Category Archives: Music

Tornado Ride

This month marks a tragic anniversary for my home city. Forty years ago, on May 6, 1975, Omaha, Nebraska, was struck by a destructive tornado. I was thirteen then and remember the storm today, especially because it gave occasion for my first effort at writing a song.

On that day in 1975 I had arrived home from school when we heard the tornado sirens. My Mom was finishing the ironing and decided that she and my brother and I should take shelter. At the time she was not too concerned with the storm; she promptly put my brother and me to work cleaning when we reached the basement. My Dad, however, was out of town and worried about us. He knew we were in the tornado’s path, but he was not able to reach us.

We discovered later that the storm had been headed right for our house. We lived on Crown Pointe Ave, just up the hill from Orchard Park (I was attending Nathan Hale Junior High School). The tornado lifted near Benson Park and then went over our house. Though our house was spared, a large part of the city was devastated.

After seeing the damage done to the city, I imagined what it might have been like had the tornado hit our house like it did so many others. Imagination soon led to writing down the words of a song that I named Tornado Ride.

Below are the lyrics of the song and a recording that I made at the end of the summer of 1975 for my Dad (retrieved from an old cassette). It is the earliest recording I have of me singing and playing guitar.

Tornado Ride

Tornado Ride

Destruction and misery
Is all a tornado ever gave me

Tornados and twisters too
Kill and destroy are all they ever do
Tornados and twisters too
Better watch out when it’s coming through

Well, yesterday, everything was fine
And I was in school just wasting time
The bell finally rang and we got to go home
But we looked in the sky and black clouds did roam

Tornados and twisters too
Kill and destroy are all they ever do
Tornados and twisters too
Better watch out when it’s coming through

Well, I ran home as fast as I could
The weather was bad, not like it should
Sometimes it was hot and sometimes it was cold
In the sky a storm was clearly shown

When I got home, we ran down the stairs
Grabbed my radio, ‘cause we was mighty scared
Turned on the radio to hear what they’d say
But we ran and hid when it was coming our way

Tornados and twisters too
Kill and destroy are all they ever do
Tornados and twisters too
Better watch out when it’s coming through

Then all of a sudden we heard a loud sound
Looked up and saw the house come down
Then everything was calm, the tornado had passed
But we looked around and everything was smashed

Tornados and twisters too
Kill and destroy is all they ever do
Tornados and twisters too
Better watch out when it’s coming through

When I got up and saw all the rubble
Then I knew that we was really in trouble
So I looked around and started to shout
But I know it’s no use, so I climbed on out

Well, when I got out, the wind really blew
I needed help and didn’t know what to do
Along came the police and a rescue squad too
And the place was so wrecked it was hard to be true

Tornados and twisters too
Kill and destroy is all they ever do
Tornados and twisters too
Better watch out when it’s coming through

Well they took me to a motel and put me up for the night
And helped me all they could, ‘cause they knew I was in a fright
Then the next day we started to clean up
And find all we could in this terrible dump

Tornados and twisters too
Kill and destroy is all they ever do
Tornados and twisters too
Better watch out when it’s coming through

So my friends when it comes
You better go and hide
Unless you want to take a Tornado ride

Words and Music @1976 Kenneth Puls

I wrote the song early in May soon after the tornado struck and then shared it with my guitar teacher at one of my lessons. (I studied guitar with Leonard Mostek at his studio on Maple Street.) He liked it and entered me in an area talent show that summer called Show Wagon. I spent June of 1975 singing the song in several city parks in Omaha as part of Show Wagon.

Writing this song and having the opportunity to share with others was a defining moment for me. God used it in part to set the course of my life. Ten years after the tornado (after studying music theory and composition at the University of Nebraska at Omaha) I began what would be my life’s work, serving the church through music. For the past 30 years of ministry I have continued to write and arrange music, including many hymns and songs for worship. I am grateful for God’s protection in the storm in 1975, and grateful as well that through it I discovered an interest and joy in writing music. I have made it my aim to “praise the Lord as long as I live” (Psalm 146:2).

The cover art is from a charcoal drawing made by my daughter Anna Puls (2015). It includes the three TV towers at 72nd and Crown Pointe, not far from where I lived.

—Ken Puls

Hymns for Classical Guitar

If you are a guitarist looking for music to play this Easter weekend, here are some suggestions. These hymn transcriptions are free downloads (PDF). They can be used for accompanying congregational singing, playing prelude or offertory music, or simply playing for your own enjoyment. Click on the hymn title to view or download the free sheet music.

