Sing to the Lord an Old Song???

In a time when it seems every worship leader in America has personally taken the exhortation to “Sing to the Lord a new song” by writing another modern worship song every single day, I often find myself drawn to the old, rather than the new.

Now this desire of mine to zig when everyone else is zagging can be chalked up to the fact that I am a curmudgeon. But it is also because I am an arranger. And one of the most fun things an arranger gets to do is take an old song and treat it in a new way, making it fresh and original again.

(Why do you think all those house remodeling shows are so popular on TV? People love to make old stuff look new!)

The most tried and true source of quality old material for the church choral arranger has to be the hymnal. It is a fount of solid musical theology, already proven to stand the test of time. And there is a hymn to speak to just about every life issue, and every sorrow or joy. What’s more, many hymns can be treated effectively in multiple musical styles, allowing the arranger to use these musical gems to reach just about any audience.

My very first publications (1979!!!) were jazzy arrangements “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us.” Then in the mid-1980s, I began series called “Hymns for Sunday Morning Worship” right here at Shawnee Press. Several of those arrangements, including “Jesus Paid It All,” are still in print. And I recently re-arranged two of those arrangements into Calls to Worship. (“Call to Praise” and “Thy Name We Praise.”) In the last 30+ years I’ve arranged more hymns than I can recall in just about every style from Symphonic, to Country, to Mambo!

But it’s not just hymns that are worthy of revisiting. Contemporary Christian Music has been around long enough now, we can reach back to some of those early CCM songs and give them a fresh coat of paint, also. Not too long ago, I had the chance to do a new arrangement of Kurt Kaiser’s famous song from the late 60s, “Pass It On.” I even got a little bit of that treatment myself a year or so ago, when Selah released a new version of my old hit song, “Jesus Will Still Be There,” originally recorded in the early 1990s by Point of Grace.

So, for you up and coming arrangers reading this: Don’t limit your source material only to songs written in the last twelve months – or even the last twelve years. Grab a hymnal off the pew and go digging. Or search through the big songs of Christian radio from thirty years ago. Find something old and make it new again.

Robert Sterling




I am a fortunate man…
• Husband to a wonderful woman for so many years it is assumed I must have married her when she was five years old.
• Father to two talented, grounded young men, both of whom I would choose as friends if I wasn’t already their dad.
• Grandfather to four beautiful grandchildren.
I am a fortunate man…
• Still finding new avenues for the work I love after some four decades.
• Privileged to make music with incredibly talented cowriters, artists, and recording musicians all along the way.
• Blessed to work with ethical, creative clients from all around the globe, in the worlds of church music, advertising, musical theater, & broadcast media.
• Winner of six Dove Awards.
• Writer of eight Top Ten Christian radio hits.
• Producer of Point of Grace, the Talleys, Kurt Kaiser and several other talented recording artists.
• Writer/Arranger/Orchestrator of a small mountain of choral music anthems, collections and musicals.
• Author of The Craft of Christian Songwriting.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s