Psalm 24: Lift Up Your Heads, O You Gates!

This is the second of my February Adopt-a-Psalm commissions, written to commemorate a pastor’s retirement. I had been given a number of possible Psalms and decided Psalm 24 could fit well into a pastor’s retirement celebrations without being so retirement-specific that it wouldn’t be able to be used in the future.

The person who commissioned this mentioned that her church has multiple services in different styles. I wanted to compose something that could be adapted to any of their services. The demo above is done on guitar simply because that’s what I play, but the chords move in a way that it could easily be led by piano or organ. (Actually, I hear an anthem with piano, organ, rhythm section, and brass—and maybe strings, too. But that’s a different commission…)

If you read the Psalm, you’ll see the repeated “Lift up your heads” in v7 and v9. That felt like it needed to be the refrain. That’s where I started. The verses are set off from the refrain with a more subdued melody in a distant key. I’m a big fan of shifting keys like this—it’s a way of providing something fresh in the verses and creating anticipation for the return of the refrain. It also creates the possibility of choir or cantor leading the verses the first time to keep things easy for the congregation.

The Psalm is full of seeming non-sequitors. It starts with the creation themes, then moves to the section on a pure heart. I decided this latter section could be broken into two song verses. The first is a fairly standard rendition of the text. But verse 3 of the song I adapted creatively to fit the pastor’s retirement context. The Psalm says:

5 They will receive blessing from the Lord,
and vindication from the God of their salvation.
6 Such is the company of those who seek him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah

I decided it would be appropriate to adapt this blessing to infer the blessing a pastor receives after a life of ministry. Further, as often as appropriate I try to find New Testament resonances in the Psalms. In this case, I interpreted the “opening gates” of the refrain as the door that Jesus opens in Matthew 7. A bit of a stretch? Maybe. But it seems appropriate to remember that God has always been opening doors to enter our lives.

3. Oh, who will God call to receive a blessing?
And who will go out with the gift of peace?
The doors open wide to the sound of knocking;
The seeker shall find, those who ask, receive.

Need greater detail? PDF, MP3

Lift up your heads, O you gates!
And be lifted up, O you ancient doors!
That the King of Glory may come in.

Who is this King of Glory?
Who is this King of Glory?
It is the Lord—
Our mighty Lord.

1. The earth is the Lord’s and all within it,
for God spoke the word and it came to be.
Within oceans vast, God laid earth’s foundations;
Its pilings secured in the deepest seas. Lord. refrain

2. Oh, who shall ascend God’s holy mountain?
And who shall remain in that holy place?
Only those with clean hands, who have washed in water,
And those with pure hearts, who have bathed in grace. refrain

3. Oh, who will God call to receive a blessing?
And who will go out with the gift of peace?
The doors open wide to the sound of knocking;
The seeker shall find, those who ask, receive. refrain

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Neither Death nor Demon

As I study the Psalms I’m setting to music during my Adopt-a-Psalm month, I often find echoes of the Psalms in the New Testament. This shouldn’t come as a surprise; after all, Jesus quoted the Psalms more than any other book of the Old Testament. When I was working on Psalm 3: I Shall Rest in Peace, it seemed that Romans 8:38-39 was Psalm 3’s New Testament twin: For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I decided to write a song on Romans 8 that could be paired with Psalm 3. It’s just a short chorus that can be sung as a coda to Psalm 3 (same key) or as a stand-alone scripture song. You’ll notice I took quite a bit of liberty with the text. I think it still conveys the spirit of Romans 8, though it doesn’t quote it verbatim.

Get it while it’s fresh: MP3, PDF

Neither death nor demon can hold me,
or life’s sweetest angels control me,
and no pow’r today or to come;
highest high or lowest low.
For nothing can resist the tireless love of God;
And nothing can undo our redemption in Christ’s blood;
For nothing can change what our God’s already done.

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Psalm 3: I Shall Rest in Peace

This song is the first of my February Adopt-a-Psalm settings. It is based on Psalm 3, which is traditionally associated with King David as he fled from his son Absalom. Whether or not the Psalm was actually written while fleeing for his life during a revolt, the Psalm is certainly full of fears and anxieties–with a side order of vengeance. (“You break the teeth of the wicked.”

But more than that, the Psalm is full of trust. Even though all hell is breaking loose, the Psalmist talks about going to bed: “I lie down and sleep; I wake again, for the Lord sustains me. I am not afraid…” Indeed, sleep is one of the common themes between Psalm 3 and its pair, Psalm 4 (coming soon!).

As I studied the Psalm and commentaries on it, it struck me that the focus of these two Psalms is not so much the occasion of the cry for help as the deep, centered peace that the Psalmist finds within the storm. So I focused both of the songs on the theme of rest. In this setting of Psalm 3, “I shall rest in peace” becomes a repeated refrain throughout. What I like about that phrase is that “rest” not only indicates peaceful sleep but “rest in peace” is a euphemism for death. It seems to me that many people who might read Psalm 3 or sing this song may be fighting the enemy of disease, age, or death itself. Even in death, we can rest in the Lord. 

Musically, the song is almost entirely modal. In early drafts, I had all sorts of clever chord changes but realized they were detracting from the simple beauty of the melody. In the final draft, the only non-modal chord is the Dsus to D which lifts the harmonic progression nicely to the B section. In the demo above, I went with a folkish groove. This shouldn’t be heard as definitive. I worked with what I had. I could also hear this with piano in a slightly slower tempo than my recording with flowing arpeggios in the left hand–still syncopated, but not bouncy.

Below is the text, and here’s a link to the leadsheet. Thanks to Tami Parks who adopted this Psalm in honor of Ken & Candace Schaap on the 3rd Anniversary of Faithway Baptist Church

1. Surrounded by my enemies;
I shall rest in peace.
They say there is no help for me;
I shall rest in peace.
For you, O Lord, you are shielding me;
My one true hope and my glory.
I shall rest in peace.
I shall rest in peace.

2. The Lord will hear my cry of pain;
I shall rest in peace.
I sleep, I wake, God still sustains;
I shall rest in peace.
Ten thousand foes may surround my bed;
I shall not fear, for my God protects.
I shall rest in peace.
I shall rest in peace.

3. Rise up, O God, deliver me!
I shall rest in peace.
Lord, bring the violent to their knees;
I shall rest in peace.
For you, O Lord, are a help so sure.
Your blessing’s strong and your love endures.
I shall rest in peace.
I shall rest in peace.

Posted in Adopt-a-Psalm, 2017, Church, Congregational Songs, FAWM 2017, Psalms | 1 Comment

Brooks’ Sanctus

I’m just coming down from the mountaintop known as the annual Calvin Worship Symposium. Beyond the 4 sessions and 2 services I helped lead, I contributed an arrangement to the service led by Bruce Benedict and the Hope College worship team. At 18:15 in the video below you’ll hear my string arrangement of Bethany Brooks‘ “Sanctus.” Bethany wrote a fine song–simple and stately–and I knew the best thing I could do is simply stay out of they way.


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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:

*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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