The tune BUNESSAN is a traditional Gaelic melody first printed in 1888 as the setting of Mary MacDonald’s carol “Child in the Manger.” The tune was named after Mary’s birthplace on the Isle of Mull off Scotland’s western coast. BUNESSAN is commonly associated with hymns celebrating new beginnings: the aforementioned “Child in the Manger,” then the 1931 creation-celebrating hymn “Morning Has Broken,” and the more recent but lesser-known 1982 hymn “Baptized in Water.” The title of this piece, “A Hymn of Beginnings,” recognizes that association.
Sacred bassoon solos aren’t common and those that exist tend to be quite pedestrian. With a new bassoonist in our church orchestra whose talents go well beyond the pedestrian it seemed opportune to try something new and thus, “A Hymn of Beginnings” took shape. The music has a conventional feel but with a palpable dash of the unfamiliar, achieved through subdued bi-tonal coloring, matching the major-key melody with a minor-key harmonization that moves by descending thirds. Still, it remains quite accessible to the casual listener with its familiar melody and obvious tonality.
“A Hymn of Beginnings” is suitable for intermediate level and above musicians and works well at any time of the church year with its contemplative yet varied moods. Its association with new beginnings makes it particularly suited to Christmas, Easter, baptismal services, weddings, and others.
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