Paul Baloche, one of the most prolific Christian songwriters of our time, released an innovative Christmas album that combines classic Christmas carols and modern worship songs in festive medleys. We had a chance to sit down with him and talk about both the album and leading worship throughout the holiday season.
In your album, Christmas Worship, you pair carols with worship songs. Could you talk about how you came to that idea and why you chose to do it?
For the past few years, as a worship pastor at my local church, I have become aware of the tension between singing Christmas carols without sacrificing our usual “singing our prayers to the Lord” style of worship.
Like other worship pastors, I have felt that it’s essential we revisit the classic Christmas carols each year because they are filled with great content. Many of them were written hundreds of years ago and tie us to the past in a healthy, theological way. However, many of them lack that vertical aspect of singing “to” the Lord. To keep our congregation in a vertical worship mode throughout the Christmas season, while including classic Christmas carols, I began to medley these together. For example, taking a hymn like “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and then making it a medley with a very simple vertical chorus such as “King of Heaven.”
Some carols are almost always performed either fast and joyous (“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”) or slow and introspective (“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”), do you think those traditions should be embraced or challenged?
I think the feeling of the message should dictate how the song is interpreted musically. “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” has such a sense of longing and desperation when you read the lyrics. I feel like it’s important for us to read the lyrics prayerfully and try to get a deep sense of what the overall message is. Then try to musically convey that in a way that is consistent with the “feeling” of the message.
We should avoid trying to become clever or cute in the name of coming up with a new arrangement for a Christmas carol. It should be done thoughtfully and prayerfully.
Many classic Christmas songs have lyrics rich with theology, especially in the lesser known verses. How can we better showcase these powerful lyrics?
It’s very true that many of the classic Christmas songs contain rich theology. Maintaining the original melody is important so we don’t distract people. Also, if there are a lot of words and content, I might simplify the music or the production so it doesn’t distract or take away from the lyrics.
Do you have a plan to prime the pump for Christmas music, or do you just start cold turkey on the first of Sunday of December?
I usually introduce the first Christmas carol around Thanksgiving. The next week, maybe two. By the time we hit December, I’m almost 80 percent Christmas carols, 20 percent choruses. Again, I try to include as many carols as possible but tag and medley them with short, familiar vertical choruses to maintain that “singing your prayers to the Lord” style of worship.
The holiday season brings a lot of people to church who rarely attend otherwise. Is that something you’re conscious of as you’re planning Christmas worship music?
I consider it more for the Christmas Eve service. Generally, if someone who does not consistently attend church is going to visit, it would be during a Christmas Eve–type of service. I try to be careful of “religious language.” I try to imagine that I’m just inviting a person into my home so that my words and my attitude are inclusive, respectful, and I might even speak a little more than usual between songs to create a sense of context so we are very intentional in what we are singing.
You can buy a copy of Christmas Worship wherever worship music is sold.
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