Psalm 37: An Antiphonal Acrostic

A number of months ago, my mom mentioned that Psalm 37 is one of her favorite scriptures, so I thought I’d set it to music. Little did I realize what an undertaking it would turn out to be! 

You see, Psalm 37 is an acrostic with 22 four-line poems based on each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. What’s more, it is a wisdom Psalm on the theme of good things happening to wicked people. This is not the stuff of Chris Tomlin hits, but since I’m committed to setting all 150 Psalms to music I decided to roll up my sleeves and get to work.

What I composed is 22 “songlets,” each starting with a letter of the English alphabet (through V, the 22nd letter). Each of these songlets is 8 measures long; the second 4 measures of each songlet can be sung together with the first 4 measures of the next songlet, creating a musical chain of 22 links.

At this point, either your eyes are glazing over or you’re completely nerding out with scripture-song ecstasy! If you’re in the first category, just take a listen to the demo above. It will start to make sense as you hear it. If you’re in the latter category, take a look at either the musical score or the lyrics side-by-side with the NIV scripture text. You’ll find those at my main website.

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O God, Our Help, We Bless Your Name

Last week I was working on a service about Exodus 18 where Moses receives instruction from his father-in-law Jethro about governing the people of Israel. As you can imagine, there were not as many song resources for this story as there are on manna and crossing the Red Sea!

But I did find a hymn by Philip Doddridge that was in the ballpark. Though Doddridge actually based his hymn on the Ebenezer stones of 1 Samuel 7:12, it covered similar themes of relying on God’s help amidst overwhelming tasks.

I gave Doddridge’s text a substantial rewrite (you can read the original here) and wrote a brand new tune*. I like the Americana feel of this melody. It feels like it comes from the pages of Southern Harmony, even though the demo makes it sound like Pure Prairie League. But mostly I like that it’s a journey song, reminding us that the seemingly insurmountable obstacles we see ahead of us will become occasions for praising God in the future.

A leadsheet and piano accompaniment can be downloaded here: https://gregscheer.com/product/o-god-our-help-we-bless-your-name/

Philip Doddridge (1702-1751)

1. O God, our help, we bless your name,
whose love is constant all our days.
Whose many gifts and gracious care
begin, and crown, and close the year.

2. Ten thousand trials may line our path,
but you will guide with loving hand.
When we look back along our way:
ten thousand monuments of praise!

3. Thus far your arm has led us on;
thus far you’ve made your mercy known;
And while we tread this desert land,
new mercies shall new songs demand.

4. And when we stand on Jordan’s shore,
our thankful souls shall sing once more;
then journey on to courts above–
eternal tributes of your love.

*Actually, I wrote three new tunes and let my Facebook friends choose their favorite. This is one of the perks (or liabilities) of being my friend. Here are versions A, B, and C.

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Staying Home

An ode to sheltering in place during pandemics. Performed by Greg, Simon, and Theo Scheer.

Want to play along? (You know you do!) Download the chordsheet here: http://musicblog.gregscheer.com/wp-content/uploads/staying_home.pdf

1. You can kiss anyone that you want to kiss,
Lick anyone that you want to lick.
You can visit anyone that you really miss,
But me, I’m staying home.

You can go anywhere you want to go
You can shake some hands and stand real close
You can hug everybody that you’ve ever known
But me, I’m staying home.

I’m staying home
You could go out, but I don’t advise it.
I’m staying home.
Me, I’m staying home.

I’m staying home,
The best way to fight a virus
Is staying home.
Me, I’m staying home. (We/Everybody must )

2. You can fight the law, you can fight the man
You can go to the bathroom and not wash your hands
You can touch your eyeballs again and again
And that’s why I’m staying home.

You can be just as stupid as you want to be
You can claim it’s all a conspiracy
But if you die don’t you come crying to me
Cause I am staying home.

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Hosanna in the Highest! (UNIQUE CROWN)

Sometimes you just have to go with an idea. Here’s what that looked like for me today:

The color-coordinated Covid-ready worship leader!

10:15am The church organist and I had a brief conversation about tunes for “Ride On! Ride On in Majesty!” We both agreed that none was quite right and that’s why the text appears with so many different tunes. (For the record, our church is live-streaming–not meeting in person–and I wore a mask and practiced proper social distancing.)

10:30am I think, “Frankly, there just aren’t a lot of great Palm Sunday hymns”

10:35am I muse, “I should write one,” which was followed quickly by, “I’ve had a note in my compositional to-do list to write new music for my text “Hosanna in the Highest!” which was originally paired with the Jewish folk tune “The King of Glory Comes.”

10:45am Sit down at the piano and start writing. Hmm, this is kind of working: echoes of “Hosanna, Loud Hosanna,” a rousing chorus with narrative verses (perfect for palm processions), a lyrical progression that moves toward Jerusalem. This could be something.

12:00pm Eat a banana and grapefruit to tide me over.

12:15pm Enter the music in Finale and begin laying down tracks in Logic Pro.

3:00pm Do I really play trombone so little that my lips turn to water playing four parts of a hymn? I’ve got no more to give.

3:30pm Epic bike ride with my boys.

And so, my friends, I present to you my quickly written and recorded Palm Sunday hymn, exactly 12 hours too late to be of any use to anyone until next year. I may still do a little editing on it, but I’d be glad to supply music to those who ask nicely.

One final note: I’ve named the hymn tune “UNIQUE CROWN.” Can anyone guess why?


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Hosanna in the highest!
Hail the One who saves us!
O blessed is the One who brings
the kingdom of David.

