Christopher L. Webber, collaborator extraordinaire and completely unaware
My third collaboration with Christopher Webber is a new tune for his social justice hymn, “Is It I, Lord?” The meter of the text is 22.214.171.124 D, which is very unusual. (Unusual, as in “I don’t think it exists anywhere else in the world. Ever.”) It was quite challenging to compose a tune that matched this unusual meter and fit each verse of the tune. But every musical challenge has a solution!
Christopher and I work together remarkably well. Our collaboration is so seamless that we barely need words. I’m joking, of course. I’ve never met the man. Maybe someday I will and he’ll either hug me or punch me.
I have a piano score for this song and would be glad to email it to you if you ask nicely. I will let you know when all these songs are released by World Library Publications.
It’s hard to believe that this piece is 23 years old! This setting of the song of Zechariah (Luke 1:67-79) was written when I lived in Pittsburgh and is performed here by the Duquesne University Choir under the direction of Brady Allred.
You can email me for music. It comes in a variety of flavors: a cappella, SATB/Piano, or with brass and rhythm section; the rap is optional (and yes, I’m serious: there is a rap). You can also email me if you want to commission the rest of the movements that would complete this set. It’s going to be amazing and I know you want in!
It’s been a good season for commissions, with hymns, choral anthems, and orchestral compositions waiting to be written. But first, this setting of the biblical Song of Jonah. You’ll remember that Jonah was a runaway prophet who was swallowed by a big fish sent from God. You may not remember that once Jonah was firmly lodged inside this enormous fish’s gut, he began praying to God (in song form).
Every year, Western Seminary students perform a scriptural drama in the original Hebrew as the culmination of their language studies. This year, retiring Hebrew professor Tom Boogaart and professor of worship/chapel Ron Rienstra decided to try something different: The Book of Jonah in a new English translation and with a new musical rendition of the Prayer of Jonah, composed by yours truly.
As I began to work on the song, I was struck by the water imagery that echoes Genesis 1 and Psalms 29, 42, 69, and 130. What better way to express this “out of the depths” prayer than the thundering tones of the bass? And thus the project morphed into a song with an accompaniment of five electric basses. (Yes, that is off-the-hook awesome.)
Musically, the song uses a good deal of word painting. The first phrase, “out of the depths,” is a pentatonic melody that quickly swells from lowest range of the voice to more than an octave up. I love the way this gives a musical sense of the depths, the waves, and the turbulence of Jonah’s situation. The pre-chorus (“Baptized into the cold water”) is “adrift” melodically, with a B in the melody floating on top of the Am chord, and the heavy downbeat F# crashing against the Em chord. At the chorus, there’s a sudden lift to E major. It really feels like a ray of sunlight, doesn’t it? More word painting ensues, with “You have raised me up” leaping up and “from the pit” sinking down.
You can check out the full song (MP3, PDF), or listen to a few interludes that will be used as scene change music:
1. Out of the depths of my deep distress
I cried to you, my Lord.
Swallowed up whole in the belly of death,
yet still you heard my voice.
Baptized into the cold water,
into the heart of the sea.
The deep was surging, surrounding;
wave after wave drowning me.
You have raised me up, O Lord,
from the pit I’d sunken in.
Gasping for my final breath,
you breathed me to life again.
2. I was resolved to a watery grave
as the waves rose to my neck.
Eyelids closed to the undertow,
garland of seaweed around my head.
My final thought while descending
into the cold arms of death
was of your glorious temple.
Then I slipped into the abyss. [CHORUS]
3. Out of the depths of my deep distress
I remembered you, my God.
From the abyss my prayer was heard
at your holy temple, Lord.
Some waste their prayers on deaf idols.
Some run when hearing God’s call.
I raise a voice of thanksgiving
unto the Lord, God of all. [CHORUS]
Sorry it’s been quiet around the Website lately. Regular Updates will resume soon, but I wanted to tell you about this: I just learned that my song “Lord, Now Let Your Servants Depart in Peace” will be included in Eugene Peterson’s funeral service. He was a great man whom I had the privilege of meeting on a few occasions. It is an immense honor to know that my song will accompany him on his final journey. The service will be live streamed and archived here. The song can be downloaded with the button below.
It seems that people are clamoring* for a keyboard arrangement of “Many Fields to Plow.” Who am I to say No?
What I like most about the keyboard version is that it brings out the flowing nature of the melody in a way that my voice and guitar demo doesn’t. Above is the organ MP3, but it also works well with piano. If you ask nicely, I’ll send you the score.
*At least three people have clamored: Tammy, me, and one other.
One of my great joys is when students become colleagues and collaborators. In this case, one of my songwriting students, Tammy Moody, has a growing collection of “Garden Girl Hymns”–texts that find inspiration in the beauty of both work and the natural world.
She had originally written “Many Fields to Plow” with the tune RESIGNATION in mind. That is one of my favorite hymn tunes, but we decided that it was too closely associated with “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need” to graft on another text. Still, I wanted to write a new tune that had a similar dignified, earthy character to that folk tune. My new tune will never bump RESIGNATION from itself rightful place in hymnody’s canon, but I think it carries Tammy’s words well.
I will soon create a piano/organ accompaniment. For now, this leadsheet will need to suffice. [Note: This file was slightly updated on October 22, 2018.]
There are lots of songs about the Holy Spirit, but most focus on invocation or sanctification. What I really liked about Brian Foley’s text “Holy Spirit, Come, Confirm Us,” is that he talks about other roles of the Holy Spirit: confirming truth, consoling us and renewing us, and binding us to the life of the Trinity. Heady stuff.
Foley’s text is most often paired with a tune by John Stainer; it gets the job done, but is not particularly inspiring. Unbeknownst to either Foley or Stainer, I’ve written a new tune. Shhh! Don’t tell them. I want it to be a surprise.
Click on the MP3 above or check out the lead sheet. Enjoy!
Calvin College regularly sings a Korean blessing song that is just beautiful. The only problem is that the English translation doesn’t sound much like English! I was talking to one of the Korean worship leaders at Calvin about this and ended up offering to write a new translation of the song. Because that’s what I do.
The things I like about my new translation are that the English syllables map out exactly to the Korean and the English is more natural than the previous translation. I had to change the order of some words and phrases–something is always lost in translation–but I’ve retained all the fundamental ideas and images of the original.
The original song in Korean
May the love of God spring up in your soul, be a healing stream in the wilderness flowing.
And may the love of God quench the thirsty soul, feed the hungry heart; May the love of God flow through you.
Above is a quick demo. If you’re interested in seeing a PDF of the music, let me know!
I was scheduled for a conference call at 1pm today. I followed the link on my computer and waited until start time. As it got closer to 1pm, I noticed I was the only participant. Hmmm… So I followed the instructions for a phone connection to the group call. Now I and I were the only participants–one me on a phone and one me on the computer. Naturally, I greeted myself and exchanged pleasantries as I waited for the meeting to begin.
It soon became clear that I had the wrong time in my calendar. But never one to waste an opportunity, I began to play with the feedback loop created by turning up the audio on both my computer and phone.