The inclusion of this tune in confessional Lutheran hymnals has generated some controversy because of its roots in the CCM genre. I have not shared those concerns, because I believe that each tune and text should be judged on its own merits, but I do understand them. After all, the mind works by association. (For this reason, I make exception to my "stand on its own merits" policy and don't use AUSTRIA for "Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken" because of the tune's association with "Deutchland, Deutschland Uber Alles", the Nazi anthem. Maybe it'll be OK for my grandkids to use the that tune, but I chose that tune once and had a Jewish convert and also a woman who grew up in the 40's Germany ask me not to choose it again.) If the song were still "the latest thing" in Christian Pop and had not proven its staying power, I would be more likely to agree with the objection that its use confesses unity with American Evangelicalism. However, the song has been seasoned by time, and the popular culture has moved on, and so we sing this American hymn at Bethany.
But though I have supported LSB 550 because the text is salutary and the tune is beautiful and accessible, I had always wondered if the tune was sturdy enough to support convincing compositional elaboration. The "sturdiness" of our historic chorale tunes is one of the reasons they are still so commendable for the church: they support all sorts of musical treatments. So after I accepted this commission, I mused extensively on the tune itself, seeking to separate it from all "poppy" accompaniment associations. I also didn't want to submit a predictable, formulaic piece that may be superficially pleasing but not really say anything.
I'm happy to report that I was able to do some pretty cool things with the tune, thanks to inspiration from the text but also due to some of the qualities of the tune. I used some polytonal techniques to paint "no sin to hide" and some impressionism to highlight "brought me to his side" and "O wash me in His precious blood". I created a mutation of the tune's intervals to accompany "I was so lost", and derived a harmonic progression from the polytonal assertions I made in the first stanza to accompany the Passion stanza, with pianistic flourishes to evoke the mocking and crucifixion. I was able to land all this with recapitulations of several ideas in the third stanza and found resolution in the end for "and to be called a lamb of God." It will take some pianism to pull it off, but is not a technically demanding piece.
I'm so pleased with this piece that I think I'll play it as the Voluntary at the Tenebrae on Good Friday this year at Bethany. I had another piece selected last August, but there is room for adjustment when something unexpected and convincing comes along. And I think the sobriety of my arrangement combined with the familiarity of the tune and text should result in more worshippers actually engaging with the text than usually happens with instrumental music in the church.
At least that's what I hope will happen. We'll see!