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Benjamin Brody on Writing New Hymn Tunes

You might think that hymn tunes must always be in four-part harmony. But hymn tune composer Benjamin Brody includes many music styles for congregational singing in his new hymn collection - At the Weaving of Creation: 50 New Tunes.

Benjamin Brody is a hymn tune composer who has published two hymn tune collections and has been published in more than a dozen hymnals and hymn collections. He teaches church music and coordinates music for chapel worship at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. He also produces and hosts “Voices United: A Congregational Song Podcast.” In this edited conversation, Brody discusses writing hymn tunes and his new collection, At the Weaving of Creation: 50 New Tunes (GIA Music Publications, 2024). 

How did you come to write hymn tunes?  

I credit someone I never met, Canadian hymn writer Sylvia Dunstan, with my vocation as a composer of music for congregational singing. Sylvia was a gifted poet who died in 1993 at the age of 38. I came across her “I Believe in God Almighty” and felt the text needed to be sung, but I didn’t find the tune it was paired with engaging. I thought I could create something that would sing better in my context, and it became my first published hymn tune. I named the tune COLBERT, after the Colbert Presbyterian Church congregation, where I led worship for twenty years.

Hymnwriter Adam M. L .Tice heard this tune and asked if I would write a tune for one of his new texts. That has begun a wonderful collaborative relationship, which now has expanded to collaborations with many other hymn writers. 

How do you decide what to write?

With the exception of a handful of tunes that developed independent of a text, nearly all of my tunes are written with a specific text in mind. Sometimes I come across a previously published text, either recent or sometimes very old, that I find engaging and choose to write a tune for. Frequently friends send me texts that they have written and ask me to write a tune for them. There have a been a couple of occasions where I wrote a tune without a particular text in mind and sent it to a friend to write a text for it.

How would you describe the musical style of your tunes?   

Perhaps the best term would be “eclectic.” I enjoy exploring a wide variety of styles. In At the Weaving of Creation, you can find some hymns in traditional four-part writing, but most are for unison voices. There are some songs with a driving, folk-like character. Others are gospel music-inspired or reminiscent of Taizé chants. I’m a pianist, so I write most tunes to be accompanied by piano, but I also include guitar chords to make them accessible for worship bands. Most of these songs were first sung at my church, where they were led by a small ensemble of instrumentalists and vocalists.

What makes a good hymn tune?

A good hymn tune must be interesting, intuitive, and fitting. It must be interesting because it needs to keep the singer engaged over multiple verses of singing the same tune. There must be something creatively unique to it that makes one want to sing it again. It must be intuitive because it has to be able to be learned quickly. At least by the second time through, an average singer should have it learned. And it must be a good fit with the text. It must help to amplify and communicate the text, not distract from it. 

What were your goals in creating your new At the Weaving of Creation collection?

My goal with all my hymn tunes is to provide music to help give voice to the congregation’s prayers and praise. The contents of the new collection were mainly driven by the texts that my collaborators sent me. It is difficult to choose a favorite, but “Soul, Why Are You Disquieted?” has been particularly meaningful to me. Psalm 42 has been set by composers many times, often using the first line as a refrain (“As the deer longs for the water, so my soul longs for you, O God”).

As I was reading the psalm, however, I was drawn to a line in verse five: “Soul, why are you disquieted? Hope in God.” As I was praying this line, I found it settling into a rhythm and then a melody as well. I realized it could be sung as a repetitive chant similar to some Taizé chants. So, I asked my friend Jacque B. Jones to craft verses from other parts of that psalm that could be sung by a soloist while the congregation keeps repeating the refrain. Jacque also crafted two prayers that could be read during the song, perhaps with the congregation humming the refrain. I am really happy with the result and hope that the piece’s flexibility may make it useful to a variety of congregations.

Is any composer free to write a new tune for any given hymn text? Would you describe all your new tunes as hymn tunes?  

The term “hymn tune” refers to music for congregational singing. While the term may sound archaic, it doesn’t imply a particular musical style. I use that term because I only write music for singing (not words) which makes me different than a songwriter (both) or a hymnwriter (words only). Almost all of the texts in my book are recent texts under copyright. Most of the copyright holders encourage composers to create their own tunes for their copyrighted texts (acknowledging the copyrighted text and reporting it to their music licensing agency, of course). 

Why did you reset Sylvia Dunstan’s “Blest Are the Innocents” text? 

Blest Are the Innocents” seems as important to sing today as when Sylvia was created it over thirty years ago. When I came across the text, I felt it would work well sung in a more rhythmic, driving setting than the one Sylvia originally intended for it—to voice the anger that is part of the lament. I turned one verse into a refrain, giving it different music than the other verses and allowing the earlier verses to climax with the questions voiced in verse three (“Where is the comfort for those who still mourn? Where is assurance for those yet unborn?”).

How did you work together with Adam M. L. Tice to create the tune for Hannah C. Brown’s text “Let There Be Rest”?  

This was a fairly recent collaboration that we did in summer 2023. Hannah C. Brown had written the original text, and Adam had begun work on a tune before sending it to me. We worked on the tune together, emailing versions back and forth until we both felt good about the result. 

At Adam’s suggestion, Hannah then wrote a slightly different version of the hymn that would be fitting for funerals. Our hope is that congregations who might sing the original version as part of worship, would find it meaningful to sing the funeral version (and would already know the tune) at memorial services for loved ones.

Do you have a favorite among the tunes you wrote for David Bjorlin’s texts?

It is so hard to pick a favorite! Dave writes so many wonderful texts. “Christ Still Rises” is probably our most frequently sung hymn. Dave wrote this text in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and sent it to me. I wrote the tune in a week, and it was published online just a couple of weeks before Easter 2020. Many churches sang it and seemed to find it a meaningful hymn that acknowledges the power of Christ’s resurrection even amid the pain of illness and the inability to sing together in community.

One of my current favorite texts by Dave is “God of Little Things,” especially the third verse: “God of little things—the sparrow in her flight whose rise and fall, though seen by few, is precious in your sight—inspire our fledgling faith to open and take wing; for God of little things, you make our smallness sing.” I love that prayer to “inspire our fledgling faith to open and take wing.”

How can church music leaders access your new hymn tunes?

One of the nice things about the collection is that every tune in it is available individually as part of the GIA Unbound series. When purchased individually, the PDF includes a melody-only version of the hymns that can be reproduced in bulletins.

It has been meaningful for me to learn that the hymns from my earlier collection, Come, O Holy House, and Worship!, have been sung in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the UK. My hope is that the hymns/tunes in this new collection, At the Weaving of Creation: 50 New Tunes, will also find usage in a wide variety of Christian churches. Churches that subscribe to OneLicense can use my hymns freely in worship. 


Buy Benjamin Brody’s At the Weaving of Creation: 50 New Tunes or preview and download individual songs from that collection. Listen to episodes from Voices United: A Congregational Song Podcast, hosted and produced by Brody. Hymnwriter David Bjorlin collaborates with many current hymn tune writers.