Once Upon a Tree


Once Upon a Tree

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who presented "Once Upon a Tree" this year.  I've enjoyed reading your many emails about the remarkable response you have received from your choirs and congregations.  My goal was for people to experience the emotional and spiritual power of the real story.  Judging by your feedback, the work succeeded beyond my expectations.

A musical published by Glorysound A7481 or HL 35016181

Here is a mp3 of excerpts. (“Guilty of Innocence” and “Father, Forgive Them” are repeated.)


Once Upon a Tree

This was written several years ago and has been one of my best sellers.  It has become something of the theme song for my writing.  I think particularly of the final verse, "What tale of human love could ever be told, what song could compare with the one I hold?" Such is the song of Luke who devotes his life to the telling of the story.

Blessed Is He

This was the first piece written for the new musical and came to set the tone for this dramatic work.  Notice the introducion which conveys the excitement and anticipation of the crowd: "Our waiting is over and now the Messiah is here!"  Throughout the musical I tried to make the choir a vital part of the drama - to create a "choral drama."


I had planned to write a nice warm piece about Jesus coming to Jerusalem and doing all sorts of wonderful miracles.  Then, like so many cantatas, I would show how the crowd turned on him suddenly, for no reason.  Well that would have worked had I not read the scriptures.  What I found was Jesus doing everything possible to make the authorities angry as he exposes the injusticeof their religous practices.  Even before Jesus heads to Jerusalem, he says that a prophet cannot die outside of Jerusalem.  So the choir depicts Jerusalem as a dangerous place and warns Jesus to keep his peace.  The music is contrasted by the inflammatory words that Jesus preached.

Do This and Remember Me

My father had died less than a year before I began writing the musical.  In this section, I tried to connect the listeners experience of saying goodbye to someone dear.  This is certainly what Jesus was doing through the experience in the upper room.  While he is saying goodbye, he lets them know that he will be with them always.


This is my favorite piece of the work.  The drama created by the conflicting forces is so powerful and compelling.  Jesus struggles with his desire to do the Father's will and his desire to avoid his impending trial and execution.  The disciples are aware that the situation is serious, but they do not understand its significance.  All the while there is a crowd coming to arrest Jesus.  This anthem is to be done VERY dramatically.

Guilty of Innocence

This phase is so compelling as it describes Jesus' life. He lived days with love and truth that was in direct conflict with the world of deception, power and injustice.  The trial and crucifixion was simply the climax of a process that began at his birth.


The choir MUST be actors here.  Their parts contain just a handful of notes - but the WAY they are sung is paramount.  Extreme drama is called for.  Each choir member must sing this with a firey passion.

Father, Forgive Them

 Try to imagine the darkness of Good Friday.  The choir should sing the first part with a sense of sighing on the word "father".  Feel the fatigue and suffering as it builds in intensity on each repetition.  Put an accent on the word "do" at the end of the first half.  The second half is simply a song of love and devotion as we consider the unbelievable grace Christ showed through his suffering on the cross.  Choir, simply worship through the music.

It's Time to Rest

I was continuously looking for ways that would draw the listener to the story.  Anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one after a long battle with illness will feel this mixture of grief and of peace.  The choir should float on the foundation of the chords while the soloist sings from the bottom of her soul.  Again, DRAMA is the word here.

Once Upon a Tree (reprise)

The Song Lives On

I asked at a choral clinic whether the directors wanted a "resurrection" song in a musical.  The response was half and half.  A musical of this sort is almost always presented before Easter Day.  Some traditions would not think of singing a resurrection song before Easter Sunday.  Other churches would not think of telling the story without Christ rising from the grave.  This piece is a celebration of the story that lives in every believer and points TOWARD the hope of the resurrection.


SATB A 7481
Orchestration LB 5631
Accompaniment CD MD5116
Listening CD NC5024
CD/Book Combo Pak Gn5084 (One per church)

10-PAK CDs available

Instrumentation: Flute 1&2, Oboe, English Horn, Clarinet 1&2, Bassoon, Horn 1&2, Trumpet 1,2&3, Trombone 1&2, Bass Trombone, Tuba, Timpani, Percussion 1&2, Harp, Piano, Solo Violin, All Strings

This musical has been presented by choirs of 12 to 150.  I love the intimacy of presenting the work with piano accompaniment.  The orchestra lends a whole different energy and power.


Here are some comments:

 ...Last evening was the culmination of a really blessed spiritual and musical journey.  At every rehearsal, someone pointed out a spiritual truth that God had revealed to them from listening to and studying the cantata.  I feel as though we "experienced", along with Luke, the events that led up to the crucifixion and resurrection of our blessed Savior.

        Dick Merritt, Calvary Bible Church, Mount Joy, PA.

