I was commissioned by Calvin College to arrange Wendell Kimbrough’s fabulous song “Rejoice in All Your Works (Psalm 104)” for their 2018 graduation ceremony. The song is arranged for choir, wind ensemble, praise band, and 5,000 singers.
It was a lot of notes. (Which means a lot of work and a lot of time.) But it was worth it to hear the Van Noord arena reverberate with the sound of praise coming from joyful graduates and their grateful families.
An octavo of the choral anthem (with more modest instrumental forces) will be published by GIA in the coming year.
The sermon at Fuller this week comes from the story of Moses’ birth and adoption by Pharoah’s daughter (Exodus 2:1-10), exploring Moses as a foreshadowing of Christ. As I looked for appropriate songs to sing, I came across a once-popular hymn by William Hammond called, “Awake and Sing the Song.” This hymnic rabbit trail led to the original 1745 publication of Hammond’s poem that featured no less than 14 verses! The rabbit trail continued to Revelation 15:2-4 in which the harp-wielding saints sing the “song of God’s servant Moses and of the Lamb.” Pure worship planning gold.
Naturally, I felt the need to write a new tune for it–it’s who I am. I knew the text called for a tune as rough as a sea chanty, as epic as a murder ballad, and as joyously raucous as a shape-note hymn. What I came up with is a pentatonic melody that is equal parts “What Wondrous Love” and “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner.” I’m quite pleased with it. (And that’s not always the case after singing a dozen takes of a new melody while recording a demo.) I was also pleased that I was able to work in my favorite phrase from the original hymn, “we, his miracles of grace.”
The one remaining question: does it need a chorus? Musically, it feels complete without it, but thematically we are being called to sing the song of Moses and the Lamb, but we never do. The actual song appears in Rev 15:3-4:
“Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the nations. Who will not fear you, Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”
I have a chorus drafted. If enough people request it, I’ll add it.
This Sunday at Fuller Ave, Nate was preaching from 2 Corinthians 13:11: “Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice!” The service was all about joy, so we decided the praise set should be a rambunctious Sunday School Singalong.
On a long bike ride the day before the service I got to singing a little ditty inspired by NRBQ’s “Down in My Heart.” Nothing deep, just a tune full of joy. I was enjoying it so much that I stopped on the side of the road and sang it into my cellphone just in case I forgot it!
The next day I introduced it to the congregation. It fit beautifully alongside “This Is the Day,” “Rejoice in the Lord Always,” and “I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy (Down in My Heart).”
As you may know, one of my latest projects is the St. Sinner Orchestra. We’ve recorded an album, So Far from Home, and have two more in the works. One of the songs slated for the upcoming album, Synonyms for Goodbye, is “The Year of My Fall.” St. Sinner has been playing this regularly at our shows, and it’s one of our favorites. Above is a rehearsal recording. If you want to hear it live, come to Fuller Ave Church’s Neighborhood Nights tomorrow (8/6/19 @ 6pm) to hear St. Sinner perform it live.
1. I was born too soon. It was all brand new. I’ve had to make it up as I go. But I found my way and I found my place and I found some joy in it all.
I was born again; don’t know exactly when, but I know my heart was strangely warmed. Lived a life of grace— at least it felt that way— But then the whole damn thing came crashing down to the ground.
Did Satan ask the Lord to sift my soul? Take everything away from me, like Job? I’m not one to question God, but I liked how things were before… the year of my fall. The year of my fall.
2. I remember how I thought I had it all. Maybe I did, but now I’ll never know. Lightning struck me twice, Then it became my life. Who I was before, I can barely recall.
Cradling my head in empty hands; the facts are clear, but I still don’t understand how I had so much, but somehow managed to lose it all… in the year of my fall. The year of my fall.
3. In a twist of fate, I would die too late to be spared the pain of it all. I do what I can with the days I have and try not to dwell on what’s lost.
Where the river runs nobody knows. The current sweeps us on in its blind force. There’s no going back; there’s only hope I’ll survive at all… the year of my fall. The year of my fall.
Does fate or grace or karma guide me now? Or is it just dumb luck and nothing more? I’m praying for some mercy in the years that lie beyond. I’m pleading for some mercy in the years that lie beyond. I’m begging for some mercy in the years that lie beyond… the year of my fall. the year of my fall.
Fuller Ave CRC is in the middle of a sermon series called “Love Your Neighbor.” What better hymn could be sung than Adam Tice’s “The Church of Christ Cannot Be Bound”?:
The church of Christ cannot be bound by walls of wood or stone. Where charity and love are found– there can the church be known.
