You never know if a song is going to travel. I’ve written hundreds of songs, but there’s just no predicting which one will grab people’s attention or even get the opportunity to be heard at all. I guess it’s a little like fishing.
“Feed Us, Lord” is a little communion chorus I wrote a number of years ago. Think of it as Taizé meets praise ballad–it’s simple and repetitive enough to be sung during communion.
If I remember correctly, I submitted it to the “cattle call” for the United Methodist Worship and Song hymnal. These preliminary calls for submissions regularly receive 2,000 – 5,000 songs that the poor committee members have to sift through. I would like to think they chose my song because of its superior craftsmanship and theological acumen, but I’m pretty sure it was actually for two very practical reasons: 1. There aren’t a lot of contemporary(ish) songs for the Lord’s Supper. 2. It only takes up a half page.
From there it was picked up by the Presbyterian Glory to God hymnal. And from there it ended up in a YouTube video of Central Presbyterian Church of Denver’s communion.
You probably know Harry Plantinga and me as the duo who co-founded Hymnary.org. As of a month ago, though, we are also a musical duo–a veritable hymnological Lennon and McCartney.
Harry wrote a Transfiguration hymn based on Luke 9:28-36 that needed a tune. I suggested my tune GILLIGAN (published in the hymnal In Melody and Song and also available at my website). After the text and tune pairing was finalized, he decided to use it as a test case for a new hymn presentation software he’s developing with Hymnary.org. You can try this “scroll-view” prototype here: https://rh.hymnary.org/history/v0.1.html (press “m” on your keyboard to start the demo) or click on the link below to read the full text.
This Sunday (4/28/19) was the premiere of “Psalm 84: Blessed Beyond Measure” at Trinity Lutheran Church in Owatonna, MN. The piece was commissioned for their 100th-year celebration service, which was held in a local arena. It was so beautiful to see 125 singers and instrumentalists of all stripes performing together.
The people have spoken, and the people have decided that “True Tenor” is the most worthy tune to be paired with the lyrics “Jesus Lives, and So Shall I.” For those of you who like statistics, the voting results are below. For those of you who like music, you can print this PDF leadsheet and sing the song in your congregation on Sunday!
Here are some of my favorite general comments:
The good news is that I can totally see each of the arrangements being used at different churches. The bad news is that you sound nothing like Chris Tomlin.
You need to use another cover pic. This one is nice but perpetuates the White Jesus myth. [Interestingly, this comment came in while I was at a cultural bias workshop where we spent time discussing this very issue.]
Nope. I hated them all and wish I could take back the time I spent listening to them to take the nap I was going to take.
Joanna says “I think one of them should be disco inferno.” So there is some solid feedback from a four-year-old. [My business manager’s daughter has sophisticated taste in pop music!]
1. Jesus lives, and so shall I. The sting of death is gone forever. Jesus lives— the One who died the bands of death to sever. God has raised me from the dust: Jesus is my hope and trust.
2. Jesus lives! My soul revived when Jesus called. I was awakened from my sleep to glorious light; the shroud of death He's shaken. From the grave God raised me up: Jesus is my hope and trust.
3. Jesus lives! New life begins within this heart so long in slavery. From the crushing weight of sin, God’s arm reached down and saved me. Each new day brings grace enough: Jesus is my hope and trust.
4. Jesus lives, and nothing now can separate me from my Savior. Earthly pain nor Satan’s power could cause his love to waver. Those he’s found are never lost: Jesus is my hope and trust.
Awake, my soul. Awake, my soul. Your Savior calls— calls you to rise with him this dawn, calls you to life within God’s love:
In this third and final version of “Jesus Lives,” I went all Chris Tomlin. This is new territory for me–keeping things four-chord simple, using pace and dynamics to shape the song, and even smoothing it all together with the magic worship glue known as worship pads.
Now it’s time for you to decide which of the three versions you like best. I’ll create a poll and upload it here. The winning song will be the official version which will be distributed throughout the world and beyond*.
