Wednesday Listening

Today I listened to the Symphony 7 by Antonio Dvorak for the very first time in my life. I had the opportunity to play violin II in the 8th symphony in All-State orchestra as a high schooler, and of course know and love the 9th symphony (New World). For whatever reason, however, I never have explored beyond those.

Folks, this is a worthy piece of music to invest some time in. IMSLP has several versions of the full score to follow along with – which is so helpful as an orchestrater to see how Dvorak builds and layers the colors he uses. Need examples of “dovetailing” between instruments? Here’s your piece.

The recording I listened to is a 1995 recording by the Czech Philharmonic that was available on Apple Music. Also on that recording is “Vodnik” – the Water Goblin. Beautiful and scary, and what a story… (Thanks to “That Classical Podcast” for the heads-up regarding Vodnik!).

Hymn: “How Sweet and Aweful is the Place”

How sweet and aweful is the place
with Christ within the doors,
while everlasting love displays
the choicest of her stores.

While all our hearts and all our songs
join to admire the feast,
each of us cries, with thankful tongue,
“Lord, why was I a guest?

“Why was I made to hear your voice,
and enter while there’s room,
when thousands make a wretched choice,
and rather starve than come?”

‘Twas the same love that spread the feast
that sweetly drew us in;
else we had still refused to taste,
and perished in our sin.

Pity the nations, O our God,
constrain the earth to come;
send your victorious Word abroad,
and bring the strangers home.

We long to see your churches full,
that all the chosen race
may, with one voice and heart and soul,
sing your redeeming grace.

– Isaac Watts. (Read more about this hymn at

Music Review: Let All Things Now Living, arr. Duane Funderburk

This arrangement by Duane Funderburk (mp3 and pdf sample) was our prelude for this past Sunday morning, and here are some takeaways:

  • The parts are well-written for each instrument – everyone playing will enjoy their contribution.
  • The parts are not for intermediate players – you need players who are advanced on their instrument.
  • You will need some rehearsal time to really achieve an ensemble with this piece – and it is well worth it.

Musically, this is an exciting arrangement that manages to stay true to the meaning and the spirit of the text. It also ends beautifully with a recap of some of the earlier musical episodes, finishing in a graceful andante. When used in a service of worship, this softer ending helps to defuse the tendency to applaud the skills of the players, and it instead helps the congregation to consider what the song is about, rather than how well it was played.

Mr. Funderburk has several other arrangements in this same series, and I look forward to working on them and using them in upcoming worship services.

Being articulate. >

For the last week, I have been working on the closing sequence of music for our upcoming Christmas program at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church. The music for the program is celtic in style and is borrowed at least in part from my father’s 2003 album, “Irish Christmas.

When working day in and day out on arrangements, taking ideas and bringing them from the mind into notation, playing the audio on the computer and on the piano over and over and over again, it is so tempting to push towards the end and finish the piece! However, I have learned two valuable lessons as an arranger:

  1. Sometimes it’s best to walk away, rather than force a creative issue. I am not saying that creativity should only flow from us, and that it doesn’t require work. However,  we sometimes get stuck in a bubble and need to regain the perspective of the bigger picture. That means we give ourselves permission to say, “that’s one idea, and it might be fine, but I reserve the right to not commit to it at this point.”
  2. I have been living and breathing this music, but nobody else can hear that mental soundtrack. Getting the notes written on the page isn’t the end of the work. That’s like framing a house, wiring some lights and slapping some plumbing together and saying, “done!” It is now time to think through each part, considering the idiosyncrasies of each instrument, and communicate the details necessary to bring the soundtrack to life.

You might skip this next list if you are not an arranger – here are my steps to finishing the parts using Sibelius 7, and I do them in order to prevent having to fix things that I already fixed:

  1. Set the title, copyright info, composer info, and other global text items.
  2. Assign the rehearsal marks that would be the most helpful in rehearsal.
  3. Assign dynamics, slurs, and articulations for woodwind instruments. It is usually best to not use the “simile” indication – besides, it is trivially easy in software to assign articulations to large swaths of music. Use the Keypad to assign articulations, not the Symbols chart. Trust me.
  4. Now assign dynamics, slurs, and articulations for the brass and percussion parts.
  5. Now assign dynamics, slurs/bowing, and articulations for the strings. Match the depth of bowing information to the abilities of your players and the time you have for rehearsal. Generally, the more advanced the players, the less bowing info they will need. However, the more limited rehearsal time you have, the more bowing information is helpful. This assumes that you know what you are doing when it comes to bowing. If you don’t, it’s time to learn or find a string-playing friend.
  6. Would the parts benefit from a few well-placed cues? If so, go ahead and put those in now in the full score. (Home Ribbon: Paste as Cue)
  7. Go to the Parts ribbon and set the default Part Appearance page margins for All Parts – I typically need to give the bottom margin more space on the first page to accommodate the copyright text.
  8. Now open up each individual part and clean it up: Adjust the positions of the staves to minimize problematic page-turns and minimize the number of pages needed if possible. Watch for collisions and awkward spacings. If the stave spacing is jumping around in a part in a way that you don’t like, go to House Style: Staves: Justify when at least 100%. That will basically turn off the automatic spacing.
  9. Now go back to your full score and make it look the way you want. Feel free to “Hide empty staves” when you need extra room on the page. Think about page turns, upcoming instrument additions, etc, as you work through the layout of your full score. It is going to be your only tool in rehearsal, so you better think through the rehearsal process itself and what you are going to want to see at each moment in the music.

