Blog

New Creation, Arise: A New Hymn for the Church

New Creation, Arise is a new hymn by Zebulon M. Highben (music) and Sally Messner (text) written for the people of Christ Church Lutheran, Minneapolis, in honor of their cantors, Rev. Robert Buckley Farlee and Rev. Martin A. Seltz, on the 40th anniversary of their ordination.

The new tune is named LAKE STREET NEW. The occasion for the composition—celebrating the ministry of Farlee, Seltz, and Christ Church Lutheran in Minneapolis’s Longfellow Neighborhood—naturally led to a text focused on the murder of George Floyd, the variety of ways this injustice was decried, the suffering of oppressed people everywhere, and the summons Christians now must hear to continue fighting for a more just world.

[Listen to New Creation, Arise and sing with us.]

We asked Sally and Zeb to tell us about their vocations as church musicians and about their collaborations in creating this new hymn.

When did you first get interested in church music and why did you decide to pursue it as a career?

Sally. I grew up in Georgia and began singing in the adult choir at my home church in ninth grade, after I was confirmed. At Valparaiso University, I was drawn to the intersection of music and theology. As a voice performance major, I connected most with the sacred arias, especially those from Bach’s passions and cantatas. During my senior year at Valpo, I looked into seminary graduate programs in music and theology and enrolled in Luther Seminary’s Master of Sacred Music program. My first job in church music was as a quarter-time music intern at a large downtown Methodist church in Minneapolis. As I became familiar with the church music scene in the Twin Cities, I realized that full-time careers in church music are possible. Since my time at Luther Seminary, I have been living out the call to serve as a musician in the church in some capacity—from section leader to choir member to director of music. For almost twenty years, that’s meant a part-time position supplemented by other professional work. I’m now fortunate to have a full-time position in a congregation in Michigan where I can focus my energy and creativity on all aspects of developing an engaging church music program.

Zeb. When I was in high school, I wanted to be a music educator but also felt called to attend seminary. I grew up in a part of Ohio where I didn’t know you could be a full-time church musician. All the churches in my town—from big parishes to small ones—had part-time musicians who tended to also work full-time as high school choir directors or elementary music teachers. As a college senior, I started investigating seminary MDiv programs and was excited to discover the Master of Sacred Music program at Luther Seminary, a joint degree with Saint Olaf College. I attended Luther Seminary both as an MSM and MDiv student and eventually dropped the latter. My interests in worship, liturgy, and music—especially choral music and hymns—found a perfect fusion in the MSM program.

Sally, how do you approach hymnwriting? The text to New Creation, Arise seems to be a mix of biblical images and socio-theological ideas. What’s going on in this text?

Sally. Most of my hymnwriting has been biblical paraphrases, primarily psalms. When I choose a text to paraphrase, I read it several times, live with it for a while, and see what images and other words come to mind. In all of these past instances, I was working with a tune already in mind, so having a meter helped create a linguistic framework as the language of the paraphrase bubbled up. With New Creation, Arise, I was working without a tune. I started with the new creation text in 2 Corinthians while also having in my head and on my heart the recent protests and devastation in Minneapolis’s response to the murder of George Floyd. The pain of the community we’d called home for nine years weighed heavily on me. Then I started thinking about the Beatitudes and looked at both Gospel texts, being drawn more to Matthew’s version as I thought of all the black and brown mothers, fathers, and children—including the children imprisoned at our border. I reflected on their generations of struggles, their belovedness, their blessedness. Micah and Revelation also make an appearance in the text. The hymn text began to form into a sort of trinitarian shape, but I didn’t want to leave the community singing in the second person, as if we can remain onlookers. We the church—the Christian community—are also blessed in spite of our shortcomings and our sins. And we are and will always be called to help and serve our neighbors who are hurting.

[Listen to New Creation, Arise and sing with us.]

Zeb, how do you approach the composition process?

Zeb. Because I write vocal music almost exclusively, I always start with the text. I usually memorize it and try to tease out any “natural” musical elements in the text itself—the rhythm inherent in the syllables, the melodic contour suggested by important words, and so on. This almost always leads to crafting a melody first. Harmony, structure, form, and other elements usually come later. This approach to composition is one I was taught by David Cherwien, who learned it largely from Alice Parker.

What about Sally’s text made you go for this style of tune? What was the biggest challenge in setting the text?

Zeb. The number of syllables in Sally’s text almost immediately suggested a compound meter. The repeated elements like “Blessed are you” and “New creation, arise” reminded me of folk-based hymns and songs with similar structures. The biggest challenge was certainly trying to figure out appropriate text stress and melodic patterns that fit with the irregular number of syllables per line—9.8.11.10.10. There aren’t many (perhaps not any) other tunes with such a pattern. But Sally and I worked together to adjust elements of both text and tune, which is how we ended up repeating the first phrase and lengthening the overall structure. Collaborating with a poet (especially a friend!) is always a richer experience and makes for a better hymn.

