Psalm 119: The Inspiration to the Music

Thursday, April 24. 2008 – Tom Quinlan

Back in January of 2006, when the ministry trip of Art Katz through the southeastern US was cancelled due to his illness, I was put into a new place of encouraging myself in the Lord. The timing of his scheduled visit had SEEMED to be the handiwork of the Lord. Looking back, if that kind of language is still to be used (and I think it is), one would have to say that it was the timing of the cancellation of the visit that was His handiwork. In the heat of the moment, however, it was cause for dismay. Distress with the direction of our Christian Fellowship of 20 years, a continuing burden for the impossible task of reaching out evangelistically to the Jewish community in our area, frequent fasting, a recent job change, and, being nearly two months into the worst cough / recurring fever of my life were taking their toll.

I had discovered a music group a few months earlier by the name of Sons of Korah. I cannot remember exactly how I ran across them, but I suspect that I had done an internet search for music to the Psalms. For whatever reason I was not immediately attracted to this group. I vaguely remember that the first music sample that I heard would be what I would still categorize as one of my least favorite of their works.

As my crisis intensified over the months, my hunger and thirst for the Word (and specifically the Psalms) was growing. [06-28-2008 – In retrospect, I think I owe much of my interest in the Psalms to the encouragement of Art Katz to ponder and “luxuriate” in the Psalms. Read or listen to his “Gleanings from the Psalms” at AKM] I revisited the Sons of Korah website and listened to some additional (perhaps new?) samples. This time I was blessed enough to risk the purchase of a couple of their albums: Resurrection and Redemption Songs. These albums turned out to be just what the Doctor ordered; music and lyrics that not only expressed the joy and adoration of the Lord, but also the dismay that arises when afflictions come.

I was like a dry sponge soaking up water, and I soon ordered the other two available albums: Shelter and Light of Life. This music became my continual meditation on the way to and from work. That remained so for at least a year and a half. I cannot think of another time in my life when a relatively small library of music was able to satisfy for such a long period. I had also purchased the sheet music to some of the songs and had picked up the guitar, after years of lapse, to try and play the music for myself. Despite the technical difficulty of the music (SoK is made up of quite accomplished musicians) I was able to get some satisfaction doing this and my own technical expertise on the guitar, though modest, was increasing through the love of it.

In the fall of 2007, as I learned that there would probably not be any new music coming from the Sons of Korah for close to a year, I felt inspired to try and tackle a Psalm myself. How I picked Psalm 119 I cannot exactly put my finger on. The sheer size of it was daunting. If it is hard to read through, how much more difficult would it be to sit down and write music to it? I don’t think I actually had any hope when I started with Aleph, verses 1 thru 8, that I would someday actually complete all 22 sections. It was simply a beginning point and I thought that I might be satisfied with doing a section or two.
My initial approach to writing melodies was to NOT write anything down unless I could remember the tune from session to session (I use the term “session” loosely). My reasoning: if it wasn’t contagious enough to remember for one day, then I probably wouldn’t want to be singing it very often anyway. That seemed to work, and within a week “Aleph” (v. 1-8) was born.

Section 2 (Beth: v. 9-16) went smoothly and I like the way it turned out, but with section 3 (Gimel), I stumbled upon a melody that was especially appelaing to me and it infused a fresh vigor to keep going. I shouldn’t say “stumbled upon”, as I actually believe that Lord inspired this project and has given me some, if not all of these melodies.

After I had written five or six sections, one Saturday afternoon it occurred to me that I had – in my possession – the ingredients to make a recording of the music. I had never even entertained the idea. My voice wobbles and my guitar playing is sometimes slow to make chord transitions. But I had Garageband, a recording application that comes with all Macintosh computers, and an external microphone that I had actually purchased to digitize old cassette tapes, so I could give it a try and see what happened.

The microphone was not good enough to record myself both playing and singing at the same time. Both parts were muffled and distant, not to mention the undesirable noise that it picked up from the internal computer fans. So I recorded one track playing the guitar only and then another track of singing, putting the mic VERY close to the guitar and my mouth respectively. That worked! – except for the anticipated problem of my voice not hitting the right notes. Then this question popped into my mind: What would happen if I recorded a second track (third counting guitar) of me singing the same part? Four minutes later I had the answer. It was the difference between night and day! Somehow, by singing a second time, the imperfections in each rendition were different and so cancelled each other out.

That began the process and adventure I’ve been on for 9 months now. I’ve now completed the music and I have not grown tired of listening to it as I go to and fro from work. There is always something new and fresh in the Word, that is convicting, refreshing, encouraging. Musical styles may come and go, but His Word is eternal.

As I have been meditating on these Words for so long now, I believe that I may have a little to share about each section. So don’t be surprised to find some more structured content coming forth in the weeks to come.

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