Behind the Song: Majesty
One of the most common questions I have received since releasing Kingdom is about how I wrote the songs. Oftentimes my response is a blank stare, as I'm not quite certain myself how they all came to be. In an attempt to be more prepared for these inquiries, I took a look back through my journals and the Voice Memos on my phone: the two main places that I use for recording my ideas. I was reminded of the evolution of the songs, and thought it might be enjoyable for people to read about how a few of them were created. This is the third in a three-part series going behind the songs of Kingdom. If you have any questions or comments about this song or others, I invite you to reply in the comment section at the bottom.
One of the most important things to me in a song is its melody. This is probably why since childhood I've been attracted to the music of Tchaikovsky, Alan Menken (Disney), and John Williams. They are all men of melody, and when I was young, even if I couldn't remember all of the music, I always came away from their works with a tune in my pocket to take out and hum whenever I had a hunger to return to the story. The most important melody is usually repeated several times and represents the work as a whole; this melody is called the theme. Think of the famous waltz from Sleeping Beauty, "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid, and the main theme song from Star Wars. Like them or not, they are pretty hard to forget, and will usually conjure up the images of a dancing princess, a singing mermaid, and a lightsaber-wielding hero.
Though I am a long way off from being on the level of the composers listed above, I took my cue from these musical role models and developed melodic themes for each of the three parts of Kingdom (Messenger, Messiah, and Majesty). Each of the themes have their big moments in the songs of the same title, but they are also sprinkled in various ways throughout their pieces. This post will focus on the theme I wrote for Majesty.
As mentioned in my first post, I always do quite a bit of study on a Scripture passage before writing music about it. Out of the three passages, I would say that Revelation 11 was the most difficult for me to unpack. I had never studied Revelation in-depth before, and I really needed to get my head around what was going on with the two witnesses in order to reflect their story through music. I listened to several detailed sermons and did quite a bit of research. It was a rewarding experience and I came away in great awe with, as Romans puts it, "the kindness and severity of God." These two traits - kindness and severity - seem like polar opposites, but they find their height together in the character of God. This idea of kindness and severity is really what Kingdom is about as a whole.
KINDNESS AND SEVERITY
When looking back through my Voice Memos and journal for this post, I realized how many different musical and lyrical ideas I waded through before landing on anything solid. Here is a recording that combines two snippets from my phone when I was finally getting to something that I would use in the final piece.
Below is just one journal page of lyrical ideas.
I had several pages like this, with dozens of different lyric ideas and combinations. I finally settled on these lyrics for the main Majesty chorus:
Majesty, King of kings
He will come in glory, judgment He will bring
Majesty, His kind severity
Will damn the proud destructor, reward the righteous saint
And wherever you are, no one escapes from Majesty
So wherever you are, repent and believe in Majesty
Below is audio from the very first performance of Majesty, with Chad Vitarelli singing the main chorus. (Chad actually went on to record this solo on the final recording as well.) With those last two lines, I intentionally used a minor chord, and then a major chord to represent the idea of kind severity. So, the line that goes, "and wherever you are, no one escapes from Majesty" ends with a minor chord. It's dark, because God's wrath is terrifying and very real for those who live apart from Him. But then the line that goes, "so wherever you are, repent and believe in Majesty" ends with a major chord. It is surprisingly happy! Repentance and belief in Jesus Christ is a joyous thing.
Now that I had developed the core theme for Majesty, I wove it through the entire piece. I think of all three pieces in Kingdom, Majesty is the one that utilizes the theme melody the most. I counted up nine different times it is used in the fourteen-minute piece. Below I list the places where it is used by referencing the track titles, then there is an audio recording that clips through these nine spots from the final recording featuring the arrangement by David Clydesdale.
"Rebuilding the Temple" - The Majesty theme is briefly quoted at the end of the instrumental prelude.
"Majesty" - The main Majesty theme with lyrics is first heard by the Witness who sings the pronouncement over the people left on earth.
"Majesty" - The Witness repeats the theme after the people of Israel find his message familiar and ask for him to repeat it.
"Majesty" - The Witness and Israel sing the theme together; Israel is finally listening and considering the message.
"Death and Resurrection/Majesty (Reprise)" - The Majesty theme is intensified as the Witness sings it with a variation of lyrics right before he is killed by the Beast.
"Death and Resurrection/Majesty (Reprise)" - The Majesty theme is repeated instrumentally to reflect the Witnesses' resurrection from the dead.
"Death and Resurrection/Majesty (Reprise)" - Israel sings a reprise of the Majesty theme; it is the same melody but a variation of lyrics to represent the change her character has undergone throughout the story.
"Death and Resurrection/Majesty (Reprise)" - The three characters (the Witness, the Beast, and Israel) join together to sing the Majesty theme in triumph. This represents that, in the end, every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
"Death and Resurrection/Majesty (Reprise)" - The first few notes of the Majesty theme are repeated several times at the very end, the finale of the entire work.
As a young composer, it was a really great exercise for me to work on developing these themes, and very rewarding to see them come to life through the production process. I hope you find the Majesty theme memorable, and that it reminds you of the kindness and severity of our awesome God.
"Majesty" and the rest of the songs from Kingdom are available for purchase on audio CD, for download on the web, iTunes, and Amazon, and to stream on Spotify.