The Walking Roots Band gives old hymns new life

The Walking Roots Band (first row, from left: Mitchell Yoder, Kristina (Landis) Yoder - sitting, Michael Yoder; second row, from left: Adam Schmid, Seth Crissman, Greg Yoder and Jackson Maust) will be touring Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana in early July. The band describes its playlist as “acoustic Americana, faux-folk, blue-ish-grass, roots music.” (Photo provided by The Walking Roots Band)

The Walking Roots Band, a Harrisonburg, Virginia-based band made up of primarily Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) graduates, is taking centuries-old hymn texts and putting them to music that is accessible and appealing to younger Christians.

Their first album “Shelter: A Hymn Reclamation Project” was released in June 2013.

“There are many really meaningful texts in old hymns,” said Seth Crissman, a 2009 EMU graduate, who is also a current student at Eastern Mennonite Seminary. They have deep profound spiritual truths that are sometimes inaccessible because of the music.”

Greg Yoder, a 2009 graduate of Goshen College added, “Seth found these great hymn texts that he wanted to use at Eastside Church, where many people who come to worship didn’t grow up singing hymns.”

Eastside Church is a recent church plant in Harrisonburg where Crissman serves as a music pastor.

“Music is incredibly formative,” Crissman said. “We are being shaped in our theology and our understanding of who we are by music.

“In churches where ‘praise music’ is the main music, we generally only sing things written in the last 10 to 15 years, when thoughtful writers have been writing music for churches for 1,500 years. There is rich theology that can be accessed by arranging these hymn texts so that they are appealing to a more modern ear.”

One example is a hymn called “Come Down, O Love Divine.” The text was written in 1367 by Bianco da Siena. Crissman encountered this song in the “Hymnal: A worship book.” The arrangement was written in 1906, but most members of the band had not sung it often despite many of them singing hymns in their congregations.

“It’s a good introduction to the richness of the text,” said Mitchell Yoder, a 2009 EMU alum.  “For people who have grown up singing traditional church hymns we chose a lot of texts that people tend to not sing.”

Several of the band members started playing worship services at EMU in 2007. In 2010, they added band members Greg Yoder and Michael Yoder. In 2012, they became The Walking Roots Band, which they describe as “acoustic Americana, faux-folk, blue-ish-grass, roots music.”

“Even though we are mostly a folk band, faith and church music is definitely where our roots are musically and personally, so it made sense to do this album first,” said Jackson Maust, a 2009 EMU alum.

They will be touring Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana in early July. The group intends to release a folk album in the fall of 2013.

“We aren’t just a band that plays reclaimed hymns,” said Greg Yoder. “If you come to a concert you’ll hear some of our folk music, some silly songs and some reclaimed hymns. We are Christians in the world, and we’re also complex people and we want our music to reflect that.”

To see The Walking Roots Band tour schedule, order a CD, or hear a sample of “Shelter: A Hymn Reclamation Project” visit their website at

Published June 19, 2013