Our Prayer Problem – Singing Will Help Us to Pray

January 28th, 2013

Thinking back over this past week, I don’t remember spending any sort of intentional time in prayer for any significant period of time. Thirty seconds here and there for meals, bedtimes, praying over the concerns of others when they ask for it, and maybe a few other times that I’m forgetting about. Then I justify my pathetic prayer life by saying, “At least I’ve been reading my Bible.” If I took my Bible reading seriously I would come to that place where it says “Never stop praying” and start praying. The fact is that my cumulative time spent in prayer each week is less than an hour. If you’re honest, I’m guessing you’ll admit your prayer life is much the same as mine. Even the people who can honestly say they pray for more than a few minutes here and there will still say they don’t pray enough. An all-out prayer warrior will tell you that it’s not possible to pray enough.

Prayer

This morning was different for me, however. I spent about ten minutes learning the tenor part to “Holy, Holy, Holy” (click here to learn your part too). Interestingly enough, I was praying the entire time. When we sing to God, we are praying. When we sing to God in a group, we are praying in a group. When we sing our different parts in a group, we are all contributing unique content to our prayer. When we take the time to learn our part of a song that was designed to be sung in four part harmony, we can meditate on the words and let them penetrate our hearts. We pray on our own as we learn our part, then again in a group as we sing it with other believers who have also let the words of the prayer penetrate their hearts.

Song is not just an extra help to our prayer life, it is a necessary element. In fact, most of the prayers in the Bible are songs. Mary’s prayer in Luke 1 seems to have been some sort of song. Exodus 15 explicitly states that Miriam’s prayer was a song. Although the Bible doesn’t say that Moses actually sang his lengthy prayer in Deuteronomy 32, it does indicate that he was at least reciting a song. Oh, and let’s not forget the Psalms: the longest book of the Bible, which is completely dedicated to prayer through music.

All of the spiritual giants in the New Testament are seen praying through music in scripture. Matthew 26:30 very clearly states that Jesus sang with his disciples, and the phrase “they had sung” presupposes that they sang something they knew; in other words, they sang it more than once before. Acts 16:25 states that Paul and Silas were singing hymns and praying in prison. Ephesians 5:19 (NIV) says, “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord…” Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” James 5:13 “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.” As I hope you can see, prayer and song seem to go together more often than not. Our prayer deficiency is partly caused by a singing deficiency. Prayer and song are the same spiritual discipline.

If you don’t sing, it’s time to learn. If you do sing, are you singing?


What Child is This? (Greensleeves) for Solo Saxophone

December 20th, 2012

This arrangement of “What Child is This?” for solo saxophone was created with the text from the hymn very much in mind. This is why I’ve chosen the title “What Child is This?” instead of “Greensleeves.” You will notice that the middle section of the arrangement isn’t the cheery sound you generally think of when you hear this tune. However, it is also far from without hope. On the contrary, Christ coming into our world in the way he did brought hope to all of humanity. This came at a costly price, and we are eternally grateful for the gift of God’s son, Jesus Christ.

Isn’t it amazing that God loved us so much that he came into our world in such a humiliating way so that we could live with him and be forever reconciled?

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Instrumentation: Unaccompanied Alto Saxophone

What Child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and Angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Raise, raise a song on high,
The virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.


Violin and Clarinet Duet – Proclamation

November 13th, 2010

I’ve learned to never force music into the box I originally intended it to be put into, but this violin and clarinet duet took that concept to a new level for me. My original plan was to write a sacred work for violin and saxophone for my friend and I to play during communion services. Typically, communion has two musical segments; one for each communion element. So, I wanted the work to be two movements with each being less than two minutes long. The first movement came together very naturally and very quickly, but then life happened and I never got around to writing the second movement. When I finally got a chance to work on it again, I realized that there was no good musical reason to add a second movement. I also realized that the only reason I was using the saxophone was because I sound my best on it. Clarinet blends with violin much more naturally (although I attribute this partly to traditional bias) and the very simple part I had written for it makes more sense with a simpler sound. I rewrote the piece for violin and clarinet thinking I would just have my wife play it instead (although I ended up recording it since we weren’t married yet and she was 650 miles away at the time). So I started with a two movement work for violin and saxophone to be used for communion and ended up with a one movement work for violin and clarinet to be used for who knows what.

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The recording process was another matter. I had most of the Purpose project squared away with only this piece left to record. I got off my night shift at 6:00am on Sunday morning and set to work on laying down the clarinet track so that Eva could come and add her part that afternoon. I armed the four microphones I was using and combined several takes to form a satisfactory performance. Before I remembered that I hadn’t saved my progress, the power went out and I was forced to try again and ended up with a significantly better sound (and I still made it to church on time). That afternoon I got all the takes I needed from Eva and finally went to bed (I’d been up since Saturday afternoon). On Monday I woke up only to discover that all of the files for the violin’s tracks had been scattered beyond repair. I was only able to salvage the files from one microphone resulting in a very thin sound. But just for kicks, I tried muting 3 of the four clarinet recordings so that they would both sound thin and be able to blend. To my surprise I liked the result very much. It certainly wasn’t the pristine audio quality I wanted for the Purpose project, but there was an irresistible authenticity in the sound that spoke with an innocence and a sincerity that I could not have possibly come up with intentionally. Instead of redoing the recording, I decided to sit on the idea of using what I had. When I tried listening to the CD in its entirety to see whether or not the transitions worked, I finally decided that this authentic and unrefined sound perfectly captured the reason I made the CD.

From the very first note, everything about this CD is polished and seemingly flawless in the aspects of performance, composition and engineering. Except for a few minor details, I could not have made this project any better even if more resources had been available to me. The first six tracks work together to communicate to the listener that life has value, meaning, and purpose and it is a wonderful gift from God that is worth your time to seek and understand. But what does all this look like? Where does it lead? It leads us to the feet of Jesus with nothing to offer but our love and authentic awe and worship. How would I depict this musically? I pick up an instrument I can’t play well enough to impress anyone with and play Amazing Grace with a sister in Christ Jesus. No virtuosic technique. No polished well-mastered recording. Not even a terribly original composition. Just two people showing authentic and sincere adoration for their creator through sound. A simple “I love you” to the creator of the universe. The very essence of the purpose of life.

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