Lord, Now Let Your Servant @ GKY Manggar Besar, Indonesia

One of my greatest joys is when a song takes on a life of its own and begins to travel to unexpected places and people. My setting of Simeon’s Song, “Lord, Now Let Your Servant Depart in Peace” was recently sung in Bahasa (Indonesian) and Chinese translations at GKY Mangga Besar Church in Jakarta.

GKY Mangga Besar

My friend, Lucky, was behind this. I met Lucky in 2015 when I was in Indonesia and he was just about to head to Grand Rapids to study at Calvin Seminary. His family and mine became close while he was in town. I was sad to see them return to Jakarta, but knew that God had big plans for them back at the GKY Church. This Christmas he decided to introduce my song to his congregation, and you can hear that his people really took to it.

One of the things I loved about worship in Indonesia is that people sing with all their heart. In this recording, you can hear the pastors urging on the congregation, and the people responding with full voices. I believe I’m also hearing a pipa (a strummed Chinese instrument that sounds a little like a mandolin tremolo) in the chorus, which sounds surprisingly good.

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2017 Year in Review

I said I’d make this an annual event, didn’t I?

The New Year is a time of taking stock of one’s life. For me, that includes the music I’ve been writing. It’s easy to get lost among the trees of day-to-day composing without having any sense of the musical forest. While working on this overview of 2017’s music, a few things came into focus:

  • I’ve been writing lots of music, and I think I’m getting pretty good at it.
  • These demo-quality recordings are fine, but I need to put out a bona fide album.
  • I am very prolific, but not particularly profitable. I’m not complaining; I love what I do. I just need to figure out ways of promoting myself better and turning notes into cash.

Take a listen to this Year in Review and let me know if you have any insights. My life is a work in progress, you know? I’ll take any advice you have.

Please feel free to share this. Those of you who subscribe to my blog are the elite insiders of my musical world. But this podcast style program makes for a nice introduction for those who are still wandering aimlessly in a vast musical wasteland.

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“Savior of the Nations Come” at Baylor University

Here is the recording of “Savior of the Nations, Come” performed at Baylor University’s 2017 Lessons and Carols service. I wish I could have been there in person. It sounds beautiful.

You can read about how the piece came to be written here: http://musicblog.gregscheer.com/2017/11/22/savior-of-the-nations-come-string-orchestra/. Of course, I’m happy to receive emails from anyone who would like to use it at their Lessons and Carols service. All the cool kids are doing it!

 

 

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I’m Coming Home, sung by Lauralei

And another one co-written by Colin Gordon-Farleigh and me, and sung by Lauralei: “I’m Coming Home.” It seems that this one was never posted to my blog, so this is really setting things right.

Take a listen: https://www.numberonemusic.com/sheerjoymusic/song/728699-Im-Coming-Home-Lauralei

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A-Plus Student, sung by Lauralei

I had almost forgotten about this song I wrote with Colin Gordon-Farleigh back in 2009 until he released a recording of it with Lauralei singing. It sounds pretty good!

Listen here: https://www.numberonemusic.com/sheerjoymusic/song/717234-APlus-Student-Lauralei

 

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Clap Your Hands, at WLP

 

World Library Press now publishes “Clap Your Hands,” a Yoruba folk song I arranged for SATB Choir, Cantor, Flute/Piccolo and Percussion. Even better, they recorded a beautiful rendition of the arrangement that shows they really get the piece.

This is a great choice if you’re new to singing global music with your choir or if you want to highlight a flute player or percussionist. Added bonus: It’s based on Psalm 47, the Psalm for Ascension Day. Order it now so your copies will arrive in plenty of time to prepare for May 10!

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Born to Die, Born to Rise

For the fourth year in a row, I’ve been commissioned to write a piece for Calvin College’s Lessons and Carols service. Not only is it an honor, but it’s always a treat because I know the performances will be top-notch. This year was no exception. Calvin’s musicians did a wonderful job with my choral fantasy on the hymns “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” “Ah, Holy Jesus,” and “All My Heart Again Rejoices.”

Calvin College 2017 Lessons and Carols: Born to Die, Born to Rise

It seems that each year the commissions become more difficult. Last year I was asked to weave “Jacob’s Ladder” with a variety of “Gloria” songs; difficult, but at least the songs were similar in nature. This year, I almost thought John Witvliet was jerking my chain when he asked me to put “Lo, How a Rose” and “Ah, Holy Jesus” together in one anthem. You couldn’t find two more different songs!

