Alto Saxophone Solo – Psalm 51

February 17th, 2012

This alto saxophone solo is a musical depiction of Psalm 51; a biblical text describing David’s sorrow over his sin. Using a concert A drone (from any source you want) to create harmonic tension and release throughout the solo, the music follows the same emotional path that the psalm does. It begins in lament and brokenness and slowly moves towards repentance, and restoration.

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Download Recording (mp3) ($0.59)
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Below is the text off of which this alto saxophone solo is based:

Have mercy on me, O God,
   according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
   blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
   and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
   and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
   and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
   and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
   sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
   you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
   wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
   let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
   and blot out all my iniquity.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
   and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
   or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
   and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
   so that sinners will turn back to you.
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
   you who are God my Savior,
   and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
Open my lips, Lord,
   and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
   you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
   a broken and contrite heart
   you, God, will not despise.

May it please you to prosper Zion,
   to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
   in burnt offerings offered whole;
   then bulls will be offered on your altar.

-Psalm 51 (NIV)

Wind Band – Shekinah

November 9th, 2011

Even while being mostly half and whole notes, this composition for wind band can be extremely challenging. The wide spacing of perfect intervals at exposed moments between instruments of different families demands that the wind band have an acute sense of intonation in order to have a pleasing performance. Also, in order for this wind band composition to be effective, it must be noted that the climax of the music is intended to be at mm. 21 and not at the very end. It cannot be stressed enough how massive the sound of the bass drums needs to be at that moment. If a cannon were practical I would have notated for that to be used as well (if you’re able to use one, feel free). By climax, I mean to say what will be perceived as the loudest and most exciting moment for the average listener. After this happens, the rest of the work is to sound so other-worldly that the strangeness causes discomfort and awe. The end can be taken as a climax of emotion and the other a climax of power.

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The download includes 8.5×11 and 11×17 versions of the score.

Sample score and parts

This wind band composition is a programatic work based on the text of Exodus 33:18-21 in which Moses said to God “Now show me your glory.” God proceeded to hide Moses in the cleft of a rock, put his hand over Moses as he passed, and then allowed Moses see His back. The sound in the beginning depicts a distant radiance as the Almighty approached. When the sound becomes as big and radiant as possible, the massive bass drum hit is the hand of God coming down to hide Moses in the rock. This is followed by the full radiance of God seeping through the cracks between God’s hand and the rock as He passes by. At last, the end of the piece depicts God lifting his hand from the rock and letting Moses see His back. It would be an other-worldly and terrifying experience to perceive the holiness of God in this way.


Bass Clarinet and Marimba – Underneath the Spreading Tree

November 8th, 2011

This bass clarinet and marimba duet, while being very difficult, is full of wonderfully rich sounds and textures that you can not produce with any other combination of instruments. I partly regret my choice of instrumentation and may rewrite it for something more practical someday, but my reason for the choice is because of a phrase in Isaiah 55:12, “…all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” This personification stirred my creative curiosity on the brink of obsession, and I could not get the combination of bass clarinet and marimba out of my head. They are the perfect two instruments to depict the sound of living trees rejoicing over redeemed Israel and I couldn’t rest until I’d used them together for the purpose. However, a story is pointless if you only share the ending without saying how it came about. Using the perspective of the trees in the land I’ve written this work to tell the story of Israel’s fall into paganism, God’s judgement on them, and then finally their redemption. To listen to this work correctly, you must understand that you’re listening to a tree tell a story.

This video is only a sample of the work.

Download score and parts (PDF) ($14.49)
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Sample score

Additional information

Duration: 11:00

Throughout the major prophets in the Old Testament, the term “spreading tree” is used repeatedly in reference to the location in which the nation of Israel conducted their sinful pagan rituals. If one applies the personification of the trees in Isaiah 55 to these texts, it’s not hard to imagine what sorts of sounds God’s trees would make in response to detestable practices being performed underneath them. These practices included various ceremonies to honor false gods, ritualistic sexuality (mass orgies), and child sacrifice; clearly detestable practices in the eyes of God. The beginning of this tree’s story portrays these pagan ceremonies through primitive sounding harmonies and intricate rhythmic dancelike textures. At first these sounds seem innocent, but as the work progresses the harmonies are twisted to depict the darker components of pagan Israel’s worship.

The following are the texts I had in mind while writing this beginning section:

Jeremiah 2:20 (NIV), “Long ago you broke off your yoke and tore off your bonds; you said, ‘I will not serve you!’ Indeed, on every high hill and under every spreading tree you lay down as a prostitute.”

Isaiah 57:5, “You burn with lust among the oaks and under every spreading tree; you sacrifice your children in the ravines and under the overhanging crags.”

The second section is the tree’s telling of God’s response to Israel’s disobedience. This is depicted by energetic and ominous sounds followed by sounds of intense sorrow. It is the tree’s version of these texts:

Jeremiah 4:13-15, “Our enemy rushes down on us like storm clouds! His chariots are like whirlwinds. His horses are swifter than eagles. How terrible it will be, for we are doomed! O Jerusalem, cleanse your heart that you may be saved. How long will you harbor your evil thoughts? Your destruction has been announced from Dan and the hill country of Ephraim.”

