Sunday, January 12, 2014

A closer look at Psalm 108

Tomorrow (or today ... gosh, it's late) my church will sing the song "I Will Sing To You", which is a worship song I composed nearly a year ago from the text of Psalm 108. Actually, I didn't use all of Psalm 108. I only used the first five verses. In fact, the whole reason that Psalm 108 is on my mind right now is because I wanted to remind myself what the rest of that chapter said — the part I didn't use in my song. Suffice it to say that having read Psalm 108:6-13 again, I'm reminded why I didn't use it in the song. There's nothing wrong with the text, of course. It just didn't lend itself so easily to being reworked as a modern song of praise. (What rhymes with "Moab is God's restroom"?)

But this whole detour got me looking into the chapter in more depth. By perusing my Bible, multiple commentaries, and Wikipedia, I realized some things I didn't previous know about Psalm 108.

First, the psalm is a remix! The entirety of this psalm is constructed from pieces of other psalms. Psalm 108:1-5 is pulled from Psalm 57:7-11; the rest of the psalm comes from Psalm 60:5-12. These two original psalms each had their own individual tunes: Psalm 57 was written "to the tune of 'Do Not Destroy'" and Psalm 60 "to the tune of 'The Lily of the Covenant'" (whatever those tunes are). Wah-lah — remix. That would make my song a remix of a remix. A second-order remix. Remix². (Shall I continue?)

David asks in the psalm, "Who will bring me to the fortified city? Who will lead me to Edom?" and petitions God for aid in a military campaign. Fortunately, we get to know how that story ended. 2 Samuel 8:13-14 says that David became famous after his military victory over Edom, that Edom was fully subdued, and — further — that "the LORD gave David victory wherever he went."

Unfortunately, there seems to be some confusion about the details about this particular victory. The 2 Samuel passage credits David with the slaying of 18,000 men in Edom (though some translations refer instead to a region called "Aram"). A parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 18 names Abishai — who was one of the captains of David's army — as the victor over those 18,000. And the header for Psalm 60 credits Joab — Abishai's brother and another of David's captains — with the victory, though only over 12,000 men. In any case, it was ultimately David's army or a portion thereof led by his subordinate that won the day.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

"At Calvary", reenvisioned

As a worship leader in the 21st century, I have the interesting challenge of trying to select music that jives with the likes and dislikes of folks of all ages and musical preferences. At this task, perfect success is not attainable. You really can't please 100% of the people 100% of the time. But that doesn't mean that it ain't worth trying!

One way we do this at my church is to select music from many different eras of relatively modern Christendom (the last 150 years or so), and mix those up from week to week. Ancient hymns, praise choruses from the 80s and 90s, and contemporary worship songs all enjoy representation in our weekly worship services. But one of the things I really like to do is to take a good old hymn and rework it with an ear for performance using modern-day rock instrumentation. Some hymns naturally lend themselves to this exercise.  Some do not.

"At Calvary" is a song that I've long wished to transform and update in this way, but had failed at several times in the past. See, for me, one big goal is to preserve, as best as possible, the original melody of the song. That allows folks who (like me) have been singing the hymn since their youth to pipe in with what they know on the first listen of the revised version without missing a beat. Or a note. Or a word.

Well, I recently decided to sacrifice the melody of about 1 1/2 lines of the song in the interest of reshaping the tune for a modern ear, and that was all the concession required to set me off on a full reworking. I swapped the third and fourth stanzas, added a new bridge part, and made one tiny wording tweak[*]. And that was that!
I Am Free (At Calvary)
Words: Will­iam R. New­ell, 1895; C. Michael Pilato, 2014
Music: Dan­iel B. Town­er, C. Michael Pilato

Years I spent in vanity and pride
Caring not my Lord was crucified
Knowing not it was for me He died
On Calvary.

By God's Word at last my sin I learned
Then I trembled at the law I'd spurned
Till my guilty soul imploring turned
To Calvary

Mercy there was great and grace was free
Pardon there was multiplied to me
There my burdened soul found liberty
At Calvary

Oh the love that drew salvation's plan
Oh the grace that brought it down to man
Oh the mighty gulf that God did span
At Calvary.

Mercy there was great and grace was free
Pardon there was multiplied to me
There my burdened soul found liberty
At Calvary

I am free.
I am free.
By the mercy of God's great grace, I am free.
I am free. (I'm forgiven)
I am free. (I am living...)
By the mercy of God's great grace, I am free.

Now I give to Jesus everything
Now I gladly own Him as my King
Now my raptured soul can only sing
Of Calvary.

Mercy there was great and grace was free
Pardon there was multiplied to me
There my burdened soul found liberty
At Calvary.
Tonight, I spent a few hours tracking a quicky demo of the idea. Hope you enjoy it!