*If someone on a future space shuttle likes it enough to put it on their iTunes playlist.
The first version of “Jesus Lives” was all business: The chords move every half note and the melody takes off quickly, leaving room to breathe but not much more.
This second version is more relaxed: It’s not just the country backbeat that makes this song feel so chill–the chords move slowly and the melody is smooth and leaves space between phrases. It’s also more guitar-friendly, which gives it a happy, chimey sound when led by a folk band.
So the question is this: Should a song about the resurrection be more energetic (#1) or relaxed (#2)?
As Easter rapidly approaches, many worship planners are simply trying to survive Holy Week. But Sundays will keep coming, and you need to have a plan for Eastertide! Don’t Worry. I have you covered. Over the next three days I will be unveiling my new Eastertide song(s) “Jesus Lives, and So Shall I.” “Why ‘song(s)’?”, you ask? Because I have actually written three different versions of the same song. Here’s how it happened:
I was searching for songs for Easter and beyond and noticed how many songs are perfect for Easter Sunday but don’t fit the week after. (“Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” for example.) Practically half of the New Testament is devoted to understanding the implications of the resurrection for the believer, so where are the songs about dying to self and living for Christ, etc? Then I came across the hymn “Jesus Lives, and So Shall I.” Loved it. I printed off the words, headed to the piano, and wrote a new melody for the text. Then I tweaked the text fairly substantially. Then I had doubts about the melody. Then I composed a new melody. Then I decided I liked both. Then I thought it would be fun to write a third melody and let people choose which version they like best.
Little did I know that my humble trio of melodies was up against such formidable competition: Crüger, CPE Bach, Green Carpet Players, ChurchFolk, and Nathan Partain. Feel free to check their fine renditions, but make sure you come back over the next few days to hear my other two versions of the song. I’ll give you a chance to vote on your favorite in a few days.
1. Jesus lives, and so shall I. The sting of death is gone forever. Jesus lives—the One who died the bands of sin and death to sever. God has raised me from the dust: Jesus is my hope and trust.
2. Jesus lives! My soul revived when Jesus called. I was awakened from my sleep to glorious light; the shroud of death my Lord has shaken. From the grave God raised me up: Jesus is my hope and trust.
3. Jesus lives! New life begins within this heart so long in slavery. From the crushing weight of sin, my God’s strong arm reached down and saved me. Each new day brings grace enough: Jesus is my hope and trust.
4. Jesus lives, and nothing now can separate me from my Savior. Earthly pain nor Satan’s power could never cause his love to waver. Those he’s found are never lost: Jesus is my hope and trust.
Awake, my soul. Awake, my soul. Your Savior calls— calls you to rise with him this dawn, calls you to life within God’s love: Jesus is my hope and trust.
For this latest collaboration with TL Moody, I took a different tack. I often match her texts with folk songs. The organic nature of the subject matter often feels like it should be matched by the string and wood of traditional folk music. And the reference to the lark in the first lines of the hymn almost lured me to follow Ralph Vaughan Williams ethereal “The Lark Ascending.” But I didn’t follow either of those muses.
Instead, I took my cues from the chorus, which is about joy welling up in the soul in praise of the Creator. What emerged was a Renaissance-style hymn with a persistent pulse underneath.
Bonus? You get to hear a chorus of Greg trombones!
What I love about this song, “The Meadow Sings,” is that the text wraps nature and doxology together so tightly and beautifully. Many environmental hymns are so heavy-handed they make you want to hop in your SUV and go eat a burger just to spite the starry-eyed, idealistic poet. But this text knits together nature, music, and the Creator so beautifully it makes all three seem part of the same chorus.
The organic nature of the text led me to compose a folk song with Celtic overtones. Of course, we’re all trying to recapture the beauty of “Be Thou My Vision” and “Morning Has Broken.” On the other hand, you could do worse…