Everybody Knows

I continue playing my bass each week with a jazz trio at a local restaurant and I continue to write new songs for said trio. I try to do something different each time: a different style, mood, or tempo. Sometimes I base a new song on an existing standard: Brubeck’s “Take 5” becomes my “Take 3.0” or Jobim’s “One Note Samba” becomes “The One More Note Samba,” for example. I figure my songs will be more likely to be played if I can slip them in beside a similar classic.

But his time I actually stole from myself. I was thinking about how my rap song “We Know the Changes,” would make a mighty fine jazz-funk groove. I began playing with some melodies that might work on top of the chords from that song (called a “contrafact” in musical terms), but it soon morphed into an entirely different thing.

“Everybody Knows” ended up as an A minor groove that pivots up and down a step on phrase two and four. That’s a cool way to keep things simple without getting boring. As you can hear from this recording from last night, the trio took to it like fish to water.

I probably won’t use the words with this one, but I include them here for posterity:

1. Everybody knows
and there’s no denying.
Everybody knows
And you know it, too.
Everybody knows
try to hide it, but it shows.
Everybody knows, everybody knows
when they fall in love.

2. Everybody knows
they can’t fight the feeling.
Everybody knows
it’ll only grow.
Everybody knows
just give in and let it flow.
Everybody knows, everybody knows
when they fall in love.

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Trio

I continue to explore jazz, this time with a healthy dose of classical composition technique. “Trio” is so named because it’s written for 3 players and in “3” (3/4 meter). More interestingly, the three players play a 3-part canon. Player #1 begins the canon (also known as a round), followed by Player #2 eight bars later, and Player #3 eight bars after that.

While this canon could theoretically continue repeating into infinity, my hope is to perform this with three musicians who will begin to improvise once their written melodies are finished. Imagine: three players improvising at the same time, like Dixieland, but more serene. Then, one at a time, they’ll come back to the head and take the coda to end the song.

For now, we will have to satisfy our ears with a quick demo of just the melody and coda.

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Iguana

Photo by Patricia Guillory

“Iguana” began its life as a bass line. I wanted to write a groove-oriented jazz tune like Herbie Hancock’s iconic “Chameleon.” (“Chameleon”…”Iguana” Get it?) The bass line soon morphed from a dirty funk into a smoother, jazz fusion groove with an ever-ascending harmonic sequence. While I was working on the melody I was also memorizing Thelonius Monk’s “Straight, No Chaser.” I was fascinated (and a little bit infuriated) by the way Monk takes one melodic motif and then shifts it to different positions in the meter each time it appears. A little of that leaked into “Iguana.”

The final test for any jazz tune–especially a groove-oriented one–is how well it works with real musicians soloing over its form. The first version of Iguana unraveled in that setting. The form was AABA, but the final A was so similar to the first two that no one ever knew when the song started again! In this final version, I simplified the form to AAB with a clear cadence marking the way back to the beginning. Voila! It worked like a charm.

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Behold the Love

As I was planning Easter services, I stumbled across a hymn text by Barton W. Stone called “Behold the Love, the Grace of God.” Stone is better known for his part in the Stone-Campbell Movement (also called the “Restoration Movement”) which is the precursor to modern denominations such as the Disciples of Christ. What struck me about this hymn text, seemingly the only one Barton wrote, is how effusive it is: “My soul’s on fire, it pants to prove the fullness of redeeming love.”

As I sat at the piano with the text, it suggested a rich, warm gospel ballad. The song has all the harmonic twists and turns that you’d expect in a gospel song, but the biggest surprise is in the third line when it suddenly shifts from the key of Db to the key of E. It’s unexpected but feels completely natural. (Though it is really hard to go from 5 flats to 4 sharps!)

Though I decided to write new lyrics, I tried to retain the original text’s first-person awe and gratefulness for Jesus’ sacrifice. This would be a great song for communion or Good Friday. Think of it as a gospel sibling of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”

1. Behold the love, the grace of God,
displayed in Jesus’ precious blood.
My tongue will tell, my soul will sing
of Jesus Christ’s redeeming love!

I see the cross on which my Lord
bore all my sin within his pain.
He conquered death to bring me life
and I am healed; I’m born again.

2. O love of God, there is no end!
Thre is no bottom to his grace.
My sinful heart can cling to hope
when I see Jesus’ suffering face.

For though my sin could fill the sea,
God’s tender love is deeper yet.
He sent his Son to die for me,
to pay this grateful sinner’s debt.

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Psalm 9/10: Rise Up, O Lord!

Update: Sheet music for this song is now available at gregscheer.com.

