“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.

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“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).]

An Interview with Frontline’s Tim Keesee

dispatches-header

Several years ago, my church showed a DVD on a Sunday night called Dispatches from the Front. I was stunned. Moved. Awakened. It was not the typical “missionary video” I was expecting. That happened to be the first episode: Islands on the Edge. Since then, I’ve seen most of the episodes. They’re all good. Really good. You need to watch them.

I love seeing creative media used to point people to Christ and move them toward godliness. That’s why I love these films. They’re not ostentatious. They’re well crafted. They have soul-enriching value.

The films follow Tim Keesee as he journeys to “the world’s difficult places.” The skillful camera work and rich script (Tim’s vivid journal entries) take you right along with him as he traces the gospel’s advance and meets its unsung heroes.

Earlier this summer, Tim took the time to answer a few interview questions:

PK: Briefly, for those who don’t know you or Frontline Missions International, what is Frontline, it’s purpose, and your part in all of it?

TK: My first foray into missions was years ago when I worked on behalf of persecuted Christians behind the Iron Curtain by organizing letter-writing campaigns for Christian prisoners and raising funds to smuggle Bibles into the Soviet Union.  After the Berlin Wall came down, I was in Eastern Europe with pastors—teaching and learning from them. It was there that I first saw the power of Gospel partnerships. In the early years, our work centered in the former Iron Curtain countries. However, the walls came down and new Macedonian calls were heard in Siberian Russia, central Asia, India, China, and the Middle East. The mission answered these calls and changed its name in 2002 to Frontline Missions International in order to underscore our wider sphere of ministry. You can find out more at www.frontlinemissions.info.

How did the Dispatches series come about? (What’s the story behind it?)

 

How many films have you made, and what is your latest project? 

We have completed 6 episodes of Dispatches from the Front, and the 7th is coming out in July 2014. The new episode, “Day of Battle” is set in North Africa. Here are all the episodes:

Episode 1: Islands on the Edge
Episode 2: A Bold Advance
Episode 3: I Once was Blind
Episode 4: Souls of the Brave
Episode 5: Father, Give Me Bread
Episode 6: The Power of His Rising
Episode 7: Day of Battle (coming in July 2014)

I am very interested in the creative use of media for the sake of the gospel and discipleship. What have been some of the effects (perhaps unexpected) of these films, for yourself, the Frontline team, and others?

God has become so much bigger in my view. Seeing the power of the Gospel at work in so many diverse cultural contexts and seeing the unity and diversity of the Church has been a personal revolution for me. I thank God that He is using these as a Gospel tool to impact the life and vision of His people. We hear from people all the time across America and from other parts of the world who have been deeply impacted by these stories. The reason for the impact is because we are simply telling what God is doing, and people are moved, strengthened, and motivated as they see God at work in the world.

One of the things that first struck me about the Dispatches films was how well-produced they are. The films are modern and compelling in their look, sound, and communication. Do you have any say in the artistic direction of the films (the look, graphics, music, etc.)? Is there any articulated strategy in your (team’s) choices?

While I am involved in the artistic direction of the film, this project would not be possible without Pete Hansen’s extraordinary skill as a videographer. But it’s much more than technical skill—Pete is able to let the story be heard and seen more than his techniques. He is also a very good traveler and has become accustomed to shooting in all kinds of situation—sometimes very complicated ones!

As far as a strategy, I am not sure if this is a strategy, but we made the decision at the outset that these videos would not be used overtly for fund-raising nor promoting any particular organization. The only reason Frontline’s name is on it is because we produce these films, and obviously people need to know where they come from. But we aren’t about using these as glorified “info-mericals.” I believe the Gospel at work and advancing in “every tribe and language and people and nation” is the greatest story in the world. It doesn’t have to be enhanced or over-produced.

Is there a lesson here for Christians to use media in a creative and compelling way? 

Different films will have different purposes and will, therefore use different creative techniques. For our series, we want to show life as it unfolds—giving people a “street-level” or “jungle-path” view of life on the Gospel front lines. So our films do not always have tidy conclusions, because that isn’t usually the way life is either.

Who is your creative team on the films? 

We are a pretty small operation: myself, Pete Hansen, and Brannon McAllister (who works with us on the package design).

You’ve traveled widely and been a part of many Christian gatherings in cultures around the world. How has your perspective been shaped in regard to corporate worship and the use of music in corporate gatherings? Do you have any insights for our gatherings here in the states? 

I have been blessed to see the variety of musical expressions of worship in many different cultures. Music is a very important cultural connector. It’s like language, dress, and customs—one of the important ways we create community. And that’s true whether the community is around the world or around the corner. So it’s beautiful to see this diversity in worship—and yet unity in Who is worshipped and magnified. It is a foretaste of Revelation 5, when people from “every tribe and language and people and nation” will praise Christ, their Redeemer, the Lamb who is worthy!

When can we expect the latest Dispatches film to be released?

The release date is July 20, 2014. It is titled “Day of Battle” and is set in North Africa.

 

I understand you’re working on a new book with Crossway as well. Can you tell us about it?

