New Hymn Collaboration with Chris Anderson: “God Supreme”

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Several weeks ago, Chris Anderson (who pastors a church near Atlanta) posted a hymn text on Facebook that he’d written in the wake of the SCOTUS ruling on gay marriage. It caught my attention right away. At the nudging of one of my own pastors, I decided to try to set it to music. I recorded a little “sketch” of the tune on my phone and texted it to Chris, sparking about a month of back-and-forth tweaking of text and tune until it was ready for release.

I have admired many of Chris’s hymn texts, including “His Robes for Mine,” which my church has adopted with great enthusiasm (especially around the Lord’s table). And though we’ve enjoyed a “hymn writers camaraderie” for several years, this has been our first collaboration.

One of the great joys of working with a pastor-theologian on a hymn is the great depth of the text. Chris writes doctrinal notes for many of his hymn texts, and he wrote one for this new hymn as well. It is well worth reading!

Chris writes: “God Supreme” is a new hymn and my first collaboration with my friend Paul Keew. It’s a lament (as explained below), and Paul has captured precisely the right tone for the song. It’s not angry; it’s somber, almost mournful. But it’s also hopeful. The “folk” feel of his composition is perfect. It’s an honor to finally team up with him on a song we both hope will be a blessing to Christ’s church!

Take a look and hear a piano demo on our music page. The hymn is free for you and your church, as with all our music (the same goes for the music at churchworksmedia.com). We pray it will bless you and your church!

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“Wand’ring Pilgrim”: An Interview with Joe Tyrpak about the Song

IMG_0145.JPG - Version 3I thoroughly enjoyed collaborating with Joe Tyrpak (of Churchworksmedia.com) on our recently released single “Wand’ring Pilgrim.” I asked Joe a few questions about the song from his perspective.

PK: At what point did you decide the poems in David Brainerd’s biography should be turned into a song?

JT: I’ve been considering the musical possibility of these two Brainerd poems since late 2011. I was reading through the Life of Brainerd during that season, and several facets of his example—his longings for holiness, his sufferings for the gospel, his passionate intercession for the lost—were challenging me. Because Brainerd was inspiring me (and because I’ve written some poetry for congregational singing), I desired to put these poems to music. It wasn’t until February 2014 that I considered combining the two poems into one song.

What kind of song did you envision for Brainerd’s words–not necessarily style, but feeling or mood? Did you have any inspiration to which you looked?

My priority concern with the music for “Wand’ring Pilgrim” was that churches could use it. Churchworksmedia.com is all about making freely available music that’s congregationally accessible. Going further, my initial target for the Brainerd song was a sober and meditative piece. It needed to feel like a prayer of “pining”—like the cry of a longing heart. I initially envisioned that it’d probably be in a minor key. When I first sent my ideas to Paul, I told him that I’d like for it to have a folk sound. I suggested the simple sound of Fernando Ortega’s “Just As I Am” (which shifts from minor to major) and the folk classic “Poor Wayfaring Stranger.” As we worked through the first few versions, I specified my concept. I told Paul, “We need to make sure the folk feel is more sophisticated.” I pointed him to R. Vaughan Williams’ tune for “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say” as an example of what I meant by that “more sophisticated” folk sound.

Why Watchsong?

I asked Watchsong to consider this project because I wanted it to have Paul’s distinctive sound. For the past several years the congregation I pastor has enjoyed singing some of Paul’s hymns. We love “O God My Joy.” We’ve sung his meditation on 1 Peter 1-2: “Chosen As His Children.” And, his version of Psalm 66, “Shout Out for Joy,” has become one of our church’s all-time favorites. It’s hard for me to enunciate what exactly comprises Paul’s style, but I know that each of those hymns has the sort of musical emotion I envisioned for “Wand’ring Pilgrim.” Finally, for Christmas a few years ago I was given a copy of Paul’s Broadway-like musical, A Christmas Carol. I think the emotion of a few songs on that CD further compelled me to ask him.

As the song began taking shape in someone else’s mind, how did your view of the song change?

Starting any creative project is a bit strange because, at one and the same moment, you have a pretty solid idea of what you want it to sound like, and yet you realize that within those parameters the project could go in a thousand (very) different directions. Between June and August of 2014 the Brainerd song went through about a dozen variations. So, while the song experienced significant development over those two months, looking back I’m not sure that my vision for the song changed all that much. Rather, certain ideas would get closer to the target, so those are the ones we’d further develop.

What do you like about the final version of “Wand’ring Pilgrim”?

