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They are not my songs; they are the church’s

Believers from Russia to the U.S. sing the musical compositions of Christian composer Konstantin Zhigulin

Konstantin Zhigulin wrote his first two hymns within the first week after he and his wife, Lina, were baptized in the Siberian city of Barnaul.

Konstantin and Lina

The Russian couple, both classical musicians, compose songs of praise with slight Slavic influences that sound as if they’ve been sung by Christians for centuries. To date, their spiritual compositions number more than 150.

Before his conversion, Konstantin Zhigulin studied flute and piano. After he encountered Christ, he added biblical studies to his repertoire, enrolling at the Institute of Theology and Ministry in St. Petersburg, Russia. He and his wife completed their degrees at the school, which is associated with Churches of Christ, in 2007.

Now they conduct singing workshops across their homeland — plus Germany and the U.S. Though he composes primarily for the Russian church, more than 50 of Konstantin Zhigulin’s hymns have been translated into English. Some are sung in American churches.  He draws from sacred and secular music — from medieval and baroque to soft rock. His lyrics, of course, draw heavily from Scripture, with the goal of showcasing God’s love and mercy, he says.

Since 1995 he and his wife have been active members of a cappella groups, learning and teaching new hymns. In 2005 Konstantin Zhigulin founded the ensemble Psalom. The group has produced multiple CDs and visited more than 250 congregations in the U.S. The Cole Mill Road Church of Christ in Durham, N.C., supports the work along with other churches and individuals.


How did you become interested in composing church music?

When I first turned to the Lord, the song “Remembrance” came to me. Many congregations started singing it connected with the Lord’s Supper. The music I wrote was the sole expression of my faith in God and a welcome expression of faith for many who came to the Lord in Russia in the 1990s.

“The church will always prefer songs of conscious worship over those that momentarily entertain with a pretty melody or that are hurried and flashy. The church wants songs that proclaim the truth about God…”

Jeff Matteson, a preacher, was a big help to me. He worked with me and mentored me at the very beginning of this path. Many people have had a part in these songs coming to be. In congregations in Russia, lots know these songs by memory, and they are sung like they’ve already been around for ages. So, I can’t really call them my songs anymore. They are the church’s songs.

Are there musical characteristics that Russian Christians prefer?

Just like in other countries, there are many different styles. Church music should express our faith and testify to God as presented in the Bible. Music should proclaim God’s forgiveness, his mercy, his love, his majesty, his might and his judgment. In addition, the song leader needs to clearly understand the church assembly and what part the song service has in it.

The right relationship of form and content creates room for worship for the congregation, a space for bowing down before God. The church will always prefer songs of conscious worship over those that momentarily entertain with a pretty melody or that are hurried and flashy. The church wants songs that proclaim the truth about God, that speak of his will and our desire to accept and fulfill it.

The problem often is that a congregation doesn’t have someone able to really dig into this, or that we haven’t understood that the search is needed and that it will bring good fruit.

In your opinion, do Christians need training in singing?

A person who sings is a free person. Do you recall how Paul and Silas were singing while imprisoned (Acts 16)? They had greater freedom than those who were guarding them! And they were singing!

Mass culture today is a culture of listening, not of singing. We no longer sing at wedding receptions, preferring to hear something pumped out of speakers. We don’t sing at the graveside. Instead we are silent, as though we have lost our voice.

All of this, of course, has an influence on the life of the church. For many who visit us during worship for the first time, communal singing is a revelation.

“Most important to me is that these songs are finding their place in congregational worship.”

Over the course of many years, we have developed an annual singing school where we teach basic music skills and strive to develop in each student a love for congregational singing. Ideally, developing these skills occurs continually in their local church. Only then is growth stable.

Sadly, few congregations have someone who will take charge of such a ministry. Still, we aren’t discouraged, believing that the Lord will bless and place people in these roles.

What are your favorite hymns that you have written?

Every song is special to me in its own way. I think one of the most important songs I’ve written is “Lament for the Innocents.” Jeff Matteson wrote the lyrics in response to the Sandy Hook school mass-shooting in 2012.

Romans 12:15 tells us to mourn with those who mourn. It’s in these moments we become who we are to be. Especially when it is children, we mourn. We discard nationality, ethnicity and language. All conventions are torn away.

I know that many congregations in the USA love the song “My God and King.” The lyrics for this song were written by Mark Shipp of Austin on themes from Psalm 84.

"My God and King"

Russian composer Konstantin Zhigulin stopped by the Memorial Road Church of Christ in Oklahoma City on his trip to the U.S. and taught the congregation his song "My God and King." Video provided by Lynn McMillon.

Posted by The Christian Chronicle on Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A few songs are unique in that their lyrics are practically unchanged from the biblical text: “The Lord’s Prayer,” “The Lord is Risen from the Grave” and “You are the Light of the World.” The English versions of these songs were worked on by Brad Cawyer, a wonderful musician from Dallas.

How is your wife involved in your ministry?

Lina has always been a part of the ensemble Psalom. She has an amazing gift in her voice.

For a number of years Lina has been the choir director at St. Petersburg Christian University, and she trains the choir for a church in nearby Pavlovsk. She also teaches in the annual singing school. Her support of me is no small thing.

Who uses your music, and how can American Christians learn more about it?

This music is used by congregations, performing groups, small ensembles and choirs at Christian universities. Many of the songs are translated into English, German, Estonian, French, Albanian and Greek – which makes them useable all over the world.

Most important to me is that these songs are finding their place in congregational worship.

Sheet music is available on Psalom’s website. Many songs are included in the Russian-language songbook “Music of the Heart,” published by Eastern European Mission for churches in Russia and Ukraine. Some songs in English are published in the U.S. as part of the project “Timeless: Ancient Psalms for the Church Today.” Also, there is a multi-volume set of songbooks of my music that James Tackett of Austin Christian Acappella Music made possible.

WEBSITES: psalom.org, congregationalworship.org

Filed under: Dialogue a cappella Dialogue hymns

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