In 2014, I wrote a song cycle called, “One Long Year,” a set of songs chronicling the unraveling of the narrator’s life over the course of a year. It has only seen the light of day in demo form. I hope to change that sometime next year with a performance by the St. Sinner Orchestra. In the meantime, I’ve never been quite satisfied with the opening song, so this morning I gave it another try. This new one is more poetic and ethereal–which is where the song cycle ends. It feels like it might be able to introduce and frame the song cycle well. Feel free to compare it to the previous opening song, listen to it in context of the larger song cycle, and offer feedback.
Raindrops explode and combine; they stream down windowpanes in the night. Cars pass in brief bursts of headlights; shine like stars falling from night skies. We’re holding on for dear life.
Warm breath, exhaled, intertwined; this breath is it yours? Is it mine? Can two hearts resonate, synchronize? As the universe keeps time we’re holding on for dear life.
At some point, I may become known as “the guy who writes birthday odes in which death is a dominant theme.” So be it. The sooner you grapple with your mortality, the sooner you can get out there and truly live!
This latest birthday ditty was written for my friend Ron Rienstra, who throws great birthday parties featuring free form jam sessions and ping pong tournaments. How could I resist throwing a lounge lizard birthday ballad into the mix?
You can hear it in the video below or read through it for yourself: PDF.
Last week, Theo and I journeyed to Detroit for the Inspire 2017 conference. After playing music for the conference worship services (me on bass, him on cello), eating Coney Island hot dogs, and visiting the creepily delightful Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum, we headed home. To keep me awake on the drive, he played his ukulele and we made up a song. It is not a work of genius, but it’s quite a pleasant little ditty. And frankly, what do you expect from two people driving down the highway at 10 pm?
Having conquered Detroit, confidently we march on. Malcontent, maladroit, with rhymes and harmonies like a pond.
Who says that we’re idiots? They will have to meet my furious fists. Having conquered Detroit, you are next on my list.
E.H. Plumptre, author of “Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart.”
This hymn tune is another one that’s been hanging out in my idea folder for far too long. From the very beginning, the refrain was just how I wanted it: a perfect wedge of notes that vibrated with dissonant energy. The verse, however, was another story. It went through 3 or 4 entirely different drafts before I was satisfied.
What I like most about this hymn tune is that it twists, turns, and teeters on the edge of chaos without ever losing its melodic momentum. Let’s if you agree: PDF.
I would be very pleased to turn this into a festive choral anthem with organ and brass. If your church commissions it, you get to name the hymn tune! Alternately, if you want to write a new hymn text (220.127.116.11 with refrain) to this tune, I’d be happy to collaborate with you.
Lately, a large part of my work for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship has been translating and arranging Hispanic worship songs for the forthcoming bilingual (Spanish/English) hymnal. These songs have included everything from the smooth pop praise of Marcos Witt to the joyous coritos that travel from church to church in Latin America and the USA, often changing as they go. I’ve completed almost 50 songs and have at least another 25 to go before my work is done.
To give you a taste of the project, my boys and I recorded “Oh, Jerusalén, que bonita eres / Oh, Jerusalem, How You Shine with Beauty.” The MP3 is above. You’ll just have to wait until the hymnal is published to see the music!
The Scheer Boys: they’re not only your favorite boy band, they’re a biking team!
The Scheer Boys (Simon on bass, Theo on cello, Greg on voice/guitar) have a new hit, and this one is for the kids. You know who you are. And you know that you drive your parents crazy by using things around the house and not returning them to their proper places. Maybe you cook something and then leave dirty dishes strewn all over the kitchen. Or you use your Dad’s phone and return it with a gallery of marmoset monkey pictures open. Or you use your father’s favorite composing pencils and eraser which seem like they would be just right for drawing a comic but then suddenly your father tries to write down a melodic idea and all he has are pencils with dull tips and no erasers. These are random examples.
Well, kids, this song is for you. It’s a little reminder that if you use something, you should put it back. It’s only right.
The Scheer Boys recorded the first verse–the heavy-handed, guilt-ridden verse sung from the exasperated, finger-wagging parent’s point of view. We’d be very pleased if children all over the world recorded the second verse–sung from the dutiful if somewhat dreary child’s point of view. Here’s the music: PDF. Get to work, kids!
Some songs come quickly. This one, however, took well over a year. It draws its inspiration from “I Hunger and I Thirst.” I liked how that hymn ties Old Testament stories to the communion table. At first I was going to simply write a new tune for this text, but soon my aspirations grew: I added a chorus, then I began to rewrite the original text, and soon it was a completely different song with the 8 “I am” titles for Jesus mapped out to 8 different Old Testament stories.
And then I got bogged down. I had pages of drafts for an epic (read: sprawling, unfocused) 8 verse hymn that said everything and nothing at all. When I came back to it recently, I decided that done is a lot better than perfect. I trimmed it down to 3 verses–bread, blood, water–and kept things tightly focused on the Table.
After listening to the recording, my son, Theo, declared that my songwriting is getting better. I hope so. I was especially pleased with the lyrics, which strike me as poetic without being unlyrical, supported by music which is harmonically “slippery” without losing singability. In any case, an uptempo modern communion song is certainly a welcome addition to the repertoire. My only regret is losing the word “gush” in the third verse after a long, intense rhyming battle to the more predictable “flow.”
While I have vowed to enter no more contests, I still have a Google alert set for “song contest.” A few days ago, it alerted me about a new high school in Utah that was in need of a school song. How could I say No to one, teensy-weensy song for a school in need?
The announcement read:
Green Canyon High School, opening in North Logan next year, is excited to announce a community contest to write a school song that will capture the spirit of the students and community that we will serve. We are looking for a song that is catchy, warm-hearted, dignified, timeless, and appealing to a wide audience. The text should convey the values of our school and community, including the idea of a wolf pack–we are stronger together, and the values of knowledge, friendship, and service. The song should consist of one verse and one chorus and be written for voices and piano. 4 part hymn style is also appropriate.
Here is what I hope will be Green Canyon High School’s new school anthem: PDF
One of the most satisfying things about writing music for the church is to see how different songs migrate. “Abana/The Arabic Lord’s Prayer” is quickly becoming one of the most popular global songs I’ve translated and arranged. It was already a beloved song among Arabic-speaking Christians, and it strikes a deep chord with Western churches that are trying to embrace the communion of saints in an age of division.
My friend Denise Makinson at Southwood Lutheran Church in Lincoln, NE recently sent me this fine recording of her choir and instrumentalists introducing “Abana” to their congregation. Wonderful!