I love that the final version of “Wand’ring Pilgrim” is expressive. I love that it feels authentic, even primitive. I love that it pairs substantive text and a sophisticated sound with the old words, “This world is not my home.” I love how the strings and voices synergize in the end to bring the song to its climactic expression. I love that “Wand’ring Pilgrim” somehow captures Brainerd’s experience of, what he called, “pleasing pain.” It captures his holy, yet unsatisfied cravings. And, it captures the message and (I think) the feel of Psalm 73:25 and Hebrews 11.

“Wand’ring Pilgrim” Lyric Backstory

IMG_0145.JPG - Version 3“Wand’ring Pilgrim” was commissioned by Joe Tyrpak as part of a media project at the tail end of his doctoral work on David Brainerd. The following notes by Joe tell the backstory:

On Sunday, April 25, 1742, David Brainerd penned two eight-line poems in his diary (pp. 163-64, The Life of David Brainerd, vol. 7 in The Works of Jonathan Edwards [Yale, 1985]). He wrote the poems a few days after he turned 24 years old, which was only a few months following his expulsion from Yale. During this “wand’ring season” of his life David lived with Jedidiah Mills, an experienced pastor in Ripton, Connecticut. There he engaged in ministerial studies, preparing for a licensing examination in July—which would give him authority to preach as an itinerant in Connecticut. Before the sun rose on this Sunday morning, David had “spent about two hours in secret duties.” He experienced in prayer both agony (to the point of sweat) and delight (to the point of poetry). He begged God to convert unbelievers, to help him forgive those who had hurt him, and to completely conform him to Jesus. He prayed, “O for sanctification! My very soul pants for the complete restoration of the blessed image of my Saviour; that I may be fit for the blessed enjoyments and employments of the heavenly world.” Then he wrote two poems which (till now) have never been put to music:

Farewell, vain world; my soul can bid adieu:
My Saviour’s taught me to abandon you.
Your charms may gratify a sensual mind;
Not please a soul wholly for God designed.
Forbear to entice, cease then my soul to call:
‘Tis fixed, through grace; my God shall be my all.
While he thus lets me heavenly glories view,
Your beauties fade, my heart’s no room for you.

Lord, I’m a stranger here alone;
Earth no true comforts can afford:
Yet, absent from my dearest One,
My soul delights to cry, My Lord!
Jesus, my Lord, my only love,
Possess my soul, nor thence depart;
Grant me kind visits, heavenly Dove:
My God shall then have all my heart.

Within three months of composing these lines Brainerd was licensed to preach. Later the same year he was commissioned to evangelize Native Americans in New England. He spent the next four years preaching the gospel to Indian communities at Kaunaumeek (East Nassau, New York), Forks of the Delaware (Easton, Pennsylvania), Crossweeksung (Crosswicks, New Jersey), Shamokin (Sunbury, Pennsylvania), and Cranberry (Cranbury, New Jersey). During one year of ministry in Crossweeksung David baptized about 130 newly converted Native Americans. Brainerd died of tuberculosis at 29 years old.

Some may justly criticize Brainerd’s heavenly hope as too “Christoplatonic” (to use Randy Alcorn’s term). David mostly longed to be “absent from the body,” and he rarely longed for the experience of sinlessness as physical life in a resurrection body on perfectly remade planet. Yet, Brainerd was only imbalanced, not in error. His weaknesses reflect corresponding strengths. Every believer should learn from Brainerd’s “other-worldliness.” These two poems profoundly express the solidly biblical truths that we are “no more than foreigners and nomads here on earth” (Hebrews 11:13, NLT), that every believer should continually exclaim, “Whom have I in heaven by you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you,” and that the greatest good in life is “for me…to be near God” (Psalm 73:24, 28, ESV).

[Joe’s project includes a DVD documentary and a devotional based on the book “The Life of David Brainerd” by Jonathan Edwards. Follow the link to find out more about these products (available for preorder).]

“Wand’ring Pilgrim” Now Available!

LifeofBrainerd_MP3cov FINALa_1600x1600[Post updated 1/17/15]

The wait is over! Download “Wand’ring Pilgrim” today. Then keep up with us on Facebook and this blog!

Available from these stores: iTunesGoogle Play, and Bandcamp (includes full preview, any-format download, and accompaniment tracks).

NOTE: Make sure your song/album title search for “Wand’ring Pilgrim” includes the apostrophe (or search by artists: “Paul Keew” and/or “Jon Horton”).

This song is part of a larger project that includes a DVD documentary and a devotional based on the book “The Life of David Brainerd” by Jonathan Edwards. Follow the link to find out more about these products (available for preorder).

“Wand’ring Pilgrim” Coming Soon

I’ve been working on a collaborative song project this fall with Joe Tyrpak of ChurchWorksMedia. Joe has written and produced a documentary, “The Life of David Brainerd,” the most popular book published by Jonathan Edwards, a book which draws heavily from the private diary of David Brainerd, 18th century missionary to the Native Americans.

