Who are you guys, and where did you come from?
When assessing our website this week, I realized there’s not any information on who we are as individuals or our backstory. There’s some information on our hymn philosophy and what we’re trying to do, but nothing about where we’re coming from or our stories. I’m setting out to change that. So, allow me to introduce myself:
My name is Jeff Koonce and I am the founder of the Hymn Collective. I am also the Chief Musician at Red Mountain Church, PCA in Birmingham, AL. Some of you might be familiar with Red Mountain from the hymn projects that were headed up by Brian T. Murphy, the former chief musician at RMC. I was involved as a writer, producer and musician on several of those projects.
A little background: Red Mountain Church began as a church plant in July 2001; I began attending in March 2002 and by October of that year I was helping lead worship with Brian on a pretty regular basis. From the very beginning of Red Mountain Church there was a commitment to using “modern hymns” almost exclusively and, at the time, we were mostly using Indelible Grace hymns and arrangements of traditional hymns. We needed to build our repertoire of hymns so we just started writing our own. Fast forward 8 years and almost as many recording projects, Brian found opportunities outside of Birmingham and decided to leave RMC. Because of the commitment to modern hymns, worship at Red Mountain is very unique and who better to take over than someone that had been doing it all along. So, I started as Chief Musician in September 2010.
With Brian leaving Red Mountain, a decision was made that “All Things New”, released in 2010, would be the final Red Mountain Music project. Any projects that I was to head up would be under a different name. After a brief reorganization of the music at Red Mountain, in 2011 some of us at Red Mountain started writing new tunes and the name “Hymn Collective” was applied to the group. Then life just happened. When we started at Red Mountain, most of us were single and in our early 20’s. Now we were all in our 30’s, married and with kids. It was really hard for all of us to get any momentum going at that point. So, the project was shelved. “Maybe next summer...” was said more than once.
At this point, I should probably mention that in addition to my position at Red Mountain Church, which is part-time, I’m a professional trombone player. I’m on the faculties of two universities in Birmingham, and I play with four orchestras around the state of Alabama. So, life stays pretty busy for me. Working on hymns and arranging is something I love to do, but I hadn’t been able to make much time for it. In the fall of 2013, I decided I just had to make it a priority and find the time to do it. Once I did, there was a welcome burst of creativity. Along with the creation of several new hymn tunes, that burst included more ideas about what the Hymn Collective could be.
It took a few months of thinking and planning, but in the Spring of 2014 the idea for the Hymn Collective started to become a reality. Most prominent of the ideas is the Hymn Collective is more than just the next hymn project from Red Mountain Church. First, it’s about building a community of hymn writers, from different churches and backgrounds, that can pool their talents and resources to create truly great work for the church. It’s not about one church or even one denomination. It’s about creating great hymns that can be used in worship by a broad range of churches.
Secondly, it’s the idea that we should be taking what we do really well at RMC, our worship experience using exclusively modern hymns, and sharing it with other churches. When we write new hymn tunes, it’s always with the purpose of helping churches that want to use modern hymns do it well. We want to provide churches with reliable, engaging hymn tunes that we know will work well in a congregational setting. We want to provide churches with reliable music resources that can be used effectively by worship leaders and musicians. We also want to use our experience leading in this style to teach others what is possible.
When we say “Hymns by the Church, for the Church”, we mean it. Of course, we have to start somewhere, so we’re stating at home. Right now, the Hymn Collective is mostly musicians from Red Mountain Church and a sister church, Covenant Presbyterian Church. Both are members of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). Initially, we want to partner with other churches in the Birmingham area and try to build a solid support network locally. We have already made contacts with other hymn writers in Birmingham and beyond and look forward to creating new hymns together. In addition, we really want to meet and connect with as many people as possible, so please feel free to get a conversation going or to share what we’re doing with anyone that might be interested. We covet your prayers, support, encouragement, and feedback.