1. Who is the King of kings? The Lord God Almighty.
God’s reign is coming; it is on the horizon. (Refrain)

2. Who, then, may enter in? The One who is holy.
Open the gates for the procession of glory. (Refrain)

3. Who is this King who greets his people so meekly?
Riding a donkey past the crowds as they’re cheering. (Refrain)

4. This is the day the Lord has made, lift your voices.
Hail him who saves! Hail him with palms and rejoicing. (Refrain
)

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Jesus, You Are Here

In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “shelter in place” order took effect at midnight, March 24, 2020, in the hopes of slowing the spread of the coronavirus. When I woke this morning, I considered how quickly the world changes. People all over Michigan–all over the world–are finding themselves confined to their homes. Maybe they’re dreading the silence. Maybe they can’t imagine getting through a whole day with all their children at home. Maybe they’ll lie awake at night worrying about their loved ones getting sick.

This simple song, dubbed “a hymn for sheltering in place” reminds us that Jesus walks with us during these times.

The YouTube video was recorded with my sons the day I wrote the song. In the MP3 above I get the melody right! If you want to download a leadsheet or piano arrangement, go here: https://gregscheer.com/product/jesus-you-are-here/

On my longest day,
in my darkest night,
Jesus, please be near.
On my longest day,
in my darkest night,
Jesus, you are here.

You are with me,
you are with me
every hour of every day.
You are with me,
you are with me,
Jesus, you are here.
Jesus, you are here.

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CHARMING FOURTH

I don’t enter hymn contests as obsessively as I used to, but when I do, I usually lose. My entry into the Eastman School of Music’s hymn tune contest battled with 131 other contestants and fell to fellow Grand Rapids composer, Larry Visser.

My tune is called CHARMING FOURTH, because I wrote and rejected three other tunes; they say the third time’s the charm, but I was hoping for an exception to that rule. The tune went with a text called “Out of Silence, Music Rises” by Carl Daw. It’s really lovely and I hope he reads this blog post, falls in love with my tune, and declares me the unofficial winner. I’d like that.

If you’d like to play through the tune at the keyboard, you can get it here: PDF.

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T. L. Moody: Will Rise in Spring

Another collaboration with Tammy Moody. Like many of her songs, this one features vivid images of nature. In this, she takes us through the seasons, ultimately connecting spring’s budding new life to our hope of resurrection in Christ.

Besides writing wonderful lyrics, Tammy is also a professional photographer. She took this photo of the yellow boat. (You can read about the meaning of the boat in the previous post.)

1. Spent blossoms fall and then are swept away.
Light lingers late, as longer grows the day.
Sweet May’s near done, as are the cooler eves;
as spring wanes, the summer comes with plums and leaves.

2. Green shoot unfurls to welcome sun’s embrace;
so, turn my heart and bask in warming grace.
Join, too, my voice with larks in ceaseless praise,
and join stream, join meadow where the young lambs graze.

3. Crisp fall’s red leaves are fading now to brown;
Soon, skiffs of snow will kiss the sleeping ground.
Through brittle winds the breath of winter brings
and I pray what lies in earth will rise in spring.

4. I praise the One who paints the sunsets’ hues.
I praise the One who tints the lilac blue.
I join my voice with song creation sings:
For in Christ, what lies in earth will rise in spring.

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T. L. Moody: Hands Come Gleaning.

Tammy Moody wrote the lyrics for this new song. I love the way she ties together images of harvesting the land, social justice, and the Lord’s Supper. The more connections we can make between what we do in worship and in the world, the better.

Tammy also took the picture of a boat. Why a boat, you ask? As we discussed the relationship between words and music, she told me about someone who said lyrics are like a boat: they need music like a boat needs water; once the two come together, their journey. begins.

1. O give us eyes to see them,
forgotten bits of grain
discarded in the harvest
as chaff upon the plain

O let our hands come gleaning
the lonely little ones,
so precious in your eyes, Lord,
it’s you who bid them, “Come”

We gather them to you, Lord,
to celebrate your feast
For such as these, your children,
O let our love increase.

2. O give us ears to hear them,
faint, pleading, hungry cries
from outcast souls and beggars
before we hurry by

O let us go to seek them
until the last is found
and mercy’s hands not tiring
‘til all their wounds are bound

We gather them to you, Lord,
to celebrate your feast
For both the babe and beggar,
O, let our love increase.

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It Is Finished!

The 7th and final song of The Seven Last Words series is “It is finished.” (John 19:30). These were the final words Christ uttered as he died. It is important to note that the word he used is not one that means “That’s it–I’m done” but a word of completion. His work complete, he gave himself to death.

The crux of Christianity (pun intended) is Christ’s work on the cross. Let’s rest entirely on Christ for our salvation and life.

There is nothing we can do
to add to what you’ve done.
The sacrifice, complete–
the fullness of God’s love.

“It is finished!” “It is finished!”
were our Lord’s last words of pain.
“It is finished!” “It is finished!”
will forever be our theme.
In Christ we are redeemed.

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I Trust My Soul to You

This is #6 of The Seven Last Words, in which Jesus says, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46) In the drama of the crucifixion, these words meant, “I’m ready to die.” But there is another layer of meaning, for Jesus and for us: Jesus committed himself–trusted his whole being–to God’s care. That should be our posture, too, both in our living and our dying.

To you, O Lord, I trust my soul.
I trust my soul to you.

My Refuge, with my last breath
I will call to you.
My Savior with my last breath
I will worship you.

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