Review: 2020 Virtual International Conference

By Walter Saul
October 17, 2020

Sing a New Song to the Lord – the Hymn Sing Video

On July 4 at http://waltersaul.com/index.php/2020/07/06/juneteenth-and-independence-day/ I wrote a blog about Independence Day as seen through the eyes of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and his friend William Garrison, and shared my new hymn setting of Garrison’s words passionately quoted by Douglass at the end of his “What, to the Slave, is the Fourth of July?” speech. This new hymn setting is one of my best, cast in the Dorian mode and centered on C. The pure triads and open-fifth chords (sometimes called “power chords” by some) are reminiscent of Ralph Vaughan Williams. The sudden departure to the distant key of A minor underscores the dramatic changes in society possible through God’s intervention with His good gift of Jubilee, the rescue of all from slavery of all kinds. It is a good time, I believe, to share this hymn and its message once again.

This hymn was one of five featured during the opening hymn sing of the Virtual International Conference of the Christian Fellowship of Art Music Composers on October 17, 2020, taking place in six nations on four continents in three time zones. We taxed the videoconferencing platform Zoom to its limits, woke up the Pacific Coasters early, and kept our European, Asian, and African friends up late as we presented three concerts, a hymn sing, and several other activities over eleven amazing hours spread out over two days! So let’s discuss the Hymn Sing, which was preceded by opening prayers and a greeting from CFAMC’s president, David Davies.

The Hymn Sing featured five “new songs,” in fulfillment of the mandate of Psalm 96:1 and Psalm 98:1, to “sing a new song to the Lord.” How delightful it was to be freed up from both traditional hymnals and the modern bondage of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) as served up by the music industry! The songs were submitted by four CFAMC member composers and covered four distinct genres of worship music today: the Scriptural meditations of Catholic worship, the evangelical praise chorus, the liturgical Episcopalian hymn, and the Mennonite hymn tradition.

Jerry Casey’s “Jesus, Precious Savior” is a delightful praise chorus that calls to mind the more innocent beginnings of the CCM movement. Although it never leaves its home key of C Major, it has a most gratifying and memorable melody that peaks so satisfyingly before its remarkably peaceful cadence. Casey was inspired simply to list many names of Jesus Christ which properly centers us on Him rather than ourselves. This song of praise deserves much wider circulation.

We segued into one of Gregory Pascuzzi’s two Scripture verses so suitable for meditation, especially in a Catholic context. “The Fruit of the Spirit” is a simple, yet elegant setting of the famous list of His attributes in Galatians 5:22-23. This is the tune I wish I had learned instead of the more ubiquitous and obnoxious one when I was learning this Scripture by heart. Again, a beautifully shaped melody and very satisfying chords including a minor 7th at the climax.

Following that, we sang “God Speed the Year of Jubilee,” which I have described above. Then we moved into a hymn that is a wonderful interpretation of Hosea 6:6-8, which seems to be such a timely Scripture for our day (many pastors in Fresno, California, preached by agreement on this very text last Sunday). This tune, out of the Mennonite tradition, and so ably composed by Larry Warkentin, plays with alternating ¾ and 4/4 time as it ventures from its A minor tonality to the more optimistic A Major as we hear Hosea’s three famous challenges “do justly; love mercy; walk humbly with your God.” The Mennonites were right to include it in their hymnal, and I hope it will be included in many others in the future.

We brought the eleven-minute hymn sing to a benediction by singing a familiar grace from 2 Corinthians 13:14, “The Grace,” again beautifully set by Gregory Pascuzzi. The CFAMC proved well that we have many wonderful hymnists and songwriters in our midst. You may hear these hymns at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJKMJqK98OY.