Featured Recording: O Come, My Soul

Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits…

These jubilant words from the initial verses of Psalm 103 opened my very first post here on URC Psalmody, on December 31st, 2011.  As we move into a new year, I find myself once again returning to this timeless psalm—this time, as the first subject in a new series to be entitled “Featured Recordings.”  Each Friday, Lord willing, I hope to post a link to a notable audio recording or YouTube video and offer a few comments on it.

You can access this week’s recording by clicking here or on the video still below (due to its format I can’t embed the YouTube player here).

Dordt Organ

Now, perhaps it seems a little egoistic that I’ve chosen as our first “Featured Recording” a video from the 2011 Reformed Youth Services Convention talent show, when I played the organ at Dordt College.  But there’s more to the story.  Allow me to explain.

When I was just starting to play the piano at West Sayville Reformed Bible Church at the age of eight or nine, my most enthusiastic encourager was an elder by the name of Jake Klaassen.  For readers who were involved in the long and difficult transition process from the Christian Reformed Church to the United Reformed Churches, that might well be a familiar name.  Apparently he had quite a reputation as the “synodical sergeant-at-arms” who used “an ear-piercing whistle to summon recalcitrant delegates back to their seats after coffee break,” according to one United Reformed News Service article.  I don’t think it is any exaggeration to say that Mr. Klaassen was one of the pillars of this church as we underwent the troubling transition from CRC to URCNA.  He was a humble servant whom the Lord used mightily throughout more than fifty years of eldership.

As I said, Mr. Klaassen was relentless in encouraging me, almost to the point that I feared him.  Every Sunday, it seemed, he would manage to catch me off-guard and pose his unchanging question: “Young man, when are you going to learn to play the organ?”  Finding an excuse became harder and harder.  Eventually I told myself, “I had better just start learning, or I’ll never hear the end of it!”  (How my motives have changed since then!)  By God’s provision, he was able to hear me practicing on the church organ once before a Sunday evening service.

Jake Klaassen’s favorite psalm was Psalm 103.  When he picked a number for the song service, there was always a good chance it would be Psalter Hymnal number 201 or 204.  When he passed away in 2008, a paraphrase of Psalm 103 was sung at his funeral.  Since then, it seems that the words have never left my mind:

Good is the Lord, and full of kind compassion,
Most slow to anger, plenteous in love;
Rich is His grace to all that humbly seek Him,
Boundless and endless as the heavens above.

His love is like a father’s to his children,
Tender and kind to all who fear His Name;
For well He knows our weakness and our frailty,
He knows that we are dust, He knows our frame.

We fade and die like flowers that grow in beauty,
Like tender grass that soon will disappear;
But evermore the love of God is changeless,
Still shown to those who look to Him in fear.

High in the heavens His throne is fixed forever,
His kingdom rules o’er all from pole to pole;
Bless ye the Lord through all His wide dominion,
Bless His most holy Name, O thou my soul.

It took another three years before I had learned enough organ technique to feel that playing this instrument in church was possible, though even then I didn’t particularly relish the idea.

Now fast-forward to the 2011 Reformed Youth Services international convention at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa.  This trip was full of “firsts” for me—my first trip to the Midwest, my first RYS convention, my first experience interacting with 800 other Reformed youth and sponsors.  And it was my first time in the presence of a massive pipe organ for five days.  I was practically drooling as my youth group walked into the auditorium for registration and I heard the organ playing.

A size comparison: me vs. the 32' rank of the Dordt organ

In perspective

Then, through a series of events that I still find unbelievable, God provided the chance for me to actually play this huge Casavant.  The idea was unthinkable.  I was sure I would pick the wrong stops, make a horrible mistake, or even break the instrument.  But, with the encouragement of RYS Coordinator Ed DeGraaf and convention organist Mrs. Denise Marcusse, I finally decided to swallow my fears and give it a try.  I would play the organ for the talent show.

The next question: What should I play?  The answer came to me almost immediately.  Psalter Hymnal 204, “O Come, My Soul,” was one of the few songs I had actually practiced and played on the organ back home.  And, with the question “Young man, when are you going to play the organ?” still echoing in my mind, I remembered that it was from Psalm 103.

I made one more decision at the last minute: I wanted the audience to sing with me.  Flipping through the gray Psalter Hymnal used in the auditorium of Dordt College, I found to my surprise that it included “O Come My Soul.”  Yes, the words were slightly altered, but still—it was there!

This video from the talent show is the result of that incredible experience.  Could Jake Klaassen have imagined that his ceaseless prodding, so annoying to me at the time, would bear fruit even after his death as hundreds of young Reformed Christians joined in heartfelt praise to God by singing his favorite psalm?  What a testimony to God’s unchanging faithfulness from one generation to the next!  “The steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children” (Psalm 103:17 ESV).  Words simply cannot express my thankfulness to God for granting me this once-in-a-lifetime privilege—not for my glory, but for His!

We fade and die like flowers that grow in beauty,
Like tender grass that soon will disappear;
But evermore the love of God is changeless,
Still shown to those who look to Him in fear.

Bless Him, ye angels, wondrous in might,
Bless Him, His servants, that in His will delight.

