I Heard the Bells

Everybody loves Christmas bells. Except perhaps Colin Buchanan.

I Heard the Bells

Do you hear the bells; they’re ringing? (Peace on earth)
Like the angels singing (Peace on earth)
Open up your heart and hear them! (Peace on earth)
Peace on earth, good will to men

Peace is right up there on the International Leaderboard of Christmas Words, just south of Joy, and adjacent to Hope. It is also generally considered a good idea.

Casting Crowns released this song in 2008, but most of the words are from the 1863 poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The chronic lack of peace experienced by Longfellow echoes the experience of many today. Everyone wants peace; we just don’t know how to get there. Education? Eliminating poverty? Free U2 albums for everybody?

Using this song during our community carols allows us to point to the only true solution. We’ve used it over many years, and the arrangement below has been rewritten at least twice. Hopefully improved.

This arrangement is fairly close to the Casting Crowns version, except with an additional choir/instrumental chorus. It uses instrumental quotes from the melody of O Little Town of Bethlehem. The intention is to connect peace with the coming of Jesus.

It’s lower than the original, and can be sung by male or female (soprano) vocals. The written solo melody should be treated as more of a guideline than a rule.

recording

Recording by the Orchestra Sibelius.

Instrumentation

  • Flutes (Piccolo, 1, 2)
  • Clarinets (1, 2, Bass)
  • Saxophones (Alto 1, Alto 2, Tenor, Bari)
  • French Horn
  • Trumpet (1, 2, 3)
  • Trombone (1, 2)
  • Euphonium
  • Drum Kit
  • Glockenspiel
  • Bass Guitar
  • Piano
  • Vocal Solo
  • Choir (Soprano, Alto)

Downloads

I Heard the Bells – Full Score

I Heard the Bells – Parts

Jerusalem

Easter. Migration season. Time for that biannual church visit to top up the God points. Then, like the evanescent monarch butterfly, they disappear again until the Christmas spirit compels the return journey in December.

Ok, I’ll be honest, I just wanted to use the word evanescent in a sentence.

This presents some challenges to the garden variety church musician. Sometimes I struggle to get a band together for a normal Sunday, let alone a Good Friday service. And yet, the church will probably be fuller on Good Friday than Easter Sunday.

No, the real challenge here is picking songs.  I should pick something musically impressive; perhaps five chords instead of the usual four? Nobody can resist a good old F♯m⁷♭5, right? That chord has street cred.

Perhaps not. Onwards. Let’s talk about a song we did use today.

Jerusalem

Not the one with the lifting of gates and singing. This Jerusalem is from the CityAlight album Yours Alone. The song paints an image of Jesus in Jerusalem, in the hours leading up to the cross.

See Him in Jerusalem
Walking where the crowds are
Once these streets had sung to Him
Now they cry for murder

The imagery is striking:

See the King who made the sun
And the moon and shining stars
Let the soldiers hold and nail Him down
So that He could save them

Dust that formed the watching crowds
Takes the blood of Jesus

And He stood before the wrath of God
Shielding sinners with His blood

The final verse points us towards Easter Sunday (spoiler alert):

See the empty tomb today
Death could not contain Him
Once the Servant of the world
Now in victory reigning

Arrangement

The original arrangement of the song didn’t fit our band well, so I took the liberty of raising the key a half step, and rewriting the chord progression. I was aiming for a more reflective version, to highlight the words as much as possible.

Jerusalem – Lead Sheet

This works with just a piano and vocals. If your pianist is anything like me, you’ll want to remind them to play about half as much as they think they should.

