This Month's Featured Posts

Choral

It is Well ~ Nimrod

This piece was commissioned in memoriam by the family of Homero Capetillo, a wonderful gentleman and founding teacher in a Spanish-immersion school for 30 years. After considering several of his musical “favorites” I decided to weave Edward Elgar’s beloved “Nimrod” with Horatio Spafford’s treasured hymn, “It is Well with My Soul.” Spafford’s deep faith in the face of multiple personal losses inspired his poem of calm assurance, set to music by the hymnist Philip Bliss in 1875.

Twenty-five years later, Edward Elgar wrote 14 variations on his “Enigma” theme, each one immortalizing a dear friend. “Nimrod” refers to the music editor Augustus J. Jaeger, whose name means “hunter” in German. Elgar playfully chose the biblical name “Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the Lord” for this friend’s variation. This sumptuous adagio movement commemorates an occasion when Elgar had been very depressed and was about to give it all up and write no more music. Jaeger visited him and encouraged him to continue composing. He referred to Ludwig van Beethoven, who had a lot of worries, but wrote more and more beautiful music. “And that is what you must do,” Jaeger said, and he sang the theme of the second movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8 Pathétique. Elgar disclosed that the opening bars of “Nimrod” were made to suggest that theme, saying, “Can’t you hear it at the beginning? Only a hint, not a quotation.”

I found great pleasure in creating this lilting variation of a variation, born of layers of inspiration and encouragement, all in the service of the expression of a deep faith and appreciation for beauty shared by Homero Capetillo.

When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Esta bien con mi alma.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control:
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed his own blood for my soul!
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Esta bien con mi alma.

And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trumpet shall sound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Esta bien con mi alma.

Choral

Eden of Love

The mother lode of early American hymnody may be found in the Sacred Harp tradition, where I first encountered this transcendent song. The last few decades have brought a revival of interest in and performance of its “shaped note music,” born of 19th-century “Singing Schools” where communities would learn to read music via a strict pedagogy, using shaped noteheads. Performance practice requires the singers to assemble their chairs in rows in four vocal sections, all facing the center, where a conductor may (or may not) lead. The tenor line generally has the melody, and all the parts are rendered with vigor, beginning with a run-through solely in solfege!

Although some urban choral groups earnestly attempt imitation of this style, I often find their raucous simulation in an out-of-context performance setting a bit of a caricature (as can happen with any unfamiliar style).

This arrangement of The Eden of Love (anon.) was developed for four professional soloists in a house concert setting, and their style walks somewhere between bel canto and folk singing. The piece works well for any combination or quantity of voices, as tutti parts may sing the solo lines, or alternate with soloists.

The use of the drone (North Indian tanpura, in this case) provides a scrim, suggesting the parallel ethereal world of heaven. I know of no other hymn text that attempts to paint heaven with such vivid sublimity. What a joy to sing, “I’ll bathe in the ocean of pleasure unbounded” in a sacred song!

How sweet to reflect on those joys that await me
In yon blissful region, the haven of rest,
Where glorified spirits with welcome shall greet me
And lead me to mansions prepared for the blest;

Encircled in light, and with glory enshrouded,
My happiness perfect, my mind’s sky unclouded,
I’ll bathe in the ocean of pleasure unbounded
And range with delight thru’ the Eden of Love.

While angelic legions with harps tuned celestial
Harmoniously join in the concert of praise,
The saints, as they flock from the regions terrestrial,
In loud hallelujahs their voices will raise;

Then songs of the Lamb shall re-echo through heaven,
My soul will respond to Emmanuel be given.
All glory, all honor, all might and dominion,
Who brought us thru’ grace to the Eden of Love.

Choral

Celtic Winds

Commissioned by Seattle Children’s Chorus for their 20th Anniversary Concert in Seattle’s Benaroya Hall, this dramatic arrangement of The Skye Boat Song and The Wind that Shakes the Barley expresses a fervent Celtic longing for freedom, depicting great courage in the face of oppression.

Loud the winds howl!
Loud the waves roar!
Thunderclouds rend the air!
Baffled our foes, stand on the shore,
Follow, they will not dare!

Speed, bonny boat, like a bird on the wing,
“On-ward” the sailors cry!
Carry the lad that’s born to be king
Over the sea to Skye.

Though the waves leap,
Soft shall ye sleep,
Ocean’s a royal bed.
Rocked in the deep, we shall all keep
watch by your weary head.

The beloved Skye Boat Song tells of the romantic figure Bonnie Prince Charlie, disguised as a serving maid, escaping in a small boat to the Isle of Skye after the defeat of his Jacobite (Scottish and Irish) uprising in 1745. The Wind that Shakes the Barley, an old Irish rebel song from the 1798 rebellion, tells a more tragic tale. A young man meets with his true love amid the barley, and while agonizing over leaving her for love of his country, a foe’s bullet ends her life, thus deciding his fate– he must fight.

The integrating musical motif which unites the songs is the sweeping motion of the wind in the barley, and the wind on the sea, depicted in the sound of the voices and in the flute, played by Maya Lewis. This setting is derived from the original arrangement for two flutes, recorded on the CD, Along with My Love I’ll Go.

Choral

All Things Bright and Beautiful

Over the generations this utterly charming children’s hymn, penned by Cecil Frances Alexander in 1848, has brought delight to those who glory in the wonder of God’s creation. I have a special affection for it sung to “Royal Oak,” a 17th century English melody, since I first encountered it in a dear little picture book that I read/sang with my very young daughter. The simple poetic enumerations of elements of the natural world easily engage young singers. With the expressive enthusiasm of an energetic director, they master these mouthfuls of text in short order. And the drama of a delayed last word brings joy to all!

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.

Each little flow’r that o-pens,
Each little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colors,
He made their tiny wings.

All things bright and beautiful…

The cold wind in the winter,
The pleasant summer sun,
The ripe fruits in the garden,
He made them ev’ry one.

All things bright and beautiful…

He gave us eyes to see them,
And lips that we might tell
How great is God Almighty,
Who has made all things well!

All things bright and beautiful…

Vocal Solo

I’d Rather Have Jesus

When asked to develop music for an endowment dinner, this old song immediately came to mind. It represents the perfected priorities of a well-lived life (here arranged for mezzo-soprano Cynthia Dean).

Long before its composer, George Beverly Shea, became the world-famous baritone soloist for the evangelistic Billy Graham Crusade, he wrote “I’d Rather Have Jesus,” in response to his mother’s influence. She had left Rhea F. Miller’s 1922 poem on their piano, hoping that her son would read it, and he did. The words moved George, and spoke to him of his own aims and ambitions. He sat down at the piano and began singing the poem to a tune that seemed to fit the words, and the next day sang it in church. Though George had been offered a popular music career with NBC, a few years later he chose to become associated with Billy Graham and sang this song to millions of people around the world.

 

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;

I’d rather be His than have riches untold;

I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands.

I’d rather be led by His nail pierced hand…

 

Than to be the king of a vast domain

or be held in sin’s dread sway.

I’d rather have Jesus than anything

this world affords today.

 

I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause;

I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;

I’d rather have Jesus than worldwide fame,

I’d rather be true to His holy name.

 

He is fairer than lilies of rarest bloom;

He is sweeter than honey from out the comb;

He is all that my hungering spirit needs.

I would rather have Jesus and let Him lead…

 

Than to be the king of a vast domain

or be held in sin’s dread sway.

I’d rather have Jesus than anything

this world affords today.