Live today: Keith and Kristyn Getty take annual ‘Sing’ conference online

Having made a reputation writing and performing some of the world’s favourite contemporary hymns, for the past four years Keith and Kristyn Getty have also been branching out into sharing musical masterclasses with others across the world.

Sunday, 30th August 2020, 1:44 pm
Updated Sunday, 30th August 2020, 2:40 pm
Northern Ireland hymn writers Keith and Kristyn Getty are taking their annual 'Sing Global' conference online to beat the pandemic.

Their annual conference ‘Sing!’ billed as the ‘The world’s largest worship event’ had been due to feature over 100 speakers and artists this year, including John Lennox, Joni Eareckson Tada, John Piper, Trip Lee, Andrew Peterson and David Platt.

But in 2020, like everything else, the conference faced the sobering reality of the Coronavirus pandemic, and the possibility of it thwarting the entire project.

”Ninety-five per cent of church conferences have been cancelled this year,” Keith told the News Letter on a Zoom call from Nashville, where he lives with Kristyn and their four daughters.

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Keith Getty talks about adapting to pandemic conditions during a Zoom call with the News Letter.

“But we just felt, ‘No! - we are going to tackle this head on and think bigger and do something which reaches people and helps them all over the world.”

As a result the four-day conference goes live - for the first time entirely online - from today, August 30.

But it will not ignore the reality of what is happening around the world.

“I think the pandemic has caused many people to ask sincere questions because we are living every day with the reality of both physical death but it is also being discussed every hour of our day,” he says. “And modern society tries to avoid talking about death.

“It thinks that reality and logic is to ignore the one thing you can be sure of.

“I think there has been a growing realisation that you can work your whole life and lose everything in a moment, in terms of business.

“I have many friends who are entrepreneurial restaurateurs or in the classical musical world and those folks are just dying right now.

“It doesn’t matter if you are a good entrepreneur or a bad one. They have just got no chance. It is heartbreaking but I think those things cause people to ask deeper questions - illness, death and losing everything.

“The greatest thing about Covid is that it is an incredible opportunity for everyone to take stock of their life, ask questions about life and eternity and to ask what are the most important things in life. And these questions will be absolutely addressed by speakers at the conference.

“So we bring together people who lead songs, but also Christian thinkers and Christian creatives and try and put them together and create this event.”

The importance of music and song at such a time cannot be underestimated, he says.

He cites the story told to him by Gary A Haugen, who fights against international human trafficking with International Justice Ministries.

“He talked about his first civil rights case where he was defending an African American couple 30 years ago, and they lost. In his devastation he asked his friend if there was anything good to come out of it. And his friend said - ‘Oh yes I knew after this case that we were going to win. Did you hear the people sing afterwards? Throughout history, he who has the songs wins’.

“So what we are trying to do for the new generation of Christians is to build them in their faith through rich, deep songs.”

(He notes a recent study from the University of Bristol which concluded that singing does not produce more respiratory particles than speaking at a similar volume, meaning that people can get back to performing safely together in smaller groups).

But the pandemic is also an opportunity for many Christians in America and Northern Ireland who were “coasting” along to reflect, he feels.

“I think it is a time to reset - I can tell you it is for me. Kristyn and I were secretly pretty proud of what good parents we were.

“We have been married 16 years and never been a night apart. Our whole life was built around our kids and building a strong family unit.

“But the things I only started to notice when I was home all the time and not going out in the evenings made me realise I was not as observant as I should be.

“I would say for me I have certainly valued the more important things in life since the pandemic.”

In places like Lisburn, Bangor and Alabama, he sees church attendance declining, but not so in major cities across the globe.

“New York City in 1980 was less than 1% evangelical Christian, but now in 2020 it is about 5.5%.

“So most of the world, most major cities are growing in Christian faith but most of them being new Christians, they are not as deep as one would hope they would be.”

He sees his job as grounding these new believers through sound teaching in music. And he has brought on board world class creatives to help him do it.

“We have lectures this time by a member of the New York City Ballet, by the Irish painter Ross Wilson who did a Charles and Camilla royal painting; John Patitucci, one of the five greatest jazz musicians in history; David Kim, leader of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Tokyo conductor Masaaki Suzuki who is the current world authority on Bach.

“This is a conference to coach the choir, but open-minded sceptics who are curious will also see [faith] explained by the finest Christian minds and with beautiful music.”

After the hectic pressures of pulling such a massive event together, the family will be returning to their home on the Antrim coast on September 9 for a well earned break.

Keith still enthuses about his upbringing in Lisburn, where teacher Bobby Wright at Pond Park Primary School first got him into music, also encouraged by Michael Noonan.

He then moved to Friends School Lisburn which took him to another level, thanks to music teacher Peter Hunter.

“The greatest thing about Friends for my career was that Peter pretty much let me run everything. I conducted or produced five groups and produced all the concerts, although I wasn’t very good at school to be totally honest. Music was my guaranteed ‘A’ although I think I was the only person in the history of Friends to actually forget to turn up for an A Level.”

Signing up for the conference, which starts tomorrow, will give a year’s access to over 500 talks, concerts and worship services online. So far up to 20,000 people from 60 countries have registered.

A donation from every ticket will go to translating the conference into various languages and supporting church musicians during lockdown.

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Alistair Bushe