How “In Christ Alone” Inspired CityAlight to Write Modern Hymns
Unlike popular four-line hymns such as “When I Survey,” “Abide with Me,” and “Holy, Holy, Holy,” “In Christ Alone” set the mold for modern eight-line hymns. You see the pattern everywhere when you know it.
The first four lines (the A section) are two sets of couplets, the repeated melody crossing over the bar line in a steady Celtic 3/4 meter that has none of the flippancy of a waltz. That famous melody opens a fourth below the tonic pitch, starting low so we have someplace to go. This is important. The A section sets the mood.
The second four lines (the B section) open with a lift up to the IV chord (The “G” chord in the key of “D”). For the first time we hit the sixth note in the melody and you can feel the tension rising. You hear it in the room. In the sixth line of the eight-line verse we hit the melodic peak, saving that sole top octave for this very moment where the song cracks wide open (“When fears are stilled…”). Lines seven and eight return to the rhythm and melody of the opening two lines, placing you back onto solid ground.
“In Christ Alone” took some of these moves from “Before the Throne of God Above” but simplified the music a little, giving it the feeling of something timeless. (Even now, a great many people who sing it think it was written one hundred years ago.)
Lyrically, it opened up its theological center to provide something vastly creedal, capturing the whole arc of the Christian story. The first verse tells us what it means to sing about the sufficiency of Christ, and then you have incarnation (V2), death and resurrection (V3), and the hope of return and eternity (V4).
“In Christ Alone” has been a template for us in trying to write modern hymns. It hit upon something elemental in its melodic story and theological vision.
We always say that the room never lies. You can believe that you have written a very good song and watch it die in the room when the congregation gives it a go. The proof is in the singing. The truest way to compliment a song is to point to the rooms where it is being played. You will know yourself the feeling when “In Christ Alone” begins and the church opens up its heart and hands to sing.
-Jonny Robinson, Co-Founder, CityAlight
CityAlight, founded by Jonny Robinson and Richard Thompson, is a music ministry formed in early 2013 out of St Paul’s Church in Sydney, Australia. They have released three albums and two EPs with a desire to write songs based on biblically rich lyrics and simple melodies for Christian churches to sing.