This Month's Featured Posts

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.

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.

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

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

It is Well ~ Nimrod

This piece was commissioned in memoriam by the family of Homero Capetillo, a wonderful gentleman and founding teacher in a Spanish-immersion school for 30 years. After considering several of his musical “favorites” I decided to weave Edward Elgar’s beloved “Nimrod” with Horatio Spafford’s treasured hymn, “It is Well with My Soul.” Spafford’s deep faith in the face of multiple personal losses inspired his poem of calm assurance, set to music by the hymnist Philip Bliss in 1875.

Twenty-five years later, Edward Elgar wrote 14 variations on his “Enigma” theme, each one immortalizing a dear friend. “Nimrod” refers to the music editor Augustus J. Jaeger, whose name means “hunter” in German. Elgar playfully chose the biblical name “Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the Lord” for this friend’s variation. This sumptuous adagio movement commemorates an occasion when Elgar had been very depressed and was about to give it all up and write no more music. Jaeger visited him and encouraged him to continue composing. He referred to Ludwig van Beethoven, who had a lot of worries, but wrote more and more beautiful music. “And that is what you must do,” Jaeger said, and he sang the theme of the second movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8 Pathétique. Elgar disclosed that the opening bars of “Nimrod” were made to suggest that theme, saying, “Can’t you hear it at the beginning? Only a hint, not a quotation.”

I found great pleasure in creating this lilting variation of a variation, born of layers of inspiration and encouragement, all in the service of the expression of a deep faith and appreciation for beauty shared by Homero Capetillo.

When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Esta bien con mi alma.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control:
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed his own blood for my soul!
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Esta bien con mi alma.

And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trumpet shall sound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Esta bien con mi alma.