Friday, February 27, 2015

40 Days of Chant, Psalm 9 D Ionian

So, I wanted to try something different, at least different for me today.  I did psalm 9 in D ionian with parallel motion.  Think Bartok with Major 7ths.  It's either really interesting or useless. What do you think?

  1. 1  I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with my whole heart; * 
         I will tell of all your marvelous works.
  2. 2  I will be glad and rejoice in you; *
         I will sing to your Name, O Most High.

  3. 3  When my enemies are driven back, *
         they will stumble and perish at your presence.

  4. 4  For you have maintained my right and my cause; * 
        you sit upon your throne judging right.
  5. 5  You have rebuked the ungodly and destroyed the wicked; * 
        you have blotted out their name for ever and ever.
  6. 6  As for the enemy, they are finished, in perpetual ruin, * 
        their cities ploughed under, the memory of them perished;
  7. 7  But the Lord is enthroned for ever; * 
        he has set up his throne for judgment.
  8. 8  It is he who rules the world with righteousness; * 
        he judges the peoples with equity.
  9. 9  The Lord will be a refuge for the oppressed, * 
        a refuge in time of trouble.
  10. 10  Those who know your Name will put their trust in you, * 
        for you never forsake those who seek you, O Lord.
  11. 11  Sing praise to the Lord who dwells in Zion; * 
        proclaim to the peoples the things he has done.
  12. 12  The Avenger of blood will remember them; * 
        he will not forget the cry of the afflicted. 
    13  Have pity on me, O Lord; *
       see the misery I suffer from those who hate me, 
       O you who lift me up from the gate of death;
  13. 14 So that I may tell of all your praises
        and rejoice in your salvation *
        in the gates of the city of Zion.
    15 The ungodly have fallen into the pit they dug,*
        and in the snare they set is their own foot caught.
    16 The LORD is known by his acts of justice; *
        the wicked are trapped in the works of their own hands.
    17 The wicked shall be given over to the grave, *
         and also all the people that forget God.
    18 For the needy shall not always be forgotten, *
        and the hope of the poor shall not perish for ever.
    19 Rise up, O LORD, let not the ungodly have the upper hand;*
        let them be judged before you.
    20 Put fear upon them, O LORD;*
        let the ungodly know they are but mortal.


I am enjoying the #lentunedited hash tag because it is simply true that we are all a mess.  No matter how much we might give the impression of having our “stuff” together, no matter how anal-retentive, organized, or fastidious we might be, we simply are a mess.  In some way, shape, or form we are cluttered: materially, emotionally, or spiritually.  The #lentunedited hash tag is giving us a chance to practice telling the truth. 

Speaking the truth about ourselves to ourselves is a key practice of lent.  The Ash Wednesday liturgy is so thoroughly clear about just how broken we are the truth becomes unavoidable.  It is a beautiful thing because the truth sets of free as it invites us to mindfulness.

It is so easy to go through the day on auto-pilot.  It is excessively simple to make the motions of contemporary life with never a thought.  Indeed the "powers that be" prefer us to be mindless.  It makes it easier for the fallen spiritual forces of this world to control us and maintain the status quo if we simply get out of bed, go to work, come home, "veg out" in front of the TV, go sleep, and repeat.  

On the other hand, when we are mindful; when we are aware of what we are doing; when we pay attention to our actions, we can then ask why we are acting and we can wonder if there are better ways to act, individually and communally.  

So how do you become mindful?  How do you wake up to the present moment?  The first step is to tell your self the truth.  You are a mess, and pretending to be otherwise is a lie.  However, you do not have to stay messed up.  Internal tidiness is possible.  Start by paying attention to your breathing.  If you think about it, breathing is the most mindless act you ever do.  It is reflexive, but it doesn't have to be.  When you pay attention to your breath, you become aware of your most mindless act.  Your awareness allows you to become more aware of your other less mindless acts.  It opens the door to being fully present in the moment. 

