Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Jerusalem the Golden | THAXTED

The 7th triennial WELS National Conference on Worship, Music, and the Arts was just held this past week, July 22-25, 2014, at Carthage College, Kenosha, WI.  What a full week of worship, recitals, and workshops on every topic related to current worship in the WELS! I wish there was a way to experience all of the offerings (maybe the WELS Commission on Worship will post not only handouts but videos of the presentations).  I was responsible for two things at this conference: the piano music for worship reading session (42 pieces in 75 minutes) and I was given the commission to arrange the closing hymn of the closing service, the hymn that has closed every WELS Worship Conference since 1996: Jerusalem the Golden, set to the Gustav Holst tune, THAXTED.

While I've been blessed to be asked to compose a number of orchestral settings for the WELS Worship Conference over the years (The Tree of Life, 2002–soon to be published by CPH, Let Children Hear the Mighty Deeds, 2011), Jerusalem the Golden was well known by every attendee to be the final hymn of the conference: it was the one you waited to sing with a thousand other voices, it was the one during which you knew you were going to have a hard time singing through the tears of joy and longing for heaven.  I still remember exactly where I was sitting in the Carthage College chapel in the summer of 1996, sitting next to my brother for the closing service of the first WELS Worship Conference, balling my eyes out while trying to sing along to Richard Proulx's arrangement.  I remember that feeling of never wanting to leave the conference and desperately longing for the joys heaven.  So when the commission came to me last summer to make a new setting of Jerusalem, I was very humbled and honored, and more than a little nervous knowing that Jerusalem was so loved and so anticipated by so many conference goers.

Professor James Tiefel, Professor of Worship and Preaching at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary and spokesman for the WELS Commission on Worship and the planning committee, shared with me in the commissioning email one of the reasons for wanting a new setting of THAXTED:
Over the years we have used several settings of the tune THAXTED, none of which was actually composed with the Jerusalem text in mind!  Our planning committee feels it’s time that the text and tune were featured in an original composition.
How was this new commission received in worship? I'll take what Pastor Caleb Bassett wrote as a very positive review.  Other reviews came in quickly over Twitter:

My prayer is that this setting helps people to pray
"Jesus in mercy bring us
To that dear land of rest
Where sings the host of heaven
Your glorious name to bless." 
(Christian Worship Supplement 728, st. 2)
and that this setting serves the Church at large to be
"The shout of them that triumph,
The song of them that feast.
To God enthroned in glory
The Church’s voices blend." 
 (CWS 728, st. 3)
Soli Deo Gloria 

Friday, July 25, 2014

A Free Piece of My Piano Music (and a link to buy my book!)

For all those who were at one of my piano music reading sessions at the WELS National Conference on Worship, Music, and the Arts, thank you for coming! To those who bought my first book of piano improvisations based on hymn tunes, here is the link to the "corrected" version of "Let Us Ever Walk With Jesus".  The NPH publication has a wrong note in the right hand in the opening pattern (an A where there should be an E–it's the melody!).

Let Us Ever Walk With Jesus - arr. Dale A. Witte (free PDF)

So here's my request: please go to NPH and buy a copy of my piano book so that the first printing sells out and we can fix the mistake in the 2nd printing.  Deal? ;)