Psalm 82 live at COS

It is so rewarding when a song goes from something that was in your head or dots on paper and becomes something people can hear and sing. It never gets old.

This Sunday my most recent Psalm setting “Gathered in the Judgment Hall” was premiered at Church of the Servant. Special thanks to Erin De Young for singing and Scott Yonkers for pianoing.

If you’re interested in reading the dots on paper or the lyrics, you’ll find them here.

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Psalm 82: Gathered in the Judgment Hall

I’ve been working on a setting of Psalm 82 for a few weeks now. It’s really an interesting Psalm. Most of the time it is taken as an indictment of unjust people, but in actuality it appears to be a judgment against the high council of gods. Who are these “gods” over which God holds court? In the Psalmist’s time it would have lmusic_now_thats_what_82ikely referred to the pantheon of gods who were believed to oversee weather, oceans, fertility and every other aspect of life. But I don’t think it would be inappropriate to recast them for modern times as “The Man.” The powers that be. The principalities. The forces (inequity, fear, racism, etc) that seem to control our world on some higher, untouchable plane. However, just like in the Psalmist’s time, these gods of our time are not, in fact, untouchable. They bow to the Almighty God.

With this starting point I began to work on the song. Three significantly different drafts later, it’s done. The PDF score may give a better impression of the song than my tired, one-take, midnight demo. But it’s free, so I don’t want any complaining!

Prologue:
Gathered in the judgment hall,
the gods of earth in silence fall
before the Lord, the King of kings,
the Judge of principalities.

1. How long will you gods of earth
grow fat on what you haven’t earned?
How long will hungry mouths chew air,
while you feast on their despair.

How long will the rich go free,
while the poor wait vainly for release?
How long will orphaned children cry,
as hope recedes from sight?

Arise, O God, our one true Lord;
Bring down sweet justice, right these wrongs.
O Ruler of the nations come;
Restore to earth your law of love.

2. How long ‘til you finally know
the darkness of your hearts and souls?
The evil schemes your minds have birthed
are rumbling deep in earth.

Listen closely, earthly powers.
Your day of domination’s over.
Your judgment and damnation come;
undone by flesh and blood.

Arise, O God, our one true Lord;
Bring down sweet justice, right these wrongs.
O Ruler of the nations come;
Restore to earth your law of love.

Epilogue:
Arise, O God, ascended One.
May heaven’s will on earth be done.
Let all the nations give you praise,
and every knee bow at your name.

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Another Foothold

I recently posted a quick demo of a new tune I wrote for Debra Rienstra’s sweet setting of Psalm 25. Yesterday we introduced the song to the congregation. It went swimmingly, in part due to the leadership of the Rienstra Clan Band (Deb on viola, Ron on bass, Philip on sax).

It’s not a foregone conclusion that a jazzy piece will work with congregation. It may end up sounding too lounge lizardy or it may simply be too complex for a congregation to sing. I feel like we struck a good balance, keeping it from excess and caricature.

I’m pretty sure this song will soon become a staple of jazz worship services all over the world. All two of them.

For those of you who are considering using the song, make sure you use this version with a newly updated second verse.

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The Strangest Rendition of “One Generation.” Ever.

I don’t want to contribute negatively to anyone’s body image, but this guy has really teeny arms…

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O Breath of Life (by rote at COS)

Recently I recorded a pop punk retune of a hymn text by Bessie Porter Head. Naturally, the idea was met with some skepticism. Don’t let the style throw you off! Beneath the hood is a perfectly singable congregational song. How do I know? Because I taught it to my congregation this Sunday. By rote.

Sometimes communion takes longer than expected, so I always plan to have a few extra songs ready to go just in case. Normally I just call out a number for the people to look up in the hymnal. Other times I lead a song by rote–either something they’re likely to know by heart or a repeated call-and-response style song that doesn’t need written music.

This week I taught them the chorus of “O Breath of Life” by rote and then sang the verses for them. You can hear the congregation gain steam with each returning chorus. You see? Songs are just like people. Sometimes beneath a prickly punk facade is a placid heart of gold.