Jeremiah 13:24-27, “‘I will scatter you like chaff that is blown away by the desert winds. This is your allotment, the portion I have assigned to you,’ says the Lord, ‘for you have forgotten me, putting your trust in false gods. I myself will strip you and expose you to shame. I have seen your adultery and lust, and your disgusting idol worship out in the fields and on the hills. What sorrow awaits you, Jerusalem! How long before you are pure?'”

The final section depicts the tree’s swelling joy at the thought of the future return of God’s people to the land, the original reason I set out to write this work:

Isaiah 55:12,
“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”


Aesthetic Education; See the Art in and Around You

October 13th, 2010

We’ve previously defined aesthetic as the cumulative effect of every component within a specific framework.  Art produces aesthetic, but not just art produced by humans.  God is an artist too, and it is a sin to be indifferent to his creative work, the pinnacle of which is mankind. If only we realized the wonderful artistry found in each one of us we would not be as likely to sin by showing indifference let alone contempt towards each other and the world.  How do we recognize this Godly beauty in creation?  How do we develop it within ourselves?  How do we bring it out in each other?

Every person you’ve ever met has an aesthetic, and I’m sure you are well aware of this whether you’ve thought about it or not.  I’m referring to the cumulative effect of a person’s existence upon your senses.  Analyzing a person’s aesthetic is a completely rational way of evaluating another’s impression on your own mind.  Some components of a person are obvious:  physical appearance, personality, body language, accent, interests, intelligence, etc.  These are the things that determine whether or not a person is attractive, fun, annoying, or simply “nice”.  But there is something about a human being’s aesthetic that is unique; it’s that ability to behave in the way the person chooses.  It’s the ability to go against what is natural to human behavior or to not.  These choices are what weigh most heavily on a person’s aesthetic.

This trait of the ability to choose is what animates us and gives value to our lives.  It’s also what gives us the ability to develop virtue and vices.  It creates harmony because it makes chaos possible.  It is the center of our existence and causes within us a spectrum of possibility ranging from beauty to depravity.  It is this one thing that saturates our being and causes all of our other components to be seen by others in a way that will either please or irritate them depending upon the condition of their own aesthetic.

The evil, twisted, or unnatural aesthetic mutilates the beauty of natural human tendency.  It kills, covets, hates, gossips, and corrupts all that is good, having an inherent effect on the person and destroys them.  The aesthetic that chooses what is good goes along with unnatural human tendency and produces love, joy, peace, etc.  It is choice that creates beauty, but because of our desires that are contradictory to the way God designed us to be we all degrade our natural beauty to an extent no matter how good our choices are.  This causes our personal aesthetics to clash and grind against one another so that the whole of creation is degraded by our conduct.

So then, there is inherent aesthetic contrast between a good man and an evil one.  Obviously we’re all evil to an extent and fall somewhere on the spectrum of beauty and depravity.  But it’s important to identify extremes, decide where we fall, and how to progress on the path towards harmony.  But after we’ve done that, we quickly realize that we are not capable of reaching perfect beauty.  We strain ourselves and punish our flesh in a attempt to achieve a character produced by a righteous life.  Then many good-willed people justify their imperfections with the sorts of things the despised use to make themselves feel better; the main justification being the inappropriately ascribed subjectivity of beauty.

We are all created by the work of God, but we are still in progress: designed to make a choice as to whether or not we are going to allow God to animate us, or let our standard-less selves to animate us.  Whether we are to become beautiful works of art by the greatest artist in the universe who spilled His blood over us to complete us and perfect our beauty for the Artist’s glory, or to remain imperfect by rejecting completion.

We creatures are not left without a clue planted within ourselves.  It’s a taste of the perfect beauty we’re made to long for.  It’s the aesthetic of God longing to shine through our distinctive individuality.  This distinctive aesthetic is beyond words, music, or any other form of expression.  It can only be truly observed in the people you do life with.  And even then only in the people who have let themselves be the jars of clay God calls us to be; cracked and broken vessels overflowing with the Spirit of God.  But even with non-believers, glimpses of it can be seen longing to break forth but are suppressed by their desire to create a cheap imitation of themselves, thinking that they are fighting a tendency to be something ordinary.

We, along with the whole of creation, are simply components of one massive work of art.  Human art is a means of trying to assemble reality and make sense of its intricacies.  It is the physical form of asking questions, leaving finding answers to the perceiver.  It points us to the created world in such a way as to seek truth; God’s truth.  Since we ourselves, the physical world, and the spiritual world are all works of art, seeking the deepest truths of life through human art is perfectly logical.