On the other hand, they fit the theme, “Born to Die, Born to Rise” beautifully. Christmas can become saccharine when it’s populated only with sweet baby Jesuses, choruses of angels, and mild Marys. Just as the Magis’ myrrh foreshadowed Jesus’ burial, “Ah, Holy Jesus” reminds us of the full meaning of the incarnation. As I began to work on the piece, I found that I could weave “Lo, How a Rose” and “Ah, Holy Jesus” together in musical counterpoint that thickened both their differences and underlying unity. After focusing on these two sides of Christ, our only response can be praise; the piece ends with a rousing rendition of “All My Heart Again Rejoices.”

The recording is above. Email me if you’d like to see the score.

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Oh, That I Had Wings (Psalm 55)

You may have heard that I won the 2017 Church of the Servant New Psalm Contest with my Psalm 40 song, “Patiently.” What you may not have heard is that I lost the contest with my Psalm 55 song, “Oh, That I Had Wings.”

It’s understandable that my setting of Psalm 55 didn’t win. It is not the most endearing Psalm in the Psalter. It’s the plea of someone who has been betrayed and attacked by a former friend. Understandably, the Psalmist wants to beat a hasty retreat: “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.” These are emotions that most of us have faced, but perhaps few of us are interested in singing about them.

Given the urgency of the Psalm, I wrote a tune that comes in short, breathless bursts. The tight meter could have become trite, but there are lots of harmonic twists and turns to avoid that. The string arrangement on the recording (played by the St. Sinner Orchestra in one take into my laptop) creates a conversation with the melody that pushes the song forward. You can email me to get the string arrangement. You can download the piano version for free.

1. Listen to my prayer, O God, please hear:
troubled thoughts rise from a heart of fear;
Fear of those who would undo my days—
the whispers, stares, contempt, the lies and rage.

Oh, that I had wings,
Oh, that I had wings to fly,
Oh, that I had wings to fly away.

2. Malice seeks its prey, it roams the streets.
Night and day, it prowls— there is no peace.
God, please let the innocent escape,
while schemers writhe within the traps they’ve laid. (refrain)

3. Bracing for the sword of foe’s attack,
feel the steel of dagger in my back.
Why have you betrayed me, oh my friend?
The one with whom I’ve shared the wine and bread? (refrain)

4. Night and day, I pray, O God, please hear:
troubled thoughts rise from a heart of fear.
Every care that weighs upon my soul
is safe with you, please keep me safe, O Lord. (refrain)

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Savior of the Nations, Come (String Orchestra)

Carlos and I being served drinks by a statue in Indianapolis.

My friend Carlos Colón directs worship at Baylor University. He recently asked if I had anything for string quintet that might work as an interlude for an upcoming Advent service. And he needed it quickly. I sent him a few ideas, including this fugal intro to the Advent hymn, “Savior of the Nations, Come.” I thought I was going to be able to simply adapt what I had written before, but once I got started it was clear that I needed to rewrite it from the ground up. Two days from inquiry to completed score. That’s how I roll.

If you want to use this for your own Advent service, email me for parts. In the meantime, take a peek at the full score.

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The Parade of Food

How many school orchestra concerts have I attended since my children began playing bass and cello? Many. And while it is mostly inspiring to hear children create music together, there are certainly times when I hear one of their pieces and I think, “I could have written something better than that.”

So now I’m putting my money where my mouth is, with my very first educational orchestra composition. My kids always complain about alliterating titles on pirate themes (“Swashbuckler Serenade,” “Pirate Prelude”), so I decided to take a completely different tack: The Parade of Food. With the approval of my children, I began writing. It started as a short piece with a simple melody that was given to each section. But then I decided to write another movement consisting entirely of funny or rhythmic food names. (Thank you, Facebook friends, for your help!) And if there are Hors d’Oeuvres and a Second Course, there needs to be Dessert, right? I ended with a bon bon of a third movement that brought back the original melody.

The MP3 is above. The full score can be gotten by emailing and asking nicely. If you know anyone who directs or plays in a school orchestra, let me know. This thing is going to be a hit!

Turkey, and stuffing, mashed potatoes, and gravy.
Snickerdoodle, jam, pumpernickel, ham.
Guacamole, quesadilla.
Pork tacos, beef tacos, chicken tacos, fish tacos.
Bruschetta, pancetta, linguini, panini.
Tater tots and chocolate milk, breaded chicken fingers, breaded fish sticks.
Peanut butter and jelly, mozzarella sticks, corn dogs.
Baba ganoush, strawberry, raspberry,
liverwurst, wienerwurst, rutabaga, mashed potata,
korma, shwarma, roti prata, kimchi, kiwi, schnitzel,
chicken tikka masala, samosa, spaghetti, falafel and waffle soufflé.
I say “sweet potato”; you say “yam.” Let’s call the whole thing succotash.

The parade of food. Oh, it all looks good.
I’m afraid I’ll eat more than I should.
The parade of food. I’ll tell you the truth:
if I had two mouths to give, I probably would.
if I had two mouths to give, I would.
Glorious Parade of food!

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