The Nicene Creed

The World Council of Churches recently put out a call for musical settings of The Nicene Creed for their 2025 conference which will commemorate the 1700 years since the gathering at Nicea that produced this creed.

How could I say no?

I composed a setting of the Apostle’s Creed years ago but have never tackled the much longer Nicene Creed. Writing a song based on a text like this is daunting: there are no metrical patterns or rhymes to guide the music–just words.

I started by composing a very simple refrain of “We believe” to be sung before and after each section of the creed. This gives a congregation an easy way to engage the song right away. Each section–God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit–uses the verbatim text of the creed.

To shape this prose text into something singable I utilized lots of melodic sequences that are easy to follow even upon first hearing–this is no time for clever melodies with wide intervals! Music coherence is achieved by chains of harmonic progressions that give the music forward motion and repeated harmonies that give the ear some structure. Even though the setting is based on repetition and simplicity, I was able to throw in some interesting twists and turns that keep things fresh.

Who knows? Maybe this will be my big hit. I’m sure no one expected Malotte’s “Lord’s Prayer” would be so successful!

We believe in one God,
the Father, the almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is,
seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven;
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Posted in Choir, Church, Congregational Songs, Contests, Demos | Leave a comment

Psalm 41: Blessed Are the Weak

Unlike its neighbors, Psalm 40 (“I waited patiently”) and 42 (“As the deer”), Psalm 41 has no memorable catchphrases or popular songs based on it. But that doesn’t mean it should be ignored!

Psalm 41 is a prayer for healing. It seems even the Psalmist believes the illness is due to sin. The dire circumstances cause the Psalmist to pray fervently, trusting God to forgive and heal. Unfortunately, others use this as an opportunity to kick him while he’s down. You can almost feel the Schadenfreude as enemies wait for him to die, cheerfully gossiping and expecting even the Psalmist’s memory to vanish. Even his friends take part in the hate-mongering. Still the Psalmist trusts, announcing a miraculous restoration even on what appears to be a death bed.

My setting of the Psalm focuses on the weak: “Blessed are those who have regard for the weak; the Lord delivers them in times of trouble.” This strikes me as very similar to Jesus’ words in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” God has always sided with the poor, the weak, and the outsiders. Psalm 41 indicates that God will care for those who help the weak when they experience their own time of need.

1. Have mercy, O my God!
I’ve sinned, but you can heal.
My enemies encircle me
to watch me disappear.

Blessed are the weak,
and those who care for the weak.
God will care for them in their time of need.
God bless the weak.
God bless the weak.

2. I hear them whispering now:
“He earned this grave disease.
He’ll never rise from where he lies.”
And even friends agree.

3. But you, my one true friend–
you’ve heard and will restore.
You’ll raise me up in power and love
and keep me evermore.

Blessed be the One
who hears our deep lament.
Eternal, everlasting God:
Amen. Amen.

Posted in Church, Congregational Songs, Demos, Psalms | Leave a comment

Unboxing Video Music

As you may know, the St. Sinner Orchestra has a new CD coming out. As I contemplated ways we might promote it, I reluctantly considered an unboxing video. For those of you who have been sequestered in a cave without access to TikTok, an unboxing video is exactly what it sounds like: a video of someone opening a box. Usually, the box has a shiny new tech product inside, but sometimes the focus is on clothing, toys, or games.

As much as I loathe these totems to consumerism, I decided to play along. At St. Sinner’s CD release concert on July 27, I will not only unbox the new CDs in front of a live audience–I will sing a brand new unboxing theme song, accompanied by the orchestra.

“How does he do it?” You ask. “How does he turn the mundane into art?!” A better question might be why I do it… While you’re pondering that question, you might want to peruse the long line of odd songs I’ve written through the years.

Unboxing video,
unboxing video,
we’re gonna open a box!

Unboxing video,
unboxing video,
come on, let’s open a box!

Let’s open a box!

Posted in Quirky | Leave a comment

But I Do

I’m a huge fan of Chet Baker, especially when he sings or performs with orchestra. One of my favorites is a mopey ballad called “Everything Happens to Me,” written by Tom Adair and Matt Dennis. It hilariously bemoans the unrequited love of the unluckiest person in the world: “I’ve telegraphed and phoned / I sent an Airmail Special too / Your answer was ‘Goodbye’ / And there was even postage due.”

I pick up a little of that vibe in my new song, “But I Do.” It all started with a musical phrase that suggested the lyric, “You don’t, but I do.” From there I spun the tale of a melancholic pessimist who is either lying awake thinking about the latest catastrophe or anticipating the next one. The only solace for our hapless protagonist is that living a life of angst and disappointment is more interesting than the lives of those who are confident and content.

So get your mope on with “But I do”!

