Pentecostal Splendor at Calvin College’s 2014 Lessons and Carols

While tracking down recordings of my arrangements from this year’s Calvin College Lessons and Carols service, I was also able to locate a recording of “Pentecostal Splendor” from the service in 2014. The vivid imagery of the text by John E. Speares and the rugged melody by Dale Wood gave me plenty of material to work with. It sounded splendid with a huge choir, pipe organ*, and brass quintet. You can email me for a score or read the full program here: http://worship.calvin.edu/resources/resource-library/a-pentecostal-christmas

*I should mention that the organ sounds splendid in part because of how well Norma Malefyt played it, but also because she spent a good deal of time with me working on how to write well for the instrument.

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What Adam’s Disobedience Cost

The second piece I was asked to arrange for Calvin College’s 2016 Lessons and Carols service was “What Adam’s Disobedience Cost.” This hymn text by Fred Pratt Green (V5 Carol Bechtel) is not all that well known, but it fills an important niche in the church year, matching the reading about the fall of humanity in Genesis 3.

It is also a wonderful tune, DETROIT, which I fist learned from the amazing early American hymnal The Southern Harmony, 1835. Part of the difficulty with arranging this tune is that I had already arranged it once before in a very different context. In the end, I was able to conjure up an entirely different approach which fit the choir, organ, and reverberant LaGrave sanctuary well.

You can see the whole program here or email me to see the score.

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Jacob’s Ladder Gloria

This Christmas I had the honor of contributing to Calvin College’s Lessons and Carols service. They commissioned two pieces. The first was a musical collage paired with the scripture about Jacob’s dream of a ladder to heaven. I was asked to set the Negro Spiritual “Jacob’s Ladder” with numerous Glorias: Taizé’s, “Angels We Have Heard on High,” and Pablo Sosa’s. For three choirs and organ. That was not enough of a challenge, so I threw in the verse about Jacob’s ladder from “Nearer My God to Thee.”

You can see the whole program here or email me to see the score.

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Happy Trevonian New Year!

Trevonia was invented many years ago by my friends, Ron and Deb Rienstra (with some help from the Keeleys?) when their children were small. They wanted the kids to enjoy the change of year but didn’t want to keep them up until midnight to do it. The solution? Trevonian midnight, celebrated at some random point in the evening because, after all, it’s a floating island somewhere in the Atlantic. Over the years, Trevonian New Year came to be celebrated with potato chip toasts, drum circles, and other party peculiarities that you won’t wake up regretting the next morning.

We’ve been attending these Rienstra soirees for a few years now. This year I decided to offer a new Trevonian New Year tradition: singing the Trevonian National Anthem. It is not the most sophisticated music I’ve ever written. So sue me.

Above are two renditions, each with its unique charm. Do these people know how to party or what? If poring over Victorian harmonies and hackneyed verse is your thing, feel free to download the music. All profits go to the Trevonian Center for Culture and Disease Control.

 

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Greg Scheer’s 2016 Musical Review

Just for fun, I decided to compile some highlights from my compositional year and produce a one-hour radio style program. Feel free to share it with those who don’t have the good fortune of subscribing to my blog!

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We Three Kings in Canada

I’ve been making my music available online for two decades; in fact, I was one of the first church music publishers online. And Richard Janzen was there from the beginning. Richard directs the choral program at Rosthern Junior College in Saskatoon where he has been programming my pieces every few years since before his students were in diapers. Indeed, he has the distinction of premiering more of my works than anyone else in his country. The latest is his choir’s recent rendition of my “We Three Kings.” Thank you, Richard and others like him who support independent artists!

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Oče naš /God, Our Father in Heaven (Croatian Lord’s Prayer)

For a long time now, people* have been clamoring for the Scheer men to form a band. Indeed, we are the ultimate boy band: tall and lanky Simon–the funny one–with his hair piled high, Theo–the cute one–with his blonde mop top, and Greg–the mature older brother† with his hipster beard. Heck, we even have a diabetic member like the Jonas Brothers!

But I digress. The point is that this marks the first time that the Scheers have recorded a song together: I’m on guitar and vocals, Simon’s on bass, and Theo’s on cello.

And what a song it is! I was introduced to “Oče naš” by a woman who was taking ESL classes at Church of the Servant. She helped me find a recording of the song (below), gave me the meaning of each word of the original text, and even guided me through the Croatian pronunciation phonetically. I created a singing translation in English and arranged it for piano.

It’s a simple and haunting song that I hope will find its way into many congregations. For now, you will have to satisfy yourself with the Scheer Men’s rendition or playing it yourself from this leadsheet. If you need the piano music or cello part, you’ll need to email me.

*By “a long time” and “people” I mean, of course, “one person” and “once.”

†By “mature older brother” I mean, of course, wishful thinking.

