Monday, August 08, 2011

Amazing Grace

One of the most familiar hymns there is is Amazing Grace by John Newton. So recognizable, it can be identified just by its first two notes. I'll let Wintley Phipps give the background below. I think the circumstances under which it was written adds to its spiritual impact. But it is the theme- God's grace versus our wretchedness, that is eternal and so relatable.

Interestingly, though Phipps gives the background of the song, he sings as the second verse an addition to the original song written approximately 100 years after the original. The original verse was a little too bleak for "modern" hearers (or lukewarm Christianity, take your pick). But this verse was added back in by Chris Tomlin for the soundtrack to the film "Amazing Grace".

I started doing some research on "Amazing Grace," and I was blown away that the last verse ("When we've been there 10,000 years bright shining as the sun") was written about 100 years later. The original verse by John Newton was "The earth shall soon dissolve like snow," this incredible verse that I'd never seen in a hymn book. I started thinking about where John Newton came from, the slave ships, and what God had done in his life. We're all made slaves to sin in our life, but God has set us free. He has ransomed us from our slavery. I just wanted to add this idea that I hope brings freshness to the heart of the song. -Chris Tomlin

As he mentions, he was hesitant to mess with the arrangement but it has been done numerous times before. Here's a recent version by Todd Agnew:

The simple song structure also allows it to be sung as a round (remember elementary school with Row Row Row Your Boat when a group starts to sing halfway in) as well as be easily integrated into other songs. I couldn't find an example of this being sung in a round, but you can get the idea from these kids (Amazing Grace shows up in the second verse).

It is also commonly integrated into contemporary songs. Two groups recently, Wakeup Starlight and Building 429, have used Amazing Grace as a bridge in their songs.

So what's your favorite version of Amazing Grace? Do you prefer the traditional or do you like contemporary arrangements? Is it best sung to an organ or a capella?


JC Dude said...

I do love Chris Tomlin's version but that song however its sung always moves me!

Fatha Frank said...

Jay, I couldn't agree more. There's just something about that song. When I was reading up on it, I read that someone did a study where the song was performed to a mix of believers and non-believers. Both groups claimed to be spiritually moved by an overwhelming majority.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound!