Psalm 9/10: Rise Up, O Lord!

Update: Sheet music for this song is now available at gregscheer.com.

Collaborator Naaman Wood was in the middle of grading midterms and wasn’t able to get me a final version of Psalm 9/10 until February 27–the day before my FAWM deadline. While taking a walk that evening I began singing some ideas for a melody into my phone. Seven phone recordings later, I had the song mostly fleshed out. I sat down at the piano the next morning and finalized the song, wrote a piano accompaniment, and finished the recording 24 hours after seeing the text. Oh, the nail-biting life of a composer!

Though the verse melody is fairly straightforward, there are lots of harmonic twists and turns in the harmonies underneath it. This feels to me a lot like life: we may put on a good front, but there may be knots in our stomach and a prayer of anguish in our heads.

And thus ends my FAWM 2022 song project: 12 Psalm songs, based on 13 Psalms, with 16 total songs for the month. I’m tired. I will sleep during March.

1. The Lord is near to those who carry sorrow–
a shelter during troubled times.
He will remember all their cries and longings,
and will not give their hope away.

Rise up, rise up, rise up, O Lord!
Rise up, rise up, rise up, O Lord!


2. Where is our hope? How can we bear this sorrow?
Why do you hide in troubled times?
Have you forgotten to hear our cries and longings?
O, do not turn your face away! (Chorus)

3. On me, O Lord, O Son of God have mercy.
See how I suffer from wicked schemes.
They drag me down and devour me like lions.
I lay upon the gates of death. (Chorus)

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Psalm 62: Only God Can Save Me Now

Update: Sheet music for this song is now available at gregscheer.com.

Psalm 62 famously begins with the words, “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him.” The Psalmist goes on to describe the many difficulties experienced in life–those who are attacking or extorting money–always coming back to the refrain, “My soul finds rest in God alone.” Scottish lyricist, Doug Gay, has given these words an introspective feel in his setting of the Psalm. They could almost be sung by a victim of abuse, crying to God for help. That’s the thing about the Psalms: they give words to things we may have not experienced, which may make us feel like we don’t need them–until we do.

I kept the introspective, plaintive mood with music that is simple and child-like. I especially like how the chorus and verses slide into each other–there is no traditional cadence, but common tones in the melody make it feel completely natural.

Only God can save us now.
We wait in silence here.
For only God can keep us safe
on days we shake with fear.


1. I’m battered, broken, beaten down
and ready to give way.
So tired of all their shameless lies;
No trust in what they say. (Chorus)

2. We trust in God to set us free
from all our guilt and shame.
To God our refuge and our rock
we bring our hurt and pain. (Chorus)

3. The God who is both power and love
is judge of all the earth.
Don’t trust in what will pass away;
don’t sell your soul for wealth. (Chorus)

Only God can save us now.
We wait in silence here.

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Psalm 18: I Love You, God My Lord (with Adam Carlill)

Update: Sheet music for this song is now available at gregscheer.com.

I’ve co-written with Adam Carlill three times previously. What I love about his Psalms for the Common Era is that the texts scan so well. “Scanning” is how well a text follows its own patterns of meter and syllabic stress. Hymn text writers often write with a slow tune in mind, which tends to flatten stress patterns somewhat. When these texts are put to a faster or more rhythmic tune, they start to unravel. Adam’s texts hold up well with the pressure of rhythm and speed. It makes them really easy to work with as a tune writer.

Less easy is Psalm 18. The first difficulty is that it is very long. As committed as I am to singing the Psalms, I can’t imagine a congregation trying to sing the whole of Psalm 18, even though Adam has packed it into a mere 20 verses. This is approaching the epic proportions of “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”!

The second difficulty is the Psalm’s content. It starts with praise for God’s strength and a plea for help. Then it moves into the “God’s taking names and is coming down to bust some heads” portion of the Psalm. After a brief sidestep into an overly flattering assessment of the Psalmist’s own piety, the Psalm turns back to God’s strength–this time in the form of the strength God gives the Psalmist, who can now leap like a deer without twisting his ankle and is now ready to take names and bust some heads himself. It ends with more praise for the victory God will give.

