Veni, Veni Emmanuel (O Come, O come Emmanuel) is an anthem for Advent, utilizing SATB choir, piano, and handbells, anticipating the coming of Christ. It includes both Latin and English lyrics of praise, worship, and anticipation.
I have always loved handbells. I spent a lot of my life at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Dayton, Ohio where the music program is massive. Both of my sons played in various handbell choirs, and I even had the opportunity to ring a bell or two for ornamentation during a choir anthem. My current choir also has a very enthusiastic and talented bell choir. They were quite supportive and helpful as I wrote this piece.
If you have read other posts, you already know that I love choral music. It seemed to be a natural transition to combining them in one composition. Then, when you add in that I love Christmas music it was a no-brainer. I also love singing in Latin, making the whole experience a lot of fun. Why Latin you might ask. Its the vowels. Nice round vowel sounds.
Alternating the melody between the handbells and singers created a joyous celebration where no one feels left out. For the singers, the range is generally moderate. The tenor and base are in unison, with rare divisi while the soprano and alto are generally divided, with occasional unison. Veni, Veni Emmanuel uses 22 handbells, and can be doubled for larger groups. Performance time is approximately 3:15.
The composition was first performed on December 17, 2023 at Rio Rancho Presbyterian Church with the Chancel Choir and the JuBELLation Ringers and was well-received. I’m starting to think about what other handbell/choir piece I might compose. Its too late for this year, but perhaps a jubilant Easter anthem for 2025?
I Will Sing Alleluia was a really fun composition experience. It originally started as a longer piece, with a long introduction and piano interludes. Over many months, and multiple revisions it became an introit for choir and piano. The tone is positive, and a song of gratitude. I am really drawn to songs of praise and cascading alleluias or amens. There is a repeated message of “I will Sing” that admonishes me that I am to sing to God in all circumstances, not just those that please me. While it is often difficult to put into practice, this song is a great reminder.
Although I began writing I Will Sing Alleluia in 2020, this year I was able to experience it being sung during worship in two different churches. It was incredibly exciting… and terrifying. I felt somewhat vulnerable putting my creative product to the test in a public performance. But, in both churches it went really well and the feedback was positive. Whew!
The text is based on Psalm 59:16. According to the New American Standard Bible, Psalm 59 is a prayer for deliverance. The psalm is one of many that are attributed to David. The beginning of the psalm includes multiple requests for help from God in order to protect him from his enemies. There is also an acknowledgement of God’s strength. It ends with the statement of gratitude for God’s lovingkindness and the statement of praise that this song is based upon.
I’ve mentioned it in other posts, I love a good Amen! I grew up in a church where you could usually expect an amen of some type at the end of every hymn. Obviously there was an amen at the end of every prayer as well. Therefore it is both familiar and comforting to have it there.
The online dictionary from Oxford Languages defines amen as an exclamation at the end of a prayer or hymn, meaning so be it. It is used in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim practices. The word itself has a Biblical Hebrew origin. In Hebrew it mean to be reliable or dependable, to be faithful, and to have faith or believe. It then passed into Greek, and then Latin. According to Wikipedia, amen occurs 30 times in the Hebrew Bible. It was used to affirm the words of another speaker (1 Kings, 1:36), refer to the words of another speaker without affirmation (Nehemiah 5:13), and as a final amen to one’s own words.
One of my favorite Amens is at the end of The Lord Bless You and Keep You by Peter C. Lutkin. One of my tasks during composition lessons was to write an Amen sequence. That was an assignment I really enjoyed. However, it was harder than I thought it would be.
According to archive.courierpress.com, The United Methodist church began deleting some amens from their 1966 hymnal and then did so entirely in their 1989 hymnal. In 1990 the Presbyterian Hymnal also omitted them. Apparently the Southern Baptist hymnal never included them. According to David Eicher at pcusastore.com writes that prior to the 1861 publication of Hymns Ancient and Modern, hymns didn’t include a sung amen. The Protestant Reformation hymns also didn’t have an amen. Some scholars think the addition of the amen was an error and that there was no precendent for having it there.
I wrote several versions of my Amen sequence, took my favorite one, and published it with two different voicings.
I think the reason that Amens work musically is because of two factors. The first is familiarity. For me at least, it takes me back to childhood. The other reason that it works musically is the vowel sound “ah” at the beginning of the word. It is such a beautiful vowel; nice to listen to and easy to sing. While all of the scholarly reasons for not having it sung at the end of a hymn may be historically accurate, I still like them!
May the Beauty of God utilizes the beautiful prose from John Birch to create a song of praise. I learned about John Birch while I was searching for poetry that I would like to set to music. I found his work at www.faithandworship.com where there is a bit of a bio and access to a huge collection of prayers. Birch describes prayer simply – a conversation with God. Sometimes his words are in the form of conventional poetry. Other times it appears to be an intimate conversation with the Creator. His website offered the prayers for use in worship, so I contacted him to ask for specific permission to set his music for choral performance. He graciously offered his permission for me to use any of the prayers available on the site.
I loved the image he painted of the love of God dwelling in other people’s faces, works, words, and love. In addition, the love of God displayed by us can therefore impact others so that they also can believe. The song ends with the words that all might see, and seeing believe.
