Old & New, Volume II

Old & New, Vol II

I have been in the process of writing and recording a set of albums, putting new music to old hymns. I recently released my second of three and wanted to write a little about why I spent so much time devoted to old stuff. You can get download both of the albums for free here.

So why get involved with putting new music to words that are sometimes hundreds of years old?

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A Christian’s Hope (and a hymn)

“At least I’m not going to hell.” I heard a friend of mine relay a conversation he had with another friend who was going through a period of intense suffering. He moved across the country for a new job and had to resign after a few months. His previous employers were calling potential future employers in attempts to dissuade anyone else from hiring him. His house was about to be foreclosed on. Some good friends also recently betrayed him in serious ways. Sometimes our current situation does not just withold our hopes, it dishes out burdens.

But in anything we face, as those who are fully at peace and accepted by our Creator, we will always have a hope. This hope is not anything anyone can take from us. The world that erodes can’t erode it. People who have hurt us cannot hurt it. Unstable economies cannot destabilize it.
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God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

watch this video on youtube.com
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Yesterday I played an arrangement I wrote for God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen as an instrumental Advent/Lord’s Supper reflection at my church. The original hymn has this repeated refrain:

O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy,
O tidings of comfort and joy.

This particular hymn focuses in on on the good news of our God coming in our flesh to save us from our problems, and bring us into the cosmic plan of redemption of the heavens and earth. This is one of the practical implications for Christ’s Incarnation, and one reason why I look forward to celebrating Advent each year.

The video above is from a version I recorded of this piece this past week. You can also download a higher quality mp3. Enjoy!

Speaking of free music, I have an album of hymns set to new music for free. You can snag it here.


Swanson - Great Catch

John August Swanson – Great Catch


I recently put together an instrumental guitar piece reflecting on Jeremiah 3:17:

At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the LORD, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the LORD in Jerusalem, and they shall no more stubbornly follow their own evil heart.

I was also struck by John August Swanson‘s piece, Great Catch found in CIVA‘s collection from Images of Faith. This Old and New Testament interplay gave me a feeling of loops.

A loop in music would be the same phrase being played back the exact same way over and over. But the wonder of God gathering the nations (and how this He reveals this gathering) is not an exact duplicate over time. There are nuances and there is progress, though its easy to see how it is the same promise, the same story, just teased out over time and space.

So, even though I performed this piece live using loops (there are 7 guitar parts), I recorded this the way it should be recorded, myself playing the same phrase over and over (what a loop is trying to emulate), but with different nuances here and there.

Also, I was trying to get at the idea of a building up, a “gathering.” This building up leads to a surprising middle, that again leads to a progressive build up to some sort of end.

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/102155250″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

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Let There Be Light

This past Sunday the band at OGC played a song that will soon be in the regular rotation for corporate singing. The new song, Let There Be Light, steals most of its lyrics from John Marriott’s 1813 hymn, Thou Whose Almighty Word. I set the text to new music and added a chorus. I felt this was a timely addition to our stock of songs- our pastor is preaching through the gospel of John, and he references light often.

But doing something like this brings up at least one question: why set old words to new music? There might be a tendency to think that coming up with new music somehow tramples on tradition, or is somewhat arrogant in its approach. Surely this happens, but I don’t think this necessarily must be the case.

There are a bunch of reasons to do something like this, but there’s one main idea I’d like to present. God’s truth is always true, be it the year 2010 or 1813. He is everlasting and eternal and immutable–He doesn’t change. We, however, do change. A Christian in the 1st century would worship very differently than one in the 19th century, or our century (think of Chris Tomlin in the 1st century…weird right?). Setting old words to new music attempts to combine these two ideas in one song. The redemption that we find in God is always new, always fresh, and is simultaneously the same. That’s weird to think about, but it’s true. God’s grace is unchanging, but it is applied in different ways. In adopting these hymns with a modern mindset we are saying that God is acting in our present time, while honoring our roots in historic Christianity (though the 19th century isn’t that deep of a root, it’s still a root nonetheless).

And it’s not like we are the first generation to steal, er…appropriate other music or lyrics, many hymns come from some place else, and those other places aren’t always the church. But that’s for a different post.

I came across the text combing through Spurgeon’s compilation of hymns for his church, Our Own Hymn Book, of which the full text is available on Google Books. And here’s a brief bio on John Marriott with lyrics to Thou Whose Almighty Word.

So maybe there’s something to think about. You’ll find a rough version of the new song below with the complete lyrics:

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11.20.09 (ToneMatrix)

So I’ve been loving playing with ToneMatrix, a step sequencer inside a browser.  I decided to capture a little bit and add a tiny bit to it.  I use one ToneMatrix session and a single drum loop.  This space is for experimentation as well as working ideas, so here’s one for the experimentation books. On a side note, I really like the idea of having a melody evolve over time through repetition.  John Coltrane is good at that.

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/102152964″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

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New Song: God, the Father, Creator part 2

I think this is fitting in light of my last post on the Trinity and a capella singing
When I first posted the song, God, the Father, Creator a few months back, two friends of mine, Steve and Max, thought the song needed more.  And it did need something more.  I had a string of verses and they added a chorus and bridge.  I felt that the bridge didn’t work as well with the rest of the song, but the chorus works great. I moved the verses around, too, making a Trinity sandwich: first and last verses on the Trinity and the verses in between dedicated to each Person.

I also think this revision requires a new name, God, the Father, Creator was used just because it was the first line.  Maybe God, Three in One? Help me out on that.

So below is the new version, co-written by myself, Steve Hedges and Max Billingsley.  You can also download the updated chord chart.

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/102152650″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

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download the chord chart

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New Song: Lord, We Come to You

This song is based on Psalm 107, and I wanted to write a song where the order of verses played a large part of the song, as much as the music or lyrics.
In this attempt to do that, verse 2 answers the problems outlined in the verse 1. Verse 2 is all past tense as well, focusing on how the Lord has already delivered us, allowing the past to paint our future. All of what God gives us or delivers us from is grounded in the fact that He is our Father and as we meditate on His faithfulness in our past, we can more surely trust him for our present and future.

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/102152209″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]
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When traveling to California, Christina and I got stuck in the Denver Airport overnight. Suffering from a tiny bit of jet lag and just the weirdness of having to sleep in a public space, I decided to use most of the time for some creative outlet. So I shot a bunch of stuff using a digital camera’s video setting, edited in iMovie and did the soundtrack in Logic. Just a little fun thing (I suggest full screen):

Waiting from Greg Willson on Vimeo.