The book, Dispatches from the Front: Stories of Gospel Advance in the World’s Difficult Places was released at the end of May 2014. It is my journal entries drawn from 8 regions of the world (about 20 countries). Once again, it tells of our great God’s unstoppable Gospel! You can read reviews of it here and here.

Remembering “Dr. Gus”

Dwight Gustafson conducting in Rodeheaver Auditorium, 2010

Dwight Gustafson (better known to us as “Dr. Gus”) passed away a few weeks ago on January 28. He served as dean of the School of Fine Arts at Bob Jones University for 43 years and had a profound influence on thousands of lives, including mine.

Bju.edu has a beautiful tribute page to Dr. Gus. What follows is the personal tribute that I shared:

“I attended BJU after Dr. Gus had ‘retired,’ but he still did a lot of conducting. I feel so fortunate to have learned under his direction for many concerts and operas. I think my favorite memories are from our evening opera understudy rehearsals with just him, the piano, and the other soloists. His immense scholarship combined with his personal warmth were inspiring. He once took the time to ‘lean over me’ [he was a very tall man] with a personal word of encouragement that helped keep me in grad school at a time of great personal struggle. I will never forget that.

“To his family: you have always treated me like a son and brother. I have seldom felt more welcomed than in your presence. Dr. Gus always made me feel that way, too. His warmth and wit survive in you. Praying for you all. Dr. Gus will be missed…and remembered.”

[Dr. Gus is the grandfather of Brian Pinner, my good friend and musical collaborator. Together we wrote “O God My Joy” and “See the Christ.”]

The Tree

I ran across some poetical musings of mine from years ago that I thought might be interesting to share. (Just for future reference, I try to archive some of my inspirations on the Music Page of the main site). This is just a kind of free verse poetry. I wanted to focus on description and story without the confines of meter or rhyme. In fact, I originally wrote it in paragraph form. But I like how the poetic form highlights the descriptive phrases. I hope you find it a blessing!

tree

The Tree [2009]

As I emerged into the clearing,
my gaze was first fixed
upon the silvery stream.
Clear and crystalline,
a stone-toss in width,
it wound its way,
winking a thousand little suns,
through the verdant valley.

And then, the tree.
Sage and serene,
wise and weathered,
it gripped the ground near the water’s edge,
immovably rooted by the life-giving vein—
its lush, leafy canopy letting only a few
jagged patterns of light
dance under its shelter.

As I looked, scenes like phantoms
faded in and out before my view:
a little girl reading her favorite book,
wiry legs swinging happily
on a low branch near the bank;
a group of whooping boys
launching boldly out into the stream
from a knotted rope fixed
to a sturdy upper limb;
a pair of picnicking young lovers
lying in the shade, pointing,
laughing at menageries of animals
floating by in the clouds above;
a stray mare, taking refuge from a fierce storm,
calmly mowing the dry grasses underneath;
an old man perched on a root,
pulling on his pipe
before resuming his afternoon walk;
a family grave-side gathering
over a small, solitary headstone.

And I remembered wise words,
ancient words from the Scriptures:
“Blessed is the man who walks not
in the counsel of the wicked…
but his delight is in the law of the Lord…
He is like a tree planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.” 1
“In the fear of the Lord
one has strong confidence,
and his children will have a refuge.” 2
“Whoever abides in me and I in him,
he it is that bears much fruit,
for apart from me you can do nothing.” 3

This tree, rough and wrinkled,
suddenly seemed to me more beautiful
than the smoothest skin—
its earthy fragrance more intoxicating
than the sweetest perfume.
I longed with all my life
to be like this tree:
deeply, desperately rooted
by the living streams of God’s Word;
to be to my family and to all
who wandered into my shadow
a life-long safe-haven of love—
a sage, sturdy refuge of truth—
a life heavy with the fruit of the Spirit.

1 Psalm 1:1-3
2 Proverbs 14:26
3 John 15:5

The Book of Revelation

book-of-revelation

I finally had the chance to read (“view”) through The Book of Revelation graphic novel. I found it stunning. And I thought it was worth recommending.

I first learned about this project back when it was Revelation App (before I had any apps, or even a smartphone) through Doug Young who was the model for John and helped Chris Koelle (the illustrator) with much of the shot planning and model photography. I was really impressed with what I saw, but through Doug, I got an appreciation for the exhausting work that went into this project.

I’ve always admired Chris Koelle’s artwork. And though any art can point to The Artist, I have been particularly blessed by his overtly biblical projects such as JOB, The History of Redemption, and now The Book of Revelation.

Christian artists have a unique opportunity to use their media to spread a passion for God’s glory. Chris’s work (and all involved in this project) has inspired me to give glory to God with a fresh glimpse into this amazing, mysterious, and worship-filled book of the Bible.

Here are a few resources to help you experience The Book of Revelation:

Please Note: As several reviewers point out, this is not a “comic book” meant for children. You would do well to exercise discretion before sharing this resource with children or teenagers. I would call it “tastefully graphic,” but it is graphic nonetheless.

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.