There’s a wonderful little song called “Somos uno en Cristo” that is making its way into a number of recent hymnals. Unfortunately, the arrangement that invariably appears with the song doesn’t bring out the best in it. I decided to write an accompaniment that allowed the melody to flow more freely, that included the characteristic V7 chord lifting into the B section, and that added a little tag at the end where people could catch their breath before singing the next verse. Nothing fancy, but it helps: MP3, PDF.
Now someone needs to work on the translation…
My golden rule of worship planning is “people first.” That is, instead of planning a bunch of great songs and then squishing some musicians into your plan, you should plan songs that you think your musicians can lead well.
This Sunday’s musicians included flutist Kristen Zoeteway. One thing I know about Kristen is that she’s always up for a challenge. Give her a difficult part and a few days to practice and she’ll nail it. So when I was choosing music for the service I included “God Himself Is with Us,” for which I wrote a flute descant a few years ago. But I couldn’t leave it at that, could I? No, I decided I needed to bookend that verse 3 descant with a theme and variations style flute intro.
Here it is: PDF, MP3
When I was working on Global Songs for Worship, I found a Yoruban song in the collection Ẹ Kọrin S’Oluwa, edited by Godwin Sadoh. It was published as “Psalm 47: Clap Your Hands” in both Global Songs for Worship and Psalms for All Seasons, as well being recorded on the GSfW CD.
I’m pleased to say that as of Sunday morning, it is now also an anthem for cantor, choir, flute and percussion. Take a listen to the COS choir leading it: MP3. It is surprisingly simple to sing, which isn’t always the case with African songs and arrangements. In fact, because the congregation had already sung the song on a number of occasions, I had them join the choir on verses 2-4.
I’ve been reading the book of Isaiah lately, and when I got to Isaiah 40:12-26, I thought, “This sounds familiar.” Indeed. 16 years ago I wrote a song based on that passage.
It’s fun to go back to old songs, because time allows for some perspective. This song, for example, is a reasonable rendition of this scripture. But it’s not a great song. The lyrics are good, but somehow don’t pull you in. The melody is memorable, but a bit glib. (In my defense, it was written at a time when songs like “I Will Celebrate” were in vogue.) The pacing is too slow–four verses go on for over five minutes.
Photo from the animated television special “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Credit: Rankin/Bass (formerly Videocraft International, Ltd.), and DreamWorks Classics, a subsidiary of DreamWorks Animation.
And that’s why I created a new page at my main website called the “Island of Misfit Songs.” Like its namesake, “The Island of Misfit Toys,” from the animated special Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, this is the place where good, but not quite great songs reside on my website.
To summarize: This blog is an unfiltered musical diary, mostly focusing on new music I’ve written or recorded. My main website is my official catalog of works, including a new pages for Psalm songs, hymn tunes, and a list of songs by scripture. The Island of Misfit Songs is my attempt to trim back the good in order to leave room for the best, without erasing them from the site entirely.
Feel free to vote songs on or off the island.
I was recently commissioned to arrange “In Your Pentecostal Splendor” for the Calvin College Lessons & Carols service. This hymn might be new to you, but at my church we sing it every week during one of our Pentecost season liturgies. The text was written by John E. Spears in 1916 and the tune EDEN CHURCH was written by Dale Wood in 1959. As far as I know, this text/tune combination only appears in our church’s Joyful Noises song collection.
It is scored for choir, brass, and organ. The arrangement features some fun antiphonal interplay between the brass and organ as well as a fluttering contrapuntal section for 3-part women. For now, a Finale-fied MP3 will have to suffice. To hear the real thing, join me on December 7 at LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church at either 3 p.m. or 6 p.m.
Here’s what happens on a Friday morning when I’ve been trying to load Kontakt all week long, and I open up a new Logic Pro file to verify my failure, and am then led astray by the ear candy of all the interesting instruments that automatically appear in the “electronic” template: Attention.
A while back, Perkins School of Theology issued a call for labor hymns–songs that “focus on the struggles, hope, and agency of working people and their communities.” Of course I had to write something! Here’s a Guitarchestra recording and the PDF leadsheet. And here’s how I described the song’s genesis in my submission email:
When I began thinking about the task of writing about labor and faith, especially something that could be used in rallies or marches, I was immediately drawn to the idea of using a work song from the African American tradition. Whether the song of slaves, chain gangs, or railroad workers, these songs have deep resonance with the struggle of the American laborer and the ability of music to celebrate and enable work. They also have a long tradition of empowering the poor to protest the powerful.
“This Old Hammer” is the perfect tune to draw on, because it specifically explores the tension of human labor in an increasingly automated the world–the human as one more expendable tool. In “This Old Hammer,” John Henry takes on “the Man” and his technology. As I thought about the song it struck me that, like John Henry, Jesus had plenty of experience with a hammer. His early years were spent in a physical trade. If Jesus is to be our example for faith and life, certainly there is dignity on the work of our hands!
The five verses included here explore various aspects of Jesus ministry and apply those to our work as laborers or as people who fight for the rights of laborers. Like most work songs, the verses could easily be expanded or ad libbed: “If my Jesus fled his country, let the refugee labor on,” etc. As you can hear on the recording, the song can easily be sung in a leader/people echo, so there’s no need for paper or Powerpoint, just a good enlivener.
There are various traditions of Psalm-singing: Metrical, Responsorial, etc. My church generally feels most comfortable with the metrical Psalms that are part of our Reformed heritage. However, there are merits to each approach, so I try to include as many song styles as possible in our psalmody.
Last week the lectionary called for Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45, a Psalm which opens with praise, then follows with the story of God providing manna, quails, and water in the wilderness. Existing settings are slim, seldom mentioning Meribah and Massah, which are an essential connecting point to the Old Testament reading. I decided that the world needed a new responsorial setting of the Psalm.*
Responsorial singing, you’ll remember, is when a leader sings/chants verses and the congregation responds with a refrain. The key to a good responsorial setting is to have a quickly learnable, highly memorable refrain for the congregation, and a chant tone for the choir that has a logical, flowing harmonic progression. In this case, I decided to include a light rhythmic piano accompaniment, which is pretty unusual in this style. (Out of the box: it’s where you’ll find me.) I’ll spare you the gory details of Joseph Gelineau, the Grail Psalter, and sprung rhythm, and simply let you listen to a recording from the service or take a peek at the music.
*The need is deep, so you may not yet have felt your need of my new Psalm 105 setting. It will come.
Some day I, too, will be a certified guitar player.
I was going through a pile of old ideas when I stumbled across a draft for a Chet Atkins style jazz song. How could I resist finishing it?
Of course, I’m no Chet Atkins, but I did my best on the demo. Feel free to show me how it’s done by downloading the lead sheet and making your own recording. Or you can use the comment section to guess why I called the song “Pickin’s Sixes.”
My sabbatical ended, fully and officially, as I returned to worship leading at Church of the Servant this Sunday. I wanted to make sure people noticed that I was back–and had warm feelings about continuing to pay my salary–so I wrote a new setting of Psalm 149 for the service. You can read more about the song in a previous post.
Below is a recording from the service. I had the idea for the repeated notes in the strings while I was running the day before and was quite pleased with how they sounded. With all those talented musicians and a congregation that sings better than most choirs, it’s hard to go wrong!
Psalm 149, MP3