It is sung to a variety of tunes. My favorite is the rousing MCKEE (In Christ There Is No East or West). But since the sermon series runs for ten weeks Pastor Nate and I decided to use a different tune each week.
Enter my new tune, BRIDESMAID.* Though I rocked it out in the above demo, it was conceived as a simple folk song in the tradition of 60s protest songs like “The Times They Are A Changin” or “If I Had a Hammer.” Send me an email if you want the leadsheet. I’ll check with Adam to see if it’s alright to distribute.
*Why BRIDESMAID, you wonder? This is actually the second tune I’ve written for this text. I decided to retire the first. “Always the bridesmaid and never the bride.” And with that, I shall get cleaned up for Matt and Larissa’s wedding, where I’m sure both bride and bridesmaid will be perfect!
As my country–and many others–discuss the growing number of refugees, it’s important to remember that the Bible has much to say on the subject. Ruth, Israel, and Jesus were all refugees. The Old Testament continually reminds Israel to be kind to foreigners, because they were once refugees. The New Testament focuses more on our adoption by God, though we were once strangers.
Psalm 114 tells of the miracle of God rescuing Israel from Egypt and turning them into the living sanctuary of God. My hope is that singing stories like Psalm 114 will help us frame our current conversations more biblically. Here are all the resources you need for this musical version of Psalm 114.
The Choral Scholars sing a quick demo: MP3 The leadsheet: PDF The piano accompaniment: email me A related song, Tremble Before the Lord: demo, sleep deprivation remix Lyrics:
When God delivered Israel from Egypt’s tyranny, the sanctuary of the Lord was built from refugees. We, too, are weary wanderers, just pilgrims on our way. And God still builds a temple from the bricks of human faith.
The hills and mountains tremble, the rivers stand in awe, for in this pilgrim people is the presence of the Lord.
2. O sea, why do you shrink away, receding at his voice? O hills why do you spring to life to dance and sing for joy? We all rejoice at God’s good works, like mountains, hills and seas, and celebrate each heart renewed, each slave and prisoner freed. (refrain)
3. The presence of the Lord, it shakes the earth with joy and fear. The waters flood where rocks once stood and fresh new springs appear. The presence of the Lord still shakes all kingdoms of this globe, and living water still flows out from God’s celestial throne. (refrain)
This spring, I had the great good fortune to compose a new piece for the Calvin Community Symphony’s 25th-anniversary concert. Below are the program notes:
It may seem obvious—even unimaginative—to name a piece commissioned for a 25th anniversary concert “25.” What is perhaps less obvious is that the composition is in a 25/8 meter*.
One 8th note per year is not only a fitting starting place for a 25th anniversary piece, but it continues my long term exploration of rhythm. My compositions often draw on the rhythmic vitality of African, Celtic, Pop, and Minimalist music. In “25” you can hear the uneven rhythms of Eastern Europe folk music, Medieval dances, or even the Genevan Psalter.
If you listen carefully, you will also hear echoes of Ravel’s “Boléro.” Instead of Ravel’s famous snare drum rhythm, “25” begins with brushed snare, immediately announcing its connection to dance rhythms of our day, especially jazz. On top of the brushed snare, a series of solo instruments enter one at a time—flute, clarinet, etc—the beginning of a wedge that grows in volume, intensity, and range throughout the whole composition. Speaking of intensity, the piannisimo brushed snare rhythm morphs and grows throughout the piece, making a brash recapitulation at the drum set near the end.
Heartfelt thanks are due Maestro Varineau and the musicians of the Calvin Community Symphony for the love they’ve shown this new composition. Thank you for making me part of your 25th anniversary!
*Technically, the piece is in a consistent four-measure pattern: 6/8+7/8+6/8+3/4. I’m nerdy enough to take on the challenge of composing in an odd meter, but not stupid enough to make the musicians read a 25/8 time signature!
From this blog, you may get the impression that my compositional life has been dormant. On the contrary! I have been so busy composing new music that I haven’t had time to document my musical activities here. Over the next few days, I will try to catch up on the backlog of recordings that have never quite made it to my blog.
One of the tests of a congregational song is whether it can thrive outside its original context. In the church where a song is written, the people may be emotionally attached to the song because they know the writer, or they may have extra help learning the song. When a song is sung at a new church, it is just a song. That’s when you find out if it “has legs.” It sounds to me like this new song worked pretty well at COS. Maybe it has a future!