Four Congregational Christmas Songs
I love the classic Christmas carols. I love walking through a shopping center and, through the glittering ribbons and bells and commercialised chaos, faintly hearing "veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail incarnate deity". I love the rousing descant at the words in the final chorus "Gloria, in excelsis deo" (i.e. "Glory to God in the highest").
That said, I hope the incarnation will never cease to inspire the best songwriters of the generation to try to capture a fraction of its wonder. So rich a source of inspiration is unlikely to dry up. Yet we often get stuck singing tired songs in the same way. So here are four, hopefully new, Christmas songs that I think would work in a church context.
On a scale of 1 to Rachmaninov, they're all quite easy to play. Most have some syncopation but it's not too difficult. They're written in easy (and mostly singable) keys and don't have any modulation. I've arranged them in inreasing order of difficulty (so it's somewhat subjective but it's a guide).
1. Look to the Skies
By Graham Kendrick
I first came across this song at the church I grew up in but I haven't heard any other churches perform it. Graham Kendrick is going to go down with Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley in terms of the proliferation of songs he has produced. Look to the Skies is much easier to play than many of Kendrick's songs and as usual, the lyrics are great. I think the chorus is a bit plain but choruses often are. The melody is quite simple but has enough of its own variation that it doesn't get boring and it's easy to make it triumphant. Overall, it's a great song (much better than a lot of Christmas songs out there) so I'm surprised it's not more well known.
My favourite line has to be "Swift through the skies he will burst with splendour on the earth to reign."
Click here for sheet Music (F with chords in D for Capo 3)
2. On Christmas Day
By Matt Osgood
When I first discovered Resound Worship I was excited to see what they would produce. Unfortunately, most of it has failed to impress. Nevertheless, there are a number of gems on their site and it's worth keeping track of what they're up to - I'm still excited to see what's to come. On Christmas Day was released quite some time ago but I haven't come across it in any churches. The tune is simple enough, the bridge is, perhaps, a bit superfluous (I would consider dropping it for the congregation) but the lyrics are great. I enjoy the refrain "This is Immanuel". Some of the rhymes get on my nerves ("sin" / "him") but some are great ("mysterious" / "near to us").
None of the lines leap out at me but I enjoy this one from the second verse "hands that once split night from day now feebly clutch a blade of hay"
Click here for Chords / Lead Sheet (D)
3. Christ the Lord is Born Today
By Mark Altrogge
Once again, I came across this song at the church I grew up in. It's potentially the most well known in my current circles because it's put out by Sovereign Grace Music (SGM). SGM is almost predictably good. Mark Altrogge has done some awesome music ("No Eye Has Seen", "I'm Forever Grateful", and "You Are Beautiful Beyond Description" spring to mind). The SGM recording makes it sound easy to make this song sound awesome with a strong guitar at the beginning and a fanastic harmony on the last verse but I don't think my music group could make it sound anywhere near as good. That said, it's got very easy chords and apart from some syncopation on the last line of the chorus it's quite doable, variation between the three verses will be the challenge.
I really enjoy the lyrics in this song and the chorus is good. My favourite line is probably "death and darkness surely tremble, light has come to all the people."
Click here for Lead Sheet / Score / Chords (G)
4. Hope is Born this Night
By Sidewalk Prophets
I wouldn't know of this song were it not for the Sunday School performance this year. I don't know anything about "Sidewalk Prophets" apart from this song. It was written in G and we transposed it to D (which is quite a bit lower) mainly because of one line in the chorus. I've had moments of enjoying this song and moments thinking it's not saying anything. It's also a bit foreign with reference to "snowy fields" and "Christmas bells". You'll have to decide how to end the song because the recording ends with a nice harmony but it may throw off congregations (it certainly wasn't going to work with Sunday School children) and you could drop the bridge (or at least some of the repetitions). It's also a bit harder for a pianist because there's some inconsistency in the timing of the words in the verses. Even so, the melody is really catching and the chorus builds beautifully. Now I'm finding it a lot of fun to play.
I think the reason I overlook the lack of genuinely meaningful content in the verses is that my favourite line is in the chorus and so gets repeated, "Let all of the world sing the chorus of joy because hope was born this night" (it is also a cool part of the melody).