James Hughes is a member of Llanelli Reformed Evangelical Church, and the webmaster of Making Melody (www.makingmelody.co.uk). In his spare time he writes hymns and records hymn tunes and gives them away on his website. We spoke to him to find out more.
So what is ‘Making Melody’?
The name is taken from Ephesians 5:19 (“singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord”). The site contains a collection of music files (MIDI format) for hymns, that are free to use and distribute. The idea is that where churches are struggling for a musician to assist them in the worship of God, they can use these files and play them during corporate worship. There’s also a collection of hymns I have written or co-written.
Where does the music come from?
I play and record the music on a digital piano, then save the files onto the website where they can be downloaded onto a laptop, USB stick or memory card and played either through speakers or loaded onto a digital piano. Most pianos would then allow you to change the pitch and tempo to suit the congregation.
Where did you get the idea from?
I’ve been in a number of churches where they struggle for a musician, sometimes doubling up as both preacher and pianist! In churches where they have a digital piano I have recorded songs for them to play later and it struck me that it should be easy enough to do that on my own piano and upload the files for anyone to use. There are other sites that do this, but on other sites the MIDI files often have no introduction and no break between verses and there are usually costs involved. On this site all the material is free to use and played by a real person.
Are there any contemporary hymns there?
The hymns are either free of copyright or the author has allowed its use on the site. That means that the only contemporary hymns (at the moment) are ones I have written myself or in conjunction with someone else. Anything else will generally be at least 70 years old unless it is exempt from copyright laws, but if any modern writers are willing for me to put their hymns on the site I’ll be delighted to include them.
How do I get a favourite hymn of mine on there?
Simply e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with the hymn you want and I’ll check that the words and tune are out of copyright, create the file and upload it. The list of hymns available should grow as requests come in.
How did you start writing hymns yourself?
My first hymn was actually a re-writing of a Christmas carol. In August 2013 I was staying in Cambridge with my family. One night I couldn’t sleep and I had the urge to look up ‘O Holy Night’ (don’t ask me why I was doing that in August!). This has a wonderfully powerful tune and is very popular with people outside the church but it has never really caught on in Welsh Evangelical circles.
As I was reading about it I realised that it was a translation from a French carol and, on investigation, I realised the French version was a lot more theologically orientated. So there and then I set about re-writing it, keeping a few phrases from the original English version where they matched but re-writing most to fit more accurately with the French translation. The first draft, originally called ‘O Solemn Night’ was e-mailed out around 3.30am so that was my first hymn but I didn’t really get involved in anything else until December 2014.
We had spent one Tuesday evening doing carols round the piano at our church. Our pastor had asked where the story of Christmas began and then talked about Genesis 3. Another sleepless night and I felt compelled to read Genesis 3 and then write ‘Long, long ago’, a (rather long) hymn starting in Genesis 3, going through the nativity and finishing with the cross and its impact on me. The first draft went out in the early hours and some helpful comments led to some amendments. After that I started writing much more regularly.
Have you written many and what are the themes of your hymns?
At the date of this interview I have written 32. These vary widely and is largely dependent on the source of inspiration, which also varies. Some are written during sleepless nights where something in particular strikes me. Some are written following sermons or Bible studies. One was written to celebrate my in-laws’ 40th wedding anniversary combined with 20 years in ministry. One, based on Psalm 10, was written in response to the Paris terrorist attacks. A couple were written with an impending marriage in mind.
Do you also write the music or use existing tunes?
A mixture of both. At present, of the 32 I have written, nine have tunes written by me, one has a tune written by Jess Best, and the other 22 have traditional hymn tunes, although two new tunes to fit hymns I originally wrote to a conventional tune have been written by Roanna Howard and I have written two more that fit a standard metre as well. Generally people are divided into those who like the ‘new’ style and those who prefer the ‘classic’ but there are exceptions.
What sort of feedback have you had?
This is the most confusing area! One songwriter gave feedback that my biggest issue was being tied to metre and rhyme but another gave feedback of the exact opposite! Trying to get honest, critical feedback is sometimes very difficult and people have different points of view.
Can you give us an example of one of your hymns?
Certainly. This hymn was written in response to reading ‘Heaven, how I got here: the story of the thief on the cross’. It has its own tune on the website but can be sung to the tune ‘Aberystwyth’ if you omit the final word in each verse.
Darkness falls upon the earth.
Hung on high for all to see,
There, a sacrifice of worth,
Offered up for you and me.
Now the end is drawing near
For the perfect Son of Man,
And his steady voice rings clear
Ending an eternal plan.
Depth of meaning in that word
Uttered in his final breath.
Here, the Son of God is heard
Claiming triumph in his death.
Triumph over sin and hell,
Triumph over guilt and fear,
And my heart knows all is well
When that word of peace I hear.
All the voices of regret
Haunting me inside my soul.
Words and deeds I can’t forget,
Thoughts that my assurance stole.
All now stilled as his sweet voice
Calls, while I survey his cross,
‘Come, believing and rejoice.
For your gain I suffered loss.’
Loss beyond what we can know.
Father, Son, are torn apart.
Darkness, earthquakes, cannot show
What it cost to heal a heart.
But, with understanding dim,
I can grasp enough to know
That I owe my life to him
For that word He said below.