When Church of the Servant began its series on the Psalms of Ascents, I did some investigating to see which of these Psalms (120-134) could be used in a Psalm-based liturgy. It appeared to me that Psalm 134, with its calling and blessing sections, were a natural fit for the liturgy. Indeed, we ended up using this Psalm as offertory and benediction throughout the series, in a metrical version by Arlo Duba, with the OLD HUNDRETH tune arranged by Eelco Vos. But I had originally planned to switch halfway to a setting of the Psalm I first wrote during the summer.
The problem was that my setting was half-baked. It had some good ideas, but just wasnt clicking. In fact, when I was at The Singing Church planning meeting in September we read through the song. The reception was tepid, whereas the group seemed to really like my Psalm 103 setting, “From the Dust.” (That, by the way, is why I try out not-quite-ready-for-primetime songs on occasions like this: it’s bad for my reputation, but gives me just the kind of feedback I need.)
Finally, it was do or die time. Jack was preaching on Psalm 134 on Thanksgiving morning, and I needed to decide whether to get my draft into fighting form or just give up on it entirely. (The Psalm is not in the lectionary, so this was likely to be my only chance to use it.)
I got to work: I cut a whole bridge-like section that provided a ramp up into the chorus but which also proved tacky and tedious; the double chorus became a single chorus with a tagged phrase; I trimmed the interlude back into a more manageable turn-around. The parts I cut were all good ideas, but they were getting in the way of the song. By the time I was done, I had edited it from three pages down to two, and it was now a reasonably good, get-to-the-point-but-don’t-wear-out-your-welcome song.
The key to great art, I always like to say, is what you leave out. I wouldn’t claim that this new song is great art, but it certainly took a step in a good direction when I gave it a rigorous editorial pruning.