Posts Tagged 'Composers'

Dale Grotenhuis: Establish the Work of Our Hands

A man who was powerfully used by God in the musical service of the church has recently left this earth.  Early yesterday morning, at the age of 80, Dale Grotenhuis went to be with the Lord.

Even if you’re not all that familiar with the Dutch Reformed world, it’s not unlikely that you already know the name—in the spheres of church music, it’s certainly a renowned one.   Just this past April, in fact, we were discussing the availability of some of his choral arrangements here on URC Psalmody.  I spoke to him myself via phone no more than three months ago and ordered some of his organ music.

From 1959 to 1994, Dale Grotenhuis served in a multitude of musical capacities at Dordt College.  Prior to his career at the college, Grotenhuis was also the chief music arranger for the 2nd Army Band and conductor of its Male Chorus, as well as a high school music teacher.

Perhaps even more significant than these accomplishments, however, is Grotenhuis’s legacy as a composer and arranger.  His well-known adaptations of the tunes from the blue Psalter Hymnal are featured on the album set “Be Thou Exalted, Lord,” and have permeated the CRC and URCNA in the form of sheet music for piano, organ, and choir.  His works are still regular repertoire for Dordt students; he even composed the school’s alma mater.  His name appears more than fifty times in the 1987 CRC Psalter HymnalIn a Christian Renewal article dated January 31st, 2007, Glenda Mathes writes:

[Grotenhuis] has composed over 600 songs, of which more than 260 as well as five works for symphonic band have been published.…About 90% of his work is church music.  The remaining 10% is written as commissions for churches or schools, some as memorial pieces.  Retirement allows him the opportunity to help smaller schools, like Zion Christian School, a fledgling Christian school in Byron Center.1

Throughout his long career, Dale Grotenhuis devoted his utmost efforts to assisting the church in its worship.  Even after his retirement, he was still eager for ways, as he said in the article, “that I can be used in my old age while I still have my health.  I love to be used by God for the church and His kingdom.”

One of my personal favorites is his choral work “Lord, You Have Been Our Dwelling Place,” with themes from Psalms 89 and 90.  A video from Dordt College’s Celebration of the Music of Dale Grotenhuis in March 2011, embedded above, provides a stirring rendition of this piece.

As I reflected on Grotenhuis’s life and death, I was struck by the profound words of Psalm 90, some of which are sung in this arrangement.

The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
Who considers the power of your anger,
and your wrath according to the fear of you?
So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Return, O LORD! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands!

–Psalm 90:10-17 (ESV)

By God’s grace, Dale Grotenhuis’s life spanned eighty full years on this earth.  And while I am sure he would have agreed that “their span is but toil and trouble,” I also know that he used his days wisely in the service of his King.  The work of his hands has been lastingly established in countless ways.  To think that God could utilize one man so powerfully for His glory, in such a variety of capacities, should serve as an inspiration to all of us.

Reflecting on his long career in 2007, Dale Grotenhuis testified to Glenda Mathes:

I have had a full, rich life for which I am so grateful.  Certainly I have been undeserving.  But the fact that I have been able to be used by God has brought so much happiness.  I would like to be used to my very dying day to the furtherance of His kingdom.

“Establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!”

–Michael R. Kearney

1 Glenda Mathes, “Dale Grotenhuis: Making Music to God’s Glory.”  Christian Renewal, January 31st, 2007.  <> (accessed August 18th, 2012).

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