This morning we used:

  • Piano. Played throughout. Probably too much. I can say that because it was me.
  • Bass. My left hand. I have a dearth of bassists.
  • Acoustic Guitar. Sparingly used in the first couple of verses, and then opened up in the fourth. The challenge is to let the song breathe; the tempo at the start can ebb and flow to build and release tension. Don’t be too metronomic.
  • Drums. Cymbal work early on, and then building into the fourth verse throughout the prior instrumental.
  • A brace of flutes. We use our flute players like a string section or a synthesiser player. I can just throw them a chord chart and they’ll figure out what to play. Which is awesome. It also means I can’t post what they played, because it’s not written down.
  • A trumpet. Mostly used to play a third above the melody in the repeated half of the last verse. As with the flutes, I try and avoid letting the melody instruments play the actual melody. It tends to muddy the waters.
  • Vocals. Two female vocals, melody and harmony. Male vocals would work, but I have as many male vocalists as I have bassists.

No recording because I’m not humble enough to put one on the internet, and we also don’t have anything to record it with anyway.

He Who Is Mighty

Christmas is truly here.

Well, not truly. I’m just finally getting around to cleaning up and posting some of my concert band arrangements in the hope that they might prove useful.

He Who is Mighty

Oh, the mercy our God has shown
To those who sit in death’s shadow
The sun on high pierced the night
Born was the Cornerstone

We’ve used this song during our community carols in 2016 and 2017. The imagery is beautiful, and I tried to capture some of the mystery and wonder of Christmas in the instrumentation. Like Who Would Have Dreamed, it’s from the Sovereign Grace Music album Prepare Him Room.

This arrangement does require a fairly strong upper woodwind section, and parts within each section do not always follow each other. This can be difficult for younger musicians.

There is also no notated piano part as yet. I played from the chord chart. I’ll pretend that was intentional, and not because I’m a terrible sight reader.

This arrangement is a half step higher than the original, in F Major. Sovereign Grace have an unrelated orchestral arrangement available as well.

Recording

Again, a Sibelius special. The vocal part is not present in the recording.

Instrumentation

  • Flutes (Piccolo, 1, 2, 3)
  • Oboe (doubles Flute 3), Bassoon (doubles Bass Clarinet)
  • Clarinets (1, 2, 3, Bass)
  • Saxophones (Alto 1, Alto 2, Tenor, Bari)
  • French Horn
  • Trumpet (1, 2, 3)
  • Trombone (1, 2, 3)
  • Euphonium (or Trombone 4)
  • Tuba
  • Timpani
  • Percussion (Drum Kit, Suspended Cymbal)
  • Glockenspiel
  • Bass Guitar
  • Lead Sheet
  • Vocals

Downloads

He Who Is Mighty – Full Score

He Who Is Mighty – Parts

He Who Is Mighty – Audio

Who Would Have Dreamed

It’s probably a criminal offence to be thinking about Christmas carols in March, but such is life. Or, more accurately, if I don’t start thinking about it now, I’m going to be in serious trouble come October.

We’ve been running a carols event for our local community for a number of years, and I’ve written a few arrangements for concert band. You may find them useful.

Who Would Have Dreamed

And who would have dreamed or ever foreseen
That we could hold God in our hands?
The Giver of Life is born in the night
Revealing God’s glorious plan
To save the world

I first ran into this song on a family road trip between Darwin and Cairns. As you do. It’s from the Sovereign Grace Music album Prepare Him Room, and we’ve used it for the past three years.

It’s one of my favourite Christmas songs, and I’ll let the author introduce it.

This arrangement mostly follows the form of the original, and it’s a half step lower in E Major. Most concert bands do not take kindly to E Major.

Note that Sovereign Grace have an orchestral arrangement available for sale. This arrangement is unrelated. I do not own any rights to this song.

Recording:

This was generated using Sibelius, so you’ll have to forgive the lack of realism.

Instrumentation:

  • Flutes (Piccolo, 1, 2)
  • Oboe (or Flute 3), Bassoon (doubles Bass Clarinet)
  • Clarinets (1, 2, 3, Bass)
  • Saxophones (Alto 1, Alto 2, Tenor, Bari)
  • French Horn
  • Trumpet (1, 2, 3)
  • Trombone (1, 2, 3)
  • Euphonium (or Trombone 4)
  • Tuba
  • Timpani
  • Percussion (Drum Kit, Suspended Cymbal, Shaker)
  • Glockenspiel
  • Piano
  • Bass Guitar
  • Lead Sheet
  • Alto Vocal Solo
  • Choir (Soprano, Alto)

Downloads:

Who Would Have Dreamed – Full Score

Who Would Have Dreamed – Parts

Who Would Have Dreamed – Audio

Game: Duck Duck Bin Chicken

It has increasingly come to my attention that not enough people are aware of the Australian Bin Chicken.

