Home ANS Feature The Power of Hymns: Revisiting Gloria Exaltus

The Power of Hymns: Revisiting Gloria Exaltus

by Brian Nixon

By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service

SKP skipheitzig.com slides Final5 smallerALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – September 29, 2017) — Eight years ago, blogger, Love Song, said concerning the hymn Gloria Exaltus, “Beautiful.  It gave me chills.”  And Grace By Faith mentioned, “It is as if…you unearthed an ancient psalm and brought it forth for the world to hear” [1].

I’m pleased with quotes like this since I co-wrote the hymn, of which I’ll touch on in a moment.

But first, I’ve been reminded of the power of hymns through two recent occurrences.  One was reading a news article commemorating Keith and Kristyn Getty’s bestowment of an award — the Order of the British Empire — for their music, specifically the hymn In Christ Alone [2], which Keith co-wrote with Stuart Townend. The second was reading Patrick Kavanaugh’s book Spiritual Moments with the Great Composers after attending a musical event hosted by Kavanaugh at a local Methodist church in Albuquerque [3].  In Spiritual Moments with the Great Composers, Kavanaugh touches on a few hymns.

Both incidences were a gentle reminder: hymns are potent.

As an example: many of us have experienced humming or whistling a tune, only to realize that it is a hymn.  Or maybe during a difficult time in your life you turn to singing a song you remember from childhood, belting, “Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee!” A light goes on:  I’m singing a hymn I learned in Sunday school!

Yep, music is mighty, and hymns—the deep theological truths mixed with marvelous melodies — have a way to enter our mental landscape better than most, ministering to mind, body, and soul.   It’s like what writer, Ernest Yeboah, states, “Songs and hymns refresh the body. Hymns invoke the spirit to rise to its Maker for strength. When we live in a day without a hymn or a song, we disregard the essence of the day”

I couldn’t agree with Ernest more: without a hymn, the day is disregarded.

Comopser Michael BowenMy reflections on the power of hymns made me think back to when I was involved in a marvelous project at Calvary Albuquerque, co-writing the hymn Gloria Exaltus.

But first, some background.


In 2005, the Nixon family was living in Costa Mesa, California. I was serving at Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa under the leadership of Chuck Smith, teaching at both Calvary Chapel Bible College and the School of Worship (a school for worship leaders). I taught two classes at the School of Worship: Church History (where we used Patrick Kavanaugh’s book, Music of Angels, as one of the texts) and hymnology, the study and history of hymns.

As a means to teach the students how to write a hymn I decided to compose one myself.

I vaguely remember composing the melody a few months prior. The tune came from a guitar melody I was working on. I used the melody as my base for the hymn.

To start the lyrics, I came up with the phrase “sing of His loveliness,” influenced by a poem by George Herbert, Love Bade Me Welcome.  The phrase stuck. I then decided the theme should be about the nativity, a good match for the phrase. I turned to the Gospel of Luke for inspiration, pulling a line from the text, “Glory to God in the highest.”  All was going well, at least at first.

After a quick start, however, I began to loose focus, stopping my work on the lyrics.  I never showed a compete hymn to the class; touching only on lyrical excerpts from the hymn as examples on how to integrate theology within a melodic structure.

One thing I did realize was the melody was strong.  I found myself humming it often.  Throughout the next two years or so I continued to sing the song, but added no new lyrics.

Gloria Exaltus

It wasn’t until the year 2008 that the hymn was brought back to life.

The reason for the resurgence was that I used the hymn as an example for a possible inclusion on a Christmas CD that Calvary Albuquerque was producing, As Stars Shine Bright.  As you can surmise by the location change, our family moved from California to New Mexico. I was now living in Albuquerque serving at Calvary Albuquerque under the leadership of Pastor Skip Heitzig.

And though I was pleased with the melody and some of the words, I knew the hymn needed something more. So one afternoon I went to the church sanctuary and wrote the Gloria chorus on the piano.  The words came quickly: “Gloria, Exaltus, which translated means, glorious and exalted!

The Echoing Green promo smallerI liked it. The melody and new words provided a nice contrast to the rest of the melody I had written years before, moving the melody towards a more classic, Christmas-like feel.