[*] The original song's third verse says, "Now I've given to Jesus everything." As I approached this song, I had to come to terms with the fact that that's not true for me.  The surrender process — the process of giving everything to Jesus — is not yet complete in my life. So I went with "Now I give to Jesus everything", which has the added benefit of a little more parallelism with the preceding lyric.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

2013 Dominican Republic Missions Trip Shirt Design

A couple of months ago, I was asked to design a trip T-shirt for my church's Dominican Republic mission trip. I was happy to help. There was only one problem: with only a couple of days before my deadline, no one could tell me anything about the trip or its theme!

Eventually, I was given a verse to work with — Colossians 1:16.
For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.
And I was told that the primary ministry work on the trip would be to teenagers hungry for apologetics.

Here's what I came up with for the main graphic, which was on the back of the shirt:
The idea here was to take the whole world, give the land masses a bit of texture and height, but highlight the Dominican Republic with some landmarks and commonly found palm trees.  But how to credit God with His creation? Then, I recalled a phrase I heard (or misheard, or misremembered, or...) long ago about "putting one's thumbprint on" something — that is, leaving your signature on something you've done.  From there, I had the idea to embed the Tetragrammaton into the thumbprint itself, clearing up any question about Whose mark it was that was left.

I used a simple event marker for the front-left chest print:
Which brought the whole thing together like so:

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

"Praise You All the Time"

As I drove to work this morning with Classical WDAV playing quietly (as is typical) on the car radio[*], I found myself singing aloud a new melody and lyrics.  I rushed into the building, dropped my laptop bag, and pulled out the voice recorder on my phone so I could capture "the moment".

During my lunch break, that "moment" developed into this:

Praise You All the Time
by: C. Michael Pilato

You're the God of the Universe.
You're the Treasure of utmost worth.
You're the Water for all my thirst, and I will praise You.
You're the Lord of the highest mountain.
You're the Knowledge of all that's hidden.
You're the Source of eternal wisdom, and I will praise You.

I'll praise You in the morning sun,
And praise You when the day is done,
When night falls, You're on my mind.
And even as I close my eyes
And bid another day goodbye
You'll find that I'm inclined
To praise You all the time.

You're the Artist of everything.
You're the King over every king.
You're the Song all creation sings, and I will praise You.
You're the Light in the darkest places.
You're the Ruler of every nation.
You're the Author of my salvation, and I will praise You

I'll praise You in the morning sun,
And praise You when the day is done,
When night falls, You're on my mind.
And even as I close my eyes
And bid another day goodbye
You'll find that I'm inclined
To praise You all the time.

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,
The King of creation.
O, my soul, praise Him
For He is thy health and salvation!

You're the Voice when all else goes silent.
You're the Calm when the seas get violent.

I'll praise You in the morning sun,
And praise You when the day is done,
When night falls, You're on my mind.
And even as I close my eyes
And bid another day goodbye
You'll find that I'm inclined
To praise You in the morning sun,
And praise You when the day is done,
When night falls, You're on my mind.
I'll praise You all the time.

© 2013 C. Michael Pilato. License: cc-by-3.0

Tonight, I even quickly tracked a demo recording of the song so I could return later and develop sheet music. You can listen to it here:

I got a chance to play the new song for Amy (my wife) and Barbara (our music director at church), and both gave encouraging responses.  Barbara even helped me fix a short lyrical phrase I wasn't really happy with.

What do you think?  Can a church congregation pick up on it easily enough?  Will they be exhausted by the song's pace?

[*]  These days, "quietly" is the only reasonable option in my 16-year-old Saturn.  Alas, three of its four speakers are torn; the fourth doesn't work at all.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

"It's You"

A few years ago, a woman in our church named Lynne spoke to me about how the Lord had laid on her heart the image of manna when considering how a mutual friend endured her bout with breast cancer and the treatment thereof. If you don't know, manna is a mysterious food substance God provided to the Israelite community for nutrition as they travelled through the wilderness en route out of Egyptian captivity. You can read the narrative in Exodus 16.

The key characteristic of this experience the Israelites had, though, was the fact that—barring exceptions made for the Sabbath—manna was provided daily, and lasted for but one day. If folks tried to gather too much and keep it longer than a day, it rotted. The takeaway here is that God is willing and able to provide what His people need for each day, on each day, but that some (great) measure of trust in His provision is required to overcome our human tendency to try to solve our own problems (often with miserable results).

Anyway, with this picture of manna in her mind, Lynne approached me to consider writing a song in honor of our mutual friend with manna as the theme. Now, if you asked me to list a hundred song topics I'd like to cover, I'm sure manna as a metaphor wouldn't make an appearance on the list at all! But God's provision is a pretty key theme in the life of the Believer. So I accepted her challenge, and more quickly than I expected.

