If you haven’t read my previous post about Psalm 139, you should probably go ahead and do that right now. (No worries…I’ll wait right here…)
So this new band piece I’m writing, “Precious,” which is based on Psalm 139, is the second in my Psalm Series, and I am just over the moon about it! I’ve rarely, if ever, had a piece come along as effortlessly and joyfully as this one has. It’s like God has been up in Heaven with a giant “Easy” button this whole time. How great is that? In the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you that I haven’t always “felt” like working on it, but as I’ve been faithful to this work, God has been faithful to me, and that’s awesome!
Like “Proclaim,” which is the first piece in my Psalm Series, “Precious” is a speech transcription, a term I basically made up (haha) that means that all the rhythms and pitches of the melody line come from the way the psalm would be spoken aloud. Again, I recorded myself reading the psalm aloud and used that to determine the melody and rhythm of the piece. However, I did it with a microphone app on my iPad, and being otherwise a Windows user, I’m unable to make the .aiff file work in anything but iTunes, so my apologies for not being able to share a snippet of the speech recording with its accompanying musical setting like I did before.
Also like “Proclaim,” this piece is divided into two movements, played without pause in between. Structurally, Psalm 139 follows a pattern of 4+2 groupings throughout its 24 verses, so I tried to convey that musically with section breaks or shifts in mood or texture at those places. In the first movement, that amounts to an A-B-A-B form, whereas the second movement, which is more varied in subject and mood, is A-B-C-B.
The first movement (v. 1-12 of the psalm) is called “Behind And Before” (v. 5). It’s characterized by a relentless, incessant ostinato, based on the words “behind and before,” that represents God’s constant presence in every place, time, and circumstance. A syncopated melody floats over the top of this ostinato. The B section (v. 5-6, 11-12) features a brass chorale interspersed with piccolo solos. This movement is big and bold and even a little bit in-your-face. Even though the percussion parts aren’t very technically difficult, I think the percussionists are going to have a blast! The following excerpt begins with a short intro and then proceeds through the first five verses of Psalm 139, if you want to follow along with the text.
The second movement (v. 13-24) is called “Wonderfully Made” (v. 14). To me, the whole thing just feels like getting a great, big hug from God. (Okay, well, maybe not the part about God slaying the wicked…but everything else!) It starts off as a lullaby as the psalm talks about God forming life in the womb and then builds first toward verse 14 (“I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made”) and then verse 16 (“All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be”). Musically, this is the only place in either movement where all voices are playing fortissimo (very loud!) and in the same rhythm. (I get goosebumps every time!) Two soft, meditative sections (v. 17-18, 23-24) frame an aggressive one (v. 19-22) that recalls elements of the first movement, but the movement ends as softly and sweetly as it began. The following excerpt is verses 13-16 of the psalm.
And finally, the cover art! I’m actually done with percussion already (WOOHOO!), so this should be the final version of the cover. The picture that I used is pretty special, too. It isn’t just some stock photo that I found online and paid to use; this is from my mom’s little flower garden, and she took this picture when we had a snowstorm in May of this year (weather weirdness kind of comes with the territory in Iowa…). “A rose in the snow” is such a great metaphor for good coming out of not-so-good circumstances, and I thought it was appropriate here as a visual reminder of God’s care for His creations, even and especially in less-than-ideal circumstances.
I plan to release “Precious” on December 12, as twelve is, inexplicably, my favorite number (whatever it really means to have a favorite number…). The piece is essentially done now, but I still have a lot of editing and parts to do! I’d better get busy…
[October 18, 2013]