This addresses a topic I explored earlier in Who Decides What Is Beautiful?
All composers would love to have a full professional orchestra/ensemble/choir standing in anticipation of our latest work, and a very precious few have that luxury, but most of us have to either hunt for a group willing to play our music or, as for most church music, write for the group the Lord has placed at hand. Such is the case for a just completed project. At our church we have a string section consisting of players who have just started a year or two ago, one or two who make their living as musicians, and every experience level in between. Our orchestra director approached me recently to write something new that would be suitable for these folks: interesting for the advanced players while still being readily playable by the new students. The result is this arrangement of, “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.”
The hymn, “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” may have origins as far back as the 4th Century church, being long used both as a Christmas hymn and to focus worshippers on the mystery of the incarnation and the Eucharist. Thus, this piece is well-suited for Advent, Christmas, or any observance of communion. The tune, PICARDY, comes from a 1680 French song book.
This arrangement maintains the original melody in three contrasting settings bookended between rich sequences of tonal clusters. Solo violin makes the first statement of the melody in silvery harmonics over static chords. Lead violin and cello take the second statement in a contrapuntal fashion over homophonic harmonies. The third statement changes tempo and style to reflect the heavenly adoration of the Lamb portrayed in the text. Here the melody is taken by ensemble violins while solo violin adds countermelody and low strings provide a rhythmic pulse.
So, without further adieu, here is “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.” Sheet music is available at: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.
Tuba players get no respect. Relegated to oom-pah-pah’s and whole notes by most composers, a melodic line for a tuba is less common than a blue moon. And don’t even think about tuba solos! er, . . . unless you have to, that is. That’s just the situation I found myself in a few days ago! We are blessed to have a very talented and faithful tubist in our church orchestra who is one of our best musicians (is a tubist a musician or someone who floats down lazy rivers with completely inappropriate quantities of alcohol?). Anyway, just recently, I endeavored to find a solo tuba hymn arrangement for this person to play. How hard could it be, right? Well, when they don’t exist, they’re pretty hard to find! Having already stoked our tubist’s enthusiasm, I couldn’t very well go back and say, “Sorry, there’s just nothing available.” So, sort of like the old commercial tag line, “If you don’t have an oil well, get one!” I went out and wrote a new tuba solo. Fortunately, the whole process just took a few days. The first hymn to come to mind was the traditional spiritual, “Were You There?”, and
since it seemed to be the perfect vehicle for the deep, mellow tones of the tuba there was no need to search farther. Also, I wanted to do something a little out of the ordinary. So, I began to experiment with some polytonality (multiple keys at the same time) and the result seemed to fit perfectly with the ugliness and irony of the first stanza crucifixion setting. Next, I added on major and minor key settings of the succeeding stanzas and left the ending unresolved. That seemed to do it! I now have a solo tuba hymn arrangement and my tubist is a very happy person! Check out the result for yourself in this preview. (Hope to have a live performance recording this summer!) Sheet music available at Were You There?
Excited to announce that my arrangement of Ponder Anew, an arrangement of “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” [LOBE DEN HERREN] will be debuted by the First Baptist Church of Keller Orchestra at their Spring concert! The concert will occur on May 6, 2018 at 5:30 PM in the First Baptist Church Keller sanctuary. The orchestra is under the direction of Mrs. Laura Vickers and the Worship and Creative Arts ministry is under the supervision of Mr. Matt Perkinson. Mrs. Vickers has even agreed to let me conduct the piece!
Listen to a preview of Ponder Anew below:
My original post introducing Ponder Anew is here.
Other than my own family members, the news of Billy Graham’s passing from this Earth moved me more than most any other. Hardly any American over the age of 20 has failed to interact in some way with Dr. Graham, so the news of his death, at age 99, was felt far and wide. Many have shared this quotation attributed to Dr. Graham:
“Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”
Billy Graham actually adapted that quote from his hero, D. L. Moody, who made it in 1900. This quote reflects an anthem text that our choir at FBC Keller just began preparing this week. Called It Is Not Death to Die, it was written in 1832 by César Malan and translated into English by George W. Bethune in 1847. The text reads as follows:
It is not death to die,
To leave this weary road,
And ‘midst the brotherhood on high
To be at home with God.
It is not death to close
The eye long dimmed by tears,
And wake in glorious repose
To spend eternal years.
It is not death to bear
The wrench that sets us free
From dungeon chain, to breathe the air
Of boundless liberty.
It is not death to fling
Aside this sinful dust,
And rise, on strong, exulting wing,
To live among the just.
Jesus, Thou Prince of life!
Thy chosen cannot die:
Like Thee, they conquer in the strife,
To reign with Thee on high.
This text so beautifully captures the message and faith that Billy Graham expressed in his quote, just as D. L. Moody before him. This message is at the very core of the Christian faith, that we have hope in eternal life in Jesus Christ. Without this hope, our faith is futile.
