Psalm 149 at Cardiphonia

Exactly one year and a day after its premiere at Church of the Servant, “Psalm 149: Let God’s People Sing a New Song” is appearing on the latest Cardiphonia release.

Bruce Benedict and the Cardiphonia gang are taking on the ambitious goal of producing a series of albums that cover the whole Psalter. This time around they are tackling Psalms 135-150 in a two volume collection. I contributed two songs, the first of which is a setting of Psalm 149, “Let’s God’s People Sing a New Song.” My goal was to make the recording sound like something by Polyphonic Spree. I don’t know that I achieved that, but it’s certainly more epic than my usual fare. Here are the fine folks who helped me bring on the epic:

Joel Klamer, alto saxophone and trumpet
Becca Klamer, harpsichord and backing vocals
Kurt Schafer, accordion
Cal Stapert, recorder
Johnny Simmons, drums
Sarah Bratt, Lis Hatfield, Erin De Young, Marie Bloem, Sine Nomine String Quartet



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Make Us One within Your Spirit

I’ve introduced “Make Us One within Your Spirit” elsewhere (here for the story of how it lost a contest and here for music and the exciting story of the second draft), but thought I’d post a recording from yesterday’s service. I don’t know that it’s destined to be a big hit, but I’m quite proud of the lyrics. Maybe someday someone will commission me to turn this into a regal choral anthem with brass and timpani. Until then, enjoy the modest yet beautiful sound of Church of the Servant’s musicians leading the congregation in the song.

1. Living God, in the beginning, when you formed humanity–
Man and woman, child and parent, in community complete.
One with you, one with each other, let us live as your redeemed.
Make us one within your Spirit;
Join us in your bond of peace.

2. Jesus Christ, you are our lifeblood and the Church’s living Head.
You have cleansed us with one water. You have fed us with one bread.
And as grapes are brought together before wine can be released;
Make us one within your Spirit;
Join us in your bond of peace.

3. Holy Spirit you revive us, breathing life into dry bones.
Let the winds of new creation, animate our dusty souls.
Fill our lungs with inspiration. Fill our hearts; let love increase.
Make us one within your Spirit;
Join us in your bond of peace.

4. Blessed Trinity, you show us how to live as family.
Only tethered to each other will each one, and all, be free.
Each a gift and each a giver, offered in humility.
Make us one within your Spirit;
Join us in your bond of peace.

Added bonus for those of you who read the lyrics to the end: enjoy a beautiful song called “Una Espiga/Sheaves of Wheat,” also from yesterday’s service.


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The Beauty of Your Holiness

Biking to work this morning, this song came to mind. Usually I reserve my blog for new music, but I’ll make an exception this once and bring back a golden oldie on its 20 year anniversary. It’s interesting to look back at my first congregational songs. I can see the seeds of what I do today. I’m still interested in writing songs that are singable, but not entirely predictable. (I love the E/G# in the second measure and the C#m7, F#7, G in the chorus. They’re “wrong” but they sound just right.) I only hope that I don’t lose the love of exploring that I had back then.

If you want to read more about the song–and who wouldn’t?–visit “The Beauty of Your Holiness” page at my website.

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O Come, Holy Spirit (Sarwar)

harmoniumOne of the great things about my church is that we have a constant stream of interesting people joining us from all around the world. One of them is Eric Sarwar, a musician from Pakistan. Eric and I have collaborated before. This time we worked on a song of invocation, “O Come, Holy Spirit.”

As with many of Eric’s songs, they look simple on the page, but take on a life of their own in worship. We began our service today with a quiet tanpura drone and improvisation on the song’s raga (mode). Once the tone was set, the whole Guitarchestra came in and the congregation joined us: PDF, MP3

Later in the service the communion music began with another Sarwar/Scheer collaboration, “O Lord, May Your Kingdom Come.” That led into a set of songs that flowed so well that I include it here in its entirety. Be forewarned: the MP3 is 22 minutes long (31MB). If you have the time, though, it gives you an idea of how the communion section of a Church of the Servant service runs: COS communion 6/21/15.

