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Behind the worship music scene


WORLD Radio - Behind the worship music scene

Church leaders have a weighty responsibility choosing songs for Sunday services

Photo/Foto sisters

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, October 5th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Worship music.

Church leaders have a weighty responsibility choosing songs for Sunday services. Are the words Biblically sound? Is the music written in a range most people can sing? Is it something worthy of congregational worship?

EICHER: WORLD Senior Writer Kim Henderson recently visited Nashville where she attended an annual Christian event called Sing! Today, she brings us the first of two reports on what’s happening behind the scenes in the world of worship music.

Photo/Foto sisters

KIM HENDERSON, SENIOR WRITER: Backstage at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, things are gearing up.

Mic checks. Mirror checks. This is a big worship music gathering.

KATIE: So we are about to premiere a new Getty hymn, “Sovereign Ruler of the Skies,” that was just signed a few weeks ago. And yeah, it's the first time that the Getty audience will hear it.

That’s Katie Foto. She and her sister, Gaylyn, make up the Foto Sisters. They’re both in their twenties. They’ve been singing and playing instruments since they were preschoolers.


Two years ago the sisters stumbled across an old hymn lyric named “Sovereign Ruler of the Skies.” They were struck by it. They wrote new music for it. Tweaked the lyrics some.

The Foto Sisters talk with Matt Merker

The Foto Sisters talk with Matt Merker Photo by Kim Henderson

And this past spring, their new hymn caught the attention of the team at Getty Music.


It’s no small thing to sign a contract with Getty Music. Keith and Kristyn Getty’s songs are sung by Christians all over the world. Not sure who we’re talking about?


Yeah, Keith Getty is one of the writers of that one.

Or how about the song, “He Will Hold Me Fast?”


Matt Merker composed that worship song. He now works for Getty Music, and he helped acquire the Fotos’ hymn, “Sovereign Ruler of the Skies.” He says it represents the kind of song the Gettys want to promote.

MERKER: We're not just about putting out our own songs. We want to recover and retrieve and relocate the best hymns of history, because so many of them have been forgotten throughout time.

The Fotos’ hymn is based on one written in 1777 by Englishman John Ryland. Merker says it was one-of-a-kind.

MERKER: So a hymn like this: “Sovereign Ruler of the Skies, ever gracious, ever wise. All my times are in your hand, all events at your command.” The richness of the poetry and the richness of the theology that Ryland was writing about. It's just, it's just unparalleled.

That’s the opposite of a trend Merker has noticed in modern worship music. A trend toward language that isn't necessarily false. It just speaks in generalities and cliches.

MERKER: We love you, Lord. You're everywhere. You're breathing in our midst . . . Those are all true sentiments. They're good, but will they build deep believers over time?

Merker says there’s a big contrast between those songs and the words of “Sovereign Ruler of the Skies.”

MERKER: “His decree who formed the Earth, fixed my first and second birth. Now my life to him I owe. Where he leads me, I will go.” There's so much truth packed into those four lines I just read.


It’s the kind of God-focused music diet Merker believes we need to feed ourselves on.

MERKER: Oh, it's God. That's the One who formed the earth, who fixed my first birth. Okay, so my life, but also my second birth, my conversion, my being born again. That's not to say that I think we should never sing songs that are simple, songs of devotion . . .

But he’s noticed fewer and fewer songs use the language of our sin or God's wrath, condemnation, justice, and righteousness.

MERKER: And there are very few songs that help us to lament the brokenness of this world.

The Foto Sisters are songwriters, but “Sovereign Ruler of the Skies” was their first project that had potential as a congregational hymn. Before the Gettys entered the picture, the Fotos sold the sheet music on their website. It began circulating among churches. Gaylyn remembers something special happened when they were traveling in Oklahoma.

GAYLYN: We were actually at church when they sang it, like we were in the congregation and all of a sudden they start singing “Sovereign Ruler.” It was hard to keep it together . . .

The Fotos sing at the Getty Music conference

The Fotos sing at the Getty Music conference Photo by Kim Henderson

And now they’re here at Sing! in front of a crowd of 7,000 people . . .


They’re sharing a hymn based on words that have already stood the test of time.

But what about the people in the pews? How do we faithfully address trends in worship music? Merker has some suggestions.

MERKER: You can pray for wonderful songs to be written. You can pray for your pastors and for song leaders and those who are selecting the songs to have wisdom. You can certainly recommend songs that you think help to convey a full-orbed truth of God and all of the main themes of Scripture . . .

MUSIC: [Sovereign Ruler of the Skies]

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Kim Henderson in Nashville, Tennessee.

BROWN: You can read more about the Foto Sisters in the October 8th issue of WORLD Magazine.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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