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.

Vocal Solo

I’d Rather Have Jesus

When asked to develop music for an endowment dinner, this old song immediately came to mind. It represents the perfected priorities of a well-lived life (here arranged for mezzo-soprano Cynthia Dean).

Long before its composer, George Beverly Shea, became the world-famous baritone soloist for the evangelistic Billy Graham Crusade, he wrote “I’d Rather Have Jesus,” in response to his mother’s influence. She had left Rhea F. Miller’s 1922 poem on their piano, hoping that her son would read it, and he did. The words moved George, and spoke to him of his own aims and ambitions. He sat down at the piano and began singing the poem to a tune that seemed to fit the words, and the next day sang it in church. Though George had been offered a popular music career with NBC, a few years later he chose to become associated with Billy Graham and sang this song to millions of people around the world.

 

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;

I’d rather be His than have riches untold;

I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands.

I’d rather be led by His nail pierced hand…

 

Than to be the king of a vast domain

or be held in sin’s dread sway.

I’d rather have Jesus than anything

this world affords today.

 

I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause;

I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;

I’d rather have Jesus than worldwide fame,

I’d rather be true to His holy name.

 

He is fairer than lilies of rarest bloom;

He is sweeter than honey from out the comb;

He is all that my hungering spirit needs.

I would rather have Jesus and let Him lead…

 

Than to be the king of a vast domain

or be held in sin’s dread sway.

I’d rather have Jesus than anything

this world affords today.

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

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

A Small Suite

Little Talk
Spiders
Snail’s Pace
Butterfly Wings

Since my first introduction to the prize-winning poetry of Aileen Fisher as a young mother, I have been a very vocal fan of her whimsical word crafting for children. While searching for fresh material to provide winsome lyrics for the younger kids of Seattle Children’s Chorus, I stumbled upon these four poems in “Always Wondering,” a collection of “Some Favorite Poems.” I quickly and joyfully got to work creating A Small Suite. Kris Mason, Artistic Director, conducted the premiere, and soon after, Alliance Music Publications, Inc. became its publisher, bringing the music and the poetry that I loved into many lives. Each piece stands alone, but they are designed as an integral seamless whole, musically and thematically.

“Little Talk”
Don’t you think it’s probable
that beetles, bugs, and bees
talk about a lot of things–
you know, such [things] as these:

The kind of weather where they live
in jungles tall with grass,
and earthquakes in their villages
whenever people pass.

Of course, we’ll never know if bugs
talk very much at all–
because our ears are far too big
for talk that is so small.
———-
“Spiders”
Spiders are so sort-of-thin,
whatever do they keep it in–
the yards of thread they need to spin?
———-
“Snail’s Pace”
Maybe it’s so
that snails are slow:
they trudge along and tarry.

But isn’t it true
you’d slow up, too,
if you had a house to carry?
———-
“Butterfly Wings”
How would it be
on a day in June
to open your eyes
in a dark cocoon,

And soften one end
and crawl outside,
and find you had wings
to open wide,

And find you could fly
to a bush or tree
or float on the air
like a boat at sea…

How would it BE?

by Aileen Fisher