Happy New Year! The music for tonight’s Watch Night service makes me grateful for our neighbours. We have John Bell’s “Take This Moment” thanks to Frances McKinnon, the music director at High Street Road Uniting Church, who not only suggested the piece for our choir but loaned us their set of sheet music. We have “Go Make a Difference” because two of our congregation were invited to attend worship at Church of the Good Shepherd, Glen Waverley, and came back enthusing, “They sang this great song! Can we do it too?” And, since this is the first New Year’s service we’ve held for a long time, we now have the pleasure of reciprocating the invitations that Renewal Chinese Christian Church has given to many a Chinese New Year celebration.
“Take This Moment” is a song for “acts of personal dedication,” as the publishers put it. The singer addresses God and asks “take this moment” … “take my skill” … “take what’s yet to be.” At the same time, the song acknowledges that we’re not waiting until we think we have a perfect offering ready before we make this act of dedication, because the singer also asks God:
- to take and heal the singer’s past regrets and brokenness
- to take and transform the singer’s present limitations and weakness
- to take and reverence the singer’s fears about the future and self-identity
As a result, it’s a thoughtful – potentially ambiguous – act of dedication that is reflected in the setting. It’s in D major, but there’s a strong suggestion of A minor as a tonal centre throughout. The vocal part ends each verse on an A (that is, the fifth note of the scale, rather than the more common tonic D or the third, F-sharp). Here’s the final phrase of verse 5:
Here, both the vocal melody sinking down to the A and the harmony in the piano part suggest A minor, giving the verse an inconclusive feel. If you were to stop at the end of the singers’ part, the song would finish in this key:
It’s only as the piano drifts up to the final, very quiet chord that D major is reasserted as the destination, although it still gives a relatively unanchored effect as a home key:
In contrast, “Go Make a Difference” (Steve Angrisano/Tom Tomaszek) is an assertive rock song that calls on Matthew 5:13-16 for its lyrics:
We are the salt of the earth,
called to let the people see
the love of God in you and me.
We are the light of the world,
not to be hidden but be seen.
Go make a diff’rence in the world.
There’s no ambiguity in the lyrics or musical setting of this song, although you might be surprised to find that it’s in a minor key, yet doesn’t sound sad or dark. The chord progression is:
i – VI – VII – i
III – V – V7
i – VI – VII – i
VI7 – V7 – i
If you prefer chord symbols, in D minor:
Dm – Bb – C – Dm
F – A – A7
Dm – Bb – C – Dm
Bb7 – A7 – Dm
In fact the i – VI – VII – i progression is not unusual in rock, and if this song were in a major key, it would lose a lot of its edge, or in this case, we might say it would lose the savour of its saltiness.
One last thought. A song such as “Take This Moment” exposes how difficult it sometimes feels to make a commitment in any discipline, including music-making. When you’re poised to begin, do you sometimes find that you focus on the effort and deprivation that would be involved? (Ever thought “Ugh!” when faced with a practice session?) Try turning the roles around, and let someone make an offering to you first.
Consider the title of “Take This Moment.” Before the song even begins, right at the top it’s saying “take this moment” to the singer. Let your imagination begin there, and uncover the riches that might be on offer to you in a single moment. Receive before you try to offer anything. Then you can go make a difference.
fireworks photo courtesy of Douglas Puckett puckettpages.com