“For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” 1 Cor 15:16-18 ESV
But Christ has been raised. He is risen! He is risen, indeed!
“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Cor 15:51-57 ESV
Rejoice, Christian. Indeed, “It Is Not Death to Die.”
Ponder: to think about (something) carefully, especially before making a decision or reaching a conclusion.
Anew: In a new or different and typically more positive way.
Ponder Anew is the title of my latest hymn arrangement for orchestra. The title comes from the 3rd line of what is usually presented in hymnals as the 3rd or 4th stanza of the hymn, Praise to the LORD the Almighty. This line states: “ponder anew what the Almighty can do.” Using the definitions above (taken from the online English Oxford Dictionary), this line could be rephrased, “think carefully, in a new and more positive way, about what the Almighty can do .”
To think about things in a new and more positive way is much of the point of writing new hymn arrangements. A fresh or different musical setting of a familiar text emphasizes different words and phrases or casts the words in new light. The differences may be subtle or startling but, either way, when well done a text that had become stale or threadbare can shine with a new brilliance that renews the power of the words. Admittedly, Ponder Anew is purely an instrumental work but the text and tune is so familiar that the words will spontaneously spring into the listener’s mind as the theme unwinds. Thereby, the new harmonies, rhythms, and phrasings in Ponder Anew will likely elicit from the listener a new and different way of thinking about the text. If the music achieves my intent, the listener will consider afresh the attributes and works of Almighty God when hearing this completely new setting of the tune.
A bit of background on the arrangement:
Joachim Neander’s “Praise to the LORD, the Almighty,” as translated by Catherine Winkworth, has consistently been one of the most published hymns in the English language since the mid-20th Century. Its anonymously composed tune, LOBE DEN HERREN, almost exclusively paired with this text since the 17th Century, is also much loved. Even J.S. Bach found it suitable to feature in his 137th cantata.
This arrangement for orchestra features three variations of the complete hymn tune utilizing metrical and harmonic changes to maintain focus on the tune and its text. These are bracketed via repetitions of the first five tune pitches in harmonic planing over a crescendoed pedal tone producing steadily increasing tension with unexpected resolutions of the beginning and concluding phrases.
The music in not particularly difficult and should be readily playable by high school or higher level musicians. Yet, both musicians and audience will find the work interesting and enjoyable with music that reflects the majesty and mystery of the its subject.
Leave a request in the comments for information on obtaining the sheet music.
Ah, Christmas Eve. There’s a chill in the air, the service is planned, the sanctuary is decorated, bulletins are printed, announcements have been heralded, but . . . what’s that? you’re missing a piano solo? Well, what could be better than a new take on the angelic announcement from the first Christmas, The First Noel?
Take a listen to this compelling piano solo and see if you don’t agree it would be a wonderful addition to your Christmas Eve service or other Christmas season programming.
Available for perusal, listening, and purchase at: https://www.swirlymusic.org/music/solo-piano/robert-myers-the-first-noel-for-solo-piano/
Here’s a unique setting of HYFRYDOL for brass quintet called Long Expected Jesus that is just perfect for the Advent season. This creative arrangement is readily playable so you still have time to work it into your Advent schedule. It will work perfectly as a prelude, postlude, offertory, or devotional item. Listen, preview and purchase at https://www.sheetmusicplus.com/title/long-expected-jesus-digital-sheet-music/20423571. Purchase includes full score and parts for trumpet 1 and 2, horn in F, trombone, and tuba.
(Original posting 11/21/2017) Are you still looking for a special choral piece for this Christmas? Consider, Lo, a Rose, a fresh, intimate, and contemplative setting of the traditional German carol, es ist ein ros entsprungen. Combining the English translations of Theodore Baker and Harriet Krauth, it mixes light piano accompaniment with a cappella sections for SATB chorus to create a hauntingly beautiful rendition of this classic Christmas carol. The intimate nature of Lo, a Rose works for small ensembles or quartets as well as larger choirs. It provides strong artistic rewards without requiring extreme investment of time and effort. So, yes, you still have time to work this up for your Christmas program! Lo, a Rose is well suited for the concert hall or the sanctuary and would make an exquisite piece for observance of Christmas Eve. View the score, listen to a demo, and purchase parts at: https://www.swirlymusic.org/music/choral-music/robert-myers-lo-a-rose-for-satb-choir-with-piano/
(Original posting 11/10/2017) Here’s the first live performance of my solo piano work, Fingal’s Fantasy, as performed today by the inestimable Keji Lu, a native of Beijing, China. Thank you, Keji, for making this come to life!
The title and the core musical material comes from Felix Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, which is better know as Fingal’s Cave. I was first exposed to this music in the very politically incorrect Warner Brothers 1940’s cartoon series based on Inki and the myna bird. The theme was played at every appearance of the myna bird. If you listen closely to Fingal’s Fantasy you might recognize a few snippets of the theme music and visualize a little bird hopping through the jungle.