Recently I had the privilege to visit with Richard Morrison on the subject of song writing and worship. Richard has written the music for over 50 hymns, many of which are regularly used by the Lord’s people across the country. He has taught music composition and advanced sight singing classes at the Texas Normal Singing School in Sabinal, Texas and the Singing School which meets in Wilburton, Oklahoma. Richard helps churches grow in their ability to worship God, and serves as a helpful mentor and resource for several song writers.
On a personal note, Richard’s love for song worship is one of the great blessings in my life. Richard serves as one of the Shepherds of the Spring Creek church of Christ where I worship. So, I’ve seen up close his love for song worship, and the gentle way he encourages my own pitiful efforts at hymn writing. With great joy I can say that my ability to praise God is deepened for having known Richard Morrison.
Richard’s musical education began at the feet of the prolific and admired song writer Austin Taylor, who partnered with Edgar Furr to start the Texas Normal Singing School in the late 1940’s. His love for music grew as he played the trombone in High School and College, and he expanded his musical horizons by taking several music composition courses at the University of North Texas. Yet, the heart of Richard’s hymn and music writing originates from his deep love for the Lord and the spiritual faithfulness of God’s people.
I’m excited to share with you a taste of a recent interview I had with Richard on the subject of song worship.
Question: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to write lyrics for spiritual songs?
Richard’s first reply was, “You need to attend Craig Robert’s song writing class.” He then spoke of the time, effort and thought it takes to write a meaningful hymn. It is not something one does in 15 minutes. Good hymns need to be well structured to create an intensity of action.
In addition, the lyrics should mean something! The songs that simply have the same words repeated a dozen times have no depth and provide little teaching. They appeal to our desire for entertainment rather than our need for instruction. God’s word says singing is about “teaching one another,” and good lyrics teach important Biblical truths (Col. 3:16). This is not to say all songs should contain deep or heavy content. We also need songs that simply express our joy in Christ.
He added that good lyrics instill within the worshiper a passion for God. They should move the singer to compassion for people and obedience to God.
Richard humbly began with the disclaimer that “writing music is an art form, not a science.” He then began with a fundamental question, “Why do we write and sing spiritual songs?” It’s not just to fulfill a commandment. It is a way to exchange a message between people. Since the message is primary, the music must be written to enhance the lyrics. The music should match the intent, structure and thought of what is sung. Richard added, “This is why we don’t use instruments to worship God…because they speak no words.”
Richard continued to say that good music writing is no trivial task. It is hard work to find the right rhythm, melody, and parts to enhance the lyrics. It takes effort to make the music memorable and easily sung by local churches.
God created us with a sense of music, and there is something that gets stirred up with us when it faces good music. When that good music is married to the great message of the gospel it can fill us with a sense of joy and enthusiasm. He told of a child who was singing out loudly in worship and the mother leaned down to tell him to be quiet. Richard responded by saying, “No! Let’s all stop and start singing with his enthusiasm!” Good music can help you do that.
I asked this question knowing the answer from my many years of association with Richard. Richard has a deep love for the Lord and a desire to be faithful to God’s word. Richard’s eyes often fill with tears when he sings of God’s love, and his face breaks out with joy when he sings songs of praise. Song worship is God centered.
However, Richard also knows that good song worship is essential for a healthy local church. He spoke of how some churches have not developed good song leaders and they don’t vary the songs they sing, and as a result their singing becomes a chore and not a blessing. The way we worship God in song is important to the life of the church—a lack of good song worship can kill a church, and its presence can enhance it. Richard spoke of how good song worship not only has a positive effect on the whole church, but especially the young. Therefore, every local church should apply diligent effort to grow in their ability to worship God in song.
Question: Out of all of the songs you have written, what is your favorite?
Richard laughed and said, “There is no way to choose. They are all important to me in one way or the other.” But then he told the story behind the song, “A World Beyond Compare.” He talked about how he and his wife Anne took a trip to Scottsdale, Arizona. They sat together and watched the sun set behind the mountains. The majestic scene turned their thoughts heavenward in worship and they wrote these words…
A World Beyond Compare
Richard L. and Anne E. Morrison
As I behold the sunrise o’er the ocean,
I know that God, my Lord is ever near.
I watch the waves that ebb and flow before me,
And know my life rests in His loving care.
As I behold the sunshine on the meadow,
I know that God provides for all my needs.
I smell the rain and feel the gentle breezes,
And know His love protects and comforts me.
As I behold the sky with clouds forth coming,
I know that storms may fill my life with tears.
I hear the promise made to all the faithful,
And know that soon a rainbow will appear.
As I behold the sunset o’er the mountains,
I know that God controls the close of day.
I stand in awe of all that He’s created,
And dream of Heav’n; a world beyond compare.
This is the day the Lord has now created.
Let us rejoice and fill the day with cheer.
His Word still lives, and, yes, He watches o’er me,
For day by day, His hand is ever near.
A Note from Tim:
I hope this interview ignites your own desire to worship God in song. Perhaps some of you will be stirred to write your own words of praise. Others, I hope, will be encouraged to match those words with music that will make our heart sing. And I pray that each of us will do our part to fill the assembly of God’s people with Scriptural, genuine, heartfelt worship to God in song.
Some Special Resources:
Richard is passionate about the distribution of the new songs many Christians are writing today. He has created a couple of websites to help. They are well worth your investigation.
This site contains sheet music for several songs.
This site contains a number of midi files to help you learn the tune of the new songs.
“Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16:14)