O Savior Come (COS 2015)


Isaac Watts, Greg Scheer’s posthumous collaborator

A few years ago I co-wrote a song with Isaac Watts called “Arise, O King of Grace, Arise,” aka “O Savior Come.” I hadn’t thought much about it lately until one of my fellow worship planners here at the church chose the song for a Christ the King Sunday service. Watts teases out the Christological overtones of Psalm 132 so that it works beautifully in that service as well as during Advent. I decided to revisit the song, with a piano accompaniment and string arrangement. Listening to the way the congregation grabs ahold of the song, singing with more gusto each verse, makes me realize that this one’s a keeper.

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Blest Be the God of Israel

Yesterday was Church of the Servant’s monthly BES Combined Service. That’s the service that brings the “Basic English” congregation together with those in the “Standard English” service. I try to choose music that both congregations know or that uses simple lyrics, while still following the same liturgical movements and lectionary texts. Not an easy task.

Yesterday the lectionary called for the Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79; the song of Zechariah) as the “Psalm” for the day. The most accessible version I found was Michael Perry‘s 1973 text, “Blest Be the God of Israel.” (Although I changed the word “harbinger” to “messenger.”) It’s usually paired with MERLE’S TUNE by Hal Hopson. That’s a beautiful tune, but wasn’t quite in the groove of a BES Combo service, so I finished up an idea I had been working on a few weeks before. This new tune has a lot of similarities to the Peruvian Gloria, and could even use that as an extended Amen at the end of the song.

Download the leadsheet and be the first to use it in your town!


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Wendell Kimbrough promo

My friend Wendell Kimbrough asked me to do a promotional video for his Kickstarter campaign. I had a little too much fun with it, as you can see from this YouTube video. I’m pleased to report that his fundraising campaign was successful. (Due, I’m quite certain, to my endorsement…) Now that he has nothing to lose from bad publicity, I thought I’d unveil the first take of my promotional video:

1. When I think of worship, I think of Jesus–
Jesus and Wendell Kimbrough.
Wendell wants to make an album and he needs us;
needs us to help him make this thing go.

Why don’t you donate today?
There are so many ways to pay:
credit card or check,
bitcoin or debit.
Together we will make a way.

2. Jesus doesn’t have an album–thought that would be awesome–
so people have to write their own songs.
Wendell Kimbrough writes songs that are awesome,
and I hear that everybody sings them in heaven. (refrain)

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Ready My Heart

I first heard “Ready My Heart” on Steve Bell’s CD Each Rare Moment over a decade ago. It’s been an integral part of my church’s Advent ever since. It is a unique Advent song, a devotional text in which we pray that our hearts would be prepared to cradle the coming Savior.

It was written by Lois Shuford in the late 70s. I’m not sure how Steve Bell found it, but it certainly wasn’t due to a promotional campaign on Shuford’s part–in email correspondence a while back, she just seemed pleased and maybe a little surprised that the song had taken on a life of its own.

Here are a few resources for using “Ready My Heart” in your church. Shuford is not registered with CCLI and seems pleased to have churches sing the song as long as they attribute the song to her. If that changes, I’ll update the information here.

Posted in Arrangement, Church, Congregational Songs | 1 Comment

Jesus, My Great High Priest

Here is a new song co-written by Isaac Watts and me.

My pastor, Jack Roeda, is preaching through Hebrews and pointed out the other day that there are few songs that use the image of Jesus as high priest. Shepherd, Bread of Life, yes, but not high priest. Even though I knew he was baiting me, I took the hook and went off to find some good high priest songs. I fell in love with this text by Isaac Watts and wrote a new tune for it.

On thing I’ve been thinking about a lot in my writing lately is the “Occam’s Razor” principle, which basically states that the simplest answer is likely the simplest answer. Another way to state it might be “don’t gild the lily” or Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s famous, “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

I’ve spent most of my life trying to master the intricacies of putting notes together, and now I’m realizing that sometimes music sounds best in its simplest forms. This doesn’t take less mastery, but more. In any case, I kept reminding myself of this while writing the tune for this song, and I think I was able to strip it back to an extremely simple, clear form that sings well. Listen to the way the volume of the singing increases on each verse–that is music to a composer’s ears!

You can download the leadsheet, or email me for the string parts. If you’re a worship nerd, you can hear some more highlights from yesterday’s service. If you’re a hymn nerd, you can visit Hymnary.org to see how Watts’ original text was broken into two modern hymn texts: Join All the Glorious Names and Jesus, My Great High Priest. (And how I chose from his 12 verses to come up with my 4 verses and a refrain.)

