#1 (piano miniatures)

I often take part in FAWM–February Album Writing Month–as a way of keeping the creative juices flowing. The FAWM challenge is to write 14 songs in 28 days. This year I plan to compose 14 “piano miniatures.” (I’ll think of a better title later: sketches? bite-size compositions? Think Erik Satie’s “Gymnopédie” and you’ve got the right idea.) Just short pieces that allow me to work out some ideas in small form.

Tentatively, each piece will be numbered, 1 through 14, with a time signature corresponding to that number. The first is #1 and is in a 1/1 meter. This is not only a cute idea, stuffing a piece into the unusual 1/1 meter for show. Instead, I composed a piece that truly has a one-beat pulse and that doesn’t group into larger 3s or 4s. If you want to try this out at your piano, download the PDF score.

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“Joy Inside My Tears” at Calvin College’s Chapel

Paul Ryan periodically asks me to speak/sing at Calvin’s chapel. On January 14, 2019 my theme was “Joy Inside My Tears,” in which I explored the paradoxes of the Christian’s emotional life in scripture and song. Just in case you don’t want to listen raptly to all 20+ minutes, here is the outline:

  • Prelude: “Joy Inside My Tears” from Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life
  • 2:00 Blah, blah, blah
  • 3:15 We Worship You (Scheer)
  • 7:00 More blah, blah, blah
  • 10:20 Psalm 30: I Worship You, O Lord (text: Seddon/Seerveld, tune: Norman L. Warren) A new jazz arrangement written especially for this chapel.
  • 15:00 Expanded blah, blah, blah
  • 23:50 Psalm 126: All Those Who Are Weeping (a beautiful song by Bifrost Arts)
  • Postlude: “People’s Parties” from Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark

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Prayer of Jonah at Western Seminary

The first performance of “Prayer of Jonah” took place in December at Western Seminary. The song begins at 27:54 in this video, but the whole enactment of the book of Jonah is well worth watching. The next performance will be at the Calvin Worship Symposium during the Thursday and Friday Vesper services, 4:15pm in Gezon Auditorium.

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2018 Year in Review

It’s that time of the year again, my friends! You faithful followers of this Musical Diary have already heard all these songs, but I thought you might enjoy hearing it in a narrated podcast format. It’s also a format that is easy to share with newbies. (Yes, that was a hint!)

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A New Year’s Carol

A New Year’s Carol

As the year draws to a close, one has to take stock and observe, “That sucked.” Yes, 2018 was about the worst year since 7th grade. Worst. Year. Ever.

The good news? It can only go up from here. To commemorate the enormous sinkhole that was 2018 and the great hopes for a brighter future, I’ve written “A New Year’s Carol.” On the surface it may sound a little bleak to sing “it’s been a terrible year,” but there is hope embedded in the music of this carol. You see, the key rises a whole step with each repeat of the carol. Crazy, huh? You want to really geek out? I double all the tracks at the octave so that I could create Shepard Tones–the effect that the song continuously rises without actually going out of range. (Although I’m singing nearly four octaves all told.)

By all accounts it’s been a terrible year.
As the days dragged into months,
there was little to cheer.
Sing “Oo la loo ley!”
when there’s nothing to say.
Sing “Oo la ley loo!”
for what else can you do?
But next year cannot be worse,
so it’s all up from here!

You want to sing along? Here’s the music: PDF.
You want to hear the Shepard Tones more clearly? Here’s an instrumental MP3.

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The members of the St. Sinner Orchestra often point out that our repertoire leans toward dark themes, with song titles such as “Die Alone,” “Idiot,” and “Sinking Like a Stone.” But this new one, “Love,” is all sunshine. My change in tone surely has something to do with a new love and the accompanying hopes, fears, and butterflies. No, I’m not plowing new ground in writing a love song–or even in writing a song about not needing another (silly) love song–so sue me.

The idea for the song started when I texted my friend Steve “I’ll be in Ukraine in the middle of May. And also, I might be in love,” and he immediately responded, “You are not in love.” After some good-natured banter, we agreed to disagree with me stating, “I’m totally not taking your advice. I’m really into her,” and him admitting that “Long distance relationship advice is even worse than long distance relationships.” (Steve, in case you’re wondering, no, you don’t get a co-writing credit.)

This is just a demo–a musical shakedown cruise, as it were. I’m working up a full string arrangement that will likely be premiered at the St. Sinner Orchestra’s gig on January 24, 2019 at Schmohz. Be there.

1. Steve says that I’m not in love:
“It’s too soon—blah, blah, blah…”
But I didn’t listen to a word he said.
Maybe I will never learn
the thousand ways that love can hurt you,
but I’d rather die learning than live just avoiding pain.
So I’m jumping back in it.

Love—could anyone hope for more than
love?—Isn’t it all we want?
Love—who wouldn’t give it all for love?

