At the Cross is a simple arrangement of the beloved hymn with fresh and poignant harmonies. Set for SATB choir with piano accompaniment, it is moderately easy but rewarding of good musicianship. The light, delicate accompaniment directs the focus onto the text while providing the perfect amount of color and interest. It allows a choir to show artistic merit without enduring exhaustive preparation. This arrangements portrays the traditional first and fifth stanzas of Isaac Watts’ hymn with a statement of an amended version of Ralph Hudson’s gospel refrain.
It was one of those accidents where you find something useful when you’re looking for something else. While reading on the nature of worship, a particular blog article ended with Adoniram Judson’s early 19th Century baptismal poem, “Come Holy Spirit, Dove Divine.” The flowing text called out (at least to me!) for a musical setting. Accordingly, some melodic and harmonic ideas began to percolate in my thoughts. However, before getting very far along in writing a tune, there were two surprises in store. First many others had already set the text to music before (with a multitude of tunes) going back to at least 1833. Second, despite being a Baptist for over forty years, I discovered that this hymn has been in the Baptist Hymnal since 1956 yet I have no recollection of every singing it! Well, chagrined at my ignorance, I carried on writing a new melody and harmony for this deserving text. I sought to make it friendly to congregational singers while still containing rich and sing-able harmonies and so aimed for a four-part hymn-style form. However, as I suspect my ignorance of the hymn is a common condition, a fresh and modern tune which would be at home in varied musical styles and have popular appeal was also pursued. The result is a delightful and uplifting tune, easy to sing, with an optimistic and forward momentum, commensurate with the meaning of believers’ baptism, “Buried with Him in baptism; raised to walk in new life.” The music is flexible in application to many church music styles: praise team and band, choir and organ, congregation and piano, or mix and match to fit your needs. May you find Come,Holy Spirit, Dove Divine, singing a much needed text, a means for your congregation to joyfully join with new believers in celebration of their baptism!
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.
First Impression: On Second Thought is an excursion into the impressionistic world of French composers Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel with seasonings borrowed from 20th Century pioneers such as Charles Ives and Paul Hindemith. It is set in a rondo structure where the adventurous and tonally unstable ‘A’ sections surround distinct, sweet, and lyrical passages. The work is not particularly difficult but it allows the adventurous pianist to explore unique artistic expressions that are still accessible to the casual listener. Suitable for concert stage or recital hall.
Here’s Alfred Situmorang performing First Impressions: On Second Thought
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 or piano (this version) 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.