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Entries in karl digerness (5)


Christmas Eve Lessons & Carols at Coral Ridge (2014)

I always value seeing and hearing what others are doing in worship services, especially around "unifying" times of year when much of the Church focuses on pinnacle, earth-altering events like the incarnation of the Son of God. (That's one of the reasons I love being a part of the best, most thoughtful, most collaborative worship leader group on Facebook, Liturgy Fellowship.)

One of the things I LOVE about being at Coral Ridge is their strong heritage of pouring resources into the musical arts. Because of this, I can stand on the shoulders of my predecessors and help put together amazing, diverse, expressive, and beautiful services, like our annual Christmas Eve Lessons & Carols Services, with some of South Florida's best artists. (And, this year, we're pulling in folks from New York and Germany!) For those unfamiliar, "Lessons & Carols" is nothing more (and nothing less) than a Scripture-and-song-response service format. It's a simple yet compelling structure that has a lot of flexibility to fit a lot of different styles and traditions. Here's what we're doing tomorrow night. Here's the service, with some commentary:

Gathering of God's People

Jazz Prelude

O Come, O Come Emmanuel - arr. Gasior
Little Drummer Boy - arr. Gasior

Jim Gasior is on the faculty of New World School of the Arts in Miami, and he is an amazing pianist and arranger. He arranged "O Come" for a jazz trio/quartet and "Little Drummer Boy" for full band with horns. Coral Ridge Music commissioned Jim to write these pieces and hopes to release his live Christmas jazz preludes sometime in the next year or two. 

Welcome & Opening Prayer

I pulled a simple prayer from Thomas Cranmer's 1549 Prayer Book--a collect for Christmas Day.

Almighty God,
You've given us your only begotten Son
to take our nature upon him,
and this day to be born of a pure virgin;
Grant that we, being made new by You,
and made children by adoption and grace,
may daily be renewed by the Holy Spirit,
through this very One: Jesus Christ,
our Lord and Savior,
who rules and reigns forever and ever. Amen.

Gathering Carol

O Come All Ye Faithful - arr. Willcocks, Chen, 2013

David Willcocks' arrangement has been adapted by our Artist in Residence, Chelsea Chen, for orchestra and organ. Simple, majestic, fabulous.

Lessons & Carols

Lesson 1

John 1:1-17
The Unbelievable - Sovereign Grace Music 

This year, we wanted to open the lessons with John 1 and respond with this beautiful new song from Sovereign Grace Music. It's an invitation to "believe the unbelievable." The song is filled with similar paradoxes, including my favorite lines, "He will heal the unhealable / he will save the unsaveable"...A perfect thought to begin the night. It's orchestrated much like the recording, for acoustic guitar, piano, strings, winds, horns, and glockenspiel.

Lesson 2

Genesis 3:8-19
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen - arr. Hillsong 

We wanted to pair the dark but hopeful passage about the fall of Adam and Eve with a congregational song that matched the depth and height of the text. "God Rest Ye" does that. This Hillsong arrangement for folk band (incl. banjo) and strings is an accessible and elegant, yet passionate setting.

Lesson 3

Isaiah 9:2-7
"Puer Natus Est," from Four Improvisations on Gregorian Themes (No. 1) - Everett Titcomb

A beautiful, meditative, slowly growing piece for organ that Chelsea will play. I can't wait to hear her registration choices and colors in our sanctuary and on our organ.

Lesson 4

Isaiah 11:1-9
There Blooms a Rose in Bethlehem - Sovereign Grace Music

I transcribed and arranged this wonderful modernization (in both text and tune) of "Lo How a Rose." Our choir will be singing it in a very simple SAB setting.

Lesson 5

Luke 1:26-38
A Hallelujah Christmas - Leonard Cohen / Cloverton / arr. Mortilla 

The viral video of this re-text of Leonard Cohen's classic "Hallelujah" is a telling of the Christmas story that plays with Cohen's original text and juxtaposition of earthy and lofty language...a perfect tension to explore the wonder of the Incarnation. My friend and composition student at Indiana University, Paul Mortilla, came up with a creative, complex, and beautiful orchestration for strings, organ, horns, winds, choir, percussion, and soloist. This will be a special moment.

