“People of the Lord” began it’s life in spring of 2006 when the CRCNA issued a call for songs to usher in its Sesquicentennial celebrations. I wrote a song for each of the three Psalms that shaped that event: “One Generation” (Psalm 145) got an honorable mention in that contest, and was recently included in Faith Alive’s Contemporary Songs for Worship. “Deeper than the Sea” (Psalm 36) was also included in Contemporary Songs for Worship and has recently been released as a choral anthem by GIA on their LeavenSong series (G-7309). “People of the Lord” (Psalm 78) was the runt of the litter. It’s easy to understand why it didn’t attract much attention: who wants to sing a Genevan-style metrical Psalm in 7/8 meter?
A year later a few friends tipped me off to a song contest that was being held by the Calvin09 organization. They were looking for a song fitting for Calvin’s 500th birthday. It needed to be something with a connection to Calvin’s worship practice that could be sung by modern reformed churches all over the world. I decided to dust off “People of the Lord” and give it one more chance. This time I added a keyboard accompaniment that gave a stronger backbone to the 7/8 rhythm.
I was shocked when I received an email telling me it had won the contest, and I continue to be amazed at the way the song is traveling throughout the world. It has been translated into a half dozen languages. I got an email from Argentina saying “This, we can sing!” A Dutch blogger has translated and promoted the hymn. It will be included in the worship journal of the Church of Scotland. I recently met a woman from Germany who told me her church had sung the song a week before, while a German man emailed some new musical settings of the text he had composed. This is the last song I would have expected to be my “big hit.”
Even though a hymn in 7/8 meter seems a bit esoteric, it is actually quite easy to sing. The rhythm remains consistent throughout, and the echo can be used as a way to teach the song quickly. The song can effectively be sung a cappella accompanied by light percussion (hand drum, tambourine, triangle) or with the keyboard accompaniment. I would jump at the opportunity to arrange it for woodwind quintet.
One of the things I worked the longest on was deciding what to call the hymn’s tune, and one of the things that didn’t occur to me at all until someone pointed it out is that I had just written a setting of Psalm 78 in 7/8 time. But that’s typical of life when you’re a composer–things take on a mysterious life of their own once they leave your pen.
Download the PDF of the song, check out the new organ-friendly version, listen to a recording of the COS choir singing it, or peruse a number of translations here.