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?

Download score (PDF) ($1.99)
Foreign Currency? Click Here

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.


O Come, O Come Emmanuel – Saxophone Duet

November 29th, 2012

This arrangement of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” was written for my saxophone playing friend, another Caleb, and me to play are our church’s christmas eve service in 2012. But besides simply wanting to write pleasant Christmas music to get into the season, I’d also been wanting to experiment with playing a saxophone through a delay effect. This means that whatever is played gets played back which enables a musician to play a saxophone duet with him/herself. At first I wanted to keep this strict and only write notes that could actually be performed by a single instrumentalist with a computer. However, the duet benefitted greatly from having moments of unisons and harmonies to give the listener a break from the constant chasing effect that results from a duet like this. So while it is still written with this delay idea in mind, this arrangement of “O Come Emmanuel” has ended up being a fairly traditional and yet a very unique twist on this ageless Christmas carol.

Download score (PDF) $2.99
 Foreign Currency? Click Here

Preview first page of score.

Below are two verses from “O come Emmanuel” on which the music is focused:

“O come, O come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

“O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.”

 

This is one of my favorite christmas carols. This was a joy to work on, and I hope it’s a joy to play.


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)
 Foreign Currency? Click Here.

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.”


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.

Download score (pdf) – $2.99
Download whole recording (mp3) – $0.59
Download both (pdf/mp3) – $3.49
Foreign Currency? Click Here.

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.

Send Caleb a message!

Blog Subscription