You’ve probably heard about Shenandoah Christian Music Camp, right? It’s a week-long, summer music camp that began in Harrisonburg, Virginia, in 2006. It has impacted a lot of people by providing a safe and positive atmosphere for musical and spiritual growth. It’s making such an impact that people are practically beating down the doors to get into the Virginia camp. This year, registration filled up in days; in the early years, it took months. That’s worth celebrating.
In 2015, the camp celebrated its tenth anniversary. The year before, I mentioned to the administration that I thought it would be really neat if the camp would commission someone to arrange a piece that would include the mass choir, children’s choir, and congregation to celebrate the upcoming anniversary. I didn’t know if they would pursue it, but they did. I felt privileged to be asked to arrange a piece for the celebration. From their list of hymns, I chose “Give to Our God Immortal Praise.”
I grew up singing this hymn in church, and I always considered it an excellent hymn. Have you ever noticed that congregations have an unwritten list of favorite songs? You can tell the congregation loves a song because they know it by heart, they sing it often, they sing it with gusto, and it always goes well. Some songs flop. Favorites never flop. If you’re a song leader, you’ll notice that the congregation looks up during favorite songs because they know them so well. From a young age, I learned that “Give to Our God Immortal Praise” was that kind of song—a favorite—which predisposed me to choose it.
SCMC believes strongly in congregational singing, and one of the ways it encourage excellence in congregational singing is by requiring all the campers to sing in a choir. The choral setting trains singers to be responsive and engaged, and that engagement will hopefully carry over into congregational singing. With music camp’s emphasis on congregational singing, it makes sense to celebrate by incorporating everyone into a song that draws the congregation into the choir and the choir into the congregation. With music camp’s emphasis on spiritual vitality, it makes sense to celebrate by giving praise to God and celebrating Him.
Ralph Harrison’s tune for “Give to Our God Immortal Praise” (WARRINGTON) is great, and Isaac Watts’ text is even better. Isaac Watts wrote some amazing stuff. When you compare Watts’ psalm settings to other psalters that were commonly used during his time, you will see why we still sing many of his settings but few of the others’ settings (go here and scroll down to Psalm 136 to compare it with “Give to Our God Immortal Praise”). Watts believed strongly that New Testament believers should sing songs that reflect the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, so he incorporated New Testament concepts into many of his psalm settings. This setting comes from Psalm 136 (you know, the “for His mercy endureth forever” psalm), but if you look carefully at each verse of the song, you will find one verse that most definitely does not appear in Psalm 136. You will find in verse five the most powerful description of God’s mercy. God’s ultimate mercy was sending Jesus to earth, a powerful truth that Isaac Watts wisely wove into this psalm setting.
And that is why verse five is the most powerful and triumphant. It’s not just that it comes at the end of the song. It’s that it gives us the most important reason to give to our God immortal praise. If singing this song helps you celebrate the work and influence of music camp, good. If it draws the congregation and choir closer together, great. If it helps you celebrate the incredible mercy of God as seen in Jesus, excellent!
Was the tenth anniversary celebration a success? Watch the video and decide for yourself, but don’t just sit there—sing something!