Hymns for Good Friday

Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed
O Sacred Head Now Wounded
There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

Hymns for Easter

Crown Him With Many Crowns
Christ the Lord Is Risen Today (EASTER HYMN)
Look Ye Saints, the Sight Is Glorious
Thine Is the Glory

You are welcome to copy and share these hymns with friends and fellow guitar enthusiasts. Please copy the full page with the website address and the “Used by Permission” notice at the bottom (see Permissions).

For additional music, check out:

Hymns for Classical Guitar
Christmas Music for Classical Guitar
More Music for Classical Guitar

Guitar and Clouds

Come Seek the Lord

Peaceful Waters

Come to Me, you weary;
Come to Me and find rest.
Take My Yoke upon you;
Come and know peace and gentleness.

For why do you still labor,
Weighed down with pain and guilt and care,
Oppressed and crushed down under
A load you cannot bear?

Come seek the Lord, you afflicted;
Seek Him while He may be found.
Today is the day of salvation,
When grace and mercy have come down.

Come to Me, you thirsty;
Come to Me and drink.
Though you have no money;
Come and buy and eat.

For why do you spend money
For that which is not bread
And squander all your wages
On empty things instead?

Come seek the Lord, you hungry;
In Him is fullness of delight;
Abundance overflowing
To immeasurable depth and height.

Come to Me, you wayward;
Lost in the darkness and the strife.
My Word will guide your footsteps,
For I am the way, the truth, the life.

For why do you still wander
Down pathways that lead to sin and death,
Forsaking the One who made you,
Who gives you each day your life and breath?

Come seek the Lord, you wanderer,
Seeking to satisfy your soul.
In Him is joy beyond all measure,
For He alone can make you whole.

And come seek the Lord, you hungry;
In Him is fullness of delight;
Abundance overflowing
To immeasurable depth and height.

Yes, come seek the Lord, you afflicted;
Seek Him while He may be found.
Today is the day of salvation,
When grace and mercy have come down.

Come to Me, you weary;
Come to Me and find rest.

Words and Music ©2008 Kenneth A Puls

This worship song is based on Isaiah 55:1 and Matthew 11:28.

Read more about how this song came to be written. And download free PDF lead sheet, chord chart, and recording of the song from the Morning Service at Grace Baptist Church, Cape Coral, Florida on Sunday, November 2, 2014.

 

Come You Thirsty, Come to Christ

The Featured Song for August is a hymn based on Jeremiah 2:13 and Psalm 36. There is nothing more satisfying in life than coming to God, the “Fountain of Living Waters.” All other pursuits will prove empty and dry in comparison.

Check out the lyric video on youtube:

And download the music from bandcamp:

Click here to download lyrics and free sheet music: including song sheet, chord chart and music arranged for classical guitar.

—Ken Puls

 

Worship Piano and Forte

Worship Piano and Forte

Scripture compels us to “Shout to God will loud songs of joy” (Psalm 47:1). But when we lift our voices and play our instruments in praise to God, how loud is too loud? Especially in venues that benefit from amplification and sound systems, is there a right sound level for music in worship? There are many opinions and preferences in our day. Some like the volume turned up; others want it kept at a minimum.

Judgment of volume is both objective and subjective. Objectively volume can be measured with a decibel meter and compared to standards. We certainly want to keep the volume within safe and acceptable ranges for hearing. Also the kind and number of instruments we use will affect the volume. A worship band will put out more sound than a single guitar. A pipe organ can soar to much higher levels than a piano. Subjectively, our judgment can be affected by familiarity and preference. We tend to turn up the volume on songs we know and songs we like. We turn down songs we don’t like. Perception also plays a role in our judgment of volume. A worship band playing at 90 dBA might seem loud to us, while a pipe organ playing at 95 dBA seems glorious.

So when does loud become too loud? While there is no one right level for every venue and every congregation, there are some principles that can help bring clarity to the question of sound levels.

These are five principles to follow in setting volume:

1. Clarity

The first priority is clarity, especially if our music is accompanying text. Aim to make the lyrics clear. In Colossians 3:16 Paul tells us to “let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.” In the parallel verse, Ephesians 5:19, he speaks of “addressing one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” Our music carries the Word of God as well as our response to the Word in prayer and praise. We must the deliver and respond to the Word in a way that people can comprehend what is being said. Always when music is joined to text, keep the vocals up in the mix so every word is understandable and able to be heard. In all elements of the service—preaching, praying, singing—aim to make the words clear.

