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
Listen: MP3 (Yucky one-take demo).
Look: PDF lead, PDF piano
My church follows the lectionary, a three year cycle of scripture readings. Generally speaking that’s a really good thing. But every once in a while you hit on one of those “difficult” scriptures. (I guess that’s the point.) On September 7th the lectionary Psalm will be Psalm 149. Unlike its kinder, gentler siblings, Psalm 148 and 150, this Psalm starts off with a “sing to the Lord a new song” theme, but quickly descends into a savage war cry: “Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands, to execute vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples.” Yikes! It sounds like death metal lyrics or the “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” of antiquity!
I began searching for a suitable musical setting of the Psalm and didn’t find much. The front runner concluded with the line, “sing praises for aye.” I just can’t see myself singing “aye” in worship unless it’s on “bring a pirate to church” Sunday.
So I set about writing a new one. First, I consulted some commentaries. It turns out that Psalm 149 is in two parts (v1-4, v5-9), sandwiched by hallelujahs. The first half praises God for salvation. The second half praises God for victory. It’s the second half that is so uncomfortable for modern readers. It sounds triumphalistic, nationalistic, and downright bloody. I’m not one to jump right to allegorical interpretations, but I’m also not comfortable with promoting the idea that we (The USA? Israel?) execute judgment on the pagans. I didn’t want to soften God’s judgment–God is, after all, the King of kings–but I took the sword out of our hands, and emphasized the justice of God’s reign rather than vengeance on non-believers. I don’t know that I got it just right, but it’s certainly better than your Psalm 149 song!
NOTE: I updated the melody on 8/29/14 to give people a place to breathe. It is now three 8th notes closer to perfection!
While I was working on a song for Colin a few days ago, I had an idea for a little ditty: “I’m Down” (MP3). It was more a way for me to work out some jazz harmonies rather than my personal issues. In fact, it was a lovely afternoon, and I was having a little fun playing at being miserable, like Berk Breathed years before me:
And the Beatles and Adrian Belew years before that:
I’m pretty sure I won’t be displacing Breathed, the Beatles, or Belew with my little paean to misery.
Colin Gordon-Farleigh is working on a new album and needed a Norah Jones style ballad to round out the project. He sent me the words to “Who Do You Dream Of?” with some basic melodic ideas. I added some special sauce and voila: MP3, PDF
Look at this couple–they were destined to be together!
This year’s anniversary was one of the weirder ones in Amy and my 21 years of marriage. I’ve been on sabbatical in Richmond, VA, working with the Urban Doxology Songwriting Internship and writing a new book, while Amy has stayed home with the boys. Making my wife a single mom for nearly two months makes me about the biggest heel in the history of marriage.
But even though I was 800 miles away, I woke up the morning of my anniversary thinking about Amy and thankful for our marriage. This turned into a little anniversary song by the time I was out of the shower. An hour later I roped the interns into recording it with me. (I knew that KP Purdie’s buttery vocal tones would sell the smooth R&B feel I imagined for the song.) Unfortunately my computer was broken at the time, so I wasn’t able to surprise Amy with it on our actual anniversary. But better late than never.
Happy Anniversary, Amy. You’re a keeper!
Listen to the love: MP3