Jesus Lives, and So Shall I #3

In this third and final version of “Jesus Lives,” I went all Chris Tomlin. This is new territory for me–keeping things four-chord simple, using pace and dynamics to shape the song, and even smoothing it all together with the magic worship glue known as worship pads.

Now it’s time for you to decide which of the three versions you like best. I’ll create a poll and upload it here. The winning song will be the official version which will be distributed throughout the world and beyond*.

*If someone on a future space shuttle likes it enough to put it on their iTunes playlist.

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Jesus Lives, and So Shall I #2

The first version of “Jesus Lives” was all business: The chords move every half note and the melody takes off quickly, leaving room to breathe but not much more.

This second version is more relaxed: It’s not just the country backbeat that makes this song feel so chill–the chords move slowly and the melody is smooth and leaves space between phrases. It’s also more guitar-friendly, which gives it a happy, chimey sound when led by a folk band.

So the question is this: Should a song about the resurrection be more energetic (#1) or relaxed (#2)?

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Jesus Lives, and So Shall I #1

As Easter rapidly approaches, many worship planners are simply trying to survive Holy Week. But Sundays will keep coming, and you need to have a plan for Eastertide! Don’t Worry. I have you covered. Over the next three days I will be unveiling my new Eastertide song(s) “Jesus Lives, and So Shall I.” “Why ‘song(s)’?”, you ask? Because I have actually written three different versions of the same song. Here’s how it happened:

I was searching for songs for Easter and beyond and noticed how many songs are perfect for Easter Sunday but don’t fit the week after. (“Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” for example.) Practically half of the New Testament is devoted to understanding the implications of the resurrection for the believer, so where are the songs about dying to self and living for Christ, etc? Then I came across the hymn “Jesus Lives, and So Shall I.” Loved it. I printed off the words, headed to the piano, and wrote a new melody for the text. Then I tweaked the text fairly substantially. Then I had doubts about the melody. Then I composed a new melody. Then I decided I liked both. Then I thought it would be fun to write a third melody and let people choose which version they like best.

Little did I know that my humble trio of melodies was up against such formidable competition: Crüger, CPE Bach, Green Carpet Players, ChurchFolk, and Nathan Partain. Feel free to check their fine renditions, but make sure you come back over the next few days to hear my other two versions of the song. I’ll give you a chance to vote on your favorite in a few days.

1. Jesus lives, and so shall I. 
The sting of death is gone forever.
Jesus lives—the One who died 
the bands of sin and death to sever.
God has raised me from the dust:
Jesus is my hope and trust.

2. Jesus lives! My soul revived
when Jesus called. I was awakened
from my sleep to glorious light;
the shroud of death my Lord has shaken.
From the grave God raised me up:
Jesus is my hope and trust.

3. Jesus lives! New life begins
within this heart so long in slavery.
From the crushing weight of sin,
my God’s strong arm reached down and saved me.
Each new day brings grace enough:
Jesus is my hope and trust.

4. Jesus lives, and nothing now
can separate me from my Savior.
Earthly pain nor Satan’s power
could never cause his love to waver.
Those he’s found are never lost:
Jesus is my hope and trust.

Awake, my soul.
Awake, my soul.
Your Savior calls—
calls you to rise with him this dawn,
calls you to life within God’s love:
Jesus is my hope and trust.
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Come Praise, Be Cradled

For this latest collaboration with TL Moody, I took a different tack. I often match her texts with folk songs. The organic nature of the subject matter often feels like it should be matched by the string and wood of traditional folk music. And the reference to the lark in the first lines of the hymn almost lured me to follow Ralph Vaughan Williams ethereal “The Lark Ascending.” But I didn’t follow either of those muses.

Lark Bunting, Calamospiza melanocorys

Instead, I took my cues from the chorus, which is about joy welling up in the soul in praise of the Creator. What emerged was a Renaissance-style hymn with a persistent pulse underneath.

Bonus? You get to hear a chorus of Greg trombones!

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The Meadow Sings (TL Moody)

The collaborations with TL Moody continue!

What I love about this song, “The Meadow Sings,” is that the text wraps nature and doxology together so tightly and beautifully. Many environmental hymns are so heavy-handed they make you want to hop in your SUV and go eat a burger just to spite the starry-eyed, idealistic poet. But this text knits together nature, music, and the Creator so beautifully it makes all three seem part of the same chorus.