Sally, what was it like working with Zeb on this project? Had you worked with him before?

Sally. Zeb and I were seminary classmates and have worked together on many things, mostly in performance capacities. This is our first hymn collaboration. Zeb is a gifted composer and crafted the perfect tune for this text—it embraces the deep lament the text expresses and also lifts up hope, propelling us toward justice. Musically, the folk style of the setting evokes the communal nature of struggling against systems of oppression and the Christian church’s history of supporting and leading movements against forces of oppression. Zeb and I had an engaging back and forth over a few places in the text and in the setting of the music. The way we refined it over the course of a month or so from our first drafts only made the final hymn better—and this could come only from open dialogue.

How do you know Bob Farlee and Martin Seltz, and what does it mean to you to create new music for the church in their honor?

Sally. I first met Bob and Martin when I worked at Augsburg Fortress 15 years ago. Then my family became members at Christ Church Lutheran, where they both are cantors. Josh and I (and Anni and Sim at times) sang in the church choir and were involved in a music series at the church. Our family were members at Christ Church for only four years, and in that short time, that community truly became home for us. Bob and Martin are thoughtful musicians and theologians who love their people. They want to help us sing and sing well. Through their own work on hymnals and in hymn writing, they’ve given so much to generations of church musicians and congregations. I am glad to offer something new to honor their years of service and gifts to all of us.

Zeb. I’m not sure how long I’ve known Bob and Martin, or even exactly how we met! But it was certainly some combination of our various involvements with Augsburg Fortress, the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians, Valpo’s Institute of Liturgical Studies, and living and working for a few years in the Twin Cities. They have been friends and mentors, and I wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to write something in their collective honor. Both of them have given so much to the church, and especially to its song.

•••

Thanks to Philip Potyondy—friend, forester, and member of the Brass Messengers—for his images of damaged buildings on or just off of Lake Street in Minneapolis.

New Creation, Arise_LAKE STREET NEW_melody (PDF Download)
New Creation, Arise_LAKE STREET NEW_harmony (PDF Download)

Hope for the Journey

Sunday, September 30, 2019

4:30pm | Saint James Episcopal Church, Dexter

[Listen to music from Hope for the Journey.]

Gather with us to hear and sing music that will remind us of God’s love for us, fill our hearts with song, and strengthen us for the road ahead.

Featuring the music of

  • J. S. Bach
  • Abbie Betinis
  • Claude Goudimel
  • Bobby McFerrin
  • Robert Buckley Farlee

Reception to follow. Service and reception are free and open to the public. Childcare is provided.

Evensong at Saint James programs are sung choral services led by the Elm Ensemble, a group of professional and amateur musicians from around the Midwest. The services are a great opportunity to invite friends in the community to Saint James to hear beautiful sacred music, to experience a unique worship event, and to socialize with people in our community at the reception.

[Subscribe to the Elm Ensemble to hear great sacred music in context.]

Music of Immigrants and Refugees

Sunday, September 30, 2018
4:30pm | Saint James Episcopal Church, Dexter

Refugees, exiles, asylum seekers, immigrants. Like the Israelites and Jesus and his family, millions of people around the world move away from home and homeland seeking safety, employment, and a new life.

The modern American state was built by immigrants, ancestors to many of us. Do we now see ourselves as the new natives, protecting our borders from intruders? How do we interpret the biblical language of the “promised land” and the “city on a hill” in our contemporary contexts? Where is our final resting place? Where, or who, is our home?

Gather with us in a brief vespers service to hear and sing music exploring these biblical themes and music by immigrant composers as we experience together a beautiful evensong liturgy.

The gathered assembly will have many opportunities to join in the singing. Free childcare is provided. Reception to follow. Service and reception are free and open to the public.

And a few days earlier, come to our next Coffee & Conversation event—Immigration in Michigan: Our Neighbors’ Stories.

[Subscribe to the Elm Ensemble to hear great sacred music in context.]

Sacred Harp: Easter Vespers

Sunday 29 April 2018
4:30pm | Saint James Episcopal Church, Dexter

Featuring songs of hope and comfort from The Sacred Harp

Gather with us in a brief vespers service to hear and sing music from the Sacred Harp shape-note tradition. First published in 1844, Benjamin Franklin White and Elisha J. King’s now-famous hymnal is packed with vivid lyrics and familiar tunes, many of which adorn our modern hymnals.

The Elm Ensemble will lead the singing of a variety of selections from the hymnal, chosen to highlight the Easter themes of hope, comfort, and celebration of life. We will remember those in our community who suffer, especially those who suffer because of gun-related violence.

The gathered assembly will have many opportunities to join in the singing. Free childcare is provided. Reception to follow. Service and reception are free and open to the public.

[Subscribe to the Elm Ensemble to hear great sacred music in context.]

