I’m thrilled to announce that I will be releasing my third Psalm Series piece on August 26! By the time I finish the final edit (SOON! Praise the Lord!), it will have taken me about the same amount of time as my previous two pieces combined. (Yeah, it’s been a crazy year so far…) Even though writing this piece didn’t go as quickly or smoothly as I would’ve liked, I’m thankful that I stayed faithful to the task, and I couldn’t be happier with the outcome! But I think after I release this piece I’m going to take a break from composing to catch up on some reading, maybe do a puzzle or two, and revive my sorry attempt at teaching myself German. (Because Mahler!) And then I think a new brass quintet piece is in order sometime in the not-so-distant future! (Did I tell you I joined a brass quintet a few months ago? We’re called the Metro Brass Quintet and we are awesome! You can check us out here!)
The title of my new piece is “Protect,” and it’s the first time I’ve set two psalms within the same piece (Psalms 20 and 91, NIV 1984). Psalm 91 is often referred to as the “Soldier’s Psalm” and was kind of an obvious choice for a piece about God’s protection. I chose Psalm 20 for more personal reasons, namely that my mom always told my brother and me that it was her prayer for us. Psalm 20 is a fervent prayer for God’s blessing and provision, whereas Psalm 91 is a confident proclamation that God will rescue those who love Him, so Psalm 91 is, in a sense, an answer to the prayer in Psalm 20. Musically, I portrayed this connection by combining motives from each of the psalms toward the end of the piece.
Like the first two pieces in the Psalm Series, Proclaim and Precious, this one is also divided into two movements that flow together without pause. Because Psalm 20 was so special to my mom, I decided to use a song she made up when I was a kid as the basis for the accompaniment of the first movement, May The Lord. The song is called “Have A Good Attitude,” and my mom used to sing it to me when she was doing my hair (if you had seen my hair back then, you would understand how difficult “having a good attitude” was when it was being brushed! Yikes!). She also used to freestyle some verses, but we don’t remember any of those now… Below are some recordings and musical examples of the original song and how I incorporated it into the piece. (Score excerpts are in concert pitch.) First is the original song:
This next clip is actually from the very end of the piece, but it’s the most straightforward statement of the “Have A Good Attitude” motive that doesn’t have a melody line over the top of it, which makes it easier to hear.
And here’s the beginning of the piece with the horn solo playing the first verse of Psalm 20 (“May the Lord answer you when you are in distress. May the name of the God of Jacob protect you.”) with the “Have A Good Attitude” motive as the accompaniment:
The second movement is called He Who Dwells, and despite my general disdain for marches (sorry, Sousa!), I did incorporate some march-like elements, like a piccolo and snare drum feature, to tie in the concept of Psalm 91 as the “Soldier’s Psalm.” Of all the movements from the Psalm Series pieces so far, I think this is the most rhythmically challenging, but I’ve always been kind of a wimp about rhythms, so maybe it’s just me. Transcribing the pitch of Psalm 91 spoken aloud churned out some extremely chromatic melodies that I just didn’t know what to do with for awhile, but in the end, it was nothing an E-flat clarinet solo and some dense, syncopated chord hits in the brass couldn’t solve. Also, lots of percussion! Here’s what it sounds like (verses 5-8 in the psalm if you want to follow along):
I mentioned earlier in the post that I tie in elements of both movements at the end of the piece. In the last three verses of Psalm 91, the narration changes from the psalmist speaking to God speaking, and I wanted a drastic shift in mood to depict this. After a big climax, which includes a somewhat camouflaged statement of the “Have A Good Attitude” motive in the horns, the slow tempo from the first movement is ushered in by the E-flat clarinet. (I tell you, once you start writing for that thing, you just can’t stop!) A few measures later, this combines with the upbeat snare and bass drum rhythms for another climactic moment before winding down to a close in the slow tempo.
And finally, here’s what the cover for the score looks like:
The image I used is an EXTREMELY Photoshopped version of a picture I took in my backyard a couple of summers ago. (I know just enough about photo editing to make me dangerous…)
I thought this was a great representation of God’s protection. Psalm 91 talks about finding refuge “under God’s wings,” but I don’t think I ever really understood what that meant until last year, when I started watching the Cornell Bird Cams almost obsessively. The American Kestrel page had two separate camera views – one of the inside of the nest box and one of the outside so you could see what the weather was like – and I remember seeing the momma Kestrel cover her chicks with her body and wings during a severe thunderstorm, shielding them entirely from the strong winds. I love how God does this for us – He doesn’t stop the storms from coming, at least not always, but He does promise to be there with us and “cover us with His feathers.”
Okay, so this has been really long, but thanks for sticking with me! A lot of work has gone into this piece, and it’s great to be able to share my process with you!
[August 1, 2014]