1. Do you have sleepless nights?
Well, I do.
Wake up still in a crisis?
Me, too!
After all these years, you’d think
that I would have learned.
But every day I seem to sink
from bad to worse.
Oh, aren’t you lying awake
like I do?
Maybe you don’t,
but I do.

2. Have you figured life out?
Well, not me.
You’re so sure of yourself,
well, we’ll see.
You exude such confidence,
such charm, and such poise.
You’ve got the brains and looks, for sure,
but you’re boring.
Maybe perfect’s a tad annoying.
But maybe that’s just me.

3. No one wallows in angst
like I do.
Morose or just being frank?
Well, you choose.
If I walk the sunny side
of the street it will rain.
I try to see the glass half full,
but empty’s winning.
You don’t wait for the next shoe·
to drop, too.
Well, you don’t, but I do.

Posted in Demos, Jazz, Quirky | Leave a comment

All for Love

Forever ago, Outside Pocket played a show for which Olivia Vargas was the opener. The week of, she posted a video of a new song she had written for the concert. I had hoped to surprise her with a companion tune–something that echoed the bluesy feel of her new song–but I just couldn’t bring things together in time for the show.

That draft has been sitting in my idea folder for months. After a few false starts, I finished the song today. I’m still not sure what to think about it: It’s instrumental, but not jazz in the traditional sense. I could hear it being performed by a jazz/blues sax player backed up by a gritty, groovin’ Soul/R&B rhythm section. But I didn’t have that at my disposal today, so I recorded the demo with electric guitar, Rhodes, nylon string guitar, bass, and programmed drums.

And yes, the opening riff is from Three Dog Nights’ “One Is the Loneliest Number.”

Posted in Demos, Jazz, Rock and/or Roll | Leave a comment

Psalm 63: You Are My God

I was surprised to discover I hadn’t set Psalm 63 to music yet. Perhaps I shied away because I thought the competition would be fierce for a Psalm like this; it is a Psalm full of beautiful sentiments that fairly beg to be sung:
“I thirst for you.”
“My whole being longs for you.”
“Your love is better than life.”
“I sing in the shadow of your wings.”

Interestingly, there are relatively few songs based on Psalm 63 given its popularity:
“Step by Step,” made famous by Rich Mullins
“O God, You Are My God Alone” by the Iona Community
“My Soul Is Thirsting” by Michael Joncas (my favorite)

As I sat down with the Psalm, I was immediately struck by its yearning tone. There is a strong sense of longing throughout. Too often, our faith is fueled by duty, guilt, or habit. It is refreshing to hear the Psalmist expressing faith in such a passionate way. I decided the best musical style to portray this passion would be jazz. Jazz has juicy chords and unresolved melody notes that make it a rich emotional palette. In fact, in the first 6 bars, the melody is made up almost entirely of notes that don’t match the chord. This creates a sense of longing that never quite resolves. I know this elusive quality will make the song hard for congregations to sing; it may be more appropriate sung by the music leaders only.

1. You, O God, you are my God.
With all my heart I’m seeking you.
My thirsty soul, it longs for you.

I have beheld your glory.
My life is filled with your love.
With every breath I am singing.
My hands, I am lifting.
I’ll never stop praising you.

2. For you, O God, you are my God.
Throughout the night I dwell on you.
And though I sleep, I dwell with you.

I shelter here in the shadows,
secure beneath your wing.
I cling to you for my safety
from all those who hate me.
I’ll never stop praising you.

3. For you, O God, you are my God.
With all I am, I rejoice in you.
O God, my joy is found in you.

Posted in Church, Congregational Songs, Demos, Jazz, Psalms | Leave a comment

Tuesday Was Behind You (w/ TL Moody)

This is the second “slice of life” song co-written with Tammy Moody. This time Tammy turned to Philippians 3:13 for her inspiration: “I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on…” One of the things I especially like about the lyrics are that you wouldn’t necessarily know the song was based on a scripture–it works on its own as a song about a down-on-her-luck woman who chooses to look forward in hope rather than backward with regret.

I was really excited to write the music for this one because I got to channel my inner Los Lobos. That is not an everyday request! It felt good to plug in my Strat and get out my tambourine to create a jangly roots rock recording.

1. glancing back,
you saw tuesday standin’ there
peering out the opened red door
on the right
empty candy wrapper held
cigarette-like, tight

turned around
only reminders you got
turned around
failure is followin’ you
turned around burnt out cinders
there is nothin’ left for you

2. glancing back,
you saw tuesday standin’ there
lips pursed thin and folding
in to the slightest smirk
dancing bony fingers
tap on your new plaid skirt

turned around
only reminders you got
turned around
failure is followin’ you
turned around burnt out cinders
there is nothin’ left for you

turn it down, this noise inside my head
tell me now is any of it true?
Lord, turn it down, down,
the noise inside my head,
shoutin’ there is nothing left for you.

