Blogger Brian Hehn is the director of The Center for Congregational Song.
Lots of Questions
As the director of The Center for Congregational Song, I’m often asked questions for which I don’t know the answer. There’s usually one of two reasons for me not knowing the answer. First, I’m only one person with limited knowledge and experience. The answer is out there and I just don’t know about it. One of the advantages of my position (and a benefit of serving an organization like The Hymn Society) is that when I don’t know an answer, I often know somebody who does! The other reason I might not know the answer to a question is that there isn’t a singular answer. Music ministry and congregational song is often so contextual and/or multifaceted that one person’s answer can be another person’s mistake. My simple hope for this series of columns entitled “Questions for the Director,” is that my answers will be helpful beyond the individual who originally asked.
Dear Center Director,
We are currently working on a hymnal for our denomination and we have noticed that the list of contributors for the CCM/Praise-and-Worship music we’ve selected is overwhelmingly by white males. Can you point us to songs written for praise bands and or in the style of Contemporary Worship Music that are written by women?
I’m so glad you’ve reached out and am encouraged by your intentionality as you develop your new hymnal. Representation matters! I’ve reached out to friends and colleagues to crowd-source my response below. I hope you find it helpful. Each artist/band is given a simple 1 to 2-sentence description. If I’m aware of a particular song that I think is particularly good for congregational singing or representative of their style, I’ve linked to it as an example of each artist’s work. But don’t let the first example stop you from exploring the rest that each artist has to offer. I offer this list (in no particular order) as a conversation starter, not as a definitive list.
- Audrey Assad – “Your Peace Will Make Us One” is a new text for an old standard, flipping the original on its head to celebrate the peace that Christ brings. Audrey is a Syrian-American Roman Catholic sing-song writer.
- The Many – A folk ensemble focusing on inclusivity, “All Belong Here” is a great communion song. Also, “These Bodies” is a unique and important song.
- Darlene Zschech – One of Hillsong Church’s main song writers and worship leaders for many years, she has written and co-written a huge number of songs. Her most popular song is certainly “Shout to the Lord” from 1994.
- Lisa Gungor – 1 of the two “gungors” who made up the popular band. One of their breakout songs, “Beautiful Things” continues to be one of their most influential and singable.
- Laura Story – Best known for her song “Blessings” which showed up on more than just Christian Radio Stations. She has many other songs that have congregational possibilities.
- Amy Grant – Known for songs like “El Shaddai,” I think one of her most useful congregational songs is “Thy Word” which is flexible in its instrumentation and easily transposable into a singable key.
- CeCe Winans – A well-known gospel artist. Just google her to finds lots of songs.
- Sandra McCracken – A Nashville-based singer/song-writer whose recent work has focused on psalm-singing and congregationally friend songs. Check out “Trinity Song” and “All Ye Regufees.”
- Liz Vice – A Christian artist who focuses more on secular concert venues, some of her songs non-the-less carry over into congregational repertoire. A recent collaboration created “Away from the Manger,” which is stunning.
- Casey J – A well-known gospel artist best known for her song “Fill Me Up.” A simple chorus and call-and-response lends itself to congregational participation.
- Karin Simmons – Her setting of “out of the depths” utilizes a Chopin Nocturne as the accompaniment. It feels modern and ancient simultaneously.
- The McMakens – A husband/wife duo with a soft folky style. A good example of their work is “Rend Your Hearts.”
- Rachel Wilhelm – Her most recent album “Songs of Lament” is an important addition to the praise-band oriented repertoire.
- Geraldine Latty – A soft-rock ballad focusing on God’s compassion, the chorus of “Lord, You Hear the Cry” is super singable.
- Bernadette Farrell – Well-known and well-published in the Roman Catholic world (OCP page here). This British song-writer has some must-sing songs that aren’t strophic hymns but still feel natural for those who sing that style. Similar to Marty Haugen, David Haas, etc…
- Jenna Martin – A Nashville based singer/song-writer who isn’t easy to find but who has some lovely songs. The one recommended to me was her Christmas song “O Come, Be Born Again.”
- Leslie Jordan of All Sons and Daughters – A former group based in Nashville who came out with some wonderful hits that are both catchy and congregational-friendly. I particular enjoy “All the Poor and Powerless” for use with congregations.
- Lynn DeShazo – One of Integrity Hosanna’s early-generation song writers. A good singable chorus by her can be found in her song “Mercy.”
- Deanna Witkowski – A jazz artist who loves congregational singing and re-vamping hymns. She recently won The Hymn Society’s annual hymn search with her setting of Psalm 100 “We Belong to God.”
- Andra Moran – Some simple but beautiful songs in a soft country-western style, I think one of her most congregational song is surprisingly “Lullaby,” which could be included in a night prayer or benediction section of a hymnal. A playlist of her most popular songs is here.
- Sandra Montes – The Spanish-Language Consultant for the Episcopal Church, her song “todo lo puedo hacer” made quite a splash recently at one of their denomination’s annual gatherings.
- Danielle Rose – One of her best songs is “Touch Him,” which is a lovely setting of one of the Gospel narratives, though it would be tough with a congregation. The chorus of “Pursue Me” is very singable, however. So checking out her catalogue may be fruitful.
- Kiran Young Wimberly & The McGraths – Their collections of “Celtic Psalms” are traditional Irish tunes set to psalm texts. One of my personal favorites that works really well with congregations is “Sing to the Lord.”
- Sally Ann Morris – Published through GIA, her work floats between classic strophic hymn settings that would feel at home on the organ and driving songs with refrains that need a band to bring it to life. One of my favorite selections is “If Jesus Is Come” from the collection Stars Like Grace and is begging for an awesome band-driven arrangement.
- Mary the Mother of Jesus – The Psalms are great. New songs are great. But one of the most important and most sung songs of all-time was written by a woman. Make sure to include a setting of the Magnificat some time this year, and take that time to thank God for women poets, composers, and prophets!
2 thoughts on “QUESTIONS FOR THE DIRECTOR: 25 Women Song-Writers You Should Know”
Thanks for this article and including The Many on it. As one of the women who writes the songs for The Many (the other being my daughter Hannah Rand) it’s such a gift to have women’s voices called out and shared with the wider congregation. I know I’ve been personally encouraged by so many of the songwriters you’ve mentioned on this list. And there are many others I could add – Jill Phillips and Ana Hernandez are just a couple who come to mind. Hannah started writing songs when she was 12 years old and I think that’s because she was a part of a church where women’s voices were encouraged and cherished…your article gives me hope that will continue to happen and more young women will be writing us into a fuller, deeper, more inclusive understanding of God’s grace and love for all of us on this tender, trembling planet. -Peace & blessings. Lenora
I would like to add to your list the name of Sister Suzanne Toolan, RSM, who wrote the well-known hymn “I Am the Bread of Life”. Sr. Suzanne also introduced the music of Taize to the musical and spiritual community, has composed many songs in that genre, and has directed monthly Taize prayer services at the Mercy Center in Burlingame, CA since 1982. Words cannot describe how much I miss attending these services since I left the Bay Area.
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