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Foothold (Psalm 25)

10 years ago, my friend Debra Rienstra wrote a hymn text based on Psalm 25, called “Foothold.” Not only that, she won the Fuller Seminary School of Psychology Fortieth Anniversary hymn competition with it. As I began to work on an upcoming service in which she, her bass/guitar playing husband Ron, and her jazz sax improvising son Philip would be playing, that song came to mind.

But I wasn’t wild about the KINGSFOLD tune that the text had been paired with. Don’t get me wrong–KINGSFOLD is a great tune. But it is overused: “O Sing a Song of Bethlehem,” “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say,” “I Sing the Mighty Power of God.” The list goes on and on. More importantly, the tune seemed like the wrong vessel for this text. It moved too quickly to allow the deep inner life of Deb’s text to emerge.

So I, being the incessant musical tinkerer that I am, set about to compose a tune that would do the text justice while also allowing Philip to unleash his inner Coltrane. I’m always nervous about changing the music a poet originally heard in her ear, but in this case the poet gave me permission to share, so I must not be too far off base.

Want to play it at the piano rather than listening to Greg croon? Download the PDF.

Posted in Church, Congregational Songs, Demos, Hymn tunes, Jazz, Psalms | 1 Comment

Psalm 104, with Doug Gay

Every few months my friend Doug Gay emails new hymn texts he’s written, many of them Psalm settings. The latest was a setting of Psalm 104. He wrote the text with the 10.10.11.11 tune LYONS in mind (“O Worship the King”). It Destruction_of_Leviathanscans well to this tune and the tune brings out the regal side of the lyrics, but the more I worked with the text, the more I realized they needed a foil that would lighten them rather than heighten their majesty. And since Doug is Scottish, what could be better than an airy Celtic tune?

I wrote the tune the day before a songwriting workshop in which I was slated to present one of my songs. I decided to throw caution to the wind and introduce this brand new song to that audience. It went very well except for the fact that I had made significant tweaks to the melody that morning and was having trouble singing the my finalized melody. But today I have a few hours to record a demo, making sure I got the melody right. Take a listen or look and tell me: do John Bell and Keith Getty really have a corner on the market of Celtic hymns?

 

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2016 Calvin Worship Symposium, final service

Only 5 months after the fact, here’s a video from the concluding worship service at the 2016 Calvin Worship Symposium. I led the service with my Church of the Servant home team, which made it really special. http://worship.calvin.edu/resources/resource-library/new-heavens-and-new-earth/

New Heavens and New Earth from Calvin Worship Institute on Vimeo.

Some of my contributions (beyond my welcoming hand gestures):

  • 5:20 Let the Spirit of the Lord Come Down (Nigeria, one that I arranged last year)
  • 8:18 Sing Praise to the Lord (SweeHong Lim, Singapore, with a new string arrangement)
  • 47:40 Canticle of the Turning with dance (I didn’t do anything, but I like what the COS dancers do with the song)
  • 1:04:40 Abana In Heaven” (my GIA anthem, led by choir and sung by the whole assembly)
  • 1:13:49 Fear Not, Rejoice and Be Glad (a new arrangement)
  • 1:23:26 May the Love of the Lord (SweeHong, string parts I’ve been using for a few years)
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Brass Quintet at Calvin

In 1987* I wrote a 3 movement piece for brass quintet. If I remember correctly it won a contest and was played at a horn festival in New Hampshire. Also in the “if I remember correctly” department, it received its Michigan premiere at a 2006ish Calvin College composer’s concert. Here is the proof:

*1987? That was almost 30 years ago!

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GIA Choral Subscription Service

Abana

Kwake Yesu

5,000 people receive GIA’s Choral Subscription Service, and each one will get the chance to review my two new anthems published by GIA, Abana, and Kwake Yesu. Pretty cool. Even cooler? The sample octavos are accompanied by recordings of each piece. They did a really nice job with these. Take a listen above. Then head over to GIA and buy the anthems to sing at your church.

Thank you.

Posted in Arrangement, Choir, Church, Congregational Songs, Global | Leave a comment