3. glancing up ahead
and sunday’s standin’
there you look straight at chaos
stop starin’ at the ground
tune inside is hummin’ girl,
don’t look back now

in front of you
only reminders
in front of you
mercy is waitin’ you
in front of you God’s hot embers
there’s a fire lit inside of you

Posted in Demos, Rock and/or Roll | 3 Comments

Firefly (with TL Moody)

Tammy Moody and I have been collaborating for quite some time. Much of our past work has been on hymns, but recently she has begun to stretch into new areas. Her newer texts are still inspired by scripture, but instead of paraphrasing them, she distills them into images and slice-of-life vignettes.

In this song, she turns Mark 10:14 (…“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these”) into a scene in which a girl experiences the uninhibited joy of catching fireflies at night. I especially like the way here-and-now light of fireflies in her mayonnaise jar connects to the countless stars in the night sky.

When Tammy sent me the lyrics, she referenced The Wailin’ Jennys as the music style she heard in her head–simple, honest, beautiful folk music. I hope I captured a little of their inspiration like our song’s protagonist scooped up fireflies in her jar.

1. in her hand, a firefly
at her wiggly toes, a jar
mayonnaise jar that mama washed
to hold sparklers from the sky
tiny holes poked in its lid
so her treasure wouldn’t die
so her treasure wouldn’t die

2. little hands twist loose the top
sliding lightning storm inside
held it high above her head
spinning with a giggly bop
summer’s sticky night litup
face as sweet as soda pop
face as sweet as soda pop

3. skipping, rhyming free and wild
let the children come to me
wonder, joy jump double dutch
twirling, twirling all the while
every twinkling firefly
lights the stars in heaven’s smile
lights the stars in heaven’s smile

firefly lights the stars in heaven’s sky

Posted in Demos | 4 Comments

Psalm 31: In Your Shadow Is My Refuge

Psalm 31 has a place in Holy Week worship because Jesus quoted it from the cross: “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” Though verses 9-13 give a glimpse into the terror of the cross, much of the Psalm focuses on trust in God’s deliverance with images like refuge, fortress, trust, and (safe in your) dwelling. It ends with the admonition: “Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.” It is a great comfort to me to know that I can meditate and hope in the same scriptures that Jesus recited in his time of deepest distress.

I asked Kate Bluett to work with me on this Psalm and she wrote a lovely setting of the text. It captures not only the heart of the Psalm, but also the structure, from plea for help, to description of affliction, to final words of hope.

Kate had mentioned to me her surprise at how triumphal the Psalm is, given its place in the passion narrative. I assumed this triumph would manifest itself in a rousing, sturdy melody. Instead, I found myself writing a flowing, confident tune that is full of quiet courage.

1. In your shadow is my refuge–
let me not be put to shame.
In your righteousness, my shelter–
listen and make haste to save!
In your name, what joy to hear it,
all my trust, O guard and guide.
In your hands I place my spirit:
O God of truth, redeem my life!

2. I have not served gold or idols;
no, I place my trust in you.
You who see my pain and trials,
surely you will see me through.
Though my days wear out in sorrow,
though my years wind down in sighs,
still you hold all my tomorrows.
O God of truth, redeem my life!

3. See my brothers and my sisters
turn away from me in fear.
Every day I hear their whispers;
shame surrounds me everywhere.
Yet I trust in you forever–
yes, your light on me will shine.
They forget, but you remember:
O God of truth, redeem my life!

4. In your goodness to your children,
I sit down as to a feast.
In your presence I am hidden,
safe from all my enemies.
Though I said in fear and hurting,
I was cut off from your sight,
yet you heard me in your mercy:
The God of truth redeemed my life!

Posted in Church, Congregational Songs, Demos, Psalms | Leave a comment

Brush Your Teeth

On Thursday, I’ll lead an assembly called “Help Me Write a Jazz Song” at a local elementary school. I’ll tell them what a composer does and what it takes to write a song. Then I’ll tell them about my plan to release a jazz album for children named Just Kidding. I’ll play them a few songs I’ve already written, then enlist their help finding subjects they’d like to hear songs about. Finally, we’ll take one of their ideas and start writing a song.

illustration courtesy of

In preparation for Thursday, I’m feverishly finishing some song ideas that have been hanging around for far too long. Case in point: “Brush Your Teeth.” This delightful little ode to oral hygiene includes the word “gingivitis” and a melodica solo. Pretty much a slam dunk by any estimation.

1. Brush your teeth.
They are the only ones you’ve got.
Brush your teeth.
You think it’s hard, but it’s not.

You might think it hurts,
but dentures are far worse!
Brush your teeth, brush your teeth, brush your teeth.

2. Brush your teeth,
‘cause gingivitus is a drag.
Brush your teeth.
You need to listen to your mom and dad.

‘Cause, when you brush and floss
your mouth feels like a boss.
Brush your teeth, brush your teeth, brush your teeth.

Posted in Demos, Jazz, Quirky | 1 Comment