The Mormon Times recently shared an online article about The Lower Lights, a group out of Provo, UT. The 40-plus-member conglomeration of artists gets its name from a Moody-inspired hymn by Philip Bliss (“Brightly Beams Our Father’s Mercy”). Their album, A Hymn Revival (September 2010), is a 15-track set of relatively newer “old hymns” of the gospel era, stylized in a bluegrass/Americana setting, whose throwback sound (though a bit more mainstream) is reminiscent of Bifrost Arts. I assume (without much investigation) that some of their songs are unique to the Mormon tradition:
1. Ye Elders of Israel
2. Come, Ye Children of the Lord
3. Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me
4. Secret Prayer
5. Count Your Blessings
6. If You Could Hie to Kolob
7. Brightly Beams Our Father’s Mercy
8. Israel, Israel God is Calling
9. The Lord is My Shepherd
10. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
11. We Thank Thee, Oh God, For a Prophet
12. For the Beauty of the Earth
13. There is a Green Hill Far Away
14. Sweet Hour of Prayer
15. This Little Light of Mine
What is of interest to me here is simply that the hymns movement isn’t just an evangelical phenomenon. And, at this point, it’s not even a Protestant, Catholic, or Christian phenomenon.* This signals to me that there are broader cultural issues at play feeding into the hymns movement than just what is happening in the evangelical worship culture. Perhaps it is truly the case that our cultural sense of being rooted in something older than ourselves is all but lost in our postmodern, now-oriented milieu.
I speak often of the lack of much historical connectedness, theological depth, and biblical awareness in modern evangelical worship (though the tide is turning) and how the hymns movement has arrived largely in reaction to this reality. But what is to account for the LDS church experiencing a similar uprising? Maybe it’s too soon to tell. Maybe this is an isolated pocket of hymn-resurgence. I am largely ignorant of the shape and state of Mormon worship. My hunch is that, because the Mormon church was founded in 1830 on the American frontier, their worship is shaped by the Protestant revivalistic gospel hymnody of that era. If, in fact, this is true, the above album falls very much in line with what would be the hymn tradition of the LDS church.
Perhaps the Mormon church has never had a “contemporary worship” movement to which a hymns counter-reformation would be a necessary response. Still, here we have a group of relatively young people who are passionate about their church’s hymn tradition and eager to re-present it to modern ears.
*I do not consider Mormons Christians because their view of Jesus Christ does not fall within the bounds of orthodox Christianity.
Very interesting. I saw Bruce B point to this as well. Of course, my other question is "are they any good?"
Interesting, Z. Thanks for posting. It would be nice to be able to chat with someone in that camp.
Found your post through a google alert. I am a member of The Lower Lights and would love to discuss the project if anyone has questions.
Love to hear from you – michael.jewell23 AT gmail.com
I think they're great. The music is well-produced and really enjoyable. I'd love to see them branch out more and write new tunes rather than update old ones. Nevertheless, great stuff. I support the philosophy 100%.
Just wanted to answer the unknown question.
There hasn't been a contemporary uprising (as it were) in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. We still use hymn books and sing out of that hymn book each week.
The following is my own opinion, but it is probably quite accurate. Having the same hymn book in all the churches makes it easy when travelling to attend a meeting without feeling out of place. Everyone knows the tunes of the most common hymns. It also makes it easy for people to have favorite songs to remember and sometimes call to mind when needed.
As to the album listed, I have it and think it's pretty awesome. Lots of the hymns are straight out of the LDS hymn book, but some are simply favorites of everyone, like Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and This Little Light of Mine.