Art does not teach us to know, but to seek to know.  To dwell on mystery.  To ponder various ways in which reality can be assembled and look at truth from a different angle; an intellectual exercise that brings life to your spirit (Roman 12:2, Phillipians 4:8).  Listen, look, read. Attend to various aesthetic objects so that your perception of reality can be sharpened.  Every angle available from which your are able to observe truth should be utilized.  Therefore, Aesthetic Education in the Church is not only necessary, but it is essential.


Aesthetic Education; Understanding Scripture

October 9th, 2010

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;

in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD and shun evil.

This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.

Honor the LORD with your wealth,
with the firstfruits of all your crops;

then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
and your vats will brim over with new wine.

My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline
and do not resent his rebuke,

because the LORD disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in.

Blessed is the man who finds wisdom,
the man who gains understanding,

for she is more profitable than silver
and yields better returns than gold.

She is more precious than rubies;
nothing you desire can compare with her.

Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.

Her ways are pleasant ways,
and all her paths are peace.

She is a tree of life to those who embrace her;
those who lay hold of her will be blessed.

By wisdom the LORD laid the earth’s foundations,
by understanding he set the heavens in place;

by his knowledge the deeps were divided,
and the clouds let drop the dew.

My son, preserve sound judgment and discernment,
do not let them out of your sight;

they will be life for you,
an ornament to grace your neck.

Then you will go on your way in safety,
and your foot will not stumble;

when you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.

-Proverbs 3:5-24 NIV

After I read these beautiful words I looked out over the hay field to the trees surrounding it and observed the wispy clouds that seemed to envelop the very essence of all that was in my purview.  “By wisdom the LORD laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place.”  The simple experience enthralled me so much because perceiving so many wonderful things that fit together so perfectly was the very act of experiencing the wisdom of God.  Looking at the scene, thinking about what I had just read, and comparing it to the condition of my own heart was enough to be able to put that moment into an eternal context and dwell on it for the rest of my eternal existence.

What exactly was it that spoke to me so powerfully?  Was it the text itself?  Was it its meaning? Was it the encouragement the words brought in light of my broken elbow?  Was it other passages of Scripture coming to mind as I read the text?  Was it where I was when I read it?  Was it the cool evening breeze that picked up and diverted my attention to physical pleasure at just the right moment?  Was it all of the various emotions, sensations, and realizations being enjoyed in separate parts of my mind?  It certainly was all of these things, but it was so much more than that at the same time.  It was all of these elements working together to create a cumulative effect that refreshed my spirit and renewed my focus on God.

A week before this event, I had worked my night shift that Friday morning, and went straight from work to help with my church’s version of VBS (Sports Week).  I’d been there helping with the music and mentoring 12 and 13 year olds. I was very tired the whole week, but I felt so blessed to be able to be a part of what God did that week so the fatigue didn’t bother me.  Then in a split second I was laying on the basketball court with a fracture in my elbow that required surgery the following Monday.  As I recovered I’d been completely helpless and dependent on the wonderful people at my church.  But I’m not the kind of man that likes being dependent on people.  I love to help, but not to be helped; yet I needed a lot of help this summer.  That Thursday evening I was very upset.  I couldn’t work, couldn’t pack my stuff for moving that Saturday because I was so tired, could barely cook, and I wasn’t supposed to drive.  So the Spirit of God led me outside so that I could experience Him through His Word.  He gave me a gift of strength because I had very little left.  He led me to that passage, that physical context, and that level of brokenness so that He could breath His own strength into me.  He communicated his Word to me through an aesthetic experience.  He gave me a gift of realizing a new implication of that passage which resulted in the wonderful joy that is knowing God a little better.

Compare this passage with Psalm 104 and watch a sunset the next time you’re really down.  I dare you to not feel something.  How does God do it?  He does it by connecting His Word to His creation and then back to your heart.  That’s aesthetic.  That’s seemingly unrelated things being connected in your mind to create a cumulative effect so profound that you can’t contain your joy.  Aesthetic education teaches us how to make those connections.

But that’s just part of the story.  Let’s address the Bible outside of any other context.  Are we supposed to think about the Bible as a sequence of words put together in a certain way so that we know how we’re supposed to live?  Are we supposed to read Leviticus and begin stoning people who work on the sabbath, or are we supposed to connect that to Mathew 5, Luke 6, and Romans?  Or let me raise another issue.  How can you expect a high schooler to enjoy Jeremiah when they don’t have a firm enough grasp on literature to read Edgar Allen Poe?  How can anyone understand David’s passion for God when they can’t figure out how to connect the psalms to his life?

Aesthetic Education increases our ability to perceive everything, even Scripture and how it’s integrated with all of reality.  Find an artist (painter, dancer musician, etc.) and start taking lessons; not so that you can create great art, but so that you can perceive great art.  If you can’t perceive human art well, how do you expect to stand a chance in accurately understanding the greatest literary work ever written?  The words of God created the universe.  Do you really think you can understand them when they’re written down unless you learn to see and understand the world around you?

Don’t just tell your children to read the Bible.  Teach them how.

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