This Month's Featured Posts

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.

Choral

Psalm 42

The opening phrase of Psalm 42, “Just as the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for You, my God!” has inspired countless musical settings over the centuries. This vivid imagery invites flowing melodies, expressing the anonymous Psalmist’s longing, sorrow, joy, and peace. Because of its watery association, I’ve paired the anonymous American folk tune Shenandoah with my poetic adaptation of the Psalm, carefully painting each strophe.

The Unison setting works very well with Congregational singers, as the piano accompaniment strongly supports the melody line in a comfortable range. The piano provides a steady, flowing accompaniment in both the SSA and SATB settings. In the SSA version, I’ve also used the traditional English folk tuneWaly,Waly, and interwoven a Flute [C instrument] part throughout, echoing both theWaly,Waly and Shenandoah melodies.


Just as the deer longs for the water,
So my soul, it yearns for Thee!
I thirst for You, my living water,
to satisfy my deepest need, fill my very being. 

My tears have washed my soul in sorrow,
Still I hope in God my Savior!
In darkest night His song is with me,
A quiet peace flows in my soul, carries all my troubles.

I’ll sing God’s praise among His people,
With glad shouts sing sweet hosannas!
Rememb’ring all His help and comfort,
His love so sure and strong, fills my ev’ry longing.
 
[SSA withWaly,Waly tune]
Just as the deer for water longs,
So yearns my soul to drink of Thee!
I thirst for You, O come and fill
and satisfy my deepest need.

Choral

All Through the Night, The Lord’s My Shepherd

Commissioned by Seattle Children’s Chorus for their 20th Anniversary Concert in Seattle’s Benaroya Hall, this tender, reassuring medley of All through the Night and The Lord’s My Shepherd (Crimond) is arranged for unison and SA choirs.

First the older children bear the role of the comforting older sibling, and then the younger choir expresses their simple faith in the Shepherd’s care. The piece concludes with a “choral duet,” all enveloped in a gentle piano accompaniment.

Sleep, my child, and peace attend thee
all through the night.
Guardian angels God will send thee
all through the night.
Soft the drowsy hours are creeping,
hill and vale in slumber steeping;
I, my loved one, watch am keeping
all through the night.

The Lord’s my shepherd, I’ll not want.
He makes me down to lie
in pastures green, he leadeth me
the quiet waters by.

Goodness and mercy all my life
shall surely follow me,
and in God’s house forevermore
my dwelling place shall be.

God is here, I’ll not be lonely
all through the night.
Guarding, guiding, loving only,
all through the night.
Night’s dark shades will soon be over,
still His watchful care shall hover;
God is with me, watching, keeping
all through the night.

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

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…