After church that day, I rapidly changed into soccer gear in the restroom and flew out the door to a match I was probably going to be a little late for. As I drove down Harris Blvd., I recalled my conversation with Lynne. Almost instantly, the first half of a chorus melody and lyrics sprung into mind. I had to whip out my phone's voice recorder feature to capture the moment. As soon as I put the phone down, the other half of the chorus spilled out, causing me to grab for the phone again. (I promise I kept my eyes mostly on the road through all of this!) Anyway, before I had really put much effort into it at all, the song's melody, chorus, bridge, and verse outline were completed. I spent a few more weeks doing piddly little tweaks to the verse lyrics and chords, etc. But in the end, I had a song.

Here it is:

It's You

It's You who set the world in motion.
It's You who governs over all.
It's You who brings the sunshine after the rain
And You who makes the rain to fall.

It's You who holds us when we're hurting.
It's You who lifts us when we're down.
It's you who offers peace when we can't understand
And you who stands beside us now.

Give us this day our daily bread
and grace to face what lies ahead;
A humble spirit so we'll give
the credit where it's due.
We're asking not to win the war
but strength to fight just one day more
So when the victory comes, it's You.
Lord, it's You.

It's You who knows our every weakness.
It's You who fashioned every one.
It's You who calls the faithful to trust You again
For You, yes You, have overcome!

Lord, You're near to us, but it's mysterious
How You nourish us with manna from above.
It's not logical; it's a miracle
Lord, You're wonderful and worthy of our love!

© 2011 C. Michael Pilato. License: cc-by-3.0

I hope someday to post sheet music for this so that others can use the song if they care to. If you follow my blog (which is statistically very unlikely, but...) you'll know to expect that this work comes with very few usage restrictions, and why. Read the content of the license linked above for full details.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

I Will Sing To You (Psalm 108)

Part of my journey as a Christ-follower involves discerning how to apply the talents and spiritual gifts that God has given me (and/or allowed me to develop) toward the goal of serving Him and His people better. I love music, and enjoy making/playing/sharing it. I'm not a gifted lyricist, and over the years I've learned to understand and be (more or less) okay with that. But I've heard from a few different sources that it can be a lovely personal worship experience as well as artistic exercise to crack open the Bible and let the words therein be the lyric to whatever accompaniment springs up from within, and have enjoyed such experiences in the past.

The other night, the wife and I were having trouble falling asleep. For her, an accidentally consumed caffeinated beverage was most likely to blame. For me, it was a restless mind simply reeling with all the stuff I'd seen earlier in the day during a field trip to the Passages exhibit. So at 1:30am, I quit trying to sleep and headed over to my office/music room. I sat down with my Bible and my guitar, and then (I'm almost ashamed to admit) played a bit of "Bible Roulette" — semi-randomly choosing a chapter in the book of Psalms to read. Within a couple of minutes I was contributing to my wife's inability to sleep by playing and singing (somewhat loudly) a new melody to the slightly rearranged words found in the first part of Psalm 108:
My heart is sure, O God
I am secure, O God
With everything my soul will sing to You
I will awaken the dawn
Great are you, Lord, higher than heavens
Your faithfulness fills the skies
Be exalted, O Lord, above all the heavens
And let Your glory rise!

I will sing to You
I will sing to You
I will praise You, O God, before the world!
I first recorded the melody on my phone's voice recorder app. Then I moved to tracking a little demo on my computer. I toyed with the song all night long — adding and removing tracks, making minor adjustments to the chords for variety, fine tuning the melody, experimenting with harmonies, and really just swimming in the whole experience. Ultimately I did, in fact, "wake the dawn" with my rendition of the psalmist's words.

So... I'd made, I'd played, and now it's time to share. I'm posting sheet music of the song (which I've called I Will Sing To You (Psalm 108)) here for anyone who cares to download it. I've licensed the work under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license. For those who are skittish about such things, let me spell out some of what this means. You don't need my permission to play this song, to share it in your own faith communities, or even to modify it to suit your own needs. And you certainly don't need to pay some CCLI royalty for performing it! Take it. Use it. May you or your family or your church or whatever celebrate by singing words that are pretty much straight from Scripture. After all, there is but one true Creator, and I suspect He loves to hear the text of His Word sung back to Him.
So, without further ado, here is I Will Sing To You (Psalm 108) in PDF and Finale formats. For those requiring an audible demonstration, you can listen to a demo recording.

Constructive criticism is welcome.

SIDEBAR: If you, unlike me, know how to properly wield Finale to lay out music according to all the conventions of the trade and would be willing to fix up that Finale file for me, I'd be happy to post the revision here and credit you. I don't know for sure that anything is wrong with the file ... maybe some ties or sequences of rests that aren't optimal ... but that not-knowing-for-sure is precisely the reason I would appreciate peer review.

UPDATE(2/23/2013): Added demo recording.

UPDATE(2/26/2013): Renamed song from just "Psalm 108".