Lesson 6

Luke 2:1-7
Hark the Herald Angels Sing - City Church Little Big Band

A terrific jazz arrangement with an Afro-Cuban feel was written by Adam Shulman, an artist connected with Karl Digerness over at City Church San Francisco. I have no doubt that some won't appreciate the setting ("Just give us the original!"), but I find the spirit and groove of the song to be refreshing, offering some new shades on the text we might otherwise miss. It's gorgeous and lively. To my ear, it sounds like heralding angels.


This is Our God (with What Child is This) - arr. Cottrell

A beautiful, lush, contemporary arrangement of a modern Christmas song woven into a classic Christmas tune. It's a tradition at Coral Ridge to do this piece, well predating me. It's powerful and climactic, with full band and orchestra.

Lesson 7

Luke 2:8-16
Meditation - Tullian Tchividjian, Senior Pastor 

Silent Night - arr. Hicks, 2012

A simple arrangment for harp and strings. We sing it as the room goes dark and the choir lights candles.

Sending of God's People

Prayer & Blessing

Joy to the World - arr. Rutter, Chen, 2013

This arrangement is our glorious finale--Chelsea Chen's adaptation of John Rutter's wonderful arrangement.


Lamentation: A Necessity, Not an Option

A month ago, I introduced Coral Ridge to her first (at least to my knowledge) full-blown congregational song/Psalm of lament (Karl Digerness' fabulous "How Long O Lord [Psalm 13]"). It got me thinking about the relationship of lamentation to the gospel and how it all works both in corporate worship and in our daily lives. Go over to LIBERATE and check out the post: "Why Lamentation Must Precede Liberation."

SIDENOTE: That piece of art at the top of the post is "The Lamentation" by Ludovico Carracci (c. 1582). I was in NYC at the Metropolitan Museum of Art several weeks ago, and that painting arrested me. 


The Only Two Albums You Need This Christmas

Sovereign Grace, Prepare Him Room

The music of Sovereign Grace always has to be included among the top content out there being written for the modern church. They've been doing it for years, and they've been committed to engaging lyrics, profound theology, and a dogged Christocentrism. Their new Christmas album, Prepare Him Room, does not disappoint their legacy. In fact, I think the production on this record is some of the finest to date. The instrumentation and melodies are beautiful, the arrangement of some traditional carols and hymns are fresh and fitting (I love what they've done with the underlying structures of "O Come All Ye Faithful"), and the new texts are incredible contributions (ones that I hope are lasting) to the hard-to-expand corpus of Advent and Christmas songs. If you read the credits, you become very aware that the albums sound and style is largely due to their producer, Neil Degraide, who seems to know how to play almost every instrument, and play each well. Every part is tasteful and purposeful, and the choices are unconventional but not jarringly quirky. The arrangements are sophisticated and creative. I love listening to this album, and I will love introducing these songs to our people.

Really, all the songs are excellent. Here are the ones that keep jumping out at me:

Come All Ye Faithful: Again, I love the arrangement and progression choices underlying the classic melody (esp. the ii-vi under "behold him"). They expand/elongate the final line, "O come, let us adore him..." and while I think it's awesome, if I were to lead this congregationally, I'd be inclined to shrink it back so that people don't trip up. I don't think it destroys the integrity of the arrangement to do this.

God Made Low: Unless things change, I'm planning on introducing this fabulous new song to Coral Ridge this Advent. It's an epic song, and the chorus summarizes the song's explication of the incarnational paradox:

Emmanuel has come to us
The Christ is born, Alleluia!
Our God made low to raise us up
Emmanuel has come to us 

Who Would Have Dreamed: Wow. Powerful. The Chorus:

Who would have dreamed or ever foreseen
That we could hold God in our hands
The Giver of life was born in the night
Revealing God's glorious plan
To save the world 

There Blooms a Rose in Bethlehem: I have always desperately wanted the traditional hymn "Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming" to be a little easier for congregations to sing, not many Advent songs say what it says. Neil Degraide has rewritten its words and melody but kept the essence...and I think the song is actually better. This song is nice for congregations and choirs...very lyrical.

