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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Songstories 31: "Yours Today" from You Alone (1984, NALR) and "Change Our Hearts" (OCP, 2000)

No one will ever accuse me of being a master of counterpoint, but one song that I wrote back in the 1980s which we use on occasion (and, I'm happy to say, others do too) employs a certain type of counterpoint heard in popular music, particularly in theater music, sometimes called non-imitative polyphony. It sounds complicated, but it's really just two melodies sung at the same time to the same harmonic accompaniment.

There are a lot of examples of this in musical theater, which is probably why I wanted to try to write something like it myself. Think of Godspell, and the song "It's All for the Best," where Jesus and John sing the two parts separately, then at the same time, or The Sound of Music, when the organ march for Maria and the The Captain's wedding is suddenly joined by the choir of nuns singing "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?" There's the famous "Pick a Little, Talk a Little" into which Harold Hill distracts a barbershop quartet into adding a chorus of "Good Night, Ladies" in The Music Man. Stephen Sondheim, of course, takes the form to operatic heights with "Soon/Now/Later" in A Little Night Music, and there are elements of the form in the song "One Day More" from Les Miserables, as the first act reaches its climax on the evening before the battle at the barricades.

My song is called "Yours Today," and we included it on our first album, You Alone, which was released in 1984, though I'm certain that I had written it a few years before, maybe as early as 1980. It first appeared in Assemblybook in 1986 or 1987, but then appeared in Glory and Praise Comprehensive in its first edition in 1989, simultaneously with Glory and Praise, Volume 4. The octavo has been one of the best-selling octavos of my OCP music, along with "Change Our Hearts" and "Bread of Life."

In "Yours Today," there are two parts. In the first, the assembly sings to Christ, joyfully praising the resurrection and thankful for the gift of the Spirit that makes us sharers in Christ, sent by him, as the Father sent him:
I. Let your people rejoice: you are risen from death.
Now we are your voice, your hands, and your breath.
Not for you the tomb,
Not for you death's decay,
Risen Lord.
We are you, we are yours,
Yours today.
In the second part of the song, the voice of Christ reminds the church of its calling to be present to the world by our loving service to all people:
II. You shall be my hands, you shall be my feet,
You must feed my lambs, pasture my sheep.
You are light to the world, form to the clay,
And you must be rising with me,
Dying and rising with me.
You are my flesh and blood today.

Then both parts are sung simultaneously. My intent was to create a song that could be "instant music," that would give an assembly of non-singers (in the professional sense) the opportunity to experience the joy of singing in harmony that we singers experience all the time, that wonderful sense that we are part of something greater than ourselves, a whole greater than the sum of its (in this case, two) parts. In my previous parish, where we had more ready access to the song in Assemblybook and in our GPC hymnal starting in 2009, this really, really worked, and I was always thrilled with the sound coming from the congregation enthusiastically joining into both parts of the song. Now, when I have to rely on including it in a worship aid, I am inclined to use it less, and consequently the assembly part is a little more limited to part one, which is easier to sing on first hearing. My choir though is very supportive, insistent even, that we include this annually during the Easter season, at least.

I hope that, if you haven't heard the song before, you might give it a try. Though I wrote it for adult congregations and choirs, I have found that it works well with older children's choirs and youth choirs looking for an Easter anthem in parts that gives kind of a big "pay off" with just a little less rehearsal time. In the tight time economy of the paschal season, this could be a big plus for a lot of choir directors, don't you think? And there are still four weeks of the Easter season left!

Thanks for reading!

"Yours Today" page at the publisher's website,

Yours Today - Change Our Hearts iTunes link (this version is different from the above. It was re-recorded in 2000).

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