I’ve been a fan of M.C. Escher for a long time. One of the things that fascinates me about his art is how he meticulously worked out his tesselations on graph paper before incorporating them into a finished print. These “proof of concept” sketches were a necessary step in creating his mind-boggling works of art.
In the same way, I’ve had a number of Escheresque musical ideas that have been simmering on the back burner for some time. Yesterday, I was able to record a quick demo–a draft that would allow me to figure out some of the logistics for a later piece. In the end, it didn’t work. So be it. That’s how one learns.
Can anyone guess the musical concept I was trying to implement?
Last year I attended a songwriting retreat that focused on writing Christmas songs for too often overlooked themes. Great writers like Liz Vice, Matt Papa, Eddie Espinosa, and Latifah Alattas applied their skills to theological ideas like the union of heaven and earth in the person of Christ and the dark side of the Christmas story such as the slaughter of the innocents and the flight to Egypt.
It was at this retreat that I wrote “Jesus, Be Enough.” In the year since, I’ve wondered what this song wants to be when it grows up. Now, just in time for Christmas, it has decided that it would like to be a choral anthem! Above, you can listen to a rough demo I recorded at choir rehearsal this evening. To download it for your choir you can visit my website: https://gregscheer.com/product/jesus-be-enough/.
It was my great pleasure to work with Liz Vic, Wen Reagan, Bruce Benedict, and Lester Ruth to write this song, “Away in A Manger.” Most Christmas songs are all sweetness, with the baby Jesus sleeping contentedly, “no crying he makes.” This song turns that idyllic picture on its head, revealing the drama and stress of a real family with a real baby who was the target of jealous politician’s wrath, forcing them to flee “away from the manger” to the safety of Egypt. Liz does a wonderful job on this new recording, just in time for Christmas.
Singing Scheer Psalms in Indonesia translation is certainly a niche interest. Nonetheless, I wanted to make this video available for all the people who might be interested. Both of you…
I’m making self-deprecating jokes, but this was a really wonderful evening. The GKY Manggabesar is a singing congregation. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my friend (and GKY pastor) Lucky Samuel had already taught many of these songs to his congregation. What a gift to hear them singing songs I had written half a world away in their own language!
I was privileged to receive a commission from Baylor University to compose a piece on the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem, “Binsey Poplars.”
The poem is an ode to Hopkins’ once-favorite, now-felled trees, but it is also a meditation on the environment and the ways humans interact with it. Ultimately, it is a poem of loss and grief.
The premiere took place at Baylor’s Armstrong Browning Library on September 20, 2019, with Karen Hogue, soprano, the Ensemble from First United Methodist, Weatherford, and Carlos Colón on the piano.
You know you can email me to peruse the score, right?
My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled, Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun, All felled, felled, are all felled; Of a fresh and following folded rank Not spared, not one That dandled a sandalled Shadow that swam or sank On meadow & river & wind-wandering weed-winding bank.
O if we but knew what we do When we delve or hew — Hack and rack the growing green! Since country is so tender To touch, her being só slender, That, like this sleek and seeing ball But a prick will make no eye at all, Where we, even where we mean To mend her we end her, When we hew or delve: After-comers cannot guess the beauty been. Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve Strokes of havoc unselve The sweet especial scene, Rural scene, a rural scene, Sweet especial rural scene.
I was commissioned by Calvin College to arrange Wendell Kimbrough’s fabulous song “Rejoice in All Your Works (Psalm 104)” for their 2018 graduation ceremony. The song is arranged for choir, wind ensemble, praise band, and 5,000 singers.
It was a lot of notes. (Which means a lot of work and a lot of time.) But it was worth it to hear the Van Noord arena reverberate with the sound of praise coming from joyful graduates and their grateful families.
An octavo of the choral anthem (with more modest instrumental forces) will be published by GIA in the coming year.
The sermon at Fuller this week comes from the story of Moses’ birth and adoption by Pharoah’s daughter (Exodus 2:1-10), exploring Moses as a foreshadowing of Christ. As I looked for appropriate songs to sing, I came across a once-popular hymn by William Hammond called, “Awake and Sing the Song.” This hymnic rabbit trail led to the original 1745 publication of Hammond’s poem that featured no less than 14 verses! The rabbit trail continued to Revelation 15:2-4 in which the harp-wielding saints sing the “song of God’s servant Moses and of the Lamb.” Pure worship planning gold.
Naturally, I felt the need to write a new tune for it–it’s who I am. I knew the text called for a tune as rough as a sea chanty, as epic as a murder ballad, and as joyously raucous as a shape-note hymn. What I came up with is a pentatonic melody that is equal parts “What Wondrous Love” and “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner.” I’m quite pleased with it. (And that’s not always the case after singing a dozen takes of a new melody while recording a demo.) I was also pleased that I was able to work in my favorite phrase from the original hymn, “we, his miracles of grace.”
The one remaining question: does it need a chorus? Musically, it feels complete without it, but thematically we are being called to sing the song of Moses and the Lamb, but we never do. The actual song appears in Rev 15:3-4:
“Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the nations. Who will not fear you, Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”
I have a chorus drafted. If enough people request it, I’ll add it.
This Sunday at Fuller Ave, Nate was preaching from 2 Corinthians 13:11: “Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice!” The service was all about joy, so we decided the praise set should be a rambunctious Sunday School Singalong.
On a long bike ride the day before the service I got to singing a little ditty inspired by NRBQ’s “Down in My Heart.” Nothing deep, just a tune full of joy. I was enjoying it so much that I stopped on the side of the road and sang it into my cellphone just in case I forgot it!
The next day I introduced it to the congregation. It fit beautifully alongside “This Is the Day,” “Rejoice in the Lord Always,” and “I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy (Down in My Heart).”