“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” 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.

Screen Shot 2013-08-01 at 5.42.10 PM

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


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!

A Christmas Carol: A New Musical

Carol-CD-bannerIn 2010, I wrote original music and lyrics for a new musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. It debuted to rave local reviews by those who were fortunate enough to get tickets (which sold out within 90 minutes).

Well, if you missed the show or haven’t yet heard the recording, today is your lucky day! The original cast recording of A Christmas Carol: A New Musical is now available for digital download by clicking on this link.

You can preview the entire recording and purchase favorite tracks individually. Or, even better, purchase the entire album for a great low price!

Some fan favorites you’ll want to preview include: If Anyone Knows How to Keep Christmas, I Love the You I Used to Know, and God Bless Us, Every One.

It’s not too late. Get yours before the clock strikes One!

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.

Basics of Good Hymnwriting: Text

In my earlier post introducing Chris Anderson’s new hymn, I mentioned that I appreciated his text on several levels. Here are a few reasons, which I believe are native to many strong hymn texts: (Note: I am using the term hymn in this post to refer to a sacred song written primarily for congregational singing, which you may think of as a worship song or spiritual song.)

Consistent meter and rhyme scheme

When writing for congregation, predictability is generally a good thing, especially when it comes to meter and rhyme scheme.

Have you ever been distracted in worship when the line you just sang didn’t even remotely rhyme how you expected it to? Have you ever tried to sing with gusto only to find yourself singing a “momentary solo” when the phrase took an unexpected turn? I raised my hand for both questions. Recently, I read a post by Bobby Gilles in which he describes the meter and rhyme scheme of a hymn as a “contract” that the author is drawing up for his readers (listeners and singers). That contract is set in stone by the time the first verse (or stanza, if you prefer) is over. The reader will now expect the author to “keep contract” by keeping each subsequent verse in the same meter (which includes proper syllabic stress on the words of each phrase) and rhyme scheme. Bobby does a great job illustrating this with a text by Isaac Watts.

Parallelism and logical progression

A good song (or hymn) tells a story. It leads the listener/singer on a journey. It preaches like a great sermon. Listen to this story: “Come, lonely heart…Drink, thirsty heart…Rest, guilty heart…Joy, grateful heart.” The parallelism helps us follow the path and progression of the story, like a well-crafted outline.

Think of the great redemption-story progressions of the hymns And Can It Be and Arise, My Soul, Arise. Recall The Power of the Cross by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, leading us through the events of the crucifixion. Brian Pinner and I have also tried to follow a logical progression when we wrote O God, My Joy (when God is my joy, I am sustained through trials and compelled to fight sin) and See the Christ (the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ). Nothing ruins a story (or a hymn) like aimlessness.

A note of warning, however: Just as alliteration is not always the best choice for a sermon outline, close parallelism may not be for your hymn, either. We appreciate it when it really works, but don’t sacrifice content or a better turn of phrase just for the sake of parallelism (e.g. notice that verse 3 of The Power of the Cross steps away from the parallelism of the other verses.)

Both specific and broad application

Chris’s text follows the story of the woman at the well in John 4. It plainly applies to her situation. But it’s written in such a way that it also plainly applies to me! And it could easily be sung with a wide array of topics and passages in a worship service. Our hymn See the Christ is also an example, following Philippians 2:5-11, yet appropriate for several topics or occasions.

Simplicity and repetition

This is not necessarily a universal virtue in hymnwriting. I appreciate many wordy and complex hymns, and Chris certainly could have written a much heftier hymn on John 4. There are some huge, complex themes in that chapter! But I found myself really drawn to the strength of simplicity in Chris’s text. There is such relief and welcome in the refrain-like phrase of each verse: “No soul is too small for His mercy; No sin is too great for His grace!” And the way each verse opens and ends with the same phrase keeps them focused, compact, and poignant.

Concluding thoughts

I close with an exhortation: It’s easy to criticize a preacher when you know something about preaching or public speaking, and it’s easy to criticize a hymn text when you know something about hymnwriting. But the amazing and baffling thing is that God may choose to work powerfully through a “weak” vessel (e.g. the apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 2:1-5). So, yes, do try to write admirably. But let God amaze you by how He chooses to work.