Over the summer and fall, I have been working on my biggest composition project to date, and I am so excited to tell you about it in this week’s post. Let me take you back to the project’s conception.
During my first Advent season at First Baptist (2017), Jim preached a series of sermons based on different prayers from the Advent stories in Scripture. From the beginning of that series, I thought it would be the perfect theme for a large choral work. I continued to mull that over until the next February while Jim and I were both traveling to San Francisco with Vocare, the FBG youth choral ensemble. While we were sitting in the airport, I told Jim about my idea and asked him if he would be interested in making the prayers into language that could be readily set to music. I was thrilled that he was interested in the project.
After we got back home, I didn’t have to wait long before Jim came to me with a new idea. As he had been thinking through the project, he came up with a unique idea. (Of course, none of us are surprised about that!) He suggested that we use three texts—the Magnificat, Zechariah’s prayer upon receiving the news of John the Baptist’s birth, and the message of the angels to the shepherds—to create three anthems. He realized that these texts are typically set in English or Latin, but that the prayer language of the time would have been Hebrew. He suggested that he would modernize some of the language into English poetry but would pull a line from each text in Hebrew that could be repeated throughout each anthem. I was absolutely thrilled by this plan, and we got to work.
We had decided to hold the bulk of our work until the Advent 2018 season, thinking being in the mood and spirit of the time would help us as we wrote and composed. However, my heart had other plans. My sickness and surgery slowed our little project down a bit, but last February we jumped right back into it. Jim wrote such beautiful poetry based on the three texts, and he gave me some tune suggestions for parts of them.
Then it was my turn to do my part. I used the summer months when I was not teaching piano and organ lessons to really focus on composing the music, and I have never felt so fulfilled by a work completed as I do with this. It was wonderful to collaborate with Jim on this project, and the whole thing was a labor of love.
In the end, the music, God with Us, has come together as a three-movement work with “Song of Mary,” “Prayer of Zechariah” and “Message of the Angels.” Over the next three Sundays, the Sanctuary Choir will premier each of the movements along with chamber orchestra, organ and piano.
I am grateful to Jim for taking on this project. I am grateful to Vivian for teaching it to our choir and giving the music its premier, and I am so grateful to God for giving me the ability and a space to make new music for God’s glory.