memories and choral composition shop talk

I spent several hours working with choral music for the upcoming season at my church yesterday. I decided to re-write an old setting of mine of Psalm 121. This is the psalm for one of the upcoming Sundays in Lent. It begins “I lift up my eyes to the mountains, from where shall come my help?” It always makes me think of my maternal grandmother, Thelma.


Thelma lived in South Charleston, West Virginia.

I have many childhood memories of traveling from Greeneville, Tennessee and later Flint, Michigan to West Virginia to visit my Mom’s family. I see in retrospect that Thelma was a bit of a character.  She actually had life pretty good in some ways. Her son and his family lived a few doors down. One of her two daughters lived across the street with her family. Thelma doted on them and their children.

My Mom left West Virginia as a young woman to attend the bible college of her denomination in Anderson, Indiana.


She recently told me she cried every night for months with homesickness. But refused to give in to it and stuck it out in the new setting. She must have been the first of her family to attend college. She never returned to live in West Virginia where her sister and brother lived.

I never noticed the inevitable tensions between my Mom and her Mom until I was an adult. As a child I always felt welcome in all three homes on Central Avenue in South Charleston.

And of course everybody was pretty religious. They worried about each other’s souls. Were you truly “saved”? Would they get to see you in heaven? That sort of thing.  Needless to say, they worried about my Mom’s preacher husband and his new fangled ideas from time to time.


I have a memory of my grandmother, Thelma, saying the words of Psalm 121. As a kid, I thought she meant that she was actually getting strength from her beloved mountains of West Virginia. I later discovered that this is not what the psalm means. The speaker is looking at the hills feeling daunted. The strength is coming “from the Lord.”

When Thelma’s buy valium manila husband, my gentle grandfather, Jim, died, I seem to recall the use of this psalm in the funeral. My most vivid memory was of my brother and I carrying our grandmother (and her wheelchair?) from the car to the Jim’s open grave site. This was necessary because that part of W. Virginia is all hills and mountains so that even the graveyards are on pretty steep inclines.

This was also truly also of Central Avenue where the Midkiff (My Mom’s fam) lived.

Anyway, I wrote this psalm setting a while back and intended to try to get it published with a dedication for my grandparents, Jim and Thelma. It was never published. I don’t think I ever did more than perform it with my choir at the time and think about submitting it to a publisher.

It’s been so long since I wrote it that I am having to completely rewrite it to make it acceptable.  It’s fun, but time consuming. I want to have some anthems ready to rehearse with my choir this coming Sunday. This anthem won’t be one of them. But I think I’ll get it revised in time to rehearse and perform.

Another anthem that I want to use that won’t be ready this Sunday is Chanticleer’s gospel setting of “The Woman at the Well.”

This another project from past years. It’s a great setting. Chanticleer is a marvelous choral group whose recordings range from pop to classic and everything in between.

I have always admired their a cappella rendition of this old gospel tune. I transcribed the melody and the bass line back when I was working for the Catholics and used it as an anthem. It tells the story of the gospel reading of one the upcoming Sundays of Lent.

My old transcription doesn’t have the alto and tenor part in it, so again this is going to require a bit of work. I have been listening to the recording and think it would be pretty easy to add the missing parts so that my present choir could perform it.

I have to break off here and get ready to drive to Muskegon….

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