"Gospel music is hymns," my Gospel-style piano teacher told me. An amazing musician, he held two bachelor degrees in music from Jackson State, and was the music director emeritus of a large African-American church in Chicago. His statement, out of context, might have raised a few questions, but I knew what he meant.
Of course black Gospel music is more than the Reformation-based, European SATB songs of the 16th through the 20th century. Black Gospel has had plenty of its own great composers that have written using the structure of hymnody (e.g. Thomas Dorsey, Andrae Crouch, Richard Smallwood). However, I think a point that my teacher was making was that congregants of African-American churches do additionally connect with certain hymns written by non-black composers (e.g. Fanny Crosby), and that there are hymns that can also sound really powerful when there's some "Gospel flavor" added. So, I'd like to continue the conversational blog series about such hymns.
My senior pastor wanted me to accompany his wife, a Gospel singer, on the piano as she performed "He Touched Me" to close off his sermon series. I was reluctant, to say the least. Along with "Because He Lives," "He Touched Me" is Bill Gaither's most popular song and a Southern Gospel chestnut. It was from a genre that I didn't think would go over well with our congregation, and its title could be horribly misinterpreted in our hyper-sexualized culture. I thought singing this song would be awkward.
But I was wrong.
As my senior pastor used this song as an opportunity to come forward for prayer, I watched in amazement and appreciation as an introverted millennial, a first-time visitor who I had personally invited, came forward and asked for prayer. Thus began his deep involvement with a men's Bible study in our church for more than a year before he moved away for his new job.
For "He Touched Me," black Gospel style, we sang it very slowly, and I added a lot of embellishments (6ths, 7ths, 11ths, bass chromaticisms, etc.) in my accompaniment. The chord progression and melody are straight-forward.