Members of the Perkins community who attended the September 30 online Chapel service got a special treat: the world premiere of a new anthem, composed by a Perkins Doctor of Pastoral Music (DPM) student and performed for the first time by the DPM students.

The new anthem, “I Am Here,” was composed by the Rev. Dirk Damonte, and pre-recorded and presented at the Chapel service.

Damonte said he composed the song as a response to the “twin pandemics” of COVID-19 and the struggle for racial justice in the U.S., with inspiration from the message of peace in Colossians 3:15-17.

“This is a time when we can’t sing together, due to COVID, and when a significant part of our population can’t breathe and is struggling with that,” he said.

DPM students each contributed vocals, recorded on their cellphones. Damonte, who is Minister of Music & Worship Arts at Los Altos United Methodist Church in Los Altos, Calif., recruited members from his congregation for the instrumental track on guitar and drums, and he played the keyboard. To assemble the components, he enlisted the help of church members Kristina Sinks, who edited the video, and for the audio, Bill Hare, a Grammy-award winning sound engineer and producer (“Bill has produced groups like Pentatonix and is considered one of the best in the world for engineering acapella recordings,” said Damonte.)

“Dirk has the tech resources at his church to make a solid production,” said C. Michael Hawn, director of the Doctor of Pastoral Music Program and University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Church Music.

Mark Stamm opened the worship service, welcoming the DPM students and noting that the DPM program was approved in 2015, with the first cohort entering in June 2016, through Hawn’s vision. The program awarded its first Doctor of Pastoral Music degree, to Kevin Turner, in May, who was part of the anthem choir. Hawn, joining from Richmond, Va., led the service of prayers, singing and scripture reading, centering on the theme of breath, along with the DPM students.

Yvette Lau (2019 cohort), a DPM student based in Hong Kong, presented a dance interpretation of Psalm 13, with music in Chinese, via video, and Darnell St. Romain (2020 cohort) from Dallas and Nicole Gray (2019 cohort) from the Houston area provided a dialogue sermon.  The service culminated with the virtual performance of the anthem by Damonte, a member of the 2017 cohort.

In composing the anthem, Damonte said, “I tried to convey the longing and the pain of this time. The verses are questions, asking if God is still here, and God’s answer is, ‘Yes, I am here.’”

“The text is particularly appropriate for our times,” said Hawn. “It speaks to the context we’re all in now.”

Excerpt from “I Am Here”
Words and Music by Dirk Damonte

When breath is choked off,
when singing brings fear,
when touch causes pain,
are You here?

When leaders don’t lead,
when death lingers near,
when the church isolates,
are You here?

Used by permission.

“Dirk uses an accessible and popular musical style, but with lyrics that have a justice orientation,” Hawn said.  Four DPM students performed brief solos, each posing a question, “Are you here?” followed by a refrain, “Oh yes, I am here! Draw near, have no fear!”

Hawn noted that there are 19 students in the DPM program, and given the situation with COVID-19, there’s no way to gather in the same physical space. Normally, each cohort meets two weeks each year in Dallas, but this year the 2020 cohort met online only in June.

“This creative project was a way to build up and continue some deepening relationships,” he said.

“Every single person in the DPM participated, from Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia, and all across the U.S.,” said Damonte. “It was very moving to see every single one of us taking part and singing together.”

Click here to watch the video of “I Am Here.”