Without a doubt, it was the finest cantata that we have ever done.  It really touched the listeners and the singers alike.  The idea of telling the story from Luke's perspective is brilliant. I am so impressed with all of the original music that you put together for this work.

        Darryl Smith, St. Marys, OH

It was amazing to watch and hear the choir internalize the message and then send it forth in great dramatic intrepretation.   They all seemed to be caught up in the moment.  (There were tears from within the choir...One asked me,"How can I sing with tears streaming down my cheek?")

Pepper, I think my choir for the first time understands the POWER of music and The Word, and what it means to feel and BELIEVE that which you are singing.  Your marvelous gift of composition and the use of The Word lifted us all to a much higher Spiritual Level.

        Ashby Brown, First United Methodist Church, Jamestown, NC

Of all the cantatas I've accompanied or sung over the years, none other has given me such satisfaction.  You have created a most worthy choral work...  I especially appreciated the cohesiveness of the work as a whole; there is not one song that I wished were not there.  The cantata is profound; congratulations seems not quite appropriate.  Please accept my thanks for sharing your gift.

        Carole Flatau, Epworth Methodist Church, Valley City, North Dakota

The congregation truly felt the powerful words and music.  Many were in tears.  There are 16 in my choir and most had trouble walking back to the choir loft because they were shaking and weak in the knees... The Pastor said he would like to repeat the Cantata in two years.

        Joann Luckenbaugh, Trinity UCC, Manchester, Md.

I want to congratulate you on a Cantata that has made me so proud to conduct.  "Once Upon A Tree" has had my choir and congregation talking about itfor days...  I have had more positive response with this musical work then any other Cantata I have done with this church choir.  Many members of the church had tears in their eyes as we performed your work.

        William Degenkolb, Wintersville Methodist Church, Wintersville, Ohio

When we sang the last word, the lights were raised and we received an ovation like none before.  As I write this I can still feel the glory of telling the story through song last night so I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your compelling words and your astounding music. It is obvious that you write your music with the heart of Jesus.

        Brandy Alsobrook, First Christian Church of Decatur, Georgia

Many folks left church with tears in their eyes. Many of the choir members told me it was the most moving piece of Christian music they had ever heard.  We concluded the performance before "The Song Lives On," saving that for
Easter Sunday.

        Elva Knavel, Archer, Florida

It's funny how you can a hear a story time and again, then hear it from a different perspective and have it strike you once more... Your work has helped me rediscover the passion of passion week and bring alive the Easter story for me again.

        Paul Stapleton, First United Methodist Church, Cary, NC

We all agreed that this cantata was a little more special, a little more inspiring than any others we had done in the past.  The general comments from our church family were that this was the most beautiful cantata ever.

        Jim Norton, Townley Presbyterian Church, Union, NJ

...ONCE UPON A TREE has musicality, originality, and a lot of heart. I believe you must have received a special inspiration from God's Spirit in your writing. Thank you for receiving and sharing it...  I have heard many many people both in the choir and in the congregation say this was the best, most moving cantata we have ever done.

        David deVidal, Longview Community Church, Longview, WA.

Our Adult Choir has never been so overwhelmed with God's presence as we were during our presentation of your cantata...  One lady came up and could hardly talk, she was so overcome with emotion.  My piano accompanist told me that this was the first Cantata that she has played where the power of God's love was such that she had tears in her eyes by the end of "The Song Lives On" and really had to concentrate to finish playing...  Another elderly lady came up to me and
said that she has heard the "Easter" story many times and has always believed in Christ but it wasn't until this performance that "it all made sense."  People came up to me in tears, smiling and praising God. It didn't matter what musical style they liked, they were all touched by the power of the message that you where able to capture when God led you in the Creation of this powerful Cantata. Thank you for the witness that you are giving the world through your compositions.

        Bruce Dopslauf, First United Methodist Church, La Grange,TX

I am writing to thank you for writing Once Upon a Tree. My choir absolutely loved it: they said it was the most melodious thing they'd ever sung for Palm Sunday, and choir attendance tripled while I was rehearsing it, and for Palm Sunday when they sang it.  Church was especially well attended too, and it was very well received by all, lots of compliments all round.

        Grayce Armstrong, Hope Lutheran Church in Freehold, New Jersey

I wanted to thank you for writing this piece of music.  We did it three services Sunday at FUMC. It was received so well.  The congregation was completely silent between pieces.  You know how you usually hear coughing and noise like a hospital.  There was none of that.  And I've heard so many compliments.  More than I've ever heard from anything we've done.  And I really mean that.  It has really been a blessing to me, Trish, and the congregation.  One lady yesterday stopped me to thank me for the music.  She said it was the most beautiful service she had ever seen.

        David Marlette, First United Methodist, Cary, NC