Proclaim His Grace
Our song for the session—and (we hope) for years to come
first heard the session theme song in October 2009 during Annual Council; and it was love at first “sight.” Its theological foundation is rock-bottom solid; its captivating ring grabbed me instantly; and its dramatic ending brought an uncanny rush of spiritual excitement and expectation—the expectation of something big about to happen, something grand, earthshaking, glorious!
The song’s author, J. Bruce Ashton (D.M.A.) grew up in Worthington, Ohio, in an Adventist home. He graduated from Capital University (Columbus, Ohio); obtained a master’s degree from the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago; and earned his Doctor of Musical Arts at the College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati (Ohio). Retired after 42 years of service, he is now professor emeritus of music at Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tennessee.
When a hymn grabs me, I look first for the name of its author, then for its composer. If the two are different, then it often leaves me wondering what the lyricist would think of the music. Would they think it had appropriately captured the mood of the words? But when the lyricist and the composer are one and the same person, we can then be sure that what we’re getting in music exactly matches the mood of the lyricist. That’s what we have in “Proclaim His Grace”—a marriage of music and text.
Fascinated by the power of the song, I wanted to hear about it from the author himself—how it all came about. Here’s part of our conversation:
Adams: How did you come to write this song? What were the catalysts?
Ashton: The [General Conference session] music committee sent out a letter to several Adventist composers—I have no idea how many, but I was fortunate to be on the list—asking that we consider writing either words and music, or finding words and writing music, to make a theme song for the General Conference session. That was two years ago. And as it turned out, my submission was selected.
Which came first—the music or the words?
Actually the music came first, which is a little unusual. I had an idea with a musical phrase that I wanted to begin and a sense of how it could develop. What I wanted then was to make a series of adjectives about grace that would be increasingly [more] powerful, that would build toward the end. So my family joined in with me. We had an interesting search through the Bible looking for adjectives to go with grace; and with a good bit of help from the family, these are the words we came up with.
How long did it take for the words to come? How long for the music?
The words, probably a week; the music, not any more than that.
As I listen to the song it’s just saturated with grace and it seems to be coming from the heart. What does grace mean to you personally?
Everything is of grace. The food I eat is of grace; the song the Lord gave me is of grace; salvation is of grace; we live in an atmosphere surrounded by grace.
What do you wish delegates, visitors, and the church at-large to take away from the song?
As much as anything, a sense of the centrality of grace. It is a basic underlying attitude of God toward us.
We Adventists sing a lot of songs written and composed by the wider Evangelical community. But I can’t remember ever hearing Evangelicals singing our songs—especially not our General Conference theme songs. “We Have This Hope” (by Wayne Hooper), for example, was one of our most popular. But I don’t think I’ve ever heard it sung anywhere outside Adventist circles. Do you have a wish that this one might be an exception?
I would love to have it shared with as many people as could be blessed by it.
• • •
“The theme song was designed to correspond with the theme of the session [“Proclaiming God’s Grace”],” said Adventist World Church general vice president and chair of the music selection committee, Gerry Karst. “It was chosen from among many submissions,” he said, “because of the blended unity of the music and the lyrics. The two combine to create not just another song, but a spiritual experience.”
I agree. And I can hardly wait to hear how it sounds with 70,000 people singing.
Roy Adams is an associate editor of Adventist Review. This article was published June 25, 2010.