For the recording, I chose six verses that I felt represented the overall Psalm well. Those who want to delve into the more difficult areas of the Psalm can sing all 20 verses or study the Psalm with a good Bible commentary in hand. I should also note that I added a short refrain to Adam’s text. It felt like the song needed something to break up all those verses. I could imagine a leader singing a few verses at a time and then handing it over to the congregation to sing the refrain.

1. I love you, God my Lord,
my stronghold and my rock,
my refuge, my eternal ward
and sturdy lock.
my ancient keep and wall,
my fortress and retreat;
I praise and call you, Lord of all,
my victory seat.

O Lord, my God,
my refuge strong,
protect me from all those
who’d do me wrong.

(For the rest of the lyrics, see Adam Carlill’s Psalms for the Common Era.)

Posted in 2022 Psalm Collaborations, Church, Congregational Songs, FAWM 2022, Psalms | 1 Comment

Psalm 135: I Know the Lord Is Great! (with Hunter Lynch)

Update: Sheet music for this song is now available at gregscheer.com.

Almost exactly one year ago, Hunter Lynch and I released our first song together. Now we’re back at it with something very different. Hunter sent me a lyric based on Psalm 135 that was an exuberant ode to God’s might. My first draft was folk rock. I let it simmer for a while. When I came back to it, I knew I wanted to keep the syncopated phrase “i KNOW the LORD is GREAT,” but now I was feeling it in more of a pop gospel style.

As it developed, it became more and more complex until, quite frankly, I doubt it could be sung by a congregation. But maybe someday, some kind gospel choir will adopt this as their own.

1. Praise the name of the Lord;
every servant, sing out!
You who serve in his house,
in the courts of our God:
praise the Lord, our God is good;
sing unending praise.
We’re the people that God chose by name.

I know the Lord is great!
I know the Lord is great!
I know the Lord is great,
above all gods.

From sky to sea, he reigns!
From sky to sea, he reigns
above all gods.
I know the Lord is great
above all gods.

2. Where God’s people were bound,
he brought wonders and signs.
Casting kings from their thrones,
showing nations his might.
God’s renown and mighty name,
sing til end of days.
Those he loves, he pardons and he saves. (Chorus)

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Psalm 44: For Your Mercy’s Sake (with T.L. Moody)

Update: Sheet music for this song is now available at gregscheer.com.

It is always a pleasure to work with a text by T.L. (Tammy) Moody. She has a knack for finding fresh ways to express herself, or in this case, express a Psalm: “Our faith is not strung on our bows,” “fear, do not our garment be,” “for your sweet mercy’s sake” are all vivid phrases expressing the anguished cry for help of the original Psalm: “Awake, O Lord!”

I tried something different on this song. Since the text is full of unresolved questions, distress, and fear, I begin the song away from the home key and on a melody note that doesn’t exactly fit. This gives the music an unsettled feel that matches the text. In fact, the music doesn’t resolve until the chorus–and even then it’s evasive.

1. For we have heard, Lord, with our ears,
the ancient stories told;
how you once crushed fierce enemies
and saved us from our foes.

God, why have you now cast us off
to wander in this place,
where dragons wing in darkening skies
and bitter nights await?

With your right hand, come swiftly, Lord,
and lift us from our shame.
Then will we boast not in our might,
but ever praise your name.

2. As sheep, we are now led away
unto the slaught’ring floor.
Confused we fall before you, God,
confounded to our core.

Our faith is not strung on our bows,
nor trust we in our swords;
your name alone our only hope,
our King, our conquering Lord. (Chorus)

3. Awake! Why do you sleep, O Lord?
Come quickly to our aid!
O, fear, do not our garment be,
nor death our parched soul’s shade.