The organic nature of the text led me to compose a folk song with Celtic overtones. Of course, we’re all trying to recapture the beauty of “Be Thou My Vision” and “Morning Has Broken.” On the other hand, you could do worse…

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Psalm 84: Blessed Beyond Measure

I’m currently working on a big choral commission for the centennial celebration of Trinity Lutheran Church in Owatonna, MN. (“Big” as in, youth and adult choirs, handbells and handchimes, woodwinds, brass, strings, timpani, harp, and praise team.)

While it is relatively easy to write a festive choral piece that would add to a centennial celebration day, it’s a lot harder to write something that will continue to be used by the church for years to come.  With that in mind, I wanted to do a reality check, creating a demo that would strip back all the instrumentation to reveal how well the song itself sings. I’m glad I did because the very act of recording the song showed me places I should leave space for breathing, words that tripped the tongue, and parts of the melody that could be streamlined. What remains is smooth as butter.

My study of Psalm 84 revealed a Psalm full of wide-eyed wonder about God’s temple, but also trust in God’s presence on the journey of life. Most commentators break the Psalm into three sections: 1. The beauty of God’s temple. 2. The blessing of the journey (to the temple and the journey of life). 3. God’s presence in the heart and life of the faithful. What a beautiful theme for a church that has journeyed for 100 years and is looking to its future! I followed this same three-part structure in my song.

The song is what I often call a “blender.” That is, a song that can live comfortably in both traditional and contemporary settings: think “In Christ Alone,” “There Is a Redeemer,” etc. This demo leans toward the contemporary with guitars and drums, but the full arrangement (to be completed any day now) leans more traditional, as it will be premiered in a large hall with lots of reverb. Ultimately, I think it will be right at home in both Trinity’s weekly traditional or contemporary services.

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Speak Sabbath O’er My Soul (TL Moody)

My second collaboration with TL Moody is a tune for her text “Speak Sabbath O’er My Soul.” What I love about this text is that positions Sabbath as something life-giving that God does for us rather than a teeth-gritting discipline we do for God.

I went with a serene, stately setting of the text, which I think creates quite a lovely, mystical mood. The piano provides a steady pulse, and the vocals feel like inhaling and exhaling on top of that. (Yes, there are echoes of Sibelius’ “Be Still My Soul.”)

Fortuitously, the day I wrote this was also choir rehearsal day at Fuller Ave CRC. My choir didn’t know they were showing up for a recording session!

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#4 (piano miniature)

In the past few years, I’ve played through almost all of Scott Joplin’s piano music. His music is intelligent, full of life, and simply fun. I wish I was more of a pianist, because I really don’t do his compositions justice. Given my love of Joplin’s work, it made total sense to me that piano miniature #4 (in 4/4 time) should be an homage to him.

You can hear a bit of Joplin in the left hand stride pattern and the melody’s syncopated spring. Of course, mimicry is not my thing; I had to put my own stamp on it! The most striking feature of #4 is that the left hand lays down a march in 4/4 time while the right hand waltzes in 3/4 on top of it. Oil and water? You bet! Check out the PDF of the score.

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#3 (piano miniature)

This third piano miniature is–not surprisingly–in 3/4 time. It reminds me a bit of Erik Satie’s whimsical compositions. While the meter is the “straight man,” remaining in an elegant waltz tempo, the harmonies never seem to land quite where you expect and the melody leaps as if over-stepping its goal. I expect I’ll return to this sketch in the future to expand on these themes.

Want to play it for yourself? Here you go: PDF

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#2 (piano miniatures)

I was telling my son tonight that I feel like I’m working out my harmonic demons. Perhaps “demons” is too strong, but I do feel that I’ve been exploring a particular harmonic palette in depth lately. It’s not clear to me yet whether this is something I’m refining for use over the long haul or if it’s just something I need to get out of my system. In either case, a series of diminutive piano compositions is the perfect vehicle to develop some of these ideas.

I guess my recent harmonic language could be considered pandiatonicism, that is, the free use of the diatonic scale (as opposed to chromatic) stacked into harmonies without implying tonality. (Non-music-theorists: from this point, on feel free to let your eyes glaze over while nodding your head knowingly.) I’m trying to create a satisfying “musical gravity” without using any of the traditional trappings of I, IV, V chords, etc. I avoid tritones and dominant sevenths–intervals that would imply tonal movement. And I find myself using pentatonic scales for my melodic material.

Blah, blah, blah. You can also just listen to the piece and enjoy it (or not) without understanding the music theory behind it. Sometimes it’s better not to know how the sausage is made…

But if you do want to see the sausage, here’s the PDF.

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