Sunday, September 12, 2010

Classical composers supply the music for many hymns; a note on composing vocal music

One time back around 10th grade or so (that means 1958), the choral director at my home church (the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC) said I impressed her with my appreciation of “hymnology.” She was teaching teen chorus singers on Sunday nights what diphthongs are (that’s not a bad thing to know these days for SAT’s).


Today, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2010, the Trinity Presbyterian Church (website url link) in Arlington VA held its “Celebrating the Life of the Church Rally Day” in its gymnasium (Calvin Hall), but the two main hymns chosen echo the world of classical vocal music, and a web link I’ll give in a moment.

Early, the congregation sang “Lord, Speak to Me, That I May Speak”, with music by Robert Schumann, composed in 1859. Yes, the German Romantic composer of those four self-absorbed symphonies and lots of curious collections of piano pieces (Carnaval, with its ¾ time march) and songs. This one is in G, with lots of accidentals leading several key signatures up the wheel, so a kind of rich harmony. It strikes me that the second subject of the last movement of the C Major Symphony would make for a good hymn.

The benediction hymn I thought came from Ralph Vaughn Williams. It sounded English and modal. It was “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need”, with words projected from a laptop with mountain scenery on a movie screen. But when I looked I saw that the music came from Walker’s Southern Harmony, dated back to 1835, and was harmonized by Dale Grotenhuis, in 1986.

When I attended Metropolitan Community Church of Dallas in the 1980s, in the days of Don Eastman (it has morphed into the Cathedral of Hope, split off, and another church has formed, but that’s another matter) Danny Ray was music director, and I see his name on hymns in “mainstream” churches occasionally. I think that this is the right site.

As for Vaughn Williams, I used to play a Willcox CD of “Hodie” every Christmas Day, but my favorite piece was the early choral hymn “Toward the Unknown Region”.

There’s a new perspective on the web today on composing vocal music from composer Tim Andres, with the Sept. 12, 2010 posting. Tim is the com poser of “Shy and Mighty” (discussed here May 20, with link to his site) and usually has focused on piano and instrumental, as the posting explains.


One of my manuscripts from the early 1970s, sketched as like a five movement "symphony" with one movement a loose stiching of song passages on subject matter ranging from the Doubting Thomas to a Drinking Song to Psalm 133, beckons me to get an electric piano back and sheet music software up and working again. The vocal material comprises snippets of themes with iconclastic text, looking for personal judgments on a manage of observation.

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