2. Variation

Aim to vary the volume in the service, especially during the music. Don’t make every song loud, and don’t make every song soft. Vary the instrumentation as you are able: sometimes voices alone (no instruments), sometimes with only one or two instruments accompanying, and sometimes with a larger group of musicians. We see in Scripture a wide range of dynamics in worship. There are times for quiet and stillness:

For God alone my soul waits in silence
(Psalms 62:1a, 5a)

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him
(Psalms 37:7a)

Be still, and know that I am God
(Psalms 46:10a)

And there are times to sing aloud and shout for joy:

Sing aloud to God our strength;
shout for joy to the God of Jacob!
and let your saints shout for joy.
(Psalms 81:1)

And praise with loud clashing cymbals:

Praise him with sounding cymbals;
Praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
(Psalms 150:5 )

In Deuteronomy the people of God were told:

Keep silence and hear, O Israel: this day you have become the people of the LORD your God (Deuteronomy 27:9).

In 2 Chronicles:

They swore an oath to the LORD with a loud voice and with shouting and with trumpets and with horns (2 Chronicles 15:14).

At the dedication of Solomon’s temple “120 priests who were trumpeters” join with singers, cymbals and other musical instruments to “make themselves heard in unison” (2 Chronicles 5:12–14).

At the laying of the foundation of the temple in Ezra after the return from exile:

… the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away (Ezra 3:13).

And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away (Nehemiah 12:43).

In Heaven there is both silence and overwhelming sound:

When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour (Revelation 8:1).

And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps (Revelation 14:2).

Even God Himself displays a range of dynamics:

The LORD your God is in your midst,
A Mighty One who will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness;
He will quiet you by his love;
He will exult over you with loud singing.
(Zephaniah 3:17)

Our worship should exemplify the full range of dynamics found in God’s Word.

3. Appropriateness

Along with variation, aim for appropriateness with volume. Be loud when you should be loud, and be soft when you should be soft. It is the worship leader’s responsibility to give direction for dynamics in the singing. There are times for restraint, times to pull back or not play at all. And there are times to soar, times to play as David did, with all our might (1 Chronicles 13:8).

The volume should make sense with what we are doing and saying in our music. Some songs require softness and gentleness. Others demand energy and loudness. Some can be sung either soft or loud depending on the moment. Music serves to emotionally express and interpret the text. We must be sensitive to and intentional with dynamics and musical texture so the music can serve the Word and not distract from it. Even in the same song, vary the dynamics. Take time to arrange the song in ways that will allow the music to convey and bring out the meaning of the words. Vary the instrumentation and harmonies to create dynamic contrast. Allow parts of the song to pull back and then build as makes sense with the words. Aim for appropriateness with the volume and instrumentation, so the music is fitting and not frustrating, helpful and not a hindrance.

4. Ministry

Aim to serve the congregation well. While you will not be able to suit everyone’s preference for every song regarding volume, remember you are there to help them voice their songs to God in worship. The church is gathered to give glory to God, not marvel at the sounds and riffs of the musicians. Set levels that will serve the church family—that will draw them in and encourage them to participate.

The music should be loud enough, even when soft, to be heard and to the support the singing of the whole church. Most of the time the music should be soft enough, even when loud, so the congregation can hear themselves singing.

5. Excellence

Finally, aim for excellence. Never substitute volume for preparedness and confidence. Volume (too soft or too loud) can certainly affect congregational singing. But volume isn’t the real killer of congregational participation, uncertainty with the musicians is. Be sure the musicians are well-prepared and the songs are arranged and presented well. Take time to practice and rehearse. Be sure everyone knows the songs and knows the arrangements, knows when to play and when not to play. As the musicians lead out with certainty—hearts and minds in tune to praise, the church family will follow. When the musicians seem unsure or unengaged themselves in worship, the people will hesitate and hold back. There are certainly times to bring loud praise to God, but at all times aim for excellence and give your best.

Sing to him a new song;
Play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.
(Psalm 33:3)

Scripture quotations are from the Holy BIble, English Standard Version (ESV) ©2001 by Crossway.

Music at Grace

Music at Grace

Often I am asked about the music we sing at Grace Baptist Church. Are the lyrics available? Where can I find a recording? How can I get the sheet music?

The music we sing at Grace comes from many songwriters and composers, embracing new songs of our day as well as cherished hymns of the faith. Some of our music is composed and arranged in house. The rest comes from many other sources. Most of the songs are available online.

Each year I post a list of 150 titles of our current and favorite music for worship. The list includes composers, publishers and (for some titles) links to help find the music online.

Here is the list of our current and favorite music for worship thus far in 2014.

