than on the one phrase in the song. I agreed.

Michael Bowen of the New Life Symphony Orchestra Southwest did the orchestration and arrangement, capturing the beauty and grandeur of the theme.

The choir was from a local gospel church called Voices of Promise. Not only did they add a unique voice, but elevated the song to new heights.

Chrissy Jeter of the group, Echoing Green, singing the lead vocals

Chrissy Jeter, of the Dove Award-nominated group, Echoing Green, sang the lead vocal. Chrissy not only sang the melody beautifully, but added wonderful harmonies.

After the amazing production by Kenny Riley, the song was finished. It truly was a collaborative work, relying on many people for its final outcome. In a way, the work on the hymn was a picture of the body of Christ: many talents, gifts, and callings coming together to bring about something wonderful.

The hymn is on a CD called, As Stars Shine Bright, produced by Joey Belville. The other artists on the CD are Crystal Lewis, Sarah Masen, The Rounders, Evan Wickham, Echoing Green, Ives, Sherri Youngward, Nick Crespo, and several other unique artistic voices.

The CD will be available through the Connection (www.connectionradio.org or 1.800.922.1888) or on iTunes. The release is scheduled for November.


Brian Nixon is a pastor, writer, musician, and family man. He currently lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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