Pilgrim Psalms: Deliver Me (Psalm 120)

I’ve embarked on a new journey: writing songs on all 15 Songs of Ascents (Psalms 120-134).

A number of elements came together to set me on this journey. First, as I’ve watched protests against police brutality unfold across the country, I’ve lamented the loss of the protest song. Marches in the 60s drew from a deep well of music that united people’s voices: Negro Spirituals, Black Gospel, and the folk songs of Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan. Marchers without a song are just a crowd.

At the same time I was contemplating the types of music that might be sung by a moving crowd, I began rereading Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, a wonderful companion to the Songs of Ascents. Psalms 120-134 accompany modern readers on our spiritual journey, but for faithful Jews the songs accompanied their physical journey. They sang these 15 songs as they journeyed to Jerusalem to worship. I decided that each of my Pilgrim Psalms should be singable by a group, without sheet music. So these are simple songs that rely on repetition, call and response, rounds, and other techniques that folk music and work songs have used for centuries to allow common people to take part.

The first song is “Deliver Me,” based on Psalm 120. As Peterson points out, it’s a song of discontent–a discontent that urges us to leave the warring and lies of our native land to set off for the city of God. It is the Pilgrim Psalm that sets us on our pilgrimage.

Too long I’ve lived, surrounded
by those who love to war.
Deception is their native tongue.
This will never be my home.

This will never be my home.
I’ll be a pilgrim seeking peace.
Give me rest, O Lord, at my journey’s end.
Oh, deliver me. Lord, deliver me.

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The Kingdom of Heaven

Recently, as I prepared for a service focusing on “The Sermon on the Mount” I discovered that my go-to Beatitudes song had been taken out of circulation by the publisher. “Certainly,” I thought, “the world needs a singable version of the Beatitudes!”

My new version, “The Kingdom of Heaven,” is written in a familiar liturgical folk style. (Familiar, that is, if you sing a lot of Marty Haugen, Michael Joncas, and Dan Schutte.) I aimed for simplicity: the verses are nearly verbatim from Matthew 5:3-12 and the chorus is very singable. Of course, there are a few Scheer twists thrown in. Your congregation will learn it in no time.

After listening to the demo above feel free to download the piano accompaniment or a free leadsheet at my website: https://gregscheer.com/product/the-kingdom-of-heaven/.

1. Blessed are the humble of spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the ones who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Let them rejoice in God!

For the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.
For the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.

2. Blessed are the gentle of heart,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are the ones who hunger and thirst for God,
they will be satisfied. [CHORUS]

3. Blessed are the ones who show mercy,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see their God.
Let them rejoice in God! [CHORUS]

4. Blessed are the ones who seek peace,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are the ones who suffer for doing good.
Let them rejoice in God! [CHORUS]

5. Blessed are the ones who are cursed–
cursed for the cause of their God.
Rejoice and be glad, you saints, for your reward is great.
Let us rejoice in God! [CHORUS]

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Coffee Talking

What the world needs right now is another song about coffee.

This song idea has been floating around forever in my head and little scraps of paper. It started as only a phrase: “It’s just the coffee talking.” Then last year I decided it would be funny for the words of a song about coffee to get faster and more incoherent as the song progressed. A few months ago I came up with the scenario of a man who’s painfully shy around his love interest until he’s fully caffeinated. (Kind of like Brad Paisley’s “Alcohol,” but for coffee shop nerds.) This week I tied up all the loose ends and present to you “Coffee Talking.”

1. When I see you,
what can I do?

2. When I see that you are near me,
my mouth goes dry, I stare at my feet.

Caffeine’s what I need.
It’ll be my black bolt of courage
In my time of need.
With my head full of steam,
next time I see you walking
It’ll be the coffee talking in me.

3. Suddenly I’m not so scared, I’m optimistically preparing.
(It’s just the coffee talking.)
I’m filled with confidence, you say to me, “Nice day,” and I say, “Very!”
(It’s just the coffee talking.)
Well, I’m on a roll, try something new: I pat your dog, say “He’s so cute.”
(It’s just the coffee talking.)
Seems to work, I turn to you, I pat your head and say, “You are cute, too!”
(It’s just the coffee talking.)

CHORUS

4. Euphoria is filling me just like I hoped it would
and I have never felt so good and I have never been so free.
(It’s just the coffee talking.)
My mouth has taken on a mind that’s all its own, my tongue’s untied,
My lungs fill up with air for good or ill I start to speak:
(It’s just the coffee talking.)
“Hey, would you go out with me? I think about it all the time—
but not like that—I hope I didn’t come across as sounding super creepy.
(It’s just the coffee talking.)
But I could see the two of us fall head and heels in love and get
engaged and married, make some babies, maybe start with dinner and a movie.”
(It’s just the coffee talking.)

CHORUS

Hey, I’m sorry. (It was just the coffee talking.)
Please don’t worry. (It was just the coffee talking.)
That’s not like me. (It was just the coffee talking.)
It’s just the coffee. (It was just the coffee talking.)

CHORUS

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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!

11:15am 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.)

11:30am I think, “Frankly, there just aren’t a lot of great Palm Sunday hymns”

11:35am 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.”

11:45am 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?


Tumblr

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.

Posted in Church, Congregational Songs, Demos | 2 Comments

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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