Good, articulate communication conveys information in an efficient manner. Mark Twain was quoted as writing, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” When we musicians who are working as messengers of the Gospel give time and attention to detail, we are doing several key things: We are working hard to be faithful stewards of our own musical gifts, we are being respectful and considerate of the time and the talents of the musicians we are working with, and we are communicating the creativity, power, and joy of excellence when used for worship of God. It’s so much more than accents, slurs, up and down bows – it is our refined craft, and the knowledge that it is an offering of our heart to God, who deserves and demands our very best.

Download: The Church’s One Foundation

Here’s a new arrangement of the hymn “The Church’s One Foundation”, text by Samuel Stone, tune “AURELIA” by Samuel Sebastien Wesley. This arrangement was written for guitars/bass/drums, piano and organ. We sang it at Cedar Springs using the four stanzas printed, although you may choose to use different stanzas.

Click to download a PDF of this chart

Now for some background on this hymn, courtesy of the excellent book “The One Year Book of Hymns” published by Tyndale House. Samuel Stone’s ministry work during the mid 1800’s was located in the outskirts of London, near Windsor on the Thames. He was regarded as a fundamentalist and stood in opposition to the liberal theological tendencies of the day. He was also very protective of the people in his congregation, many of whom lived under the threat of violence from local crime gangs. Samuel was not afraid to take them on in order to shepherd his flock.

This hymn, and many others, was written when he was 27 years old as a part of a collection of hymns based on the Apostle’s Creed. Two years later in 1868, Anglicans gathered from around the world to discuss theological issues that were tearing the church apart. They chose this hymn as the processional for their historic conference.

– Adapted from “The One Year Book of Hymns” – August 15 devotional.

Choral anthem: Sing to the Lord Jehovah’s name

I am a fan of (among other things) early American hymn tunes, Sacred Harp singing, and the music of William Billings, who lived from 1746-1800. Learn more about Billings at Wikipedia.

Our choir will be singing one of Billings’ tunes, MEDWAY (not the MEDWAY you may know), and I have typeset it to fit on one page front and back. The text comes from Isaac Watt’s paraphrase of Psalm 95:

Sing to the Lord Jehovah’s name,
And in His strength rejoice,
When His salvation is our theme,
Exalted be our voice.

Download the PDF: Billings – Sing to the Lord Jehovah’s name – MEDWAY.
Need it transposed? Just ask in the comments below.

CPDL has two other versions of this piece by Billings: Standard Notation, G; Shape Note, G


Sibelius 7 tips – fitting music on the printed page

I use Sibelius for music notation, and love the program. One common task and facet of good stewardship is how the music is presented to your musicians. Clarity of intent with logical page layout will save time and money, promote a more professional atmosphere amongst your worship team, and prevent dumb mistakes from happening due to awkward page turns and ill-placed key changes.

Here’s a quick 10-minute session on ways to handle page layout in Sibelius.

Read this: “Music Through the Eyes of Faith” by Harold Best

Soon after starting work at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church, our worship leader West Breedlove suggested that I read Harold Best’s book Music Through the Eyes of Faith. I borrowed it from his office, and after reading the first chapter decided that it is a book I need to own and take notes in.

This is a book for worship leaders and musicians of all styles, and has so much to say about musical pluralism and its connection to the Gospel. Not every chapter was as engaging as others, but there are chapters which are basically solidly highlighted in my copy.

I wanted to see what others have had to say about this book, and suggest the following reviews:

Each has a different angle and voice, so I encourage you to check them out and hear their perspective.

If you are involved in music ministry, this is a must-read.

Music Through the Eyes of Faith on Amazon (no affiliate link – this review is solely to spread the word about a genuinely helpful book)

Sunday review: “All Creatures of Our God and King”

Image courtesy of the blog, “Good Fruit”

We began our congregational singing yesterday at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church with “All Creatures of Our God and King” – an updated version of the hymn that uses drop-D DADGAD tuning in the guitar. Here’s what the forces involved were:

  • Worship leader: vocals and acoustic guitar
  • 2 female vocalists
  • choir
  • electric lead guitar
  • piano
  • bass
  • drums
  • pipe organ
  • congregation

Some notes – our congregation and choir members who are long-time church folks learned this first with the original rhythmic and metrical design of the hymntune, LASST UNS ERFREUEN ( link). Our updated chart is in 4/4 all the way through. Folks in the congregation had an initial adjustment to make if they already knew the hymn, but it was an easy adjustment because they could see the worship leader and the vocalists. The choir, on the other hand, had a harder time because they could NOT see the faces of the leaders. They did figure it out after a verse, but in hindsight I should have gone over it with them ahead of time, even if it had just been that morning before the service. I just didn’t think it would be a problem. Whoops!

All that said, it ended up being a fun chart to play, GREAT words to sing, and enough familiarity and newness to bridge the generations in our congregation. I was pretty happy about the way it turned out. (NOTE – if you play the chart, know that we extended the BbM7 chord another 2 beats at the end, 6 beats in total. Just felt better.)

Download the chart: PDFSibelius 7MusicXML


  • Note: The text in our hymnal is under copyright, so the chart offered here has no lyrics.
  • You are free to use at your church – I just ask that you shoot me a note to let me know you are using it.

Soli Deo gloria!