Category Archives: Sacred music

Adjustments, more lyrics discovered

Today ends up being a lot of different things. I start working on the hymn arrangement for Thanksgiving, go on to the wind symphony project, and finish on the Return of the King song project.

At choir practice yesterday, one of my earlier suggestions was revisited, and therefore there were some adjustments to make today. I’m writing in a verse of a different hymn in the middle of the song, and a small instrumental intro to that right after the first verse.

I’m taking a couple of risks here. I don’t know if the guitarist and/or cellist will struggle with the high notes, because I haven’t given them notes this high before, and I figure it could be a challenge – it is on many instruments. The violinist says she can do either octave from the part I sent her, so I will have us test it out on Sunday to hear how well it sounds at the high register.

The middle hymn is more subdued, and it’s in SSA instead of SATB format. So I don’t have all the instruments accompanying that verse, only coming in at times, and counting rests part of the time. I’ll want to have the choir test part of it a cappella, and have the piano optional for the entire song.

No key changes within the piece because I don’t want it this time. Some transposing had to happen to have both hymns in the same key, but it’s totally doable for the sopranos to go up to an F, so I don’t worry about that.

Because it’s fun to work on a big piece, I look in my folder for “Wind symphony,” and discover that I had started a score for the second movement months ago. I listen through the first movement, just over 3 minutes long, and I still like it. That’s good. I think it could go a little bit faster, but I like the themes, and the ideas and the development. It’s obviously needing the next movements though! So I guess I’ll get to that in the next little while.

Well, that song I worked on last week? I look at it, and it seems I’m missing something. I go back to the scriptures, and decide to include some more lyrics. Maybe I won’t need to repeat the lyrics, just melodic material, to make a more catchy song. It sure is superior to work with lyrics that are poetic (and these are definitely poetic). I add in what kind of amounts to a second verse of the “aria” if you can talk about this piece that way. I’m pretty excited. I think I’d like to sing this song some time.

Before quitting for the day, I add in the rest of the song (melody/vocal line). Its running time is five minutes now. Time to deliver the parts for the Thanksgiving song and maybe get dinner on the table.

Thanksgiving song arrangement

I got a call from our assistant choir director yesterday who requested a simple arrangement of a song for Thanksgiving: Come, Ye Thankful People. So I guess I’ll make a score for this. The instrumentation is still not completely settled, so I’m wondering how this is going to turn out. But part of the decision making process obviously will be to write in all the melody and harmony that is already there, so it may be ok to just get going anyway.

I’m looking at the notes. I accidentally chose the wrong key, and when thinking about whether that could work, I saw that the setting was pretty low already in F, so going down to D was not going to happen this time. I am considering a key change to A flat major though, which I think would sound beautiful.

After talking again to the assistant choir director, she makes it clear that she does not want any key changes, so I scrap that idea. We settle on the instrumentation guitar, violin, viola, cello.

I write in a cello bass line and then a guitar part. The guitar sounds an octave lower than notated, and will be easy to drown out as it’s pretty soft. I’m thinking maybe to let the violin and viola pluck so they don’t get too loud. I’m listening through it now, and thinking that a piano actually isn’t necessary… I guess we’ll see what they think once we start practicing.

I start on the second verse, letting the guitar take the bass line. I want the violin to play an octave higher than the sopranos, but I am not sure how comfortable our violinist is with the high register, so I write it lower and the octave doubling, and ask the violinist to pick one octave. I add in some more phrase markings for the instruments. It can be hard to guess sometimes as an instrumentalist, unlike for the singers. It’s usually pretty obvious as a singer, because of the lyrics and punctuation.

I’m printing off parts and sending them off.

Reflections on rhythm

I have been reflecting on rhythm a bit the last day or two. I guess I sometimes keep the rhythm very simple, and other times I play with it a lot. I’m not a percussionist, and I know they play with rhythm a lot more. Sometimes in the string section, we get to be percussive, and it’s all about the rhythm. Like when we played Mjölnir or The Imperial March for example.

I have learned about music for pretty much as long as I can remember. At first, it was all in Swedish, because I lived in Sweden until 2002, when I entered Brigham Young University as an undergraduate student in music. I had taken plenty of music theory, aural skills, composition and arranging classes, harmony, choir, vocal ensemble, piano, and I had also rubbed shoulders with lots of talented musicians in other fields (instrumentalists of most kinds, jazz players, etc.) which gave me some insight into their world.

But it wasn’t until I was in college that I learned the terms “simple meter” and “compound meter.” It’s very intuitive once you apply it to all the music you’ve heard and studied for 15 years or so, and it becomes another useful tool or term to use when talking about music. I’ll explain here briefly for those who may not know about it.

Simple meter is when the subdivision is 2. You have 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 5/4, etc., and the subdivision is the eighth note. Compound meter is when the subdivision is 3, and you have, for example, 3/8, 6/8, 9/8, 12/8, and so on. For a conductor, you beat one, but there are three notes to each beat (or you feel it if it’s not subdivided right there).

We were just playing the music from Avatar last week at our Halloween concert. One of the intriguing parts about the music is that it switches from simple to compound to simple subdivisions several times. Harry Potter symphonic suite is all over the place as well, and you get to play both. You can simulate compound meter by writing in triplets in a simple meter. And you can simulate simple meter in a compound meter by writing in tuplets.