The Unbelievable: A perfect way to begin a Christmas invitation to come and see the One who will "Heal the unhealable" (what a line!). I love this song.

Cardiphonia, Songs for the Incarnation

Church music is always in need of needle-movers and boundary-pushers. Cardiphonia continues to be one of these entities with its eclectic output, exemplified in its latest, Songs for the Incarnation. Music which sounds unconventional often causes us to think and emote's one of the great gifts of how art takes the soul places it wouldn't normally want or think to go. In this anthology, Cardiphonia has gathered 20+ artists and commissioned them with re-setting a bunch of forgotten gems of Advent hymnody. Not all songs are congregational, but they're all edifying and a great way to engage the season this December. In Cardiphonia's post on the album, they thank the artists for "stretching even their own conceptions of what constitutes music of the 'season.'"

Songs I'm really digging:

JG Hymns' "In the Night a Heavenly Song Came Down": Nothing on this track sounds copied or imitated. Everything from from its swung groove, to mixed meter, to its minor-to-major shifts, to its glassy vocals, to its space-age FX, to its swanky horns: it's just simply awakening, like smelling salts for the soul...which is, well, what the incarnation was!

Holy City Hymns' "Love Came Down at Christmas": I love this simple arrangement of a great hymn, and it is supremely singable for congregations.

Jered McKenna's "Hark a Burst of Heavenly Music": I'm a sucker for groove. And I'm a sucker for slap-happy crisp, disco-pop electrics paired with strings. Takes me to a a Jackson-Fiveian place of innocence and freedom. :)

Coastland Commons' "In the Bleak Midwinter": I love this very haunting arrangement of this now classic tune to a classic Christmas poem. 

Michael Van Patter's "Jesus Came, Jesus Comes": The text of this song is incredible, paring Christ's first advent with the "personal Advent" of our experiencing of His coming to us in salvation.

Also check out the many different versions and twists on the has a way of refreshing old meditations.

My Contribution: "Come See a Child of Low Estate"

Being in South Florida, the land of EDM, I've been listening to a lot of dance music. I've also been in conversation with a new friend, Alf Bishai, a NYC-based artist and composer who is taking a serious stab at exploring the intersection of EDM and worship music (support his work here!). The sum total of all of this is my own desire to see how the genre's strong suits can speak into how the church sees, understands, and expresses her worship. And I believe EDM has something to offer (I've offered some theological reflection here). So...this song was my attempt at melding an Avicii-inspired style with a riveting old text. My friend, Dan Diaz, mixed it. Hope you like it! 

Even if you don't care for the recording or style, it's flexible and could be done it a bluegrass or rock format with a lot of integrity, I think. Set down a step or two, and it's in the congregation sweet spot. 

One final thought: A great experiment in what songs can do to the character and affect of a text would be to listen to my version alongside Karl Digerness' equally wonderful (but different) version of the same text. Ask how the nuances of the text and its message change with the musical setting. Answering that question starts to poke at how music joins text to create (not just accompany) meaning.




Review of Fragments of Grace, by City Hymns

In the early days of the hymn resurgence among young (largely evangelical) Christians, only a handful of groups were making records.  Red Mountain Music was one of those entities. 

Click to read more ...


Pentecost Songs: The Way Forward Continues to be the Way Back

The rootlessness of contemporary Christianity is starved for remembrance, but the vacuum of historical connectivity has finally turned on.  And the sucking sound is getting louder and louder.

For years now, Cardiphonia has been on the leading edge of liturgical renewal in evangelicalism.  Before it was "cool" to talk about liturgy and historic practices in Christian worship, Cardiphonia was carving its path in this direction on the world wide web.  Its mastermind, Bruce Benedict, I have watched from afar in the past, and now I consider him a friend, liturgical mentor, and kindred spirit in worship-thought.  Bruce has many unique gifts, rarely packaged in a single person.  He is an artsy musician and an academician.  He listens widely and reads widely.  He plans and leads worship from the point of biblical values and ideals, not trends and polls.  But perhaps Bruce's most outstanding trait is his ability to network widely, inspire artists, and galvanize efforts for the sake of the broader Church. 