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All Hallow’s Eve, Sine Nomine Quartet

Last year I wrote a song cycle called One Long Year. This year, I’ve been trying to figure out what I’m going to do with it, if anything. This month, I’m recording my setting of Psalm 149 for a new Cardiphonia compilation. Today I had a string quartet scheduled to add some tracks to that project.

But you know me: if I have a string quartet showing up to record, how can I resist writing something new and non-obligatory for the occasion? So instead of the many things I should have been doing today, I felt compelled to write a string quartet arrangement of “All Hallow’s Eve” from One Long Year . This recording is the second take and third time they’d ever played the piece. Pretty good, I say.

By the way, the quartet has never really settled on a name for themselves. I hereby dub them the Sine Nomine Quartet–the No Name Four.

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Psalm 80: Restore Us, O God! (Guitarchestra)

The FDA says: Limit your use of 80 mg Simvastatin. But you can use Psalm 80 all you like.

After a sluggish round of correspondence (due to travel for me and a new teaching position for Naaman) we’ve finally brought “Restore Us, O God!” from draft into final form. I think it was worth the wait. Particularly unique is its Klezmer-ish feel that captures the lament of the Psalm well.

I was excited enough about it that I didn’t let the Guitarchestra leave rehearsal last night until they recorded it with me. Two times through and you get a pristine recording like this: that’s the magic of Gstra!

I think you’ll be excited enough about it that you won’t want to wait until December 20, 2015 when it comes up in the lectionary next. Go ahead. Sing it now. PDF, MP3


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Kimbrough’s Psalm 104

I’ve featured the music of Wendell Kimbrough before, and today he makes a return appearance. An honor to be sure…

Earlier this year his setting of Psalm 104, “Oh, Rejoice in All Your Works,” won the COS New Psalm Contest. It had its church premiere in January and we’ve sung it a few times since then. This Sunday, Pentecost, the lectionary called for Psalm 104. As fate* would have it, the choir, piano, and a brass quintet were scheduled to lead that morning, so I arranged the song for those instruments.

I was really pleased with how it sounded. Sometimes the transition from guitar-driven folk song to piano-led congregational hymn can be awkward, but in this case, it brought out a whole new majestic side to the song. I hear a best-selling choral anthem in this, don’t you?

*or providence, depending on how you roll theologically.


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Pentecostal Splendor at COS

This Fall I arranged Pentecostal Splendor for Calvin College’s Lessons & Carols service. It was premiered beautifully, though I wasn’t able to track down a recording for my blog.

Naturally, when Pentecost arrived at my own church, I thought of using this new piece in my own context. Brass? Check. 60 voice choir? 1/3 check. Organ? Not so much…

I retooled the organ part for piano and called in favors with every singer I knew. The result can be heard here: MP3

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Over Oceans

It’s been far too long since I’ve updated my blog. The sad fact is that I’ve been busy working rather than writing music. (The indignities I suffer in order to feed my family!)

I shouldn’t complain too much. Part of my work was two weeks in Indonesia. En route to Indonesia, a little ditty popped into my head, so I opened up my computer, fired up Logic Pro, and entered it using the laptop’s keyboard. I forgot about it until a few days ago when I was archiving old files. A little gussying up and–voila!–a radiant little bon bon of electronica I call “Over Oceans.”

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What Wondrous Love, quartet


Clint Harris, 1954-2015


Clint Harris died this week. I didn’t know him well, but everyone seems to agree he was a man who lived fully and loved deeply.

As often as I can, I compose a little something for church member funerals. In this case, the family asked that at some point in the service I sing and play my guitar, and I thought it would be a nice touch to round out the guitar with the string players who would be at the service.

I returned to one of my favorite songs, “What Wondrous Love.” I’ve arranged it before, but keep returning to it, perhaps because it’s one of those songs that is so elusively beautiful that I hope the next time I’ll get it right. It’s also perfect for a funeral, because it begins with the story of redemption and ends in eternity.

This recorded as people walked in before the service, so it’s quite noisy. Feel free to follow along with the score: PDF.

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