This game is an ode to the average Bin Chicken. The fight for survival. The thrill of a freshly-captured bin. The malodorous bouquet unique to these wonderful examples of the Avian Aesthetic [with the possible exception of Year 8 boys dorms].

You’ll Need

  • A largish outdoor space.
  • Some youth or other humanoids
  • A reasonable number of cones, or other way to mark circles (rope)
  • Some chairs or other object to place in the centre of your circles.

Setup:

You cannot play Duck Duck Bin Chicken without some bins. However, unless you are fortunate to have a high bin entitlement, you probably have to settle for chairs.

We like to play this game with three teams, and six bins. Arrange the chairs in a big circle:

                               
                               
                x         x    
                               
                                       
                                       
       x                           x   
                                       
                                       
                               
                x         x    
                               
                               

Then put a circle of cones around each bin chair.

             /-----\   /-----\ 
             |     |   |     | 
             |  x  |   |  x  | 
             |     |   |     | 
    /-----\  \-----/   \-----/  /-----\
    |     |                     |     |
    |  x  |                     |  x  |
    |     |                     |     |
    \-----/  /-----\   /-----\  \-----/
             |     |   |     | 
             |  x  |   |  x  | 
             |     |   |     | 
             \-----/   \-----/ 

Rules

The aim of this game is to control as many bins as possible at the end of the round. Each round will take about three to five minutes.

  1. Obtaining a bin. To capture a bin, you run into the centre of the circle, and tag the bin.
  2. Taking care of your bin. Once you have a bin, you’ll need to defend it from the other roving tribes of Bin Chickens. You can do that by tagging them when they come inside your circle, before they tag the bin. You can’t tag anyone outside the circle.
  3. What if I’m tagged? Thankfully, Bin Chickens are durable little beasties. If you are tagged, you need to go back to the respawn point. Just pick any random object. We often put an extra chair in the centre of the field.
  4. The really important rule. It’s just like Duck Duck Goose. You can only move around the field in one direction. This is why the bins are arranged in a circle. You can only try and capture the next bin in the circle. Pick a direction. Clockwise is easier to spell, so I recommend it.
  5. More Bin Maintenance instructions. Two small rules to make the game faster. Firstly, set a maximum amount of defenders allowed around each bin. Three is a good number. Two makes it very hard to defend, and four is almost impossible to attack. Secondly, if a defender touches the bin, it’s a fowl [sic], and they lose their bin to the attackers. This stops defenders just standing on top of the bin and not letting anyone in.
  6. Team Elimination. It’s possible for a team to lose all of their bins. This happens most rounds with three teams. If so, they are out for the round. Short and sharp rounds (a few minutes) means that nobody is sitting out for too long.

That’s it. The teams all run around capturing bins until the timeout. The team with the most bins is declared Victor. After a few rounds, everybody is nicely tired out.

And now, this:

Game: I’m all about that blue (no yellow)

This game is vaguely related to both Foosball and pinball, is reasonably active, and can be played indoors. Useful for those delightful winter months.

You’ll Need:

  • Three balls, about the size of a tennis ball, in three different colours. We use blue, yellow and red, but we promise not to look down on you if you choose to use different ones. Peasant.
  • About 30,000 metres of masking tape
  • An indoor, quasi-rectangular space. If you do not have one, try your local supermarket.
  • Four chairs (to act as goals)

Setup:

Use masking tape to divide the space into lanes. Like a pedestrian crossing:

+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+
|     |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |
|     |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |
|     |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |
|     |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |
|     |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |
|     |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |
|     |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |
|     |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |
|     |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |
+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+

Details:

  1. There must be an even number of lanes.
  2. Make them a metre or so wide.
  3. The number of lanes is equal number of active players. We like to use 10-12, for a group of 20ish. It’ll depend on how much space you have, of course.

