Last weekend I played mandolin and guitar for a couple of songs at the launch of David MacGregor's album of worship songs "More Than Dream". David finally fulfilled his own dream of recording a selection from the many songs that he has written. To have a song on the album that we had co-written is a delight for me. I also put the album artwork together for him, based on his design.
God of life, you're the light that shines
Love afire, in these days, these times
David MacGregor is the Robin Mann of the Uniting Church. He has written hundreds of songs over what must be four decades. I have sung and played David's songs many times in congregations across Australia, at childrens and youth camps, and at Synod and Assembly meetings. He sometimes writes spontaneously, but also after long reflection, when words and melody find their right place.
Bring your peace, Lord
Peace in the hard times
Peace in the pain
The timeliness of David's songs is their hallmark - whether in response to tragedy, or just in thanks for life as a gift from God. David often has a song for the moment, written on a day when he has the space to reflect and listen. Many of these songs are the most prayerful, less about a message than for a moment. For me, they are among his best songs; while simpler in lyric and slower in pace, they gather us deeply into prayer. I have a hunch that, like Leonard Cohen or Paul Simon, the older we get, the more we uncover some kind of clearer, less insistent, affirmation or yearning. We find our deeper voice.
"Be Our Light" was written by David and myself last year. The song is on his new album. It was serendipitous for me to be in Brisbane and be able to play the song with him at the launch. I wrote the lyric overnight at Songwrite, the first Uniting Church national songwriters' gathering in Canberra in 2013. I had a feel for the metre and pace of the song but couldn't make a melody work. Quite some time later I put the lyric "out for tender" on the Songwrite Facebook group for songwriters. Two Davids offered melodies, and David MacGregor's creation resonated with me. We did a little bit of melody tweaking and a song was born. Like Elton and Bernie, we wrote in two different rooms. I love what David created with the melody, and the response to the song has been very positive.
Be the cry that whispers mercy
Be the seeker when we hide
Be the taker and the giver
Be the pathway and the guide
Christ be our light
whom shall we fear?
Deep in the night
Spirit, draw near
David said to me that he doesn't collaborate in writing songs, as if "Be Our Light" was the first. That isn't the case. I remember being on a high school Activity Camp at Alexandra Park with David in the late 1970's. The camp program included a musical production from the books of Acts, written during the week and performed on the last night of camp. How easy is that? So, a small group of campers and leaders workshopped the story of Paul and Silas in prison. Between us we wrote the lyrics for the songs that made up the story. Then, overnight, David went away and wrote the music for THE WHOLE MUSICAL. The NEXT DAY we learned the songs and rehearsed the show, and presented it to the whole camp! All in a day! Jill Case can verify this, as she had the lead role as Paul.
For a time, David was in the band at YAF, the monthly synod youth rally attended by a couple of thousand young people. He has played in bands, including Heartstone and Freedom's Way, both of which were part of the 70's Christian music scene in Brisbane. David also produced the NCYC 1991 Songbook CD which featured the theme song which he also wrote. If you dig through his music archives, you will also find several musicals that he wrote and produced and in which he played. Somehow I ended up playing percussion for one of his musicals at Sunnybank Uniting. And, to cap it all off, we have played in the Bruce Mullan Allstars a couple of times. THAT is living the dream.
David's blog is called "Together to Celebrate". That's the title of one of his best known songs, part of the NCYC 1991 album.
We come together
to celebrate your goodness
to celebrate your Spirit
who leads us further on
I share this with you in recognition of David's generous and selfless contribution to the people of God. I would have loved to have said some of these things at the launch of his album. The launch was at Weller's Hill - Tarragindi Uniting church where I grew up and where David is now in ministry.
While these songs ring out clearly from the CD "More than Dream", it was in the story and song of community last night that I was moved to the point of tears. These are songs to be sung together, to open us to the God who keeps calling us on.
David and I are members of the Uniting Church's national Worship Working Group, and we are working on launching a website for free, original music for worship for the Uniting Church in the second half of 2017.
Thanks David for responding to God's gifting and calling. It is a vulnerable thing to do and you offer your gift with great humility and generosity.
David's album is available here.