Having Conquered Detroit

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.

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Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart

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 ( with refrain) to this tune, I’d be happy to collaborate with you.

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Oh Jerusalén, que bonita eres/Oh, Jerusalem, How You Shine in Beauty

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!

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If You Use It, Put It Back

America’s favorite boy band is back!

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!

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Behold, a Table is Spread

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.”

Decide if Theo is right: PDF, MP3

1. O Bread of Life, sustain,
with manna each new day;
and ease our hunger pangs
with food along the way.

For hunger hounds us still;
we faint, but you are kind.
Our hearts long to be filled
with you, O Bread of Life.

Behold, a table is spread—
a feast for hungry souls.
Come, eat the Living Bread.
Come, drink the wine that flows.

He who bids us, “Come and dine,”
is feast, and friend, and host.
Come taste and see
the goodness of the Lord.

2. O Spotless Lamb of God,
be yet again our life.
May your redeeming blood
run deep, and rich as wine.

Oh, let this new wine flow,
fruit from the one True Vine.
Let those who drink it know
a joy complete, divine. CHORUS

3. O Living Water, flow
in never ending streams
revive our withered souls
within the desert’s heat.

For still your people thirst–
parched are the throats that praise.
Let streams of mercy burst;
drench us with floods of grace. CHORUS

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Run with the Pack!

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


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Abana at Southwood Lutheran in Lincoln, Nebraska

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!

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Keep Your Nose to the Grindstone

As followers of this blog know, I am no stranger to ridiculous ideas. Indeed, I am willing to chase a ridiculous idea to extraordinary lengths.

This is one such idea.

When work begins to pile up, I either remind myself of the old adage: Q: How do you eat an elephant? A: One bite at a time. Or I begin to hum a little tune with the words, “Keep your nose to the grindstone.” When my friend, Julie, told me she was “just keeping her nose to the grindstone,” how could I resist providing an inspirational soundtrack for her work?


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It Will All Be All Right Someday

As I came home from church today, I vowed that I would keep the Sabbath by doing something creative (i.e. re-creation), but not something that was work (a fine line when writing music is your work). The result is a song based on a line I sang into my phone a few weeks ago, “All the things that you can’t change.” It feels like there’s something still to be done with this, but for now, I’m happy to have gotten back in touch with the joy and immediacy of simply writing what’s on my mind.

There’s only silence when you wake.
You breathe the air, but it is thick.
You don’t know if you’ll ever sing again;
You don’t remember how it felt.

Because everything has changed.
Your little life came to an end.
It wasn’t much, but it was all you had
And all that’s left is sad.

Everything’s broken that could break
You took everything that you could take.
Wished you’d been good instead of trying to be great.
But you will be okay.
    It will be all be all right someday.

All the things that you can’t change;
All the things you can’t forget;
All the demons that have been with you so long
That they start to feel like friends:
    It will all be all right someday.

Now you think that it’s the end,
But it’s never just the end.
You don’t know what, but it’s about to begin
And it will be beautiful in its own way.
    It will all be all right someday.

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Psalm 96: A New Song in Lansdale, PA

One of the things that makes me feel downright legit as a composer is stumbling across a video of one of my pieces online–a video that I didn’t upload, performed by musicians I don’t know. In this case, it is the Daybreak Choir at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lansdale, PA. They did a great job with it. I love the addition of the drums!

If your choir wants to follow in the footsteps of the Daybreak Choir, you can order “A New Song” from Augsburg Fortress as part of the GladSong Choirbook.

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