Then, place two chairs in each endzone:

+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+
|     |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |
| X   |     |     |     |     |     |     |   X |
|     |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |
|     |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |
|     |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |
|     |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |
|     |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |
| X   |     |     |     |     |     |     |   X |
|     |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |
+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+

Divide your group into two teams. Place them into the lanes according to the rules below, and get the rest to line up like a relay.

Once you’re ready, release the balls [or kraken, I guess, if you prefer].

Rules:

  1. The Lanes
    • Each lane has at most one player in it
    • Players can move anywhere in their lane without restriction, but aren’t allowed outside at all. They can’t even reach over the boundaries.
    • Teams alternate in the lanes. That is, Lane 1 is Team A, Lane 2 is Team B, Lane 3 is Team A, etc. This is why you need an even number of lanes.
    • Endzones: One endzone should belong to Team A (i.e. there is a Team A player in it), and the other to Team B.
  2. The Balls.
    • Any of the balls can be moved by rolling it along the ground (like ten-pin bowling).
    • To clarify, roll the ball. Roll. Not throw sideways. Roll. Police this as you see fit. Fast movement is good, broken windows/arms/egos not so much. Actually, scratch that last one.
    • You’re only allowed to be controlling one ball at once. You can have more than one in your lane, but you can only be holding/handling one of them.
  3. If a player gets out (more on that in a second), they return back to their team, and the next free player from their team takes their place in the lane (like a relay).
  4. You can get out in a few ways:
    • You get hit by the red ball anywhere except your hands. So the red ball acts like a dodgeball.
    • You score a goal. This helps to stop any single scorer from dominating the game.
    • A goal is scored, and you’re in the endzone at the time. This one is so that you don’t get stuck there forever.
    • The referee decides you broke some rule that they totally made up five seconds ago and it’s so, like, unfair.
  5. The aim is to score goals:
    • Goals are scored between the front legs of either chair (not between the two chairs). It’s an intentionally small target. There are two goals in each endzone to stop the player in the endzone from just standing in front of a single goal. Keeps it fast paced and all that.
    • You can only score goals with the blue ball. The others have no effect.
    • Fairly obvious, but Team A is trying to score in the goals defended by Team B, and vice versa.
    • As explained in point 4, when a goal is scored, both the scorer and the defender in that endzone return to their teams, and are replaced.
    • Once a goal is scored, the ball starts again in that endzone. That means that the team who was scored against will start with the ball. Play then continues.
  6. You’ll have noticed that the yellow ball doesn’t do anything. You would be correct. It does add to the drama, though, so I’d strongly recommend keeping it.

The game is won by the team that scores the most goals.

Notes:

If you find players are holding balls for ages, start counting down from a suitably low number. If they’re still holding it when you reach zero, smite them with something suitably heavy.

You can randomly change the roles of the three balls- e.g., blue gets you out, yellow scores, red is useless. This will somewhat increase confusion.

Add additional balls. They don’t have to actually do anything.

If a ball is out of play for too long, the referee should probably nudge it into somebody else’s lane. Keeps it moving and all that.

You can also use the ‘useless’ ball(s) to knock the other balls around, if you’re clever.

And if you get confused, remember, you’re all about that blue, ’bout that blue, no yellow. Now if only there was some horribly catchy tune that we could use as a memory aid. Someone should get onto that. I think it would make millions.

Game: Kings in Grass Castles

This is an outdoor game combining tag/chasey/tiggy/tips, bluff, and a healthy dose of running around like a maniac. In any given round, one team plays Offence, and the other Defence. They have different abilities and objectives. At the end of the round, the roles switch, and the game continues.

You’ll need:

  • A largish outdoor area. It could work indoors if you have the space (a gym or similar)
  • Cones, or something else to mark largish circles (the Castles). Rope might work. Spray paint definitely would, but might result in some disapproval from the powers that be. I would advise against using it on the carpet that dear old Mrs Smythe donated in 1671.