The latest masterpiece of Cardiphonia is the robust, twenty-three tracked compilation album, Pentecost Songs, gathering the efforts of twenty-one different artists (listed below) from across the country (and one in Singapore!).  The musical style straddles everything from folk, to ambient, to electronica, to rock, to pop-orchestral.  The importance of this project in the development of church music history is immense.  Contributor and Music Associate at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Greg Scheer, said it best in recent email correspondence:

It's really a monumental project. Who knows? Maybe 100 years from now, this will be in alongside the Foundling Hospital Collection or Southern Harmony! In the more immediate future, I hope the collection benefits the church.

In other words, this project is significant because it seeks to carry on the church music tradition of creating compilations of congregational music which pull from the past and push toward the future.  Pentecost Songs contains old hymns to new music, a re-harmonized chant, and brand new textual and musical creations.  Equally wonderful is the fact that the careful listener will hear, even amidst the clever and artsy production, that the songs have a simple integrity which makes them VERY suitable for congregational singing--simple, singable melodies, combined with accessible chord-structures and accompaniment options. 

Pentecost Songs is available for FREE on bandcamp, with an option to support the project financially.  The Pentecost Songs Songbook is also available for free!  The season of Pentecost begins this Sunday.  Don't miss this opportunity to listen and sing your way through the Spirit's season.  Read about the project in its entirety at Cardiphonia.

I've reproduced Cardiphonia's list of contributors here, so that you can see the diversity and breadth of expression represented.  I was blessed to be one of the songwriters on the project, but it's not at all pretense when I say that I am among the "least of these." 

Hiram Ring – Come, Holy Spirit, Come
Musician with Pageant Music and Doctoral Student in Linguistic in Singapore.

Nathan Partain – Come, Holy Spirit, God and Lord
Music Arts Director at Redeemer Presbyterian, Indianapolis

Wen Reagan – Almighty Comforter
Musician and Doctoral Student in American Studies at Duke.

Bruce Benedict – Come, Holy Ghost & Come, Thou Everlasting Spirit
Music Director at Christ the King, Raleigh

Jered McKenna – Almighty Comforter
Musician and Worship Leader for Mitchell Road Presbyterian Church

Matt Boswell – God the Spirit
Worship Pastor at Fellowship of the Parks, Fort Worth, TX

Zac Hicks – Away With Our Fears
Associate Pastor of Worship & Liturgy at Cherry Creek Pres, CO

Brian T Murphy – Did I Not Plead Above
Red Mountain Music and New York Hymns

Melanie Penn & Steve Elliot – Holy Ghost, By Him Bestowed
Brooklyn, NC – /
Musicians at Park Slope Pres

Clint Wells – No Longer Visible
Nashville, TN –
Musician and Red Mountain Music

Karl Digerness – Spirit of God
San Francisco, CA –
Music Director at City Church, SF

Michael Van Patter – Breathe on Me & Great Comforter, Descend
Greensboro, NC –
Director of worship-arts at Hope Chapel

Anne-Marie Strohman – Holy Spirit, Light Divine
Musician – Palo Alto, Ca

Luke Brodine – Come Down O Love Divine
Palo Alto, CA –
Pastor and musician at Grace Pres.

Cameron Gray – Breathe on Me
San Diego, CA –
Chad Gray works as a designer and musics at Harbor Pres.

Greg Scheer – Glossolalia & O Holy Spirit, Come!
Grand Rapids, MI –
Minister of Worship at Church of the Servant in Grand Rapids and Music Associate at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship

Rick Jensen – Spirit I Wish I Knew Your Name
St. Louis, MO –
Musician and Liturgy Fellowship Dir.

Gina Tuck – Hymn to the Holy Spirit
St. Louis –
Director of Liturgical Arts at Central Pres

Luke Morton – Come, Holy Spirit, Come
Issaquah, WA – No More Fear
Assistant Pastor at Cov. Pres. Church.

Wendell Kimbrough – Holy Spirit, Come
Washington, DC –
Musician at Church of the Advent (DC)