Composer Alexander Douglas created three movements entitled "Songs for Joy" with responding to the theme of Joy as it appears in different passages of the Bible.
The first movement, “Joy and Peace in Believing” is inspired by Romans 15:13, “Shout for Joy, All Ye Upright in Heart!” responds to Psalm 32:11, and the final movement, “Strength and Joy are in His Place” comes from 1 Chronicles 16:27.
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1 Chronicles 16:27
27 Glory and honour are in his presence; strength and gladness are in his place.
11 Be glad in the LORD , and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart.
13 Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.
Joy is one of the deepest words we have in our language. Whether in general linguistic terms, or in a theologically-specific context, this word represents both a concept and a reality simultaneously. The tragedy is that many of us learn the concept of joy, but few of us experience the reality of joy. Jesus Christ is more than the real “Joy Giver” – He is the ONLY Joy Giver and this truth is at the heart of the gospel.
C.S. Lewis talked about being ‘surprised by joy’ and there is a sense in which joy trumps happiness as a paradigm in much the same way that justice trumps fairness as a paradigm. If God was merely ‘fair’ then we would each get what we are entitled to – which is eternal death for our sins. But God is more than fair – He is just, and this concept of justice is in fact relevant to this mini-discourse on joy. Why? Because the end of the gospel is the reality that sin will end forever one day when Jesus returns! And all the prophecies from the Old Testament about the restoration of justice to this world that were partially fulfilled with the first coming of Jesus will be fulfilled in entirety.
This is the conceptual framework that undergirds these Songs for Joy. Each of these songs is in response to a verse, and each verse contains two serious elements (one of which, surprise surprise, is joy):
#1 Joy; Peace
#2 Joy; Uprightness of Heart
#3 Strength; Joy
#1 is a tune that is directly written to words in Romans 15:13, part of which reads, “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope…” Now, joy and peace are not saccharine ideas, and the improvisatory journey around what is essentially a very simple theme is reflective of the spiritual reality that it is very easy to talk about the peace and joy which the gospel is supposed to bring – but so many Christians don’t have much peace – we have learnt a very Christianised ‘busyness’ to hide the burning lack of life-changing peace in our hearts. But there IS a joy and real peace in Jesus, the only true source of hope, and He is with us through all the twists and turns.
#2 is maybe the most theologically important of the three pieces. Many people want to be ‘made whole’ but wholeness is utterly impossible without holiness, and if there is one deadly cancer in the Church, it is that too many of those engaged in all forms of worship to God (public and private) are not ready to “be holy, even as God is holy”. We cannot make ourselves holy, but we can choose to live a life of faith and to pursue righteousness with God’s help. Real joy is only possible when you are as upright in your heart as you know how to be and when you and God are on good terms. So there is something more prophetic in this – it points to a truth deeper than that of merely ‘shouting for joy’ and the recurring chord-melody is actual melody-set-to-text (from Psalm 32:11) – hopefully you can hear the piano ‘singing in parts’ (as it were)!
#3 was written as an improvisor’s response to the idea of strength and joy being found in His place – the sanctuary of the most High God. What an incredible idea from 1 Chronicles 16:27, (which also tags to Nehemiah 8:10). So this piece has more of a ‘concept’ (that word again) framework as opposed to the type of outline you would find on a lead sheet or other form of music manuscript. And as both jazz musician and theologian, that is one of my favourite ways to work.
I am increasingly fond of explaining to people who struggle to reconcile jazz with Christianity that as an improvising musician “it’s about more than just playing jazz; it’s about playing faith.” I wish that my technique was better but deficiencies notwithstanding, I offer this humbly and thank you for making time to listen.
Alexander Douglas, having started his professional life as a jazz pianist with a uniquely enigmatic style, became one of the pre-eminent gospel choral directors in the UK whilst developing as a composer/arranger of both jazz and gospel music. He went on to develop his interests in anthropology and philosophy only to find his way towards theology – and since then he has realised that this is where God was leading him towards all along. He has now set up an organisation called ADM Productions which is dedicated to sacred music in all three of his genres.
In 2011 he completed a Masters degree in Choral Conducting, where he specialised in Protestant European sacred music. In the same year he was awarded the Jazz Factor Artist Development Award for his solo piano work in sacred jazz. He recorded an EP entitled ‘Welcome’ which will finally be released by the end of the year. During 2012 it has become resoundingly clear that both theology and music are twin pillars of his ministry vocation, and while there has not been much time to practise of late, plans are underway for a second solo piano record (full-length album this time) in 2013, along with developing his compositional output.
He was recently appointed as the Advisor for Music and Worship to the North England Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists, and plans are underway for doctoral studies.
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