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Sinking Like a Stone

I’ve had a sketch of this song hanging around for a few weeks now. I think it started with an Evernote dictation that said, “We all want to be loved, but we’re afraid of being known.” (Does it count as texting and driving if you’re writing song lyrics?) I’ve been chewing on this idea that humans have a simultaneous desire for intimacy and fear of the vulnerability it requires. I kept coming back to words like “void,” “abyss,” and “chasm” as metaphors for the emptiness we fear in a life without love. At first, the chorus was going to be, “We’re all holding on, slipping into the void.” But in the end, I decided “sinking like a stone” was the best way to name the bottomless pit from the rock’s point of view.

But the draft lay unfinished until yesterday when someone told me that humans possess three fundamental fears: abandonment, being smothered, and ceasing to exist. With that, I knew the way forward, with a verse addressing each fear.

As noted elsewhere, I find it very effective to pair depressing lyrics with chipper music. Not only does it save the whole thing from self-indulgent pity, but it creates an artistic tension that sneaks up on. The existential angst suddenly reveals itself while you’re bopping your head to the beat. The harpsichord and accordion seal the deal.

1. We all want to be loved,
but we’re afraid to be alone.
We offer up our souls,
but still it’s not enough.

Our need, it only grows.
We’re terrified
of being left alone
with nothing but this hole:

Sinking like a stone.

2. We all want to be loved,
but we’re afraid of being known.
Naked and exposed,
we’ll always hide ourselves.

So don’t get too close;
the intimacy’s too much.
We’re vulnerable to touch;
it opens wide the soul:

Sinking like a stone.

3. We all want to be loved;
We’re afraid we’ll disappear.
Love, and pain, and fear
are better than nothing at all.

We all feel the void.
We’re all hanging on
For dear life, lest we fall
Into those dark jaws:

Sinking like a stone.

We all want to be loved,
But we’re afraid..

 

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Ever-Tender Shepherd

A few months ago, I was asked to compose a theme song for the World Communion of Reformed Churches’ 2017 General Council meeting in Leipzig, Germany. After three tries I got it right. One of the out-takes from that process was a hymn tune in a distinctly Bach style. I was really pleased to hear from the event organizers that they not only liked the song I submitted, but they liked the Bach-style hymn, as well. They asked if I’d be willing to write a new text for that tune; a text focusing on the suffering of the world.

After a week of drafting, crumpling, re-drafting, and editing, I’m done. “Ever-Tender Shepherd” (PDF) is a musical “collect prayer”–a prayer which petitions God based on God’s attributes. In this case, attributes of Jesus are connected to the needs of the world. We ask Christ, the Shepherd, to gather scattered refugees, for example. This seemed a good way to address the needs of the world without taking sides or naming issues so specifically that the song would be obsolete by the time it was used. I’m especially fond of the third verse. But who am I to play favorites?

1. Ever-tender Shepherd,
hear your people’s moans
as they sift through rubble
that was once their homes.

See your children scatter
as cities burn to ash.
Be for them a refuge;
Be for them a rest.

2. Ever-blessing Brother,
grant again your peace.
Breathe on us your Spirit,
that our wars may cease.

Stanch the endless bleeding
of self-inflicted wounds.
May your blood be healing
and your cross our truce.

3. Ever-wounded Healer,
feel your planet’s pain.
Fever wracks its body;
poison fills its veins.

Hear creation’s groaning,
its sighs too deep for words.
Be the re-creation
of all things on earth.

4. Ever-reigning Victor,
ever-loving Lord,
ever intercede for
us, your weak and poor.

May we ever follow
your perfect sacrifice,
offering lives of mercy,
ever-living Christ.

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Beautiful

I’ve been working on this song forever. A sketch has been in my idea folder for at least a year and multiple recorded fragments reside on my handheld recorder, my phone, and my computer. On a beautiful fall day not long ago, I sat outside in the afternoon sun and completed the lyrics. Since then, I’ve been adding a few tracks at a time until it was full enough that it felt like a finished recording. This is a little different for me: simple music as a frame for the lyrics, with atmospheric instrumentation swirling around in the background.

1. You’re taking the dirt
and the clouds and the rain,
and you’re making it beautiful.
Out of the ground
There sprouts a grain.
And it is beautiful.

Even the fire
and the flood;
Rising from ashes;
New life from mud.
Even from fire and from flood
There comes something beautiful.

You’re making it
Beautiful.

2. All of my doubt,
my fear, and my pain—
can You make them beautiful?
All of the things
I can’t understand—
Will they become beautiful?

You’re taking my failures,
and my scars
and making
a canvas for your art.
The night is dark,
But it’s full of stars.
They are so beautiful.

You’re making it
Beautiful.

3. I burn a bridge,
can you part the seas?
Lord, I need a miracle.
O God, make a way
When I can’t see
How it could be beautiful.

A story of sin
Told in regrets;
A history
Written by mistake…
Will there be hope
When morning breaks?
Will it be beautiful?

You’re taking it,
You’re making…

All things new. All things new again.
All things new. All things new in the end.


For the record, yes, the atmospheric background vocals were a tip of the hat to 10cc’s hit “I’m Not in Love.”

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