Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

A green Christmas. Born in Northern Ireland, musician/composer Keith Getty, along with his wife Kristyn, is known for  is well-known as a master of theologically-astute modern hymns, a reverent genre that includes what is perhaps his best-known In Christ Alone which he wrote with songwriter/musician Stuart Townend. The couple are currently on tour across the U.S. with Joy – An Irish Christmas which, true to the couple’s faith, unabashedly celebrates the birth of Jesus.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Keith about his music and the current tour.

JWK: You’re known for your “modern hymns.” Can you define that term for me?

KEITH GETTY: There’s no scientific definition. A hymn…is a song of praise to God. I think there were three real goals with our hymns that made them seem more in line with traditional classical hymn writing than with the modern worship movement and differentiate us slightly…Number One, we wanted to write a catalog of hymns that taught the doctrines of the Christian faith. Number Two, we wanted to write a catalog of songs that was centered around congregationality — songs that all congregations could sing — old, new, global, with traditional music, with contemporary music or with no music. We went back to a more traditional folk melody style of writing or classical formulas….And then, thirdly, we went more for a classical, poetic, theological musical approach…So, it’s not as popular, for example, on contemporary Christian radio. But, then again…the goal is that the songs will have more of a lasting value.

JWK: You grew up in Northern Ireland. What was that experience like?

KG: It was during the troubles, if that’s your question. I wasn’t really directly affected by that but  it was quite a Christian community. So, a group of us guys used to get together and study the Bible on weekends. Several of those guys are now pastors. I was privileged to be around a young group of guys who wanted to please the Lord with their lives.

JWK: Are you Catholic or Protestant?

KG: My background is Protestant so I benefited from the great Bible teaching that was provided there…I did love the more culturally classical things, like Irish music, which I think is some of the most congregational-style music when you think of …St. Patrick’s Breastplate (and) Danny Boy. These are traditional Irish melodies.  I think  being brought up there (Ireland) gave me a sense of melody that is very attuned to congregational singing.

JWK: Did the “troubles” in Ireland affect your music?

KG: No, I think just the above things. I think I wanted to learn from both cultures. So, I think the music is a little more reflective of the…Catholic culture but the theology, obviously, is much more Reformational.

JWK: And what denomination are you now?

KG: I grew up Presbyterian and I attend a Protestant church.

JWK: How’d you meet your wife Kristyn?

KG: We were introduced by Kris’ uncle John Lennox…You would know him because of his articles. He’s an Oxford professor who has debated (noted atheist) Richard Dawkins…It took her five years to realize how attractive I was then we finally got married. We just celebrated being married ten-and-a- half years. We’ve never had a night apart. (Marriage is) the greatest thing in the world.

JWK: How did your friendship and collaborations with Stuart Townend begin?

KG: He really in many ways taught me hymn writing. In Christ Alone was our first hymn together which many people know and that really helped us establish what we were trying to do.  We took it from there and wrote a bunch of hymns based on the Apostle’s Creed. The one based on Christmas was called Joy Has Dawned which is in our Christmas show as well.

JWK: Do you have a personal favorite of the songs that you’ve composed?

KG: My favorite song is always my last song…The most recent Christmas hymn was O Come, Redeemer of the Earth which I’m really excited about.  My most recent congregational hymn was My Worth is Not in What I Own. But, obviously, In Christ Alone has had a huge response around the world.  So, it’s a privilege to have been part of something like that.

JWK: One of the perks of this job is that my wife and I will be seeing you and Kristyn performing your Christmas show at Carnegie Hall on December 17th. What should we expect to see?

KG: We’re thrilled to be in Carnegie Hall! The first half of the show is more Celtic Irish (and) has more influences of the Old World in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France and Spain (and) how their music influences the Irish. The second half is more the New World and how American music is influenced by the Irish. It’s really cool.

JWK: And Ricky Skaggs will be taking part in the event, right?

KG: That’s right! He has the most Grammys of any male blue grasser in history! We are just honored, staggered beyond words, that he would be willing to be part of it. We’re delighted. We got to know him since we came to Nashville…to play at the Grand Ole Opry. We regularly play there now.

JWK: I’ve interviewed him.

KG: He’s a great guy, isn’t he?

JWK: Yeah, a very nice man. So, you and he are friends?

KG: Yeah. He’s been a great friend of Kris and I and we’re thankful for it.

JWK: How many shows are you performing for this Christmas tour?

KG: It’s 18 shows around the country…We’ll be at the Winspear in Dallas, the Cobb Energy Centre in Atlanta…The last two shows are at the Tennessee Theatre in Knoxville.

JWK: And you have a Christmas album.

KG: Joy – An Irish Christmas is the Christmas album.  Our (other album) is Hymns for the Christian Life which (also) features Ricky Skaggs and Alison Krauss. We also did a limited edition EP recently which is called The Green Grass Session.

JWK: Do you find that there’s a similarity between Irish and American blue grass music?

KG: Blue grass was the outgrowth of Irish music. As a matter of fact a lot the tunes, a lot of the melodies and the jigs…have different names but are actually the same tunes.

JWK: What are your plans for when the concert series ends?

KG: Well, the Christmas tour continues is huge for us at the moment and continues to grow every year. Next year we’re hoping to bring some more guest artists with it. It seems to keep growing in strength every year and we’re just thrilled about that.

JWK: How are you and Kristyn planning on celebrating Christmas this year?

KG: Some of our family are coming over from Ireland to spend it with us here. We will be too tired to go home this Christmas, so we’ll just be hanging here. We’re looking forward to that.

JWK: What do you enjoy most about Christmas?

KG: I’ve always loved the music…My favorite kind of music is Christmas music and the only thing I love better music is my wife and daughters. So, hanging out with my wife and daughters and cuddling them will be pretty cool.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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