Brainerd’s diary contained two brief poems–the only poetry known to have been written by Brainerd. Joe wanted these poems set to music so they could be shared and sung and made known. He adapted the poems to match metrically and then commissioned me to set them to music.

I took the idea to Jon Horton, a friend and fellow musician at my church, and one of the most talented musicians I know. Jon helped me finish the song, arrange it for recording, and then record it. It has turned out to be one of the most unique and creative song projects I’ve ever worked on, and I’m very excited to release the song as a single later this week!

Song/Album: Wand’ring Pilgrim (from “The Life of David Brainerd”) [Preview audio]

LifeofBrainerd_MP3cov FINALa_1600x1600“Wand’ring Pilgrim” will be available for digital download on Bandcamp (in any digital version), iTunes, Amazon MP3, and Google Play. It will also be integrated with the soon-to-be-released documentary “The Life of David Brainerd.”

Sign up for email updates and Like “Watschsong.com” on Facebook to keep up with news about the new song release; get behind the scenes with photos, videos, and followup posts taking you deeper into the making of this unique project; and be the first to get your hands on the free lead sheet! Oh, and did I forget to mention that we made a music video?!

New Song Recording: A Broken Vessel

New song_Broken Vessel

My friend and colleague James Harris first sent me this text back in 2009. For whatever reason, it escaped my attention until January of 2012 when I rediscovered it and took a good look at it during a morning devotional time. This doesn’t often happen, but as I read through the words, they sort of sang themselves right off the page! I went over to the computer, sketched out a basic recording and lead sheet, and zipped them over to James (who promptly informed me that his brother wanted the recording as soon as it was available).

Well, Kendall, the long wait is over! Follow this link to download “A Broken Vessel.”

This is also the first song on the site that has a backing track available. Just look for the blue “CD” button with the song resources. Only the original recorded key is available at this time.

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Some of you may be interested to know that all of the recording basically happened in my home studio (which is a Wal-Mart folding table with an iMac and a Yamaha digital keyboard, tucked away in the corner of our all-purpose 2nd bedroom). This gets the geek in me all excited! The only instruments recorded on a live mic were voice, acoustic guitar, and shaker (which were also recorded at home). Currently, I’m using Logic Pro 9 as my DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). Logic’s built-in piano and guitar patches are very nice. For woodwinds and strings, I use Vienna Symphonic Library (Special [meaning basic] Edition), which in my opinion has the most realistic string patches available. I saved each of the recorded tracks as high-quality wav files, which were pieced together and mixed by Gary Emory at his studio, Brightwater Digital, in Greenville, SC.

If the song sounds familiar, you may remember it from the end credits of our short film.

Lord willing, this won’t be the only song recorded and released this year. Keep in touch, and thanks for your prayers and support!

Help Me Write a New Hymn: July 4th

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Last year, right around this time, a good friend remarked to me that we could use a new hymn appropriate for the 4th of July. I’d like to give it a go, but I thought it would be fun to get your input!

Some of my immediate considerations:

  • I would like it to be Scriptural rather than sentimental/patriotic
  • It should apply more broadly than to just our country

What would make the “considerations” list for your ideal July 4th hymn? What ideas, themes, and Scripture texts do you think should be considered? What could the structure of the stanzas be? If it includes a chorus, what should be its “rallying cry?” What word pictures could be used?

I really would welcome your ideas! Leave a reply to this post, or leave a comment on our Facebook or Twitter page.

Also, if you have any phrase, wording, or musical ideas (motifs), send those along as well! If it’s easier, send them by email: paulkeew@gmail.com.

Who knows…maybe by this time next year, some of our churches will be singing a new hymn for July 4th written by, well, us!

When God Works…

“Almost every hymn is a result of revival–whether personal, local, denominational, or regional.” (Fred Coleman, Head, Department of Church Music at BJU)

This is a striking statement. I would probably be a bit more skeptical if it didn’t come from Fred Coleman, a man who has done massive amounts of research in the area of hymnology. I should know: I took his graduate hymnology classes. I remember sitting through his riveting lectures, listening to him rattle off hundreds of years of church music history practically by memory. I had to think back through some of these lessons as I wrote the script for the recently released Watchsong film. Luckily for me, “Uncle Fred” is also my music pastor, so I was able to pick his brain as well.

