While it’s fun to have your music played on your home turf, there’s something special about learning that a church far away is using one of your songs or arrangements. My friends Phil and Sarah Majorins used my string arrangement of “We Sing the Mighty Power” (KINGSFOLD) at Christ Church in Davis, CA this Fall. As you’ll hear, they did a splendid job. While you’re checking out my song, make sure to take a listen to Sarah’s “Psalm 8,” “Sanctus,” and “Mystery of Faith.” I am a thorn among roses!
If you keep up with this blog–and really, why wouldn’t you?–you know I committed to FAWM this year. (February Album Writing Month; 14 songs in 28 days.)
Seoul vocal booth
On day 28 I realized that I had one more song to finish. (I did not realize it was a leap year, which would have given me an extra day.) The problem was that I was in Seoul, Korea, at a conference. I had tracks for a song, but no lyrics. So I sat down in one of the sessions and ignored the speaker the best I could while working on finishing words for the song. Then I round a quiet conference room at the end of a long hallway where I recorded the vocals in one take and uploaded the song to FAWM with 1% of my battery charge remaining. Welcome to the exciting, do or die life of songwriting.
This is part of my ongoing obsession with writing neo 80s songs. It is perhaps not my finest moment as a lyricist or mixer, but I like the basic idea enough that I may revisit it at some point.
Forever, for never? For pleasure, for pain?
For whom is the balance tipping, and which way?
If we knew then what we know now,
would we have both just walked away?
I never would have hurt you if we never let it start.
We were safe until we let it go that far.
Wounds that heal together or histories told in scars.
How can it be love if it doesn’t break your heart?
Soulmate or playmate or something in between?
Who knows who we will turn out to be?
Lover or mother or a little bit of both?
Until we jump in, full skin, we will never know.
Waiting for charity–Ubi caritas–
paralyzed between the science and the art.
If we wait on charity we’ll wait until death do us part. [We’re doomed from the start.]
How can it be love if it doesn’t break your heart?
N.b. You’ll notice a discrepancy between the lyrics above and the recorded vocal track. When I went to record the song I realized to my dismay that the verse wasn’t double couplets. I quickly cut and edited to make it fit.
It is finished. This is the last of the 7 movements. In this solo movement, I recapitulate many of the themes that have appeared in previous movements, hopefully in a way that is suggestive of what’s gone on before rather than an overbearing repetition.
Once again, the Finale playback leaves much to be desired, so feel free to fire up your musical imagination and read it directly from the score: PDF. I’m sure I’ll post a recording of the service itself. We had our first rehearsal today, and even though there were lots of rough spots, it had the seeds of something really wonderful.
The Shadow of the Tomb: Matthew 27:57-60 57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away.
Unfortunately, Finale playback conveys nothing of the portamento, so it just sounds like a string of notes. Sigh… If you want to read along, imagining the whole movement unfolding like a musical sigh, here’s the score: PDF.
The Shadow of Death: Matthew 27:45-54 45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46 And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” 48 At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” 50 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53 After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many.54 Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
At first glance, this 5th movement of my Tenebrae cello composition may seem mismatched with its scripture. Why such beautiful, lilting music for story of the crucifixion?
A few reasons.
First, you can only dramatize a story so far with music. The whole narrative of Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion is gut wrenching. If each movement tries to push the drama further, it can quickly become cartoonish. Instead, I chose to focus on the crown of thorns and the phrase, “Hail, King of the Jews.” In both cases, what was meant as an insult, was in fact the truth. Jesus is the King of all creation, even when crowned with thorns. Like the last verse of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” I want to give beauty and dignity to the crown of thorns, weaving musical themes together like the strands of the crown.
If you want to verify my counterpoint, take a look at the score: PDF
The Shadow of Crucifixion: Matthew 27:27-37 27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. 32 As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. 33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34 they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35 And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; 36 then they sat down there and kept watch over him. 37 Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”
I think I’m over the hump with this movement. It’s the 4th out of 7 movements, and it’s the fastest, most complex movement of them all. (Fast music means more notes in less time, which makes it more time consuming to compose.) This movement follows the scripture reading in which Jesus stands before Pilate and the chief priests without defending himself. In the end, Pilate makes a politically savvy exchange of Barabbas for Jesus. The music reflects the agitation of the crowd, the silence of Jesus, and the mob shouts of “Crucify him!”
Want to hear it in your head? Here’s the score: PDF.
The Shadow of Accusation: Matthew 27:11-14; 20-29
11 Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.” 12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?” 14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.
20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. 21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?”[a] All of them said, “Let him be crucified!”23 Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”
24 So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood;[b] see to it yourselves.” 25 Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” 26 So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.
One of the nice things about getting a choral piece published is that the publisher often makes high quality recordings of the pieces for promotional purposes. Here’s a new recording of “Kwake Yesu/Here on Jesus Christ I Will Stand” by GIA:
What’s that? It’s so lovely you want to purchase 40 copies for you choir? Well, head on over to the GIA website and they’ll be glad to help you out!
In this third movement, we’re down to five cellos out of the original seven. Because the scripture reading that accompanies this movement tells of Jesus leaving the others three times to pray, I gave a solo cello three “recitatives.” I’m not usually big on word painting in music, but it seemed a good way to reflect the drama of the story.
The Shadow of an Unshared Vigil: Matthew 26:36-46
36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. 38 Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” 39 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” 40 Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? 41 Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial;[a] the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”
My son, Theo, creates some pretty spectacular animations. He’ll disappear for a few hours and then come back with a stop motion mash up of drawings, cut paper, cellophane, and moving objects. “Flight” follows the adventures of a paper airplane. I finally got a chance this weekend to import the pictures into iMovie and put a soundtrack to it. Enjoy!