May the Mind

15 years ago I wrote a “retune” of the hymn “May the Mind of Christ, My Savior.” Of course, in those days we didn’t call them retunes, we called them, “hey I really like this hymn so I wrote some new music for it.” (Retune is catchier.) 15 days ago, I wrote string parts for the song, which we used in the 9/13/15 service at COS. They add a nice little halo to the song. (And be honest; we could all use a nice little halo.)

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We Sing the Mighty Power, string quartet

Last Sunday at Church of the Servant I had the luxury of leading worship with a choir and string quartet. You know I can’t resist fully exploiting an opportunity like that!

The service began with “We Sing the Mighty Power of God,” the perfect opening hymn for a sunny Fall day: “Lord, how your wonders are displayed, wherever we turn our eyes, if we survey the ground we tread or gaze upon the skies.”

I wrote this string arrangement for a worship symposium service a few year ago and I was glad for the opportunity to use it again. KINGSFOLD is a great tune, and I like the way this arrangement brings out its folk character. Add the strings and you’re golden.

If you’re interested in the score/parts, just send me an email.

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All of My Heart, voiceover edition

A while back I discovered the Brazilian congregational song writing duo of Rubem Amorese and Toninho Zemuner. They produce an astounding number of songs, all of them good. When they found out I had translated “Adoracão” into English, they were kind enough to ask that I sing the English over their instrumental tracks. It is nowhere near as good as the original, but I gave it my best.


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As the Deer, bedtime edition

The thing about kids is that they don’t care who you are. If they like a song, they’ll sing it, if they don’t, it’s erased from their mind immediately. So when I found out that Luke was requesting my song, “As the Deer” as a bedtime song, I knew I had achieved something substantial. Here’s how his Dad described it:

Nearly asleep, Luke asked grandma to sing him one last song during tuck in time, “As the Deer.” When she said that she didn’t know that one, he started sleepily singing.

Now *that* is success!

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Psalm 137: So Far from Home

praise_advisoryI’ve broken a lot of new musical ground in my time–writing the first endlessly looping Vine praise song, for example–but I’m pretty sure this first will be one for the history books:

The first congregational song with a curse word.

Before you get all in a bunch about parental advisory hymns, let me point out its theological appropriateness. “So Far from Home” is a setting of Psalm 137, which includes the imprecation: “Blessed is he who dashes their babies against the rocks.” What is an imprecation if it’s not a curse? In this case, I decided to recast Psalm 137 in a modern context, replacing harps with guitars and the Psalms oppressors with the modern forces of human misery: slave traders, pimps, and wars.

1. We sat by the river and played our guitars,
Dreaming of better days.
If memories are fires, then songs are the spark,
But they’re both starting to fade. They are starting to fade.

How can we sing the songs of the Lord
Here on foreign ground?
How could we raise a song of joy
When we’re so far from home?

2. We sat under willows and taught them our songs;
The wind played the branches like harps.
Tears in our eyes, laments on our tongues,
And such sadness in our hearts. Only sadness in our hearts.

3. God damn the slave traders, pimps, and the wars
that have taken our sons and our daughters.
God bless the children huddled for warmth,
cause the night is getting colder. Oh, the night’s getting colder.

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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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