Setup:

Mark out a series of Castles on your playing field. We do this by placing roughly circular groups of cones. They can vary in size, and should be distributed across the field. Size will vary. They will restrict the movement of the Offence team, whilst allowing free passage to Defence.

Playing Defence:

  1. Setup. At the start of the round, the Defence team chooses one player to be the King, and another to be the Jester. This information should be kept secret, especially from the Offence. Defence may then spread out across the field of play, before the round starts.
  2. Movement. Defence players have unrestricted movement across the field. In particular, they can freely move in and out of Castles.
  3. Being Tagged. When a Defence player is tagged, they sit/kneel down where they were tagged. They are not allowed to move.
  4. Tagging. Once (and only once) a Defence player has been tagged, they can tag out Offence players that happen to get too close.

Playing Offence:

  1. Setup. Offence begins at one end of the playing field. They may not move until the referee starts the round. There are no special roles on the Offence team.
  2. Movement. Outside of Castles, Offence players can move freely. Once an Offence player steps inside a Castle, they become trapped. They cannot exit the Castle until that round is over. They may still tag Defence players inside that Castle.
  3. Tagging. An Offence player may tag a Defence player with their hand. They cannot ‘accidentally’ tag someone – in particular, the Defence Jester cannot run into an Offence player, and claim to have been tagged. Secondly, Offence may not tag across Castle walls – if the Defence player is inside a Castle, they cannot be tagged from outside. In a similar fashion, an Offence player inside a Castle cannot tag a Defence player outside that Castle.
  4. Being Tagged. Offence players can be tagged by Defence players who have been tagged. See the Defence tagging rules above.

Some other Rules:

Winning a Round:

  • If the King is tagged, Offence immediately wins.
  • If the Jester is tagged, Defence immediately wins.
  • If a round has stalemated (all Offence players are trapped inside Castles), Defence wins.
  • If a round takes too long (determined by the Referee), Defence wins.

After a Round:

After a round completes, Offence and Defence switch roles. The teams alternate until you run out of time, or decide this is a silly game and you’d much rather play dodgeball.

Winning the Game:

  • If there are more overall victories in Offence, the team with the most victories in Defence wins the game.
  • If there are more overall victories in Defence, the team with the most victories in Offence wins the game.

For example,
Purple Team: 3 Offence victories, 3 Defence victories
Red Team: 2 Offence victories, 4 Defence victories

The winner is Purple Team. There were 5 overall Offence victories, and 7 overall Defence victories. As there are more Defence victories, the team with the most Offence victories (Purple) wins.

A more extreme example:
Purple team: 0 Offence victories, 7 Defence victories
Red team: 1 Offence victories, 1 Defence victories

Ignoring the impossibility of that scoreline, Red is the winner because they have the most Offence victories.

The idea is to balance any disadvantage that Offence or Defence has with your particular ground. In our experience, Defence tends to win more games, so this scoring mechanism rewards the team that gets more of the harder Offence victories. Your kilometreage may vary.

Game: Hitchhiker’s Teeball

Hitchhiker’s Teeball is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike teeball.

Now that we’ve got that over with, this game is somewhat akin to netball. It seems to work well both indoors and outdoors.

You’ll Need:

  • A rectangular space, free of chairs, Bibles, mushrooms, toddlers, and other trip hazards. As always, safety first.
  • Masking Tape (indoor) or cones (outdoor)
  • A soft ball [Importantly, not a softball. The space in that phrase punches well above its usual semantic weight.]

Setup:

Use the masking tape/cones to mark out a pair of end zones and a scoring zone:

  +---+---------------------------------+---+
  | E |                                 | E |
  | n |                                 | n |
  | d |                                 | d |
  |   |                                 |   |
  | Z |                                 | Z |
  | o |            +-------+            | o |
  | n |            | Score |            | n |
  | e |            | zone  |            | e |
  +---+---------------------------------+---+

Divide youth into two teams, using your favorite team division methodology. If in doubt, you could always try King Solomon’s method. In my experience, it’s usually pretty divisive.