2. Lovers have come and lovers have gone;
they’ve spilled their ink and they’ve sung their songs.
God only knows I’m not the first one to feel this way.
Love, from a distance, is cool and remote
like the moon seen through a telescope.
But now I’m in your orbit, under your sway.
And I can’t get away from

Love—could anyone hope for more than
love?—Isn’t it all we want?
Love—who wouldn’t give it all for love?

3. Does the world need another love song
with the hopeful lift of ii, V, I chords
and a “love, love, love” that comes back again and again?
We might get tired of the same refrain,
the pop cliches, deceptive cadences,
but we all hope we’ll find love that never ends.
And so we keep singing:

Love—could anyone hope for more than
love?—Isn’t it all we want?
Love—who wouldn’t give it all for love?

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Is It I, Lord?

Christopher L. Webber,
collaborator extraordinaire and completely unaware

My third collaboration with Christopher Webber is a new tune for his social justice hymn, “Is It I, Lord?” The meter of the text is D, which is very unusual. (Unusual, as in “I don’t think it exists anywhere else in the world. Ever.”) It was quite challenging to compose a tune that matched this unusual meter and fit each verse of the tune. But every musical challenge has a solution!

Christopher and I work together remarkably well. Our collaboration is so seamless that we barely need words. I’m joking, of course. I’ve never met the man. Maybe someday I will and he’ll either hug me or punch me.

I have a piano score for this song and would be glad to email it to you if you ask nicely. I will let you know when all these songs are released by World Library Publications.

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Blessed Be!

It’s hard to believe that this piece is 23 years old! This setting of the song of Zechariah (Luke 1:67-79) was written when I lived in Pittsburgh and is performed here by the Duquesne University Choir under the direction of Brady Allred.

You can email me for music. It comes in a variety of flavors: a cappella, SATB/Piano, or with brass and rhythm section; the rap is optional (and yes, I’m serious: there is a rap). You can also email me if you want to commission the rest of the movements that would complete this set. It’s going to be amazing and I know you want in!

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Prayer of Jonah

It’s been a good season for commissions, with hymns, choral anthems, and orchestral compositions waiting to be written. But first, this setting of the biblical Song of Jonah. You’ll remember that Jonah was a runaway prophet who was swallowed by a big fish sent from God. You may not remember that once Jonah was firmly lodged inside this enormous fish’s gut, he began praying to God (in song form).

Every year, Western Seminary students perform a scriptural drama in the original Hebrew as the culmination of their language studies. This year, retiring Hebrew professor Tom Boogaart and professor of worship/chapel Ron Rienstra decided to try something different: The Book of Jonah in a new English translation and with a new musical rendition of the Prayer of Jonah, composed by yours truly.

As I began to work on the song, I was struck by the water imagery that echoes Genesis 1 and Psalms 29, 42, 69, and 130. What better way to express this “out of the depths” prayer than the thundering tones of the bass? And thus the project morphed into a song with an accompaniment of five electric basses. (Yes, that is off-the-hook awesome.)

Musically, the song uses a good deal of word painting. The first phrase, “out of the depths,” is a pentatonic melody that quickly swells from lowest range of the voice to more than an octave up. I love the way this gives a musical sense of the depths, the waves, and the turbulence of Jonah’s situation. The pre-chorus (“Baptized into the cold water”) is “adrift” melodically, with a B in the melody floating on top of the Am chord, and the heavy downbeat F# crashing against the Em chord. At the chorus, there’s a sudden lift to E major. It really feels like a ray of sunlight, doesn’t it? More word painting ensues, with “You have raised me up” leaping up and “from the pit” sinking down.

You can check out the full song (MP3, PDF), or listen to a few interludes that will be used as scene change music:

1. Harmonics

2. Chorus

3. Ascension

4. Chaos

1. Out of the depths of my deep distress
I cried to you, my Lord.
Swallowed up whole in the belly of death,
yet still you heard my voice.

Baptized into the cold water,
into the heart of the sea.
The deep was surging, surrounding;
wave after wave drowning me.

You have raised me up, O Lord,
from the pit I’d sunken in.
Gasping for my final breath,
you breathed me to life again.

2. I was resolved to a watery grave
as the waves rose to my neck.
Eyelids closed to the undertow,
garland of seaweed around my head.

My final thought while descending
into the cold arms of death
was of your glorious temple.
Then I slipped into the abyss. [CHORUS]

3. Out of the depths of my deep distress
I remembered you, my God.
From the abyss my prayer was heard
at your holy temple, Lord.

Some waste their prayers on deaf idols.
Some run when hearing God’s call.
I raise a voice of thanksgiving
unto the Lord, God of all. [CHORUS]

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Eugene Peterson’s Funeral Service

Sorry it’s been quiet around the Website lately. Regular Updates will resume soon, but I wanted to tell you about this:  I just learned that my song “Lord, Now Let Your Servants Depart in Peace” will be included in Eugene Peterson’s funeral service. He was a great man whom I had the privilege of meeting on a few occasions. It is an immense honor to know that my song will accompany him on his final journey. The service will be live streamed and archived here. The song can be downloaded with the button below.

Download Here

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