Collaborator Naaman Wood was in the middle of grading midterms and wasn’t able to get me a final version of Psalm 9/10 until February 27–the day before my FAWM deadline. While taking a walk that evening I began singing some ideas for a melody into my phone. Seven phone recordings later, I had the song mostly fleshed out. I sat down at the piano the next morning and finalized the song, wrote a piano accompaniment, and finished the recording 24 hours after seeing the text. Oh, the nail-biting life of a composer!

Though the verse melody is fairly straightforward, there are lots of harmonic twists and turns in the harmonies underneath it. This feels to me a lot like life: we may put on a good front, but there may be knots in our stomach and a prayer of anguish in our heads.

And thus ends my FAWM 2022 song project: 12 Psalm songs, based on 13 Psalms, with 16 total songs for the month. I’m tired. I will sleep during March.

1. The Lord is near to those who carry sorrow–
a shelter during troubled times.
He will remember all their cries and longings,
and will not give their hope away.

Rise up, rise up, rise up, O Lord!
Rise up, rise up, rise up, O Lord!


2. Where is our hope? How can we bear this sorrow?
Why do you hide in troubled times?
Have you forgotten to hear our cries and longings?
O, do not turn your face away! (Chorus)

3. On me, O Lord, O Son of God have mercy.
See how I suffer from wicked schemes.
They drag me down and devour me like lions.
I lay upon the gates of death. (Chorus)

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Psalm 62: Only God Can Save Me Now

Update: Sheet music for this song is now available at gregscheer.com.

Psalm 62 famously begins with the words, “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him.” The Psalmist goes on to describe the many difficulties experienced in life–those who are attacking or extorting money–always coming back to the refrain, “My soul finds rest in God alone.” Scottish lyricist, Doug Gay, has given these words an introspective feel in his setting of the Psalm. They could almost be sung by a victim of abuse, crying to God for help. That’s the thing about the Psalms: they give words to things we may have not experienced, which may make us feel like we don’t need them–until we do.

I kept the introspective, plaintive mood with music that is simple and child-like. I especially like how the chorus and verses slide into each other–there is no traditional cadence, but common tones in the melody make it feel completely natural.

Only God can save us now.
We wait in silence here.
For only God can keep us safe
on days we shake with fear.


1. I’m battered, broken, beaten down
and ready to give way.
So tired of all their shameless lies;
No trust in what they say. (Chorus)

2. We trust in God to set us free
from all our guilt and shame.
To God our refuge and our rock
we bring our hurt and pain. (Chorus)

3. The God who is both power and love
is judge of all the earth.
Don’t trust in what will pass away;
don’t sell your soul for wealth. (Chorus)

Only God can save us now.
We wait in silence here.

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Psalm 18: I Love You, God My Lord (with Adam Carlill)

Update: Sheet music for this song is now available at gregscheer.com.

I’ve co-written with Adam Carlill three times previously. What I love about his Psalms for the Common Era is that the texts scan so well. “Scanning” is how well a text follows its own patterns of meter and syllabic stress. Hymn text writers often write with a slow tune in mind, which tends to flatten stress patterns somewhat. When these texts are put to a faster or more rhythmic tune, they start to unravel. Adam’s texts hold up well with the pressure of rhythm and speed. It makes them really easy to work with as a tune writer.

Less easy is Psalm 18. The first difficulty is that it is very long. As committed as I am to singing the Psalms, I can’t imagine a congregation trying to sing the whole of Psalm 18, even though Adam has packed it into a mere 20 verses. This is approaching the epic proportions of “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”!

The second difficulty is the Psalm’s content. It starts with praise for God’s strength and a plea for help. Then it moves into the “God’s taking names and is coming down to bust some heads” portion of the Psalm. After a brief sidestep into an overly flattering assessment of the Psalmist’s own piety, the Psalm turns back to God’s strength–this time in the form of the strength God gives the Psalmist, who can now leap like a deer without twisting his ankle and is now ready to take names and bust some heads himself. It ends with more praise for the victory God will give.

For the recording, I chose six verses that I felt represented the overall Psalm well. Those who want to delve into the more difficult areas of the Psalm can sing all 20 verses or study the Psalm with a good Bible commentary in hand. I should also note that I added a short refrain to Adam’s text. It felt like the song needed something to break up all those verses. I could imagine a leader singing a few verses at a time and then handing it over to the congregation to sing the refrain.

1. I love you, God my Lord,
my stronghold and my rock,
my refuge, my eternal ward
and sturdy lock.
my ancient keep and wall,
my fortress and retreat;
I praise and call you, Lord of all,
my victory seat.

O Lord, my God,
my refuge strong,
protect me from all those
who’d do me wrong.

(For the rest of the lyrics, see Adam Carlill’s Psalms for the Common Era.)

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Psalm 135: I Know the Lord Is Great! (with Hunter Lynch)

Update: Sheet music for this song is now available at gregscheer.com.