To become aware of your breath, simply breathe in through your nose for a slow count of four, then exhale through your mouth for a slow count of four.  Do this for three to five minutes.  At first your mind will run in 90 directions each one begging for your full attention.  That's okay, let it happen and keep returning to counting your breath.  Soon your thoughts will settle like those fake flakes in a snow globe and you'll be able to just breathe.  Mindfulness follows, then creativity, and then transformation. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

40 Days of Chant, Psalm 8

1 O Lord our Governor, *
     how exalted is your Name in all the world!
2 Out of the mouths of infants and children *
     your majesty is praised above the heavens.
3 You have set up a stronghold against your adversaries, *
     to quell the enemy and the avenger. 
4 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, *
     the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,
5 What is man that you should be mindful of him? *
     the son of man that you should seek him out?
6 You have made him but little lower than the angels; *
     you adorn him with glory and honor; 
7 You give him mastery over the works of your hands; *
     you put all things under his feet:
8 All sheep and oxen, *
     even the wild beasts of the field,
9 The birds of the air, the fish of the sea, *
     and whatsoever walks in the paths of the sea.
10 O Lord our Governor, *
     how exalted is your Name in all the world!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

40 Days of Chant, Psalm 7 and Coltrane Changes

As I read Psalm 7 this morning, John Coltranes Giant Steps came to mind.  I have loved his composition for a long time because it is both beautiful and has an edge at the same time.  It's like an Imperial Stout that has a deep rich malty flavor with just a hint of alcohol burn.  The chant below is not a direct quote of Giant Steps by any means.  However, it is inspired by the chromatic mediant relationships that Coltrane used.  It's probably the hardest one to sing that I have written so far, but I think it catches the beauty and edge of this psalm.

1 O Lord my God, I take refuge in you; *
     save and deliver me from all who pursue me;
2 Lest like a lion they tear me in pieces *
     and snatch me away with none to deliver me.

3 O Lord my God, if I have done these things: *
     if there is any wickedness in my hands,
4 If I have repaid my friend with evil, *
     or plundered him who without cause is my enemy;

5 Then let my enemy pursue and overtake me, *
     trample my life into the ground,
     and lay my honor in the dust.
6 Stand up, O Lord, in your wrath; *
     rise up against the fury of my enemies.

7 Awake, O my God, decree justice; *
     let the assembly of the peoples gather round you.
8 Be seated on your lofty throne, O Most High; *
     O Lord, judge the nations.

9 Give judgment for me according to my righteousness, O Lord, *
     and according to my innocence, O Most High.
10 Let the malice of the wicked come to an end,
     but establish the righteous; *
     for you test the mind and heart,
     O righteous God.

11 God is my shield and defense; *
     he is the savior of the true in heart.
12 God is a righteous judge; *
     God sits in judgment every day.

13 If they will not repent, God will whet his sword; *
     he will bend his bow and make it ready.
14 He has prepared his weapons of death; *
     he makes his arrows shafts of fire.

15 Look at those who are in labor with wickedness, *
     who conceive evil, and give birth to a lie.
16 They dig a pit and make it deep *
     and fall into the hole that they have made.

17 Their malice turns back upon their own head; *
     their violence falls on their own scalp.
18 I will bear witness that the Lord is righteous; *
     I will praise the Name of the Lord Most High

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Psalm 6 and Chocolate Stout

I'm still recovering from this cold; so that makes me leery of the quality of this chant.  However, part of a lenten discipline is sticking to it even when our best efforts are not up to snuff.  Part of how we learn to depend on God is learning when our best efforts aren't enough.

I'm also at our diocesan clergy retreat and enjoyed a delightful Samuel Smith's Organic Chocolate Stout.  It has to be one of my all time favorite Chocolate Stouts.

Anyway, here's the chant:

1LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger; *
    do not punish me in your wrath.
2Have pity on me, LORD, for I am weak; *
    heal me, L
ORD, for my bones are racked.
3My spirit shakes with terror; *
    how long, O L
ORD, how long?
4Turn, O LORD, and deliver me; *
    save me for your mercy's sake.
5For in death no one remembers you; *
    and who will give you thanks in the grave?
6I grow weary because of my groaning; *
    every night I drench my bed
    and flood my couch with tears.
7My eyes are wasted with grief *
    and worn away because of all my enemies.

8Depart from me, all evildoers, *
    for the L
ORD has heard the sound of my weeping.
9The LORD has heard my supplication; *
    the L
ORD accepts my prayer.
10 All my enemies shall be confounded and quake with fear; *
    they shall turn back and suddenly be put to shame.