Hymns are inspired by revival. The more you think about it, the truer the statement becomes. Look back through history, or think of David writing the Psalms–listen to the stories of hymnwriters past and present: when God works, people sing. The great periods of prolific hymnwriting through history correspond to periods of great revival. At the very least, hymnwriters testify to experiences of personal revival as their creative spark. This very website is the result of personal revival. The hymn that started it all, O God, My Joy, was written as God was lovingly leading me through a period of repentance and restoration. It’s a freeze-frame of what God was teaching me.

Singing is often a telltale sign of God’s reviving work. So is prayer. In fact, when God works, people exult and worship and weep and repent and preach and witness. Just yesterday, I was reading Luke chapter 1 where God was working in extraordinary ways in the lives of Zecharaiah and Elizabeth and Mary. All three of them were prompted to give blessing and pray and prophesy because of God’s work in their lives.

So, how is your singing these days? From my church’s choir loft, I get a chance to watch people sing. I try not to, actually–I need to focus on worshiping God myself, not wondering about everyone else–but sometimes, in my weakness, I glance around. I can’t help but wonder what’s happening in a person’s heart who isn’t singing or even looking responsive at all. I’ll admit, sometimes I need to stop singing and just meditate on the words I am supposed to be “praying” to God. But usually, the more excited I am about worshiping my Lord, the louder I sing (and, being a tenor, the higher I sing, too).

Perhaps you’ve forgotten what’s worth singing about. My wife and I both confessed to each other recently that we were in need of personal revival. Life happens, and before we know it, there are 1,000 things that distract us from seeking God. I was encouraged again by Hosea 3:6, a verse I return to often:

“Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD;
his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
as the spring rains that water the earth.”

God is faithful and merciful and eager to restore and revive parched, thirsty hearts. The greatest revivals in history started in one heart–with one person. Humbly press on to know the Lord, and watch Him work in you and in others through you.

It is here, I believe, that Christian artists have a unique and wonderful privilege. As we respond to God’s work in our lives by creating, very often we are not the only beneficiaries of this God-inspired creativity. When God works, other people sing, too. How many sparks of revival have been lit by a song or a poem or a work of art or a book or a journal or even a single sentence? The influential Moravian leader and hymnwriter Nikolaus von Zinzendorf is said to have committed his life to Christ after seeing the painting Ecce Homo (“Behold the Man”) by Domenico Feti. Frances Havergal was inspired by the same painting to pen the hymn I Gave My Life for Thee. I wonder if Feti had any idea that his painting would influence thousands and thousands of people for Christ in the centuries to follow.

My prayer is that Christian artists would experience deep personal revival and be used of the Lord to inspire others through their art to “press on to know the Lord.” My prayer is that revival would break out in my own heart and in yours. When God works…well, I hope you can fill in what happens from your own experience.

What Is Watchsong? [Video]

Why should Christian artists and musicians continue to create new content? What motivates them to create? Why do Christians need new music? Why do you need Watchsong?

I wanted to find a creative way to share the vision and mission of my website, Watchsong.com, as well as encourage Christian artists that they are vitally important. That’s where this short film comes in.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting some more in-depth commentary about the film and some of the themes it presents. But first, I need to give credit to several people who made this film possible.

The “MVP award” goes to my friend Shane McMullin at NINTH HOUR Productions for bringing this project to life with such amazing skill and creativity and for the hours and hours he spent shooting, cutting, and editing this film. He also had to put up with me and all the crazy ideas I had, most of which he magically made happen.

Special thanks to: Christian Mülhauser (chrigu.org), who graciously let me use a few short clips from his stunning film Madeira; Doug Young (dougyoungstudios.com), my good friend, who let us shoot in his very unique studio space; and Fred Coleman, my pastor, mentor, and friend, who helped me think through the historical data and has always encouraged me in my writing.

Thanks also to: my friends, James Harris, Brian Pinner, Chris Barney, and Ben Fetterolf, who proofread my script and were very encouraging in this project; Ken Beale, who lent us his skill and expertise for an entire day in the mid-July heat working cameras and lighting for a Snickers bar and a verbal IOU; and my wife Heather, who also braved the heat to assist us and made sure you couldn’t tell how hot it was when you watch the film.

The end credits song is A Broken Vessel from Watchsong Music. You can find a lead sheet, lyrics, and an mp3 demo on the Music page. A full recording will be available soon on Watchsong.com.

Andrew Peterson Testimony

On my website, I posted two audio clips of a talk by Andrew Peterson which I found to be very helpful in encouraging me not to view my artistic endeavors as inferior work in the kingdom of God.

“Your work for the kingdom can be married to your passion for art and beauty.”

In these clips, Andrew shares the testimony of his personal journey to recognize this. He is a very witty and entertaining speaker. If these clips interest you, you may want to listen to (or download) the entire session audio, where he also sings three of his songs.