This Month's Featured Posts

Choral

Celtic Winds

Commissioned by Seattle Children’s Chorus for their 20th Anniversary Concert in Seattle’s Benaroya Hall, this dramatic arrangement of The Skye Boat Song and The Wind that Shakes the Barley expresses a fervent Celtic longing for freedom, depicting great courage in the face of oppression.

Loud the winds howl!
Loud the waves roar!
Thunderclouds rend the air!
Baffled our foes, stand on the shore,
Follow, they will not dare!

Speed, bonny boat, like a bird on the wing,
“On-ward” the sailors cry!
Carry the lad that’s born to be king
Over the sea to Skye.

Though the waves leap,
Soft shall ye sleep,
Ocean’s a royal bed.
Rocked in the deep, we shall all keep
watch by your weary head.

The beloved Skye Boat Song tells of the romantic figure Bonnie Prince Charlie, disguised as a serving maid, escaping in a small boat to the Isle of Skye after the defeat of his Jacobite (Scottish and Irish) uprising in 1745. The Wind that Shakes the Barley, an old Irish rebel song from the 1798 rebellion, tells a more tragic tale. A young man meets with his true love amid the barley, and while agonizing over leaving her for love of his country, a foe’s bullet ends her life, thus deciding his fate– he must fight.

The integrating musical motif which unites the songs is the sweeping motion of the wind in the barley, and the wind on the sea, depicted in the sound of the voices and in the flute, played by Maya Lewis. This setting is derived from the original arrangement for two flutes, recorded on the CD, Along with My Love I’ll Go.

Choral

Waiting Water

“Waiting water; still– ’til the stone falls so freely, sending circles into eternity…”

In Waiting Water, the endlessly expanding circles set in motion by the action of a single stone represent the enduring significance of each word and deed done in Jesus’ name. Through the image of ripples affecting the breathless face of the water, we see that God’s creation always awaits the activity of his Spirit. Our faithful actions participate in the movement of the waters of creation, “sending circles into eternity…”

Waiting Water begins with Jesus’ quotation of Isaiah’s ancient messianic prophecy, a prophecy that Jesus fulfilled in his ministry to the poor, the hungry, the sick, the blind, and the oppressed. He also gave special attention to little children, ones who “belong” to the Kingdom of Heaven. This Kingdom, eternal life prepared “from the foundation of the world,” awaits all who faithfully follow in Jesus’ steps. The piece concludes with an image of God’s creative desire from Genesis 1:2 – “The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the water.”

In contemporary film, moments of great intensity are very often accompanied by choral music. “Waiting Water” provides a “sound track” for the expectant excitement of these intensely significant words.

[Luke 4; Isaiah 61]
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim
release to the captives,
and recov’ry of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor!

~~~
Waiting water, still—
’til the stone falls so freely,
sending circles into eternity…

~~~
[Matthew 19]
Let the little children come to me,
and do not hinder them;
for to such belongs the Kingdom of Heaven.

~~~
Waiting water, still—
’til the stone falls so freely,
sending circles into eternity…

~~~
[Matthew 25]
I was hungry and you gave me food;
thirsty and you gave me drink;
I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
I was naked and you clothed me,
sick and you cared for me.
I was in prison and you visited me.

~~~
Waiting water, still—
’til the stone falls so freely,
sending circles into eternity…

~~~
[Matthew 25]
Just as you did it for one
of the least of my family,
you did it unto me.
Come, you that are blessed by my father.
Inherit the Kingdom prepared for you
from the foundation of the world.

~~~
Waiting water, still—
’til the stone falls so freely,
sending circles into eternity…

~~~
[Genesis 1]
The Spirit of the Lord
moved upon the face of the water…

Choral

I Surrender All

When references to the lyrics of this song became a recurrent theme in Dr. Scott Dudley’s sermon series at Bellevue Presbyterian, I composed this fervent gospel version for the congregation to sing with the choir. At times drums, trombones, and brass band have joined the piano accompaniment, as it has been rendered by the choir, ensembles, and soloists in many different contexts.

The inspiration for Judson Van DeVenter’s text was quite personal:
“For some time, I had struggled between developing my talents in the field of art and going into full-time evangelistic work. At last the pivotal hour of my life came, and I surrendered all. A new day was ushered into my life. I became an evangelist and discovered down deep in my soul a talent hitherto unknown to me. God had hidden a song in my heart, and touching a tender chord, he caused me to sing.” His colleague in ministry, Winfield S. Weeden, set his powerful poem to music, and it became the most enduringly popular of all the hymns they composed during their fruitful ministry together.

All to Jesus I surrender,
All to him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust him,
In his presence daily live.

Refrain:
I surrender all, I surrender all,
All to thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.

All to Jesus I surrender,
Humbly at his feet I bow,
Worldly pleasures all forsaken,
Take me, Jesus, take me now.

All to Jesus I surrender,
Lord, I give myself to thee,
Fill me with thy love and power,
Let thy blessing fall on me!

Choral

An Invocation: Blessed Jesus, at Your Word

When I meet Johann Rudolph Ahle (1625-1673) in heaven, I hope he will have forgiven me for finding his melody for “Blessed Jesus, at Your Word” wanting, possessing all the melodic charm of a doughty, dreary, doorbell chime. If you have loved this hymn, perhaps you will find my innovation unnecessary. But this is a hymn I had always avoided– until one day when I stumbled upon it in an old hymnal and read the fervent, impassioned words penned in 1663 by Saxony Pastor Tobias Clausnitzer (1619-1684). I believe that the 1671 marriage to Ahle’s melody was one of convenience, as his tune had already been attached to several other texts before. In 1885 Clausnitzer’s poem was brought to brilliant light for all English-speaking Christians by the gifted Catherine Winkworth, the foremost 19th-century translator of German hymns:

Blessed Jesus, at your word
we are gathered all to hear you.
Let our hearts and souls be stirred
now to seek and love and fear you.
By your gospel pure and holy,
teach us, Lord, to love you solely.

All our knowledge, sense, and sight
lie in deepest darkness shrouded,
till your Spirit breaks our night
with your beams of truth unclouded.
You alone to God can win us;
you must work all good within us.

Glorious Lord, yourself impart;
Light of Light, from God proceeding,
open lips and ears and heart;
help us by your Spirit’s leading.
Hear the cry your church now raises;
Lord, accept our prayers and praises.

In this SATB setting I have reiterated “Blessed Jesus, at your word, we are gathered all to hear you,” at the end of each verse. Spare handbells evoke a stillness, a centered call to worship.

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!