There I was sitting in Mass today, very much looking forward to singing "Amazing Grace" while the collection was taken up. A beautiful song, solemn and inspiring, and fairly easy to sing (even for those of us who are shy about singing in public). "Amazing Grace, how sweet though the sound that saved a wretch like me...." It's a song about the power of divine grace, available to anybody, even the most wretched of wretches.
Alas, the music director piped in just before we started "We will use the alternate text, instead of singing "a wretch like me," please sing "and set me free." After a pause, everyone sang: "Amazing Grace, how sweet though the sound that saved and set me free...." Ughhh!! This is not an improvement over the original, neither in the phrasing nor the meaning. What exactly makes it necessary in 2006 to rewrite the lyrics of a song written in 1790? The song's author, John Newton of London (pictured left), was a slave trader before coming to Christ (and apparently for a while after too). He knows what he's talking about when he calls himself a "wretch." I prefer his profoundly inspired words over a 21st century happy-face rewrite.
Last Christmas, the principal at a Newton, MA middle school out caught some flack for a similar rewrite of an old song. At a Holiday Concert (which had both religious and secular songs), the lyrics to "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" were changed to "We Wish You a Swinging Holiday." Again, ughh! "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" is a song that dates back to 16th century England. How convinced of your own superiority do you have to be to think it needs revision now?
Write whatever new songs you wish, but please leave the old songs alone!