This Month's Featured Posts

Choral

Counting Song

As an inveterate counter of stairs, hours, and virtually any sort of object, I’m transported by the idea of the impossibility of quantifying the seemingly infinite elements of God’s creation. No matter how advanced a young person’s conceptions of arithmetic or mathematics, the ultimate largeness of the Creator calls us all to wonder!

How many leaves cling to the trees?
How many trees stand on the hill?
How many hills roll on and on?
Counting them all, I’m counting still…

How many raindrops fall from the clouds?
How many clouds fill up the sky, where
How many stars shine on and on?
Counting them all, I’d count so high…

Chorus (repeats)
But our God is bigger than the highest number,
He has counted ev’ry cloud and tree;
He knows ev’rything, for He has made it.
He cares for ev’rything, including me…

How many feathers cover the wings of
How many birds that fly and bring
How many songs to our Heavenly King?
Maker of all, His praise we sing!

Inspired by my association with Seattle Children’s Chorus, this SA arrangement was first performed during a Thanksgiving Day Service at Bellevue Presbyterian by their youth choir, Bel Canto, with a flute part beautifully interpreted by Maya Lewis.

Choral

Home

The text for “Home” directly quotes some of Jesus’ last words given to his disciples. One morning, as I was reading Chapter 14 of John’s Gospel, I was struck by the beautiful symmetry of Jesus’ message, and decided to set it to music in a way that would highlight its form, after that of a poetic palindrome (a framework proceeding and receding symmetrically from a mid-point). Marvelous, hopeful, intimate words of reassurance and union surround a simple, stark central teaching: “If you love me, keep my commandments.” The piece begins and ends with the concluding verse of David’s Psalm 23.

“… and I will dwell in the house of the Lord…”

Don’t be troubled,
Don’t be afraid,
Have faith in God,
Have faith in me.

I am making a home for you.
I, myself, will bring you there to be with me.

I am the way (home), I am the truth, I am your life.
~~~
If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
~~~
I am the way (home), I am the truth, I am your life.

I will ask the Father to send a Helper, to be in you, to show you truth.
We will come to you, and make our home in you forever.

You are not an orphan,
You are not alone,
You have my peace,
I am your home.

“… and I will dwell in the house of the Lord, forever…”

The ultimate message is that, through the agency of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, God’s desire is that his home be in us, as we are at home in him… union on earth and in heaven!

Vocal Solo

Along With My Love I’ll Go

While collecting traditional Celtic tunes for an album of flute duets with piano, I described the experience as wandering into a candy store of endless delights– my task being to enrobe each select sweet center in creative chocolate! And when I discovered this winsome Irish melody, it became the title song of the CD Along With My Love I’ll Go . I added words to the melody for tenor Ross Hauck when he recorded the album Where We Long to Be . They reflect my long love of all things nautical, the romance of the sea. The accompanying video features Ross with flutist Maya Lewis.

Blow ye winds, westerlies, come hasten;
fill the sails, drive us through the sea…
to a land far away and olden,
to the place where we long to be.

Rolling waves may thunder ’round us,
fears relentless pound us,
yet we shall see, come the night,
countless stars in heaven
guiding on over the sea.

Choral

Eden of Love

The mother lode of early American hymnody may be found in the Sacred Harp tradition, where I first encountered this transcendent song. The last few decades have brought a revival of interest in and performance of its “shaped note music,” born of 19th-century “Singing Schools” where communities would learn to read music via a strict pedagogy, using shaped noteheads. Performance practice requires the singers to assemble their chairs in rows in four vocal sections, all facing the center, where a conductor may (or may not) lead. The tenor line generally has the melody, and all the parts are rendered with vigor, beginning with a run-through solely in solfege!

Although some urban choral groups earnestly attempt imitation of this style, I often find their raucous simulation in an out-of-context performance setting a bit of a caricature (as can happen with any unfamiliar style).

This arrangement of The Eden of Love (anon.) was developed for four professional soloists in a house concert setting, and their style walks somewhere between bel canto and folk singing. The piece works well for any combination or quantity of voices, as tutti parts may sing the solo lines, or alternate with soloists.

The use of the drone (North Indian tanpura, in this case) provides a scrim, suggesting the parallel ethereal world of heaven. I know of no other hymn text that attempts to paint heaven with such vivid sublimity. What a joy to sing, “I’ll bathe in the ocean of pleasure unbounded” in a sacred song!

How sweet to reflect on those joys that await me
In yon blissful region, the haven of rest,
Where glorified spirits with welcome shall greet me
And lead me to mansions prepared for the blest;

Encircled in light, and with glory enshrouded,
My happiness perfect, my mind’s sky unclouded,
I’ll bathe in the ocean of pleasure unbounded
And range with delight thru’ the Eden of Love.

While angelic legions with harps tuned celestial
Harmoniously join in the concert of praise,
The saints, as they flock from the regions terrestrial,
In loud hallelujahs their voices will raise;

Then songs of the Lamb shall re-echo through heaven,
My soul will respond to Emmanuel be given.
All glory, all honor, all might and dominion,
Who brought us thru’ grace to the Eden of Love.

Choral

What a Friend

My task was simple– to select songs for a retreat on the topic of Jesus’ earthly emotional life.
Early on, the beloved 1855 hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” seemed an obvious choice, though the music felt dated. Then during a walk, this more contemporary melody with a Celtic lilt arrived, and later called for the plaintive, yet serene sound of the English horn (or alto sax).

This SATB version for choir and congregation includes interstitial choral bridges, connecting Joseph M. Scriven’s sweet and simple words to the biblical passages that inspired them.

“Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:14-16.

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.” Romans 8:26

“The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand.” Revelation 8:4

What a friend we have in Jesus!
All our sins and griefs to bear,
What a privilege to carry
ev’rything to God in prayer!

O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
ev’rything to God in prayer.

For He was tempted, He was tried;
Bore our sins as He died.

Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our ev’ry weakness;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

God’s Spirit sighs with us as we cry!
Our prayers as incense arise!

What a friend we have in Jesus!
All our sins and griefs to bear,
What a privilege to carry
ev’rything to God in prayer!

Soon in glory bright, unclouded,
There will be no need for prayer…
Rapture, praise, and endless worship
will be our sweet portion there.

What a friend we have in Jesus.