Come rub the sleep out of your eyes
and in your power, wake.
Arise, O Lord, and be our help
for your sweet mercy’s sake. (Chorus)

Posted in 2022 Psalm Collaborations, Church, Congregational Songs, Demos, FAWM 2022, Psalms | 3 Comments

Psalm 77: We Will Remember (with Travis Ham)

Update: Sheet music for this song is now available at gregscheer.com.

Psalm 77 is an interesting case study in lament. It begins like many lament Psalms: “I cried out to God for help.” It wistfully remembers the good old days, then asks the pivotal question of the Psalm: “Will the Lord reject us forever?” After a series of complaint questions, the Psalm turns again to remembering the good old days, but this time as a form of consolation: “I will remember the deeds of the Lord…the miracles…I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.” The Psalm ends by recalling how God parted the Red Sea so the Israelites could walk through on dry ground.

Lyricist Travis Ham, with whom I collaborated on this song, took the Psalm’s remembering one step further by recalling Christ’s work on the cross. Because Christ suffered for us, died, and was resurrected, we can endure our hardships, questions, and doubts.

I sometimes have reservations about “christianizing” Psalms, but Travis has done a skillful job of extending the Psalm’s message to include all God’s people singing it in 2022.

1. We lift our voices to the Lord
in these troubled days,
through these weary nights.
Though rest evades our fainting hearts,
when we cannot speak,
still, he hears our sighs:

Will the Lord reject us forever?
Has rage replaced his grace?
Has the Rock of Ages changed?

We will remember your wonders and your deeds,
how your mighty hand of power has set your people free.
And still you’re moving, and still you will redeem.
So we praise you, God so faithful, we praise you.

2. Your Spirit moved across the sea:
water bowed its head,
thunder roared in fright.
And then your hand moved once again
and the waves pulled back,
freedom’s path was dry!

For your care will last forever
and your power never fades–
you are always strong to save. (Chorus)

3. You lifted Christ upon the cross,
but that darkest day
has become our light.
His path from death to life is ours
and we walk by faith
until hope is sight.

Yes, your love endures forever
and your grace will never fade.
Faithful God, You never change. (Chorus)

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Psalm 146: Praise the Lord!

Update: Sheet music for this song is now available at gregscheer.com.

My fourteen Psalm extravaganza continues with a new text by Charles Freeman. Charles chose Psalm 146, an exuberant Psalm of trust and praise. When I sat down at the piano, I immediately heard Black Gospel. I wanted this song to sit comfortably between Andraé Crouch’s “Bless the Lord” and James Moore’s “Taste and See.”

One of the things that has been different about this month’s collaborations is that I’ve had to communicate my vision for a song while it’s still in the draft stage. Whereas my workflow is ordinarily scribble, revise, ruminate, refine, notate, record, and edit notation, this time I often need to let the text writers hear the direction I’m taking the music so they can make adjustments to the lyrics. My piano playing is atrocious, but I’ve still tried to play and sing the rough drafts. So far all my collaborators have been gracious, assuring me that my piano playing could be worse. I will spare you those recordings, but I thought you might be interested to see what my musical chicken scratch looks like. Below is the first draft of “Praise the Lord!”

Praise the Lord!
O my soul, praise the Lord!
O my soul, praise the Lord!
I will sing praises to God my whole life long.
Praise the Lord!

1. Put no trust in mortals,
you’ll find no help there.
Breath departs, laid in earth,
and all their plans just disappear.
Seek the God of Jacob,
hope in God your Lord.
The One who made the heavens and the earth
is faithful evermore,
is faithful evermore,
our God is faithful evermore! Refrain

2. God is bringing justice,
feeds the hungry, too;
and God sets prisoners free–
behold and see what God will do!
God restores our vision,
lifts the broken high;
and with the ones who live in righteousness,
the Lord will abide,
the Lord will abide,
with the righteous will the Lord abide. Refrain

3. God cares for the stranger,
hears the orphan’s call;
widows find a faithful friend
in God, who is the Lord of all.
Our Lord reigns forever,
Zion’s God on high;
now let the praise, the praise of our Lord
forever be our cry,
forever be our cry,
God’s praise forever be our cry! Refrain

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Psalm 7: Arise!

