Sometimes, especially if you’ve grown up in the church, Scripture becomes so familiar that it’s easy to miss the beauty and poetry of those old words of life. So we look for ways to shift our focus—trying out a new translation, diving into an intense study, or learning ancient prayer practices that engage the text. And for the Psalms, there is nothing quite like hearing them sung.
But how do you turn Bible verses into songs that feel worshipful, reverent, and… well… sound great? Thankfully, The Corner Room is doing just that, and their latest entry Psalm Songs Vol. 2 is a record we’re excited to commend to you. If you love what Randall Goodgame is doing for your kids with his Sing the Bible series, then you just may find Psalm Songs to be the perfect complement to your own worship life.
I was grateful for the chance to chat with Adam Wright, the leader of this group, about their new record. Read on to get to know him, watch an acoustic performance of “Psalm 139:1-6,” then pick up your copy of Psalm Songs Vol. 2 at their website!
Jen: So let’s start at the beginning… who is The Corner Room? How long have you been making music together, and what inspired you to start setting Scripture to music?
Adam: I have been the minister of music at Cahaba Park Church for nearly nine years now (hard to believe!). Part of my job there is to plan the liturgy for our worship services each week, so I’m always looking for creative ways to thematically tie the service elements together. Back in 2013, our senior pastor, Murray Lee, preached a 16-week series on the Psalms. I thought, “Why don’t I try to set these to music? After all, these were originally sung!” The first week he was going to be preaching on Psalm 1. So with Bible, guitar and a voice memo app in hand, I began writing my first psalm song. Within two hours, I had completed the arrangement, and was more acquainted with this passage of Scripture, both cognitively and emotionally, than I’d ever been before. Over the next two summers, I set over 20 psalms to music! Each psalm song was shared in our services before each psalm was preached. In talking with people in our congregation, it provided a new and unique way to engage the text and connect with it on a more emotional level.
With a good amount of material from two summers of writing, I decided I would record and release ten psalms set to music, Psalm Songs, Volume 1. The name for the ministry, The Corner Room, comes from the actual location where the music is produced. My church meets on a piece of property in Birmingham, Alabama that contains a historic house called the Carraway-Davie House. I was given two rooms on the second floor, one of which I’ve turned into a recording studio. It also happens to be in the corner of the house, hence the name, The Corner Room.
Although I’m the primary writer and producer on these projects, I am thankful to have a talented team of friends and local musicians that help to make these projects great! Birmingham has a very rich artistic community and I enjoy being able to work with a wide variety of musicians from different churches.
Jen: What’s your creative process like? Any challenges in setting Scripture to music without tweaking any words?
Adam: For me, there’s an interpretive element to the process that precedes the actual musical part. First, I begin by reading the text and try to identify the psalmist’s intent (thanksgiving, lament, praise, etc.). For example, a slow and meditative setting of Psalm 100 would (in my humble opinion) miss the mark. This step informs the mood and style of each setting. I give this a good deal of thought before jumping into the music.
Then, I think about form. My whole mission in writing these is that the words would stick with the listener. Song forms that are recognizable (verse, pre-chorus, chorus, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge, chorus) tend to be more accessible for most people. I try to structure each song this way, but sometimes, the text dictates something different. Every psalm text presents different challenges and it’s become a very enjoyable process to structure them musically in a way that doesn’t compromise the intent.
Within the form process, I look for repetition in the text that would lend itself to a chorus. For example, Psalm 67 has a section that repeats itself in verses 3 and 5: “Let the peoples praise you, O God! Let all the peoples praise you!” Psalm 8 begins and ends with “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” If there’s not an evident repetitive section, I usually try to find the main idea of each psalm and create a “chorus.”
Once I’ve given these things some thought, I will pick up an instrument and a voice recorder and begin to craft a chord structure and melody line. I love listening to music with unexpected “twists and turns,” and I like to create moments like that in each song.
Jen: What is your favorite Psalm/song these days?
Adam: Psalm 139 has been a favorite for some time. I marvel that God knows me; that he cares about the minute and the mundane; that even though I rebel and choose sin time and time again, he extends grace and forgiveness to me and promises to make me more like Jesus; that he’s sacrificed his own Son to give me new life and make me his child. As the psalmist states, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.” May God continually keep me in child-like awe and wonder of the deep, deep love of Jesus.
Jen: You’ve also got an album of 1 Corinthians 13 (also great! We already highlighted it here.) What’s next for you? Is there another part of the Bible you’d love to adapt to music?
Adam: The “Psalm Song vault” is nearly dry now. I’ve recorded most of the psalm songs that were written in those two summers. I’ll definitely continue to write Psalms to music, so there will be a Volume 3 at some point. I’ve also set several shorter passages of Scripture to music that I’d like to adapt into a “Meditations” project. I’ve set the first half of Isaiah 53 to music as well and would like to release that chapter as a 3-4 movement suite, similar to Love Never Ends. Whichever comes next, I feel compelled to continue to set Scripture to music, that it might cause those who hear it to know and engage Scripture more deeply.
Jen Rose Yokel is a poet, freelance writer, and spiritual director. Her words have appeared at She Reads Truth, CCM Magazine, and other publications, and she released her first poetry collection Ruins & Kingdoms in 2015. Originally from Central Florida, she now makes her home in Fall River, Massachusetts with her husband Chris, where you can find her enjoying used bookstores and good coffee.