It Is Not Death to Die, is a setting of French poet Henri Abraham César Malan’s Non, ce n’est pas mourir as translated by George Washington Bethune. This text first came to my attention through Dan Wells’ choral arrangement of Bob Kauflin’s popular setting. Although Kauflin’s treatment of the text is lovely and effective I sensed that there were still depths of Malan’s poetry to be probed, especially the tension between the Christian’s certain transition into eternal bliss and the inevitability of tasting death. This moved me to attempt a fresh musical setting that captures the mixture of dread and hope borne out in the acclamation that “death is swallowed up in victory!”
If you have an adventurous church choir or advanced academic singers you’ll want to consider using this setting of It Is Not Death to Die, with deep pathos in its musical progression that matches the text’s narrative, in your upcoming programming. Available with orchestra (this version) or piano accompaniment, It Is Not Death to Die makes a fitting close to the Easter season, or is suitable for Ascension Sunday, funeral, memorial service, or any time in the church year to remind Christians of the central hope of our faith, eternal life in Christ. Its artistic treatment of humanity’s universal appointment with death works as a moving component of a concert program as well.
There are 150 psalms in the Bible, each one originally meant to be sung; and so they were for most of the last 3,000 years, beginning at the Jerusalem Temple. They were adopted as the primary song text of the early church as evidenced by Col. 3:16 and maintained in the Western church throughout medieval times. Psalms were the featured texts of most of the Reformers and were the sole mode of sacred singing among the first American settlers. Of late, hymns and choruses and popular songs with human texts have almost entirely replaced the singing of God’s word in many churches. This scarcity of Psalms in the Church’s song is a great loss which frequently compels me to do what I can to promote their increase.
The brief twelfth Psalm is a lament painting a bleak scenario of engulfing depravity and vanishing righteousness in ancient Israel. It could just as well have been commentary on the decline of morality in contemporary Western society. Further, rather than offering resolution or relief for the psalmist’s desperate plea for help, the Psalm asserts that “the words of the LORD are pure words,” to say in effect that hope stands only in the Word of God.
TWELVE attempts to capture this chaos and despair of the twelfth Psalm through pointillistic phrasing, dissonant harmonies, cross rhythms, and extended choral and instrumental techniques. The psalm’s slender ray of hope is portrayed in a contrasting section of subdued peacefulness painted with flowing themes in conventional harmonies.
For SATB Chorus, Clarinet, Timpani, Percussion, Piano, Cello
There are 150 psalms in the Bible, each one originally meant to be sung; and so they were for most of the last 3,000 years, beginning at the Jerusalem Temple. They were adopted as the primary song text of the early church as evidenced by Col. 3:16 and maintained in the Western church throughout medieval times. Psalms were the featured texts of most of the Reformers and were the sole mode of sacred singing among the first American settlers. Of late, hymns and choruses and popular songs with human texts have almost entirely replaced the singing of God’s word in many churches. This scarcity of Psalms in the Church’s song is a great loss which frequently motivates me to promote their increase. Thus, THIRTEEN , one member of my first suite of new Psalm settings, is offered as a to help bring the Psalms back into modern worship.
The thirteenth Psalm holds a complaint, a petition, and a confession of faith and the music of THIRTEEN portrays each with text painting appropriate to the psalmist’s words. A staggering timpani ostinato buffets away beneath the choir’s tripartite “how long” complaint, followed by a dissonant recitative petition which transitions through shimmering tonal clusters into a joyful, major-key, confession of faith blended with a NT perspective from Eph. 3:20-21.
THIRTEEN is challenging music, both in music and message, but for the adventurous music department it provides the opportunity to plumb the depths of scripture with artistry worthy of the rich heritage of Psalmody to use music to express the full message of God’s revelation. THIRTEEN is fitting to program liturgically as a musical exposition of the Psalm or in a sacred or secular concert setting. The very light orchestration complements the vocal performance with rich instrumental color without overwhelming the voices.
Make His Praise a Glorious Thing is a new setting of the English language’s great doxology from the pen of Thomas Ken. It builds on his words with references to the Psalms’ multitude of exhortations to exuberantly praise God in manifold ways with glorious praise. The character of the piece reflects this with a joyous and spirited aesthetic above a driving tempo. The text also juxtaposes our contemporary praises within the historic stream of doxologies from saints past and future as a precursor to the eternal, magnificent, and heavenly doxologies portrayed in Revelation 5 and 7. The melody correspondingly has roots in the traditional Old 100th Psalm tune as well, although it will take a keen ear to catch it.
Although set for SATB choir, it is hoped that this accessible melody will find a place in your congregational singing also. Make His Praise a Glorious Thing is a wonderful call to worship, responsorial, or sacred concert opening or closing.
David’s Kyrie is a setting of selected verses from Psalm 51. It is a challenging piece suited for advanced choirs in an academic or concert setting or for adventurous ensembles in sacred services. It mixes ancient and modern forms and sonorities to depict the contrition, repentance, absolution, and salvation portrayed in the psalm, juxtaposing medieval chant with Whitacre-esque clusters and dissonances. In structure, David’s Kyrie roughly follows the Kyrie of the Christian mass and even borrows a melodic line from a medieval Kyrie.
The heading for Psalm 51 states that it is “For the director of music ” underscoring the fact that all 150 psalms in the Bible were meant to be sung, as they have been for most of the last 3,000 years. It is my hope that David’s Kyrie will be an encouragement to continue that great heritage.