How Should We Sing the Great Old Hymns of the Faith?

Down through the ages church history has displayed a rich tapestry of praise to the glory of God. Included in the music of the church are many beloved hymns that have stood the test of time and have become lasting contributions to the church’s voice in worship. These are songs that resonate beyond their age, with proven quality and depth.

There is no question that we should continue to sing and cherish the old, established, proven hymns of the faith. They remind us that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves. God is at work in every age accomplishing His purposes and building His church. His Kingdom reaches throughout history and across nations and languages. The old hymns of the faith are the voices and echoes of the past that testify to the greatness and faithfulness of God through the ages.

But how should we sing the great old hymns of the faith? How do we add our voices in the present to songs from the past in ways that will allow us to share in the praise and benefit from the testimony of saints who have gone before us?

Or to ask the question another way: Is it more authentic to sing the great hymns of the faith just as they were written? Should we aim to preserve them in the style and form in which they were composed? Or is it more authentic to recognize that we live in a new day and aim to craft our music to reflect the styles of today? Should we take the old hymns and give them a fresh sound, adjusting and adapting them to fit our voice and our time?

Piano and Drums

Many have strong preferences regarding how we sing the music of the past. Some believe the old beloved songs should be left as is and not “messed up” by making them sound contemporary. Others are convinced that the old hymns are more meaningful and accessible in our day when we re-craft them with new settings and new tunes.

Authenticity is measured differently across styles of music. For classical music an authentic sound might be judged by how close the musicians come to expressing the original intentions of the composer. Deviating from the notation, altering or re-arranging the tune would dilute the song and make it inauthentic and unstylistic. For jazz authenticity might be judged by the musicians’ creativity and skill at improvisation. The idea of playing a song as written, or playing it the same way it was played yesterday (or even a few moments ago) would be absurd.

But authenticity in worship is never a matter of our own creativity or our adherence to musical form. Authenticity is always a matter of the heart. Our aim in worship is glorifying God, not exalting one way of singing over another. We come to proclaim truth, not preserve musical form or flaunt musical talent. We come to magnify Christ, not measure the greatness of our songs.

God’s worship cannot be contained by our preferences, within our comfort zones, and inside our creativity. Paul’s descriptive words for church music, psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, encompass the great breadth and scope of music in the church that God is orchestrating to His own glory.

So how then should we sing the great old hymns of the faith?

The answer is with hearts enlivened by God’s grace and moved by God’s glory. And this can take many forms. There will be times (and places) when we use older and beloved settings of great hymns. At times we might sing new songs that borrow or incorporate older hymns (songs such as Cornerstone from Hillsong that uses the verses from The Solid Rock or Lord I Need You from Matt Maher that quotes I Need Thee Every Hour). And at times we might sing older hymns with a new arrangements and tunes (songs such as Glorious Day – Living He Loved Me, sung by Casting Crowns, that updates One Day or God Moves from Sovereign Grace Music that updates William Cooper’s hymn God Moves in a Mysterious Way). But at all times we must sing from our hearts with passions more enflamed for God’s glory than stoked by personal preferences.

There are some compelling reasons why we should see the music of the church as fluid and dynamic, rather than rigid and inviolate.

1. God has designed our music to be necessarily contemporary. Most of the music of the church only lasts for the moment. It serves its day and then fades to make room for new songs. Even with the Old Testament psalms, thousands were composed and sung in worship in the tabernacle and Temple, but only 150 were set down and preserved in Scripture. Relatively few hymns and songs have continued on to become the treasured music of the church. But whether we sing the music from the past or new songs from our own day, our singing is contemporary. It is the church lifting its voice in worship to God now in the present.

2. With the psalms God gave us a mandate and set a precedent for our worship. We are commanded in Scripture:

Sing praises to God, sing praises!
Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the King of all the earth;
sing praises with a psalm!
(Psalm 47:6–7)

The psalms continue into the New Testament as a treasured part of the church’s music:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Colossians 3:16).

addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart (Ephesians 5:19).

Paul taught the church to include the music of the past. First on his list of what the church should sing are the psalms, music of the Old Testament that anticipated the coming of Jesus and spoke of Him (Luke 24:44). And yet the psalms come to us without musical tunes or arrangements. While some of the inscriptions on the psalms suggest that specific melodies and instruments were used, those original melodies were not preserved along with the words. To sing the psalms, as God commands, the church has had to compose and add its own tunes.

3. Most of the great old hymns are known by tunes that were added later by composers looking for a new sound for great lyrics. For Example:

• The words to Holy, Holy, Holy were written by Reginald by Reginald Heber (1783–1826). John B. Dykes later composed a new tune (NICAEA) for the hymn when it was included in Hymns Ancient and Modern in 1861.

