A few months ago my husband was commissioned by the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) to compose a piano meditation on the Twila Paris song "Lamb of God." The piece is to be featured at that church body's triennial national worship conference this summer in St. Peter, Minnesota. Last month Phillip completed the composing process and began learning to play his piece! He says it is not technically difficult, but it is so unusual that I think it is at least conceptually challenging. It is much more "classical" than "popular" in its approach. The result is haunting and beautiful and is growing on me with each successive listen. Here are Phillip's thoughts on the composition process (you can read his full blog post about the piece here):
I used some polytonal techniques to paint "no sin to hide" and some impressionism to highlight "brought me to his side" and "O wash me in His precious blood". I created a mutation of the tune's intervals to accompany "I was so lost", and derived a harmonic progression from the polytonal assertions I made in the first stanza to accompany the Passion stanza, with pianistic flourishes to evoke the mocking and crucifixion. I was able to land all this with recapitulations of several ideas in the third stanza and found resolution in the end for "and to be called a lamb of God."
Phillip decided to play his arrangement at our Good Friday Tenebrae yesterday, so I was able to capture a recording. My daughter helped me to edit the video so that it begins and ends with a photo of the altar at our church as it will look tonight at the Easter Vigil. It's not the best visual--I would have preferred that the photo be of a Lenten or Good Friday theme to reflect the seriousness of the music, but I didn't have one readily available. Maybe I can eventually switch it out with something more in keeping with the mood of the piece. But at this point it will depend on my daughter's availability since I have zero movie-making skill!
You are invited to listen and to meditate on the words--provided below--that the music is intended to evoke. I suggest reading line by line as you listen. Listen for the crucifixion, the scorning and mocking, the washing, and the Lamb. You will hear the text painted by the music. Sometimes the music is not pretty, and that is by design--the crucifixion of our Lord was not pretty. But in the midst of all that ugliness two thousand years ago was the sweetest, most beautiful thing that ever was or will be. And the beauty is not the sentimental, Hallmark card sort, but the type that makes you catch your breath in disbelief as you try and fail to take it all in. I think in its refusal to be forced into a musical mold this piece captures that sense of puzzled awe. How can this be, that the Lord of the Universe died for me?
I hope you are blessed by listening as I was.
Your only Son no sin to hide
But You have sent Him From Your side
To walk upon this guilty sod
And to become the Lamb of God.
Your gift of Love they crucified
They laughed and scorned him as he died
The humble King they named a fraud
And sacrificed the Lamb of God.
Oh Lamb of God, Sweet Lamb of God
I love the Holy Lamb of God
Oh wash me in His precious Blood
My Jesus Christ the Lamb of God.
I was so lost I should have died
But You have brought me to Your side
To be led by Your staff and rod
And to be called a Lamb of God