NOTEworthy: I Will Be a Child of Peace

I Will Be a Child of Peace

Elaine Hagenberg

This week’s music comes from Elaine Hagenberg, one of the most popular living composers of church music today. She has a real gift for writing music that lives in the danger zone of “sincere and tuneful,” which, if done incorrectly, quickly falls into the sad category of sappy or saccharin or trite. Somehow, Elaine manages to stay with her feet firmly planted on the tightrope of sincerity in the music she composes and arranges.

It is funny how close those two worlds are, isn’t it? I caught myself thinking about it this week when I saw the movie, “The Adam Project,” advertised just about everywhere as “a sci-fi movie with heart.” The second I saw that review I knew that this movie would either be really good and emotional and I would probably cry, or it would try way too hard to be deep or meaningful and I would hate it with every fiber of my being (for the record, I really liked it – though I’m not movie buff like Ed).

I think this applies with this song’s focus as well – Peace.

Sometimes peace can be saccharin, like when we interpret peace to mean “conflict averse,” or trite when we let it translate to “generally pretty nice to everyone.”

Let’s take a note from the music then to help understand what it is that moves the dial from sappy to sincere.

Underneath the tuneful Shaker melody arranged, Elaine does two main things with the music that make this particular piece shine.

Don’t stifle your own voice

At the beginning of the piece, we hear a short, almost celtic motive in the piano that repeats a few times before the singers begin. Though only about a second of original music – this motive (a short, but memorable, musical idea) adds such individuality to the arrangement, making it sound like something only Hagenberg herself could make.

But let the simple things shine.

This arrangement – though it does have its difficulties – is remarkably simple in its form. The women sing, breaking into parts towards the end of the verse, then the men do the same, then we sing together, then a key change, then it’s over. With the beauty of that little celtic motive Elaine wrote, I imagine it might have been tempting to compose a lengthy piano interlude utilizing that idea, or maybe expand a verse a bit more, add a few more virtuosic lines here or there. But she doesn’t do that. She recognizes the beauty of the melody, and lets it speak for itself.

As we seek peace in the world, your instinct might look slightly different than mine. There are people whose sincere peace instinct is to be a warrior for good causes. There are folks whose truest peace is found through nurturing and provision. Some make peace through listening, some make peace through honest communication.

Think of the life of Christ – Temple tables were overturned (Matt 21:12-17), thousands were fed (Matt 14:13-21), and feet were washed (John 13:1-17).

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Romans 12:4-8

Andy Eaton
Director of Music
First Presbyterian Church Raleigh