• The words to the hymn Amazing Grace by John Newton were published in the Olney Hymnal in 1779. Verse 6 that begins “When we’ve been there ten thousand years” was added in 1790. The tune NEW BRITAIN (also known as AMAZING GRACE) is an American folk tune that was first published (to different words) in the Virginia Harmony in 1831. It was adapted and arranged by Edwin O. Excell to fit the lyrics to Amazing Grace in 1900.

• The words to And Can It Be were written by Charles Wesley in 1738. The hymn tune most associated with Wesley’s words, SAGINA, was composed by Thomas Campbell in 1825, over 80 years later.

In most cases, we owe the longevity of great hymns of the past to the willingness of church musicians to find or compose new music to accompany them.

4. For most of the history of western hymnody, words were not rigidly connected to specific tunes. Before hymnals that included both words and music, printed together on the same page, became popular in the 20th century, it was common for the same hymn to be sung to several different tunes. Hymnals were printed with words only; tunes and lyrics were matched by poetic meter (C.M., L.M., 7.6.7.6., etc.). Each local church would have a repertoire of favorite and familiar tunes that they would use with the lyrics they wanted to sing in worship. As churches today are moving away from printed hymnals to again sing with words only (now projected on screens), the idea that a song can have only one authentic tune or arrangement is fading as well.

Thankfully there are church musicians in our day who are committed to keeping hymnody alive and well. Tim Challis has provided a helpful summary on contemporary hymns. Several groups are writing new tunes and new arrangements of old hymns, including Sovereign Grace Music, Indelible Grace, Paige CXVI, and Red Mountain Music.
We need to sing the great old hymns of the faith. We need to join our voices with God’s people through the ages and celebrate the boundless scope of His mercy and grace. May God help us to sing them, in both new and old ways, as authentic expressions of our hearts in worship to His glory and praise.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy BIble, English Standard Version (ESV) ©2001 by Crossway.

A Prayer for Pilgrims

This is a hymn I composed based on Part 1 of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. Each of the 16 verses is a prayer of intercession for those who are at difference places and stages on the Christian journey.

Check out the lyric video on youtube:

And download the song on bandcamp:

Free Sheet Music is also available.

—Ken Puls

Take a Theory Break: Take One

This is for my musical friends and students. Set aside your word search, Suduku and crossword puzzles. No words or numbers to find here. This is a puzzle to brush up on your music theory skills . . .

takeatheorybreak_bannerA Diversion for Musicians

takeatheorybreak01

Follow the steps to discover the remaining chord:

  1. Circle all the tonic chords.
  2. Circle the dominant seventh chord.
  3. Circle all the subdominant chords.
  4. Circle all the inverted chords.
  5. Circle the syncopated chord.
  6. Circle the b minor chord.
  7. The notes that remain spell a ____  ______________________ chord!

Bonus:  The title of the song is _______________________________________

Double Bonus: If you can play the song with your eyes and guess the title before singing it aloud or playing it on an instrument.

View / Download this puzzle as a PDF

Take a Theory Break—Puzzle #1 from kenpulsmusic.com 2014

Welcome to the Ken Puls Music Blog

Ken Puls MusicTwenty-nine years ago this month (February 1985) I was called to serve my first church as minister of music. During that first year of ministry I began writing hymns for our congregation to sing in worship. Since that time I have served three churches: Sovereign Grace Baptist Church, Omaha, Nebraska (1985-1986), Heritage Baptist Church, Mansfield, Texas (1986-2002) and Grace Baptist Church, Cape Coral, Florida (2003 to present). By God’s grace I have continued to write and compose music to His glory.

When I launched the website Ken Puls Music in 2011 it was for the simple purpose of sharing my music with churches and friends. I wanted to make my hymns and songs easy to find and download. I soon followed with an archive of some of my sermons and articles, including a series I taught at Grace Baptist Church: “Thoughts on Worship.” In 2012 with the release of the album Upon This Rock I added music streaming to the website with bandcamp. In 2013 I began posting my commentary on one of my favorite books, John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress.

I have been encouraged by the comments and responses I have received. My desire in introducing this blog now in 2014 is to provide greater opportunity to share and engage with others, and to offer an easier way to keep up with what is new on the site.
So come back often, share your comments, and enjoy the commentary, music, sermons and articles. Look for me also on the Founders Blog.

“Oh magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together!” (Psalm 34:3).

—Ken Puls