Nashville Couple, the Gettys, Revive Lost Art of Hymn Writing

Kristyn and Keith Getty specialize in writing modern hymns for churches

The Gettys find much of their inspiration these days in their collection of old hymn books, which stands not far from the piano in the living room of their Nashville home. Kristyn Getty said she often thumbs through the indexes of those hymn books while she’s working on new lyrics and looking for ideas. The daughter of a pastor, she grew up singing hymns in church. She said there’s something powerful in singing the same words and music that have been passed down from generation to generation.
Most songwriters in Nashville want to get their songs on the radio.

Keith and Kristyn Getty hope their songs end up in dusty old hymn books.

The Gettys, originally from Belfast, Ireland, hope to revive the art of hymn writing at a time when the most popular new church songs are written for rock bands rather than choirs.

They’ve had surprising success.

One of the first songs that Keith co-wrote, called “In Christ Alone,” has been among the top 20 songs sung in newer churches in the United States for the past five years, according to Christian Copyright Licensing International. It is also a favorite in more traditional services here and around the world — including a recent enthronement service for the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Hearing that hymn sung by a boys’ choir with a brass ensemble and thousands of worshippers was a thrill for Keith Getty, a self-described classical nerd.

“We couldn’t watch it here so my mom, as soon as it came on, turned up the television on full and phoned us,” he said.

The Gettys got their start writing music about a dozen years ago, when they were living in Northern Ireland.

Keith Getty, now 38, was an aspiring songwriter. Kristyn Getty, now 32, was a student. She sang on his demo recordings in exchange for fajita dinners at a Mexican restaurant in Belfast. They married nine years ago and have a 2-year-old daughter, Eliza.

Keith Getty wrote the tune for “In Christ Alone” on the back of an electric bill and sent it to his friend, Stuart Townend, another modern hymn writer. Keith wanted the song to tell the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection and wanted each verse to begin with the phrase “in Christ alone.”