Rules:

  1. Each team starts in their end zone.
  2. A player is ‘controlling’ the ball when they have caught it, or are holding it.
  3. When a player is controlling the ball, nobody is allowed to move their feet. So whilst someone is holding the ball, everybody must stop moving.
  4. Players throw the ball to other players on their team. Whilst it’s in the air, everyone can move.
  5. If the ball is dropped, it’s a turnover, and the other team plays on from where it landed.
  6. To score a goal, a team must catch the ball in the opposite endzone (i.e., not the one they started in). Then, they must catch the ball inside the scoring zone, with at most one intermediate pass. That is, the ball must either go from the end zone -> scoring zone directly, or end zone -> player -> scoring zone. If this chain is broken at any point, no goal is scored. Do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars. However, the team retains possession, and can attempt to score again.
  7. Special Scoring Zone rule:
    • Only one player from each team is allowed inside the scoring zone when a goal is scored.
    • If a team scores with two of its own players inside the zone, the goal is disallowed.
    • If a team scores with two opposing players in the zone, it’s a point as normal.
    • If a team fails to score (shot is dropped, etc) with two opposing players in the zone, a penalty goal is awarded to that team.
    • If both teams have too many players, no score, no foul. Continue playing.
  8. Once a goal is scored, the teams return to their endzones, and play restarts. The ball should start with the team that lost the previous round.
  9. The team with the most points at the end of the game wins

Variation Rules:

If you’ve got a larger group, try playing rounds with less than the full team. This also gives a breather for some of the less athletic team members. The tactics required change as the number of players on the field change.

If you have a particularly overcompetitive group [Not that we do. Oh no. Perfect little angels, every last one.], it may be helpful to add a ‘personal space’ rule. That is, nobody is allowed with 1 metre (or so) of the person with the ball.

If there’s not many people, you can allow players to throw to themselves. You will probably want to limit the number of consecutive times they can do this; one is usually enough for our group.

Other Notes:

This game requires players to work as a team, and plan ahead. There’s not much point getting to the end zone if you have nobody near the scoring zone. This will take some getting used to.

If there is a turnover, nobody is controlling the ball until it gets picked up. This means everyone can move freely. The more tactically minded player might use this to their advantage by not picking up the ball until their team has repositioned.

Let’s start at the very beginning

Good evening, world.

Someone once told me I should write a blog. As the word “blog” is now sufficiently ironic, I can now proceed, safe in the knowledge that my hipster credentials shall be well maintained.

Thankfully, this is not intended to be a fount of great wisdom. Mostly it’s where I keep stuff. Maybe it shall be useful to someone else. Or not.

I’m an engineer. Which means I can’t make any purchasing decisions without involving a spreadsheet.

I’m also a Christian. You can tell it’s important because of the capital letter. This does not generally eventuate into spreadsheets.

I’m a youth group leader. Or, as I prefer to say, I have the spiritual gift of silliness. I spend a lot of time dreaming up ridiculous games. People keep asking me for the rules. Which is part of the reason I’m writing this in the first place. Don’t worry, soon you shall know all the rules to Hitchhiker’s Teeball. It’s almost, but not entirely, quite unlike teeball.

I’m also the Music Guy (technical term) at church. In practical terms, this means I choose songs, can tell whether a flute is out of tune, and have a personal responsibility to stop the proliferation of ukuleles and other obnoxiously happy instruments.

My church is not large. Not small, either. Assuming a constant linear relationship between council-provided rubbish bins and residents per dwelling, we would be entitled to about 30 bins. This is a moderate number of bins. For reference, the global bin entitlement of Hillsong is approximately 22,400 bins.

If you’re looking for youth group resources, thoughts on small-church music, or other mildly pretentious ramblings, you may find something of interest.

Unless, of course, I only ever get around to writing this post. In which case, I have already wasted two minutes of your time, and you should probably leave now.