High in the heavens His throne is fixed forever,
His kingdom rules o’er all from pole to pole;
Bless ye the Lord through all His wide dominion,
Bless His most holy Name, O thou my soul.

–MRK

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11 Responses to “Featured Recording: O Come, My Soul”


  1. 1 Villatoro January 4, 2013 at 8:11 am

    Thanks for all your kind words about my grandpa, I know he would have loved hearing you play, and I’m sure he’d enjoy reading your blog!

  2. 3 Bob January 4, 2013 at 11:48 am

    Thanks Michael, I appreciate your wonderful words about a man after Gods oun heart.

  3. 5 Pamela Compton January 4, 2013 at 11:27 pm

    This brings back wonderful memories for me! I first learned to play on Dordt’s Casavant.

    Great job on the registration for that Psalm, Michael. I love how good registration fosters better and more meaningful singing. I’ve been writing a LOT lately (finishing my dissertation) about how good hymn playing comes down to good text playing.

    I find it humorous and ironic to watch hundreds of URC folk singing from the Gray PH. 🙂 Does this strike you as funny too?!? I really love that Gray PH, and if you ever run out of ideas for posts, please consider doing an in depth comparison of some of the hymns from the blue and gray — how they’re different and, more importantly, why they’re different. Sometimes the textual changes are for the better (Now Thank We All Our God and Spirit of God Who Dwells within My Heart, for example) and sometimes they’re for the worse (Alas and Did My Savior Bleed, for example). The Gray PH also often changes the music, frequently for the better. I was just writing in my dissertation about the improvement in part-writing in the Gray PH (Our Children Lord in Faith and Prayer, for example) and the improved harmonies of some classic hymns (Come, Thou Almighty King and My Faith Looks Up to Thee, for example).

    Anyway….thanks for this post. I appreciate them all, but don’t find the time to comment as much as I’d like! Keep up the good work, Michael.

    • 6 Michael Kearney January 4, 2013 at 11:59 pm

      Thanks Mrs. Compton! I always look forward to your thoughtful and thought-provoking comments. I would absolutely LOVE to see your dissertation when you’re done with it–sounds fascinating!

      I am so glad you liked the registrations as well. Again, this was my first time dealing with any acoustic organ, so I really had no clue how to manage my stop lists… actually, I just used the combination pistons the RYS organist, Denise Marcusse, had set up. As it turned out, that worked out fine!

      The gray Psalter Hymnal is a real bugbear for our churches, isn’t it? Some former CRC’s, including ours, bought it when it came out in 1987; a lot of them kept their old blue books. So we already have differences from church to church with regard to which version we use. (When West Sayville joined the URCNA it bought new copies of the blue Psalter Hymnals, but we have kept, and occasionally use, the gray as well.)

      You’re quite right about some of the musical enhancements. I too appreciate some of the revised harmonizations in the familiar hymn tunes. I can appreciate the descants on some of the hymns (some of the sopranos in our church do a beautiful job on #453, “Let All Things Now Living”). And I LOVE that more Genevan tunes are included than in the blue, and that some of them are even set with the melody in the tenor! I’m not so crazy about lowering the keys, but… well, we’ve talked about that before.

      The part of the gray Psalter Hymnal that I find more bothersome is not its hymn section, but its Psalm section. I realize the value of some good modern psalm settings, but it seems that they might have gone overboard in this regard. This is also the area with the most liberal (in both senses of the word) textual modifications. And many of the most familiar tunes, although they may have been replaced with equally good ones, have been discarded–leaving congregants with no connection to the psalm settings they sang from their youth up! Second to the concerns regarding the liberal agenda the CRC was beginning to push at this time, I think this element of total unfamiliarity explains why our churches have generally reacted so negatively to the gray Psalter Hymnal.

      This would definitely make for a very interesting, but also very controversial, future blog series! I’d be curious to know if you think along the same lines as I do here, or if I might be missing something. For better or for worse, I guess the old adage “That’s the way we’ve always done it” might have a lot to do with our music here in the URCNA. 🙂

      Blessings!

      –Michael

      • 7 Pamela Compton January 5, 2013 at 1:06 am

        You may very well be right about the Psalm section of the Gray PH. I am not as familiar with it as I am with the hymn section because at my church (CRC-Anaheim) we sing most of our Psalms from the Red Trinity Hymnal.

        Most of our church members did not grow up in Reformed churches so they have no affinity to the Psalms of the Blue PH. Since I grew up in the era of the Gray PH, I am also quite unfamiliar with the Psalm settings of the Blue PH. I suppose I (and our church) are in the minority though, as far as URCNAs go.

  4. 9 Craig Klaassen January 6, 2013 at 11:28 am

    Michael
    You would not remember me , I meet you once with my Dad , when he asked you when you were going to learn to play the organ . Thanks for your words about my dad .

    Craig Klaassen

    • 10 Michael Kearney January 6, 2013 at 8:29 pm

      Mr. Klaassen, of course I remember you! You’ve been out to West Sayville a few times recently, no? Anyway, you are very welcome. It was truly a privilege to get to know your dad, even though I wish I could have learned more from him.

      Blessings,

      –Michael


  1. 1 Featured Recording: Dust to Dust « URC Psalmody Trackback on January 11, 2013 at 7:04 am

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