Thursday, May 15, 2014

Family music moment: "How Great Thou Art"

This week, I worked up a modified arrangement of the wonderful old hymn "How Great Thou Art" for use in Sunday's services at Providence Baptist Church.  I wanted to record a reference track for the worship band to listen and practice to (since it's a bit late in the week to be introducing music ... ahem ...), so I knew that was on my agenda for tonight.

Our church has been going through a home-based study of the topic of "Worship" (see if you're interested in the materials), and one of the key components of the study is worshiping in the home together as a family.  There are many ways to do this, of course, but I'm blessed with a family that loves music, and loves to make music.  So I gathered the family together, distributed chord charts, and setup the recording gear.  What resulted was a solid (if imperfect) reference track for the worship band to use, but more important, a digital treasure for the Pilato family, remembering a time we lifted our voices and instruments together in praise.

Amy Lyn Pilato - lead vocals
C. Michael Pilato - fingerstyle guitar, bass guitar, vocals
Gavin Pilato - rhythm guitar
Aidan Pilato - cajon (percussion)

* Kaelyn was sleeping at the time, else she surely would have provided her own slobber-coated contribution to the track.  Maybe next time, Sweetheart...

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.