Sacred scripture is an enormously rich source of inspiration for artists and has been for thousands of years. For Jews and Christians, it is our heritage and our story, a story which is continuing in the present and into the future. Some of the most famous artists, for example Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, have given us images which help us when we meditate on the stories from the Bible. Composers have also done this for us. One fine example is “The Creation” oratorio by Haydn which vividly tells the Genesis story. There are thousands of examples of fine art which have been inspired by sacred scripture and the deeply held faith and spirituality of their creators and patrons (you can visit this website for many images of Biblical art: http://www.artbible.info/art/).
I was recently thinking about all of this and noticing that there is a real need today for art which helps us contemplate the spiritual life. Artists with faith should be bold enough to create sincere works of art which express the beauty of faith. However, it’s a huge challenge. After all, today’s mainstream culture does not often encourage such outward expressions of devotion. It’s also a challenge to express the experience and the deep message found in sacred scripture and do it justice. But for the true artist, the expression of sincerity is like oxygen to the lungs. And for those who are up for the challenge will come true joy, because interacting with beauty, truth and goodness always brings that.
So I decided to write a piece based on one of the Psalms. At first I thought it would be easy because the Psalms were originally sung to music. And actually I was right in a way. It was very easy to come up with the melody. The melody in this piece was “composed” by me singing though, improvising on the Psalm one time! The challenge was not that writing this piece was too difficult, it was that it was too easy! It was hard to keep up with the tremendous power that is held in these writings! I feel like I’ve stumbled upon a vast quarry of creative material just waiting to be let loose. Many artists have made this discovery over the years, and I was making it for the first time.
So needless to say, composing this piece was very fun, like a great adventure. It’s based on Psalm 117, the shortest in the Psalter, only two verses. I’m not a singer usually, so it took a few days of practice before I could record the vocal line. I’d like to do more of these in the future.