Almost exactly one year ago, Hunter Lynch and I released our first song together. Now we’re back at it with something very different. Hunter sent me a lyric based on Psalm 135 that was an exuberant ode to God’s might. My first draft was folk rock. I let it simmer for a while. When I came back to it, I knew I wanted to keep the syncopated phrase “i KNOW the LORD is GREAT,” but now I was feeling it in more of a pop gospel style.

As it developed, it became more and more complex until, quite frankly, I doubt it could be sung by a congregation. But maybe someday, some kind gospel choir will adopt this as their own.

1. Praise the name of the Lord;
every servant, sing out!
You who serve in his house,
in the courts of our God:
praise the Lord, our God is good;
sing unending praise.
We’re the people that God chose by name.

I know the Lord is great!
I know the Lord is great!
I know the Lord is great,
above all gods.

From sky to sea, he reigns!
From sky to sea, he reigns
above all gods.
I know the Lord is great
above all gods.

2. Where God’s people were bound,
he brought wonders and signs.
Casting kings from their thrones,
showing nations his might.
God’s renown and mighty name,
sing til end of days.
Those he loves, he pardons and he saves. (Chorus)

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Psalm 44: For Your Mercy’s Sake (with T.L. Moody)

Update: Sheet music for this song is now available at gregscheer.com.

It is always a pleasure to work with a text by T.L. (Tammy) Moody. She has a knack for finding fresh ways to express herself, or in this case, express a Psalm: “Our faith is not strung on our bows,” “fear, do not our garment be,” “for your sweet mercy’s sake” are all vivid phrases expressing the anguished cry for help of the original Psalm: “Awake, O Lord!”

I tried something different on this song. Since the text is full of unresolved questions, distress, and fear, I begin the song away from the home key and on a melody note that doesn’t exactly fit. This gives the music an unsettled feel that matches the text. In fact, the music doesn’t resolve until the chorus–and even then it’s evasive.

1. For we have heard, Lord, with our ears,
the ancient stories told;
how you once crushed fierce enemies
and saved us from our foes.

God, why have you now cast us off
to wander in this place,
where dragons wing in darkening skies
and bitter nights await?

With your right hand, come swiftly, Lord,
and lift us from our shame.
Then will we boast not in our might,
but ever praise your name.

2. As sheep, we are now led away
unto the slaught’ring floor.
Confused we fall before you, God,
confounded to our core.

Our faith is not strung on our bows,
nor trust we in our swords;
your name alone our only hope,
our King, our conquering Lord. (Chorus)

3. Awake! Why do you sleep, O Lord?
Come quickly to our aid!
O, fear, do not our garment be,
nor death our parched soul’s shade.

Come rub the sleep out of your eyes
and in your power, wake.
Arise, O Lord, and be our help
for your sweet mercy’s sake. (Chorus)

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Psalm 77: We Will Remember (with Travis Ham)

Update: Sheet music for this song is now available at gregscheer.com.

Psalm 77 is an interesting case study in lament. It begins like many lament Psalms: “I cried out to God for help.” It wistfully remembers the good old days, then asks the pivotal question of the Psalm: “Will the Lord reject us forever?” After a series of complaint questions, the Psalm turns again to remembering the good old days, but this time as a form of consolation: “I will remember the deeds of the Lord…the miracles…I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.” The Psalm ends by recalling how God parted the Red Sea so the Israelites could walk through on dry ground.

Lyricist Travis Ham, with whom I collaborated on this song, took the Psalm’s remembering one step further by recalling Christ’s work on the cross. Because Christ suffered for us, died, and was resurrected, we can endure our hardships, questions, and doubts.

I sometimes have reservations about “christianizing” Psalms, but Travis has done a skillful job of extending the Psalm’s message to include all God’s people singing it in 2022.

1. We lift our voices to the Lord
in these troubled days,
through these weary nights.
Though rest evades our fainting hearts,
when we cannot speak,
still, he hears our sighs:

Will the Lord reject us forever?
Has rage replaced his grace?
Has the Rock of Ages changed?

We will remember your wonders and your deeds,
how your mighty hand of power has set your people free.
And still you’re moving, and still you will redeem.
So we praise you, God so faithful, we praise you.

2. Your Spirit moved across the sea:
water bowed its head,
thunder roared in fright.
And then your hand moved once again
and the waves pulled back,
freedom’s path was dry!

For your care will last forever
and your power never fades–
you are always strong to save. (Chorus)

3. You lifted Christ upon the cross,
but that darkest day
has become our light.
His path from death to life is ours
and we walk by faith
until hope is sight.

Yes, your love endures forever
and your grace will never fade.
Faithful God, You never change. (Chorus)

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