His Be the Victor’s Name (EP) released this week. Here’s my post about it. I will be sharing a little about each song, and the first one up is “Wake Up Sleeper.” Listen to it:
lyrics | lead sheet | chord chart | buy it
Behind the Words
“Wake Up Sleeper” is the only song whose words are 100% original. My readership knows that I’m a big fan of re-setting old hymns to new music, so writing my own material is something I’m starting to do with a bit of fear and trepidation. I was one day last year impressed by the resurrecting, life-giving power of the gospel, contained in Ephesians 5:14, which seems to be Paul’s conflation of several passages/ideas from Isaiah and Malachi.
I wanted to take Paul’s idea and expand on it in a Call to Worship song that preached the gospel’s death-to-life message. Its opening lines explain how living in the struggle of sin is a kind of “living death.” I incorporated the Augustinian idea of the human being as incurvatus in se (“curved in on itself”), which I have written about here. A double-meaning is intended in “unforgiving”–it is true that I am an unforgiving person to others and that life is unforgiving to me. And, I wanted to highlight our inability to keep the law while simultaneously exhausting ourselves at our own attempts at self-justification. Here’s verse 1:
You summon me up from the death of living
A life bent on itself and unforgiving
Resisting peace and truth, Your law defying
Exhausted by my own self-justifying
The first pre-chorus highlights the “while we were yet sinners” (Rom 5:8) aspect of salvation and God’s call to worship. It also states what I believe is one of the principle purposes of worship–to call the human race to look on Christ:
In my rebellion, You call
To raise me up from the fall
As You gather me
With Your chosen people to
Lift up my eyes to see the Lord
The second verse and its pre-chorus are my favorite lines, personally. I actually wrote it first…not sure why. The second set of lines are really potent and have personally affected me. A pastor-friend once imparted the idea to me that God even turns our sin into something good, right then and there. When we sin, it becomes a gracious gift of God to show us our need for Jesus. When we sin, we’re forced to reckon with our inability to keep God’s law, causing us to flee to Christ for mercy. In this sense, God even uses the accusations of the enemy for our good, because it drives us to our Savior. Wow.
I stand condemned, a sinner poor and needy
I come with empty hands, my heart is bleeding
My soul recounts the sins that ever plague me
The enemy reminds me of them daily
But when he shows me my sin
It’s a blessing within
For I flee to my
Lord and see, the wounded hands,
In risen power he says to me
Behind the Music
I’d describe “Wake Up Sleeper,” with a bit of a wink, as “pipe punk.” (Organ purists will find that incredibly blasphemous. Oh well.) The song is, in some respects, an exposition of what it means to be the “new Coral Ridge,” for us. I wanted this song and the entire album to begin with what has characterized our church for so many years–our 6600-pipe Ruffatti organ. But I wanted our band to quickly join its ranks (pun intended) and fuse this new sound together (check out my post musing about the organ’s future). We’re experiementing with the organ-and-band sound each Sunday, and we’re learning as we go. The two weren’t necessarily designed to go together, but we’re figuring out a path, sensing God’s providential convergence of these two usually distinct textures of church music. It’s not necessarily apparent in the recording, but organist Chelsea Chen and I labored over the stops and mixtures of the organ sound to get what we thought was just the right balance and intensity. We ran through probably twenty takes before we were satisfied.
The song’s intro and pre-chorus progressions push and pull meter and count. It feels like shifting between 3/4 and 5/4. This is meant to jolt, to “wake up.” The chorus is meant to be in the upper vocal range, with repeated tonics, so that it sounds like shout.
There is one fun, covert musical reference that I would now like to draw your attention to…along with a free album to the first two people to figure it out.
Free Giveaway if Your Guess is Right
The organ isn’t just playing randomly. Embedded in the moments where it comes to the fore is a reference, a musical nod, to a historic melody in church music. I’ll be even more specific…the first 8 notes. If you can correctly name the reference in the comment section below, we’ll mail you an album (or get you a digital one, if you prefer). Once people get it, I’ll explain below what we did and why we did it, but chances are if you know the answer, you already get it. 🙂
Are you quoting the opening chords from Bach's "Wachet Auf" (BWV 645)?
Sounds to me like the opening chord progression to 'Come Ye Sinners'
Ben beat me to the punch on the hidden tune. Great juxtaposition and creative fusion of instruments. Enjoyed the song!
I should be more specific since you're giving away two albums! It sounds like you are quoting the hymn melody "Wachet auf" usually known as "Sleepers Wake". The original melody was composed in 1599 and the first line translates literally to "Awake, the voice is calling" or, more commonly as "Wake, awake, for night is flying". Bach wrote an organ version and an entire church cantata based on the melody, and there are many other versions of it throughout church history. It's one of my favorite tunes but is rarely sung in modern settings as a hymn because it's considered difficult for congregations… great use of a great tune!
Ben & Devon (Howard): YOU WIN. Wachet Auf, as in "Wake, Awake for Night is Flying."
Shoot me your addresses!
First time I've encountered your music and your theological writings (e.g., your piece about "God Inhabits the Praises of His People"). I really like your music, and you really ought to do A LOT more theological writing. I live in an area where probably zero of twenty pastors could even define "exegesis." That is not meant as an insult to them; it is just a fact. And it is a fact that makes me appreciate work like yours. Thanks.