When I write music that is based on words, the lilt of the language helps inform the rhythm. That is one reason I love working with lyrics, because inherent in most poetry is an interesting rhythm, and it helps me create what I think is an interesting line.

Try these:

“and the calf” with the rhythm two eighth notes and a quarter note

and

“cover the sea” with eighth note triplets and a half note.

You get the stress on the strong part of the beat, which makes it easier to sing, and easier to understand when you listen.

This way, the way you write rhythm reflects your interpretation of the lyrics, much like a reading would convey the way you understand the poetry.

As I’m working on the melody for my new song, I listen through, and find that there is one point where the word “and” lands on the downbeat of a measure, and it seems wrong. I fix it by adding in an eighth note to the previous beat, and moving all the rest of the notes one beat closer to the beginning, and it’s like I was imagining. It’s easy to make a mistake, but I’m glad it’s pretty easy to fix too.

I’m trying to decide which parts of the scriptures I’d picked to include, and which to skip over. Trying to include all the scriptures will be tedious, and people might struggle to understand certain wordings because they’re so archaic. For a song to be “catchy” like I suggested yesterday, repetition is extremely useful. Nobody can learn a song that doesn’t repeat anything except by practicing a lot, and that kind of is the antithesis of “catchy.” I would like it if people hear my song, and then start humming it, and that will only happen if I repeat an idea enough. So maybe I’ll settle with the material I’ve come up with and then repeat the ideas again, with some interesting (hopefully) twists.

Writing a melody

For a song, the melody will be important. As I’m walking this morning, before it really starts snowing, my mind goes to the beginning of the lyrics, and I’m playing off the intro to get the beginning of the vocal line. My walking friends probably don’t notice that I just zone off for a moment while figuring this out.

I pull up my score and start writing in the first lines. I add in some accompaniment. I like sequences, because they make it so you feel like it’s not all new. As usual, I’m wondering if it’s any good, but decide to just keep writing, and edit later. Hoping that it’s not all going to get trashed. Hoping I can write a piece that has just enough challenge to be interesting, but not too difficult so nobody will want to sing it. Or maybe catchy, so everybody will sing it after they hear it. Hm, that would be something new, it hasn’t really been my style before.

At least the chosen selections from Isaiah are pretty powerful, and I’m glad to have some poetry to base the song on.

I don’t get very far today on this piece. But I talk to a friend about writing a piece for her, and that’s exciting.

Calling it good

When God created the heavens and earth… he saw that it was good (see Genesis 1:10). It’s intimidating to turn over your piece to the choir director and saying it is good now, because it is echoing the great Creator. But at the same time, I do think my arrangement is pretty good now, and I’m going to move on to other projects.

I added in a couple of measures for a transition between verses 1 and 2, this time with four instruments (clarinet, alto sax, violin, viola), to help us feel the key change happen, and make it easy for the choir to come in. I have the flute, alto sax, and strings accompanying the second verse, and only letting the piano come in for the refrain. And then I cut out the piano for the repeat. Rude, I know. But I think the choir can hold its own with just clarinet and alto sax, and then let the strings help with the last phrase of that verse.

We’re used to having the piano kind of guide the voices, but I get bored with the same kind of gestures so we’re doing something a little different. This might make it so we’ll have to practice the choir with the all instruments more, but maybe that’s ok.

I’m keeping the piano part pretty simple because I don’t like it when it’s much harder than what everyone else has to do (it’s often the case that the piano part is the most difficult of all). Also, I know I will need to give out parts to our instrumentalists so they can start practicing. I can’t sit on this much longer for that reason too.

I look through the score some more. I add in phrase markings for the piano as well as for the violin. I add in a fortissimo for the last repeat. I like to orchestrate for dynamics, but it’s helpful for the ensemble, in particular for the piano, since it’s probably the most versatile of all the instruments. It can be soft or loud at all the registers, unlike the flute, for example.

And just like that, I’ve sent off the parts. I guess I should print out my part so I can start practicing too.

Premieres of October 2022

Where is home?, my piece for solo bass trombone, was played by Jonathan Warburton publicly for the first time on October 3rd at the University of South Carolina, hosted by Michael Wilkinson, Assistant Professor of Trombone. I’m anxiously waiting to hear the recording, and I plan to post it here as soon as I’m able to.

A couple of months ago, I had the thought to write a sacred song for three-part women’s choir. I decided to use lyrics from Psalm 22 and Isaiah 58, and I call it Thou shalt call, and the LORD shall answer. It features a viola and piano as accompaniment. I asked some ladies in my local church congregation to sing it, and I played the viola, and we sang it for the first time yesterday (October 9) at our church service.

I hope to post a recording of that song as well here eventually.

Sacred music is up

I was walking with my friend this morning, and she casually mentioned that she kept all the music I had written for our ensembles at church in a binder, because it wasn’t available online. I respond here by putting up a sizeable chunk of my output of arranging church hymns. See the page called “Sacred music.”

I consider my service as a music coordinator in my local congregation as part of my worship. Therefore, I offer these pdf:s for anyone who would like to use my arrangements. If you want parts, let me know. If you need an adaptation for local needs, I am excited for that prospect, and will do it if time allows.

If you use my contact form to reach me and don’t hear back from me, try messaging me through LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram. I’ve been trying to get the form to work, but I’m not sure messages come through as they should.