This addresses a topic I explored earlier in Who Decides What Is Beautiful?
All composers would love to have a full professional orchestra/ensemble/choir standing in anticipation of our latest work, and a very precious few have that luxury, but most of us have to either hunt for a group willing to play our music or, as for most church music, write for the group the Lord has placed at hand. Such is the case for a just completed project. At our church we have a string section consisting of players who have just started a year or two ago, one or two who make their living as musicians, and every experience level in between. Our orchestra director approached me recently to write something new that would be suitable for these folks: interesting for the advanced players while still being readily playable by the new students. The result is this arrangement of, “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.”
The hymn, “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” may have origins as far back as the 4th Century church, being long used both as a Christmas hymn and to focus worshippers on the mystery of the incarnation and the Eucharist. Thus, this piece is well-suited for Advent, Christmas, or any observance of communion. The tune, PICARDY, comes from a 1680 French song book.
This arrangement maintains the original melody in three contrasting settings bookended between rich sequences of tonal clusters. Solo violin makes the first statement of the melody in silvery harmonics over static chords. Lead violin and cello take the second statement in a contrapuntal fashion over homophonic harmonies. The third statement changes tempo and style to reflect the heavenly adoration of the Lamb portrayed in the text. Here the melody is taken by ensemble violins while solo violin adds countermelody and low strings provide a rhythmic pulse.
So, without further adieu, here is “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.” Sheet music is available at: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.
Tuba players get no respect. Relegated to oom-pah-pah’s and whole notes by most composers, a melodic line for a tuba is less common than a blue moon. And don’t even think about tuba solos! er, . . . unless you have to, that is. That’s just the situation I found myself in a few days ago! We are blessed to have a very talented and faithful tubist in our church orchestra who is one of our best musicians (is a tubist a musician or someone who floats down lazy rivers with completely inappropriate quantities of alcohol?). Anyway, just recently, I endeavored to find a solo tuba hymn arrangement for this person to play. How hard could it be, right? Well, when they don’t exist, they’re pretty hard to find! Having already stoked our tubist’s enthusiasm, I couldn’t very well go back and say, “Sorry, there’s just nothing available.” So, sort of like the old commercial tag line, “If you don’t have an oil well, get one!” I went out and wrote a new tuba solo. Fortunately, the whole process just took a few days. The first hymn to come to mind was the traditional spiritual, “Were You There?”, and
since it seemed to be the perfect vehicle for the deep, mellow tones of the tuba there was no need to search farther. Also, I wanted to do something a little out of the ordinary. So, I began to experiment with some polytonality (multiple keys at the same time) and the result seemed to fit perfectly with the ugliness and irony of the first stanza crucifixion setting. Next, I added on major and minor key settings of the succeeding stanzas and left the ending unresolved. That seemed to do it! I now have a solo tuba hymn arrangement and my tubist is a very happy person! Check out the result for yourself in this preview. (Hope to have a live performance recording this summer!) Sheet music available at Were You There?
Excited to announce that my arrangement of Ponder Anew, an arrangement of “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” [LOBE DEN HERREN] will be debuted by the First Baptist Church of Keller Orchestra at their Spring concert! The concert will occur on May 6, 2018 at 5:30 PM in the First Baptist Church Keller sanctuary. The orchestra is under the direction of Mrs. Laura Vickers and the Worship and Creative Arts ministry is under the supervision of Mr. Matt Perkinson. Mrs. Vickers has even agreed to let me conduct the piece!
Listen to a preview of Ponder Anew below:
My original post introducing Ponder Anew is here.
Other than my own family members, the news of Billy Graham’s passing from this Earth moved me more than most any other. Hardly any American over the age of 20 has failed to interact in some way with Dr. Graham, so the news of his death, at age 99, was felt far and wide. Many have shared this quotation attributed to Dr. Graham:
“Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”
Billy Graham actually adapted that quote from his hero, D. L. Moody, who made it in 1900. This quote reflects an anthem text that our choir at FBC Keller just began preparing this week. Called It Is Not Death to Die, it was written in 1832 by César Malan and translated into English by George W. Bethune in 1847. The text reads as follows:
It is not death to die,
To leave this weary road,
And ‘midst the brotherhood on high
To be at home with God.
It is not death to close
The eye long dimmed by tears,
And wake in glorious repose
To spend eternal years.
It is not death to bear
The wrench that sets us free
From dungeon chain, to breathe the air
Of boundless liberty.
It is not death to fling
Aside this sinful dust,
And rise, on strong, exulting wing,
To live among the just.
Jesus, Thou Prince of life!
Thy chosen cannot die:
Like Thee, they conquer in the strife,
To reign with Thee on high.
This text so beautifully captures the message and faith that Billy Graham expressed in his quote, just as D. L. Moody before him. This message is at the very core of the Christian faith, that we have hope in eternal life in Jesus Christ. Without this hope, our faith is futile.
“For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” 1 Cor 15:16-18 ESV
But Christ has been raised. He is risen! He is risen, indeed!
“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Cor 15:51-57 ESV
Rejoice, Christian. Indeed, “It Is Not Death to Die.”