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 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?


Posted in Church, Congregational Songs, Demos, Psalms | 1 Comment

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.

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

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


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

In a Still, Small Voice (Germany)

Just for fun, here’s a cellphone recording of my friend Cathrin Campo singing “In a Still, Small Voice” at a baptism service in Emden, Germany. If you would like to sing this song in your country, you can download the music for free, just like Cathrin did. Thanks for sharing, Cathrin!

In case you are a geographic neophyte who doesn’t know where Emden is located…

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O Breath of Life

What do I like about Bessie Porter Head? What’s not to like? I say. First, her name is Bessie, which is cool in an old-fashioned way, and also rhymes with Nessy, the name of my favorite guitar (a red Ibanez hollow-body). Next, she was rockin’ the hair bun way back in the 1800s. Respect. Added to that, her last names almost make Portishead, a band you need to get to know if you’re not already fan. More to the point, for today’s blog post, she wrote a beautiful hymn text that talks about the Holy Spirit’s role in renew the Christian life and Church.

What do I like about punk rock? What’s not to like? I say. I was hooked from the minute I heard The Ramones, Iggy Pop, Mission of Burma and their pop punk progeny, Weezer, the Ataris, Green Day, et al. And I’d give a kidney to produce a song like The Atlantics “Lonely Hearts.” More to the point for today’s blog post, I was listening to Frank Black the other day and I wondered if punk might work for worship.

So I took it upon myself to give it a try. I present to you “O Breath of Life,” co-written by Bessie Porter Head and me.  PDF, MP3


Posted in Church, Congregational Songs, Retuned hymn | 2 Comments

Hammer on Wood

This song started as a seed of an idea about 4:30 this afternoon. Just the first two lines. Seven hours later the writing, recording, and mixing are done. There’s something about working quickly that releases you from the fear of perfection and the danger of over-thinking. Right now I’m digging the loose “Inside Me Wants Out” vibe. (Andy Pratt) We’ll see if I still feel that way tomorrow morning.

Stop checking your phone.
No one’s gonna call anymore.
You know you’re alone
when no one answers when you’re talking to yourself.

But what would you say?
You got what you deserve anyway.
You got what you gave:
an empty heart and an early bed (or early grave).

You took what you could;
packed your memories–some of them good.
Like hammer on wood it’s ringing
true and loud and hollow.

Stop checking your mail;
that endless binary sea but nobody’s there.
You pull in your sails.
You drift away, just drift away,

just close your eyes,
just close your eyes. This is your life.
Is this your life?
Or has it all been dreaming?

Have I been awake?
Or have I been sleeping?
Awake, asleep:
Always dreaming.

Stop checking your phone.
No one’s gonna call anymore.
You know you’re alone.
You know you’re alone.

Posted in Demos, Rock and/or Roll | Leave a comment

Why Should the Children of a King

This is how it works for me: It’s afternoon and the pastor stops by my office to let me know he’s going to skip out on the evening worship committee meeting. “No problem,” I tell him, “I’ll let you know if anything comes up you need to know about.” About an hour before the meeting I realize said pastor is scheduled to lead devotions. Dag! I guess I have to do it. I think, “Well, it’s Pentecost. I’ll just lead a Pentecost song.” I look through my Pentecost ideas folder to see if there’s anything I want to introduce. My eyes fall on a text by Isaac Watts about the work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness to salvation. “Hmmm…” I think. “I’ve always wanted to write a tune for that.” I run (literally) to the piano and get to work. By 7:02pm I have an admittedly half-baked version of the song which I sing with the worship committee. The next day I roll it around in my head until I figure out what the song wants to be when it grows up. The next day I sit down at the piano and finalize the song. But can I let it rest? No, I cannot. So instead of going home, I surround myself with bass drums, guitars, and tambourines and fire up Logic Pro to capture the moment. The moment is above. If you want to make your own moment, download the leadsheet: PDF

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Kimbrough: Oh Rejoice in All Your Works, strings

Wendell Kimbrough won the Church of the Servant New Psalm Contest a few years ago with his setting of Psalm 104, “Oh Rejoice in All Your Works.” Since that time it has become a favorite of our congregation. Psalm 104 was the lectionary Psalm for Pentecost and I had a string ensemble available, so I took the opportunity to write a string arrangement for the service. It turned out splendidly, if I don’t say so myself.

If you want to hear the song in context (along with Pastor Jack Roeda’s exclamation at the end of the singing) visit the COS website.

Posted in Arrangement, Church, Congregational Songs, Live, Psalms | Leave a comment