When One Plus One Equals Three

Lessons learned in the art of collaboration

Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up.” Oliver Wendell Holmes

Ten years ago I had the pleasure of meeting songwriter Stuart Townend. Stuart had written the beautiful hymn “How Deep the Father’s Love,” which inspired me to try my hand at hymnwriting. Our publishers, John Pac and Stephen Doherty, introduced us. I felt both excited and privileged to meet him.

Stuart agreed to write one song in collaboration with me. The song became “In Christ Alone.” We’ve written together regularly since then and it’s been one of the most beneficial experiences in my life. Here’s a few reasons why:

  • Successful collaboration weaves together individual strengths. While I often focus on the melody first, Stuart is a phenomenal lyricist. True poets and lyricists can agonize over single words and phrases for months while composers feel equally passionately about melody. While I have strong convictions about lyrical direction, I’m not a wordsmith like Stuart.  But we each have complemented the others’ strengths.
  • Successful collaboration enables you to reach higher. More than a century ago Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle wrote, “The lightning spark of thought generated in a solitary mind awakens its likeness in another mind”. Whether it’s by raising your standards, sharpening your focus, or inspiring you to move in a new direction, collaboration brings mutual encouragement. Very few creative people live in a vacuum. We need community.
  • Successful collaboration brings different opinions to the table. Good collaborators don’t always agree with you. In my world of square boxes, everything has a neat space–people, places, ideas, events, plans (including what I’m having for lunch as soon as I finish this blog!). Stuart is very different and brings to the mix his own personality, ideas, life experiences and artistic influences. So my viewpoint is constantly challenged.
  • Successful collaboration shares common goals. Each of us ultimately should share the same goals in what we’re trying to achieve. Then, when we encounter roadblocks along the way–whether they’re the tendency to run off in tangents, reveal our annoying habits, expose mixed motivations or discover the need to keep our egos in check–we go back to the goals and remember why we’re here. Everything is on the table and there’s nothing that can’t be said.

The body of Christ as a whole functions at its best when it operates in collaborative effort.

The creative relationship between musicians and pastors, for example, is critical. Most of the great hymnwriters were (and still are) either pastors or musicians with close relationships to one another.

Additionally, worship pastors and their fellow musicians can experience the joy of creativity when the entire team shares ideas for worship, encouraging each other’s strengths while also lovingly challenging each other to be better. Sadly, this model of interaction often is emulated more by film studios such as Pixar than the local church.

Most importantly, honest collaboration is something we should experience in our closest relationships. During the past few weeks our personal circumstances have changed considerably, and I’ve had to learn collaboration as a husband in new ways. Realizing that I don’t always practice what I preached in the most important of circumstances is always a sad indictment. But that’s why we’re linked together in this life–to realize we don’t exist for ourselves, but to serve each other and in turn to serve God. And to see we can often be more creative, fruitful and excellent as a team than as individuals. Those are some of the best gifts collaboration can bring.

Watch Stuart live on our website here


About gettymusic

Keith and Kristyn Getty have been at the forefront of the modern hymn movement over the past decade demonstrating the ability to successfully bridge the gap between the traditional and contemporary.
This entry was posted in Hymns and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to When One Plus One Equals Three

  1. Pingback: Cafe Hopping (9/10) | Counterpoint Cafe

  2. Pingback: collaboration songwriting « sorrow into joy

  3. Andy Rogers says:

    I remember hearing Brian Doerksen highlight the difference between the top 100 Billboard songs and the top 100 CCLI songs and the huge disparity between the ratio of co-writes.

    The vast majority of the Billboard songs had multiple authors whereas the CCLI listings pointed to only a small minority of writers who were willing to share the process.

    It posed the question that if we wanted to write world class songs then perhaps we needed to collaborate more.

  4. Priscilla Burgmayer says:

    Speaking of collaborating, my husband and I are toying with an arrangement using your “O Church Arise” (we purchased the choral version), a Salvation Army song, “They Need Christ”, and a short bit of “Onward Christian Soldiers”. We are thinking of calling it “Battlecry”. It is quite powerful. We lead a group of 45 highschoolers and young adults from Salvation Army centers in Pennsylvania who are quite talented. We are waiting for a reply from the people who hold your copyrites to see if we are permitted to give this a try.
    Thanks for your music. God is bringing His Church together in these last days, preparing us for battle, and it is clear that He is using the arts as one of His weapons. These are exciting days we are living in!

  5. SarahJayne says:

    Thanks for another wonderful article! I love how your points relate to everyday living as well as music.

  6. Good post!

    I agree, collaboration should be sought out, and nurtured when you find someone who works well with you. Trust is a huge issue, especially where sensitive egos are involved. I think the more you can have the same (worthy!) agenda, the better the results.

    Keith, I wonder if you have experiences of co-writing with people who disagree with you on fundamental issues of faith? Do you sit down and talk doctrine before you talk about songs?


    • gettymusic says:

      To answer your question about co-writing & disagreements…

      On the big issues, not really, as the main issues are usually ironed out first.

      On minor issues, often, but that’s the beauty of collaboration – iron sharpens iron!

      Hope this is helpful-


  7. Colin Adams says:

    Just want to say hello. I’m a pastor in Ballymoney and we very much enjoy singing your hymns at our church. Keep up your faithful work.

  8. Hey Keith,

    I kind of do that already in a sense, by listening to so much music as a reviewer. I write lyrics based on what mood I’m in, what genre I’ve been listening to recently, etc. But I still dream of having a lyric of mine wind up on a CD someday – I say “lyric” because I can’t write music, although I can make up tunes in my head.

  9. Kyle Mullaney says:

    I am wondering if any of your hymns are translated into Chinese? Is there any work happening in that area? I am in Taiwan working with a small church and would love you use your music in worship.
    If there is no translation work in progress would it be possible to consider this?
    In Him,
    Kyle Mullaney

  10. Pingback: In Christ Alone | peedypostings

  11. Lucy Anne Adams says:

    First, I rejoice with you in the arrival of little Eliza! As wonderful as a newborn is, it gets even better as you watch her grow and learn. I have two grown sons who are following the Lord and my heart rejoices at His grace.
    I’ve often wondered about the logistics of collaboration. I write both melodies and lyrics, usually at the same time, but would love to work with another. My theology is reformed and non-charismatic, so I wonder where I would find this collaborator?
    My husband of nearly 30 years passed away in January, and the elders are giving me a 2 month sabbatical this summer from my position as music director to refresh, reflect and recharge. We sing many of your songs as a congregation, and I would like to spend some of this time networking with likeminded songwriters. If you’re still in Tennessee, is there a possibility of meeting with you and Kristyn in June or July to discuss modern hymn writing for the church and particularly your viewpoint on songs that still need to be written? I’m even considering traveling to the UK as part of the sabbatical. What is a must-see while I’m in Ireland?
    Thanks so much for your faithfulness to God in writing these hymns for us to sing.
    Lucy Anne
    Lucy Anne Adams

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