“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” Music Video

Mitch Silvius (Silvius Motion Pictures) did a fantastic job creating this music video for our new song “Wand’ring Pilgrim!”

Mitch was also the Director of Photography for the soon-to-be-released documentary “The Life of David Brainerd” (available now for preorder).

“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).

Go Behind the Scenes on Facebook

[Updated 2/19/15]

Now is a great time to start following Watchsong on Facebook, where I’ll be adding pictures, videos, and stories from our recording sessions, as well as other extra little tidbits about the song.

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Picture caption: Jon Horton setting up tracks during our initial recording session in the “cavernous-sounding” entry hall of Colonial Baptist Church, Virginia Beach, VA.

So go ahead and give us a little “thumbs-up” by clicking our “Like” button, and you’ll be included in every juicy little update! While you’re at it, sign up for email updates for this blog, too!

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Update: I found out that just “Like”-ing a Facebook page does not necessarily mean you’ll get updates (gasp)! Click on “Liked” at our FB page and check “Get Notifications” to keep up with the latest news.

“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?!