Monday, February 23, 2015

40 Days of Chant: Psalm 5, Db Maj

Today is the 5th day of Lent (Sundays don't count in the 40 days), and it is the beginning of the first full week of me writing and Anglican Chant a day.  I wrote a simple chant tonight because I am battling a cold and sore throat.  Hopefully I'll be less cloudy tomorrow.  If so, I may give Psalm 5 a re-write in addition to writing a chant for Psalm 6.  The relationship between the tone of the text and the chant is loose in this rendition, but I have too much cold medicine in me right now to think clearly.   

Nonetheless, I continue to enjoy this discipline.  I am having to dig into the scriptures and try to capture the overall emotional content of each psalm in just a few chords.  The brilliance of the psalms emerges quickly when you start trying to capture their emotional complexity in a short chord progression.  The psalms, like human-beings, connote contradictory emotions at once. Trying to articulate that in chant is a wonderful challenge.

1 Give ear to my words, O Lord; *
     consider my meditation.
2 Hearken to my cry for help, my King and my God, *
     for I make my prayer to you.

3 In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; *
     early in the morning I make my appeal and watch for you.
4 For you are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness, *
     and evil cannot dwell with you.

5 Braggarts cannot stand in your sight; *
     you hate all those who work wickedness.
6 You destroy those who speak lies; *
     the bloodthirsty and deceitful, O Lord, you abhor.

7 But as for me, through the greatness of your mercy I will
               go into your house; *
     I will bow down toward your holy temple in awe of you.
8 Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness,
               because of those who lie in wait for me; *
     make your way straight before me.

9 For there is no truth in their mouth; *
     there is destruction in their heart;
10 Their throat is an open grave; *
     they flatter with their tongue.

11 Declare them guilty, O God; *
     let them fall, because of their schemes.
12 Because of their many transgressions cast them out, *
     for they have rebelled against you.

13 But all who take refuge in you will be glad; *
     they will sing out their joy for ever.
14 You will shelter them, *
     so that those who love your Name may exult in you.

(Second Half of Chant) 15 For you, O Lord, will bless the righteous; *
     you will defend them with your favor as with a shield.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

40 Days of Chant, Psalm 4 at a Coffee Shop

So I wrote this chant at one of the coffee shops I frequent here in Omaha.  I am enjoying this discipline because of what I am learning.  I don't think I could have written this one four days ago, but the more I do these I can feel my "ear" getting better.  I am just beginning to hear them before I write.

I have been reading the book Mindset by Carol Dweck where she argues that we shouldn't think about innate talent.  On the other hand we should thing about challenging ourselves to get better every day.  She argues for learning by failure instead of just doing what we know we can do over and over again.  Reading this book was an influence in me taking up this discipline this Lent.  It is something Brad Goode tried to teach me 15 years ago in Jazz Improv I at CCM.  I think I am starting to hear him now.  Each day I am trying to do something different with these chants and to learn another way to express these deep and rich Psalms with very few chords.

Anyway, enough about my process.  Here's the chant for Psalm 4.  It is common in the Psalms and in Hebrew poetry in general for there to be a shift in tone close to the end.  Psalm 13 is another example where the psalmist questions God for a host of verses and then says in effect, "Nonetheless I will praise you for all time".  Psalm 4 is like that; so, even though it is a short psalm, I split this chant.  The last two verses shift in voice and I felt it necessary to end differently than the first 6 verses.

Answer me when I call, O God, defender of my cause; *
    you set me free when I am hard-pressed;

    have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

"You mortals, how long will you dishonor my glory; *
    how long will you worship dumb idols

    and run after false gods?"

Know that the LORD does wonders for the faithful; *
    when I call upon the LORD, he will hear me.

Tremble, then, and do not sin; *
    speak to your heart in silence upon your bed.

Offer the appointed sacrifices *
    and put your trust in the LORD.

Many are saying,
   "Oh, that we might see better times!" *

    Lift up the light of your countenance upon us, O  LORD.

You have put gladness in my heart, *
    more than when grain and wine and oil increase.

I lie down in peace; at once I fall asleep; *
    for only you, LORD, make me dwell in safety.