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DARWALL, funky fresh intro

Just a quick post from yesterday’s service, featuring the inimitable Joyful Noise Orchestra. If you are not familiar with JNO, it’s an ensemble (collective? flash mob? uprising?) of musicians that span from age 12 to 72, from beginner to pro. We lead worship every few months at Church of the Servant, and when we do I try to write something special to show them off. This time it was a contrapuntal introduction to the hymn tune DARWALL, which you may know as “Rejoice the Lord Is King.” (We sang it with the text “Join All the Glorious Names.”) If you want to verify that we were mostly playing the right notes, you can take a look at the score: PDF. If you want to verify that JNO is the best looking band in the business, check out this picture from Thanksgiving 2014.


Church of the Servant’s Joyful Noise Orchestra, with Joel Klamer conducting



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The 50 Year Shuffle


Ron and Deb Rienstra, age 50

These two fine folks just celebrated their 50th birthday. Oh, to look so good at such an advanced age!

This bubbly little jazz tune actually started its life as “The Heineken Maneuver,” after a joke that emerged at a jazz cafe the Rienstra and Scheer families have been attending. Shortly after I finished it, Ron and Deb had their 50th birthday bash and I decided to rename it in honor of the event. It was premiered with their son Philip on alto sax.

So get out on the dance floor–you’re never too old for “The 50 Year Shuffle“!


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How Wide the Love of Christ!

Now that my book is finished, I have a little more time for creative ventures. The first fruit of that time is a setting of Herman Stuempfle’s text “How Wide the Love of Christ!” I came across the text when searching Hymnary.org for hymns based on Ephesians 3:14-21. I was drawn to this one because it takes “the breadth and length and height and depth” and gives a verse to each word, followed by a doxology. I began with the intention of writing a big festive choral piece with brass, but it started morphing into a more intimate, jazzy setting–a very different feel, but I kind of like it. PDF, MP3

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Psalm 124: If God Had Not Been on Our Side

A lot of music ministers lament the never-ending grind of planning worship services, week after week, without a break. Yeah, it’s easy to get a little jealous of school teachers with their summer breaks, but frankly I like the challenge each week brings. I enjoy digging into the service’s scriptures, teasing out themes in the music. I especially savor the search for settings of the lectionary Psalm that will fit both the congregation and the day’s music ensemble.*

Which brings us to today’s post. The lectionary called for Psalm 124 in yesterday’s service. You would think that Reformed folk would have lots of songs based on this one, because the Psalm includes the words that often begin Reformed worship: “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

Alas! There are a few songs based on those words, a few metrical Psalms, and my octavo for choir and narrator. But nothing that fit the Guitarchestra. So I wrote a new one to fit the occasion. The lyrics are below and the PDF leadsheet is downloadable. In some ways this follows the lead of my recent setting of Psalm 137, using the basic themes and images of the Psalm as clay that is then molded into a somewhat different shape. Still faithful to the Psalm, but taking some creative license.

1. If God had not been on our side, When cornered by our foes;
When there was no place left to hide, To whom could we have gone?
If God had not been on our side, When anger flared like fire;
They would have swallowed us alive, If God had not been on our side.

2. If God had not been on our side, When troubles surged like floods;
We would have watched the water rise, And waves mount up like walls.
If God had not been on our side, We would have had no hope,
been swept away in deadly tides If God had not been on our side.

3. If God had not been on our side, When hunters laid their snares;
Their steely teeth would snap us tight, We wouldn’t have a prayer.
If God had not been on our side, We wouldn’t have escaped;
But our God made the earth and sky, our help is only in his name.

*I know this makes me sound super holy. Don’t feel bad. I get tired of the weekly grind, too.

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You may know that I’m writing my second book. With a due date of October 5 (my birthday, in case you’re wondering), I’m spending long stretches of time alone, focused on writing and editing while everyone else frolics outside my window (metaphorically). It reminded me of a song I wrote in 1988 when I was two months into a year of study in Salzburg, Austria. “Heimweh” means “homesick” in German. It’s a song about being alone and far away, wondering how things are changing while you’re away. Writing a book feels a lot like that right about now.

It seems a dream; has it been days or years?
One day I’ll leave, and I’ll come back to you.

The song was recorded in 1993 on an album called “from the hand of…” The mixing leaves a lot to be desired, but the songs still hold up. I think you should listen to the whole album.

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