Birth of a Song
by Martin R. Ericson (May / June 1999 — Volume 15, Number 3)
A gift to a couple celebrating the baptism of their son has now become a gift to you
The mother and baby were still in the hospital when I visited them. Sadly, the husband and father was away working in Nashville. As we visited, I learned that they were song-writers, and he was negotiating a contract with a major recording company when his son was born.
The mother and I talked about the child and childbirth, and parenting and baptism. We prayed together, and I left feeling happy for this new family.
On my way back to the church, it occurred to me that it would be a wonderful gift to this mother and her family if we could give them a special baptismal song for their new son.
What I had in mind was a Country-Western lullaby, something with the usual dogs, jails, and pickup trucks that I associate with Country-Western music. But the words that started to form as I thought about it were more tender and confessional. So I pulled over and quickly scratched out some lines of verse that I thought Jim (our music director and resident composer) might be willing to work with.
If you're kind to him, Jim will sometimes agree to put some words to music, but you're not allowed to suggest any form of a melody to accompany them. At any rate, I typed the words up and gave them to Jim, who returned with an attached melody the very next day.
As he worked with the verses, he says he simply worked from note to note and tone to tone, trying to put together something earnest and beautiful, avoiding the typical 1-4-5 chord structure.
The resulting baptismal hymn is called "God Gives Us the Water," and is well sung by a cantor and the congregation, either as written, or else with the cantor doing the opening refrain and the final verse, while the congregation sings both the refrain and verses 1-3. The name of the child being baptized is sung in the spaces provided in verse 4.
What began as a gift to the mother and father of one child has become a gift to the whole congregation as we use this hymn before many baptisms at the beginning of our service.
Martin R. Ericson is pastor of St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Middleton, Wisconsin.