Calvin College regularly sings a Korean blessing song that is just beautiful. The only problem is that the English translation doesn’t sound much like English! I was talking to one of the Korean worship leaders at Calvin about this and ended up offering to write a new translation of the song. Because that’s what I do.
The things I like about my new translation are that the English syllables map out exactly to the Korean and the English is more natural than the previous translation. I had to change the order of some words and phrases–something is always lost in translation–but I’ve retained all the fundamental ideas and images of the original.
The original song in Korean
May the love of God spring up in your soul, be a healing stream in the wilderness flowing.
And may the love of God quench the thirsty soul, feed the hungry heart; May the love of God flow through you.
Above is a quick demo. If you’re interested in seeing a PDF of the music, let me know!
I was scheduled for a conference call at 1pm today. I followed the link on my computer and waited until start time. As it got closer to 1pm, I noticed I was the only participant. Hmmm… So I followed the instructions for a phone connection to the group call. Now I and I were the only participants–one me on a phone and one me on the computer. Naturally, I greeted myself and exchanged pleasantries as I waited for the meeting to begin.
It soon became clear that I had the wrong time in my calendar. But never one to waste an opportunity, I began to play with the feedback loop created by turning up the audio on both my computer and phone.
My last collaboration with Christopher Webber was successful enough that I’ve been asked to compose two more tunes for his hymn texts. This time around it’s a simple text–much simpler than his normal fare. Since his texts–and the tunes that accompany them–are usually much heavier and more cerebral, I wanted to something bright, light, and lively.
Given the “walking in the light” theme of the text, I thought a walking tempo spiritual would be in order. In some ways, it reminds me of South African songs like “Siyahamba.” What’s important is that it fits the text like a glove–it really lets it sing.
So sit back and enjoy the dulcet tones of Greg, Greg, Greg, and Greg singing “Let Us Walk in the Light.”
And the final sketch that lost to “Swampzilla”?: It’s called “Crepuscular Ray,” and is something of a minimalist piece for young players. The music sounded to me like shafts of light coming through the clouds at sunset. It turns out there’s a word for that: crepuscular ray. I couldn’t resist choosing a title that featured a word most people would need to look up.
Interestingly, director Erin De Young was already familiar with the term. Her young boys had been reading a book on animals one night and it explained that rabbits and deer are called “crepuscular” animals because they come out to feed at twilight. As fate would have it, the next day they visited a nature center where the guide asked what kind of an animal a rabbit is. She was probably looking for “mammal” or something simple, but Erin’s 5-year-old piped up without hesitation: “It’s a crepuscular animal!”
Even though this sketch lost to “Swampzilla,” I still think it has lots of potential for a high school orchestra. Feel free to contact me about a commission.
I mentioned previously that the Rockford orchestras read through three sketches before choosing “Swampzilla.” You’re probably wondering which sketches lost to “Swampzilla” in the initial round of voting, right? Wonder no more!
“Amber Waves” is a sprightly, festive piece that felt hopeful, American, and…Coplandesque. I love the title “Amber Waves” because it’s lifted from “American the Beautiful” (“amber waves of grain”) but could also mean a girl named Amber waving.
Don’t judge me on how the Finale demo sounds! If you want to take a look at the draft, click here. If you want to turn this into a completed piece for orchestra, let’s talk.
Last fall I was commissioned to write an arrangement of the Chinese folk song “Wen Ti” (聞笛) for the 2018 Calvin Worship Symposium. This beautiful tune often appears in hymnals with the benediction text “May the Lord, Mighty God.”
The idea for this concluding communion service was to weave the song throughout the service with new texts that fit different liturgical moments. Scroll through the video above to hear the different sections of the piece:
11:47 Call to Worship: “Lift Your Eyes unto the Hills” (based on Psalm 121 and 124)
21:44 Assurance of Pardon: “God Is Gracious to Forgive” (evoking Colossians 1:12-15)
1:22:56 Doxology “To the One Who’s Shown Us Love” (from Revelation 1:4-6)
I had the great pleasure of composing a new piece for the Rockford School orchestras this spring. Directors Erin De Young and Allison Holden wanted a piece that would work for their combined orchestras: 6th grade through 10th. That’s a huge range of ability levels.
Part of the fun of this commission was that I got to work with the students as I developed the piece. We started by talking about the composition process and getting a chance to hear each group play. Then I composed three sketches for them to try out and decide which they liked best.
We decided to go with “Swampzilla”–essentially a rock and roll piece for orchestra. “Swampzilla” is a fictional “hideous marsh man with a heart of gold.” The piece starts (programmatically speaking) with Swampzilla rising from the twilight mist, dancing surprisingly well for a creature that has just risen from the fetid slough. There’s a slower section in the middle, which is the love theme for Zilla and his love, Gator Girl. And then the two lovers dance off into the evening mists.
The premiere was incredible. The combined orchestra had over 200 players packed onto the stage, wings, and the first few rows of the audience seating! The score had simplified parts for the younger players and solo parts for the very best older players. They all got to slap their strings to create a backbeat. The auditorium was packed, too, with well over 1000 people. You can hear from the applause at the end that they loved it. It’s hard not to love 200 young people rocking out a piece called “Swampzilla.”
I had the good fortune of receiving two commissions from school orchestras last year. “A Million Miles Away” was written for the St. Cecilia Concert Orchestra with Patricia Wunder conducting. As Maestra Wunder and I began brainstorming about what type of piece might fit her group, she explained that the rest of her program would be pieces based on stories–Telemann’s Don Quixote Suite, for example.
I decided to maintain that theme, composing a programmatic piece with a yet-as-undetermined story. Here’s how I described it in the concert’s program notes:
A Million Miles Away is a phrase that dropped into my mind as I began composing this commission for St. Cecilia. It certainly describes the desolate, open harmonies that were emerging in the early stages of the first draft. Knowing that my piece would be part of a concert of compositions based on stories, “A Million Miles Away” sounded like the title of a novel or movie without providing a full story. In fact, I’d love it if you would listen to the music and create your own story based on what you hear.
The piece is arranged in three sections–stars, sea, and sand. You can almost hear the pinpricks of light appearing in a black sky as the piece opens. Then waves begin to well up and break, splashing from one side of the orchestra to the next. Finally, the sounds become bone dry and blow away into nothing. The first and last sections are “aleatoric” sections that allow the performers a certain amount of freedom. For example, play the sequence of notes, but in any rhythm you want. It was challenging for the students to have that much freedom!
The above MP3 is a mock-up of the piece I created in Logic Pro. Below is a video of the concert.