I added the Gloria section to the verse and refrain and began to meld the parts together.  It seemed to fit nicely.

Enter Pastor Skip 

By the time I showed the hymn to Skip Heitzig, the melodic structure was near complete, though I must confess that I wasn’t crazy about all the words. I turned to Skip for help.

Skip began to rearrange and write new lyrics. As Skip read through the stanzas, he pointed out that the nativity theme I began with related nicely to Philippians 2, known as the kenosis — Christ’s humility, taking the form of a man. Instead of just repeating “loveliness” over and over, Skip added “lowliness” and “worthiness” to correspond to the Philippians text.

Eventually, Skip redrafted the lyrics, adding new lines, getting the final copy ready for the recording.  You’ll notice within the stanzas interplay between the Philippians 2 text and the narrative of the nativity found in Luke 2:

Gloria Exaltus

Glory to God all you nations. Sing of His loveliness
Laud Him with pure adoration. 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.

Shepherds all join with the heavenly host, anthems of gratitude bring.
Immutable, faithful and gracious is He. We will sing, we will sing His praise. 

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.

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 one phrase in the song.  It all sounded great to me. Skip’s contribution really gave the hymn the needed scriptural depth and authority.

The Final Touches

Composer, Michael Bowen provided the final touches to the hymn, completing the orchestration and arrangement a few weeks earlier.  I think Michael’s input captured the beauty and grandeur of the theme, giving the hymn the lift is needed.

I remember Michael told me that after he had finished the arrangement he had tears in his eyes.  I was moved by his story. He also asked me how I composed the melody, which caused me to write down my thoughts in a previous article [4].

As Stars Shine Bright smallerThe choir used for the recording was from a local gospel group, Voices of Promise. Not only did they add a unique sound, Voices of Promise elevated the hymn to new heights.

Chrissy Jeter, of the Dove Award-nominated rock group, Echoing Green, sang the lead vocal. Chrissy sang the melody beautifully, and added wonderful harmonies throughout.

After recording the hymn in Studio 150 with the New Life Symphony Orchestra — as produced, engineered, and mixed by Kenny Riley, the song was finished. It found its way on As Stars Shine Bright, and was used throughout Calvary Albuquerque for various reasons, including a live performance during the Christmas season.

Gloria Exaltus was 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 creative for Christ.

And though I’ve not attempted to write another hymn since Gloria Exaltus, come every Fall leading to Christmas I’m reminded that hymns are a prompt to praise God.  I thank the Lord that He inspired men and women throughout the ages to compose creatively for His glory.

Hymns truly are powerful, allowing us to laud Him: glorious and exalted are you, Lord! Holy is Your name!

To learn more about the making of Gloria Exaltus, read Pastor Skip recollection in a blog and video recorded during the time: http://skipheitzig.blogspot.com/2008/11/as-stars-shine-bright.html

To locate the album Gloria Exaltus was featured, As Stars Shine Bright, click here: https://www.amazon.com/Stars-Shine-Bright-Connection-Christmas/dp/B075G2M4VH/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1506546098&sr=8-6&keywords=as+stars+shine+bright

1) http://skipheitzig.blogspot.com/2008/11/as-stars-shine-bright.html

2) https://www.assistnews.net/index.php/component/k2/item/3306-modern-day-hymn-writers-commemorate-award-by-queen-elizabeth-ii

3) https://www.assistnews.net/index.php/component/k2/item/3304-the-spiritual-lives-of-great-composers-conductor-and-writer-patrick-kavanaugh-in-albuquerque

4) Originally recorded here: https://www.google.com/search?q=gloria+exaltus&oq=gloria+exaltus&gs_l=psy-ab.3..0i30k1.4742.5336.0.6202.…0…1.1.64.psy-ab..0.3.356…0i7i30k1.0.IYtTVKLcu8gOriginally

Photo captions: 1) Skip Heitzig. 2) Composer, Michael Bowen. 3) Chrissy Jeter of The Echoing Green. 4) As Stars Shine Bright. 5) Brian Nixon.

Brian Nixon useAbout the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, artist, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA), Veritas Evangelical Seminary (MA), and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon 

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