Annunciation Vespers: Evensong at Saint James

Sunday 18 March, 2018
4:30pm
 | Saint James Episcopal Church, Dexter


Celebrating International Women’s Day & Women’s History Month

Women in the ancient world faced many challenges. Few possessed the power to control their own destiny. Some did not even have names. Gather with us in a service of evening prayer to remember two biblical women whose voices are still heard today—Hannah and Mary.

Mother of the prophet Samuel, Hannah lifted her voice in gratitude to God. Mary is the Theotokos, the bearer of God, who carried Jesus for nine months and brought him into the world. Her faithful response to Gabriel’s call—the Annunciation—is a blessing to us and a witness to the value and strength of women.

The Elm Ensemble will perform musical settings of Hannah’s Song and a variety of Marian hymns by European masters Gabrieli, Eccard, Victoria, Palestrina, and Guerrero. The service concludes with a hymnic nod to Saint Patrick.

The gathered assembly will have many opportunities to join in the singing. Free childcare is provided. Reception to follow in the fellowship hall. This event is free and open to the public.

[Subscribe to the Elm Ensemble to hear great sacred music in context.]

Evensong at St. James: Reformation Vespers

Sunday 29 October 2017
4:30pm | freewill offering
Two days before the 500th of the beginning of the Lutheran Reformation, we gather in a service of evening prayer to sing an ancient liturgy and hear the music of German composers Heinrich Schütz, Johann Walther, J. S. Bach, and Luther himself.

The gathered assembly will have many opportunities to join in the singing.

Childcare provided. Reception to follow.
All evensong events are free and open to the public.

Evensong at St. James: Vespers for Peace

Sunday 24 September 2017
4:30pm | freewill offering
International Day of Peace on September 21, organized by the United Nations, is “a day devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples.” We gather a few days later in a service of evening prayer to ask for peace, sing an ancient liturgy, and hear the music of English composers Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons, and Ralph Vaughan Williams. The gathered assembly will have many opportunities to join in the singing. Childcare provided. Reception to follow.

Chorale Service of Holy Communion

Celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation

Wednesday, July 26, 7:30pm
Hartwick Seminary Summer Institute of Theology
Atonement Lutheran Church Oneonta, New York

The year 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Lutheran Reformation. Martin Luther was at the dynamic center of the events in Europe during the 16th century that would reshape Christian culture and theology.

On Wednesday, July 26, the Elm Ensemble and leaders from the Hartwick Seminary Institute of Theology will present a Chorale Service of Holy Communion after the tradition of Martin Luther’s German Mass (Deutsche Messe).

This performance-worship hybrid event explores Luther’s revisions to the Latin mass. Luther set parts of the traditional mass to familiar tunes to help the congregation participate more easily. The Elm Ensemble will perform pieces by Luther, Johann Walther, Heinrich Schütz, and J. S. Bach. They will sing Paul Manz’s contemporary classic E’en So, Lord Jesus and a newly commissioned motetCome to Me—by Robert Buckley Farlee. The audience will have many opportunities to join in the singing.

This event is free and open to the public.

New Motet Commission: “Come to Me”

On Sunday 9 July, the Elm Ensemble premiered a new choral work—Come to Me—by Robert Buckley Farlee, cantor at Christ Church Lutheran in Minneapolis.

The motet is a lovely five-part arrangement of some verses from Matthew 11 (the lectionary Gospel text for that Sunday) juxtaposed with a brief excerpt from Luther’s last sermon in which Luther preaches on that same Matthew text:
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28, 30)
Come to Christ, as he so lovingly invites us to do, and say: You alone are my beloved Lord and Master; I am your disciple. (from Luther’s last sermon preached in Eisleben only 3 days before his death)

The Elm Ensemble together with Christ Church commissioned the piece from Cantor Farlee on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation.

We hope the motet will be accessible to church choirs as well as professional ensembles. The piece is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Kay Madson, a beloved member of the Christ Church family, and was funded in part by gifts to her memorial fund.

The Elm Ensemble will be performing this new commission again at a worship service in Oneonta, New York, on Wednesday, July 26 as part of the Hartwick Seminary Summer Institute of Theology. The service is at Atonement Lutheran Church at 7:30pm and is free and open to the public.

Epiphany Eucharist at St. James

We enjoyed our time this past Sunday, February 19, at St. James’ Episcopal Church in Dexter, celebrating with a full congregation a service of word and sacrament. Have a listen here to some musical selections recorded by Paul Curtis. Paul’s a professional sound tech, and his contact info is below if you want to solicit his services.

Introit: Personent Hodie, Medieval European

Song of Praise: Hail the Blest Morn!, t. Reginald Heber, m. Southern Harmony

Anthem after Sermon: Almighty God, Your Word Is Cast (Milford), t. John Cawood, m. Sacred Harp
 (with the St. James church choir)

Offertory: Rejoice, Ye Shining Worlds on High, t. Isaac Watts, m. William Billings
Communion: There Is No Rose of Such Virtue, 15th century English traditional

Paul Curtis
310.414.2995
Pmcurtis@mac.com