Update: Sheet music for this song is now available at gregscheer.com.

When I host songwriting workshops, I often advise writers to choose a hymn they like, write new music for the text, then write a new text for the new tune. Voila! An entirely new song! This is a great way of priming the songwriting pump.

I followed my own advice on this song. I found Isaac Watts’ setting of Psalm 7, “My Trust Is in My Heav’nly Friend” at hymnary.org. It is a good text, but I couldn’t see myself singing “Tho’ leagu’d in guile their malice spread, / A snare before my way: / Their mischiefs on their impious head, / His vengeance shall repay.” So I set to work re-tuning and re-texting his hymn.

It must be said that Psalm 7 is not an easy sell. It is, as Watts described it, about “God’s care of his people and punishment of persecutors.” The Psalmist makes some pretty explicit suggestions about how God might bring vengeance on enemies. But it is also full of vivid language like “save me or they will tear me like a lion” and “he who is pregnant with evil and conceives trouble gives birth to disillusionment.” So, while this is unlikely to be my big hit, I think my Psalm 7 song does a good job of letting the text speak. Or as I like to say: This is not the best song you’ve ever heard, but it’s probably the best Psalm 7 song you’ve ever heard.

1. My only hope is in the Lord;
I refuge in my God.
God save me from those hunting me
like lions seeking blood.

If I had brought this on myself
I would not call your name,
but I’ve done nothing to deserve
their anger or my shame.

Arise! Arise! Arise, O Lord!
Arise! Arise! Arise, O Lord!

2. Arise, O Lord, and stay their hand
or I will be undone;
for only you can judge the heart
and keep me safe from harm.

My strong defender is my God;
my Savior is the Lord
who judges every human heart
and wields a righteous sword.

Arise! Arise! Arise, O Lord!
Arise! Arise! Arise, O Lord!

3. Their ripened rage gives birth to wind,
for God has changed their plans.
They find themselves ensnared in traps
that they themselves have set.

But I give thanks to my good God,
whose righteousness prevails.
I sing the praises of my Lord,
whose love will never fail.

Arise! Arise! Arise, O Lord!
Arise! Arise! Arise, O Lord!

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Hey You!

With ten more Psalms to go in as many days, you would think I would have my nose to the grindstone. I do. But I also can’t resist chasing a rabbit trail or two. In this case, the rabbit trail is a new jazz tune we tried out last night at Euro Bistro.

Earlier in the week, I was drinking my afternoon coffee when this little opening lick popped into my head. Pretty soon I was spinning it out into different pitches and keys until it became this delightfully twisty little song that would be at home surrounded by jazz standards like “Have You Met Miss Jones.” Indeed, Euro Bistro patrons didn’t seem to think anything was amiss when we snuck this new tune in one of our sets.

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Psalm 23: God Is Our Shepherd (with Michael Morgan)

Update: Sheet music for this song is now available at gregscheer.com.

It’s hard to believe I’ve never written a song based on Psalm 23. (Unless you count this and this.) Perhaps I felt it was such low-hanging fruit that I moved on to other Psalms, or maybe there are so many beautiful Psalm 23 songs that I felt I didn’t have anything to add.

In any case, FAWM 2022 and a beautiful text by Michael Morgan were the push I needed to write my own setting. And while I don’t expect it will ever displace “The King of Love My Shepherd Is” in anyone’s heart, I’m still pleased with how mine came out. It is simple, using a pentatonic scale in the melody and unadorned harmonies. This serves Michael’s modest, beautiful text well.

1. God is our shepherd, so faithful and sure,
whose care and affection forever endure;
boundless in giving, God meets every need:
streams to refresh us, and pastures to feed.

2. Lord, your great spirit our souls will restore;
your vow is to ransom, and ours to adore.
Paths of contentment, vales of despair,
we will not waver – salvation is here!

3. Fed at your table, and warmed by your face;
blest with sweet oil and redeemed by your grace;
goodness and mercy are ours for always;
heaven is filled with rejoicing and praise!

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