It seemed to me that the musical setting required movement to match the joy and optimism of the words. I particularly love the energy that a hand drum can add to a choral work, so I added an optional drum rhythm. The composition would be appropriate as an introit, benediction, or orison for use in worship.
To see the complete piece, please click HERE or send me a message on this site.
My God Accept My Heart This Day was written by Matthew Bridges (1800-1894). According to songsandhymns.org he was born in Maldon Essex and raised in the Anglican church. He later converted to Catholicism. After residing in Canada for a while, he moved back to England. He then lived at the Convent of the Assumption at Sidmouth Devon until his death.
According to wikipedia.org he began his career as an author at the age of 25 with a poem named Jerusalem Regained. He later wrote The Roman Empire Under Constantine the Great. Bridges also wrote several hymns. One of the most well known hymns by Bridges is Crown Him with Many Crowns. I really like that one.
I found My God Accept My Heart This Day in Songs for Christian Worship (1950). What I liked most about it was the image of offering myself to God to be a part of God’s family. The hymn does not shy away from the fact that we are sinners and require God’s assistance to live a life that would be pleasing to God. I later learned that there is a 5th verse to this hymn that was not included in my hymnal. Verse 5 references the Holy Trinity. All Glory to the Father be, All glory to the Son. All glory, Holy Ghost, to thee, while endless ages run.
In this composition I considered not only a vocal range that would be accessible for nonprofessional singers but also a melody that reflects the lightness of heart one would enjoy after giving over their life to God. I really like a tune that sticks in your head or that you might hum as you leave worship. I think the flow of this piece accomplishes that.
Savior, Teach Me Day by Day was written by Jane Eliza Leeson in 1842 and it has been included in Hymns & Scenes of Childhood. It is considered a hymn of obedience to God.
Jane Eliza Leeson was born in 1807 or 1808 in Wilford England. She was christened at St. Mary’s Church in Nottingham and then converted to Roman Catholicism as an adult. She died on November 18, 1881 in Leamington, Warwickshire. Leeson was a prolific hymnwriter, published many collections of hymns, and published English translations of hymns that were originally written in Latin.
Savior, Teach Me Day by Day is currently in public domain. One of my favorite lines includes “loving Him who first loved me” which ends each stanza. 1 John 4:19 says, “We love, because He first loved us” and this Bible scripture appears to be a primary source for the hymn. Other Biblical references are numerous. Hymnary.org lists quite a few. Matthew 11:29 makes reference to learning from God and John 14:15-18 offers instruction for obedience to the commandments of God. Both concepts are present in this hymn.
I chose to use the words and re-set the tune. It is set in the key of D, and within a range that is easy for most choirs and congregations, using 4-part harmony. I love congregational hymn singing so it was important to me that it didn’t feel uncomfortable for a congregation to sing. It can be sung a cappella or with piano accompaniment. I also added a 2 measure Amen at the end. As I have said before, I love an Amen at the end of a hymn. If you are interested, my version can be found here.
Anybody feeling stress recently? Loneliness? Anxiety? The Lord Be With Us As We Walk is a hymn offering comfort that we are not facing the trials of living alone. God is always with us. The words to this hymn were written by John Ellerton. You can find a brief bio of John Ellerton here.
This is another hymn that I chose to write a new melody and harmony for since I liked the words but was unfamiliar with the music. In this particular arrangement I added the Amen. I’ve always liked a good Amen at the end of hymns and I don’t really understand why they have been left out of newer hymnals.
The prayer for God to walk with us along our homeward road seems to have two different meanings. This could refer to our daily travels and activities, or perhaps our journey toward our heavenly home that we reach at the end of life. There is also a reminder that we should be mindful of God in our thoughts and our conversations.
Asking God to be with us through the night also makes a lot of sense. The fear of dying in one’s sleep is really pretty common. The belief that bad things are more likely to happen at night is also prevalent. All of the verses appear to be a prayer for comfort and safety, and acknowledging our need for God in our lives.
My setting of this hymn is generally in a comfortable range for non-professional singers. It also has alto, tenor, and bass parts that compliment the melody and generally emphasize the text with moving parts.
If you are interested in viewing the entire hymn click HERE.
When I started composing choral music I spent time going through old hymnals (I have a lot of them) and picking hymns that I didn’t know, were in public domain, and I liked the words. That seemed like a good place to start. One hymn I discovered was This is the Light of Day by John Ellerton. I really liked that it was a description of the Sabbath. He included light, rest, peace, prayer, and first of days as the characteristics of Sabbath.
John Ellerton was born in London in 1826. He graduated from Trinity College at Cambridge in 1849 (B.A.) and 1854 (M.A.) and was ordained in the Church of England in 1851. Ellerton served in many capacities including Curate of Easebourne Sussex, Lecturer of St. Peters, Brighton, and Vicar of Crewe, Roding. He also worked as a hymnologist and wrote or translated about 80 hymns.
My favorite line is in verse one. O Dayspring, rise upon our night and chase the gloom away. I had to look up the word dayspring. The dictionary indicates that it is an archaic word for dawn. One source suggested that sunrise/dawn is a symbol of God’s intervention into our world. I think that fits well with this text. The other image that popped into my mind was a lighthouse. People often compare Jesus to a lighthouse that guides us to safety. The metaphor of night and gloom seems representational of all the chaos in our world that will be dispelled with the return of Jesus to our lives.
Interested in seeing the full hymn (my version)? Click HERE.