My Faith It Is an Oaken Staff

As part of my job as music director at Lakewood UCC, I write a lot of original music (original hymns, anthems, solo keyboard pieces, hymn-tune settings). Because of the corona virus lockdown, I’ve been doing all those same things, but for online posts by Lakewood. If those interest you, you can hear those posts at

I’ve decided to post some of those here: the ones that feature original content by me. This post was originally posted on March 23, 2020 at

oak treeHere’s a tune for your morning meditation that will lift your spirits. Rev. Wells introduced me to this hymn and it’s become a favorite of mine. Every time we do it in church I only wish there were more verses so it lasts longer. Feel free to sing along this morning. You can see the words in the New Century Hymnal #418 or at

There’s a very short organ introduction. When the brass come in, you start singing. Between verse 2 and verse 3 there’s a little organ interlude. But, on verse 3, BE WARNED (!), there’s a trumpet descant. What might confuse you is that the trumpet plays an echo, like a kid’s round (you know, like in “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”), of what you’re singing. So don’t get lost…hang on to your own part (follow the trombone…a trombonist will never lead you astray).


(original hymns, anthems, solo keyboard pieces, hymn-tune settings). Because of the corona virus lockdown, I’ve been doing all those same things, but for online posts by Lakewood. If those interest you, you can hear those posts at

I’ve decided to post some of those here: the ones that feature original content by me. This post was originally posted on March 29, 2020 at

Screen Shot 2020-03-29 at 4.40.50 AMSomething different this morning! It’s not found in any hymnal although it should be; rather, it’s a Native American hymn traditionally sung to the four directions in the morning by the women of the community. The arrangements and orchestrations are my own. I’ve done several settings–orchestra, solo piano, and choir–the first two of which are presented here.

“Wendeyaho” is often described as a “Cherokee Morning Song.” However discussion of it on the Internet indicates that the word, “Wendeyaho,” is not contemporary Cherokee, although it may have its origins in an ancient form of the language. The translation I was able to piece together from various internet sources is as follows:

Translation – We n’ de ya ho
Freely translated: “A we n'” (I am),
“de” (of),
“Yauh” –the– (Great Spirit),
“Ho” (it is so).

First, here is my orchestral arrangement.

And, here is the piano solo arrangement. Feel free to download the 2 page sheet music PDF from THIS LINK so you can play it at home, yourself. You need to do some tricky shifting of hands to cover all the parts in the last two variations, but it’s doable, I promise.

O Loving Founder of the Stars

As part of my job as music director at Lakewood UCC, I write a lot of original music (original hymns, anthems, solo keyboard pieces, hymn-tune settings). Because of the corona virus lockdown, I’ve been doing all those same things, but for online posts by Lakewood. If those interest you, you can hear those posts at

I’ve decided to post some of those here: the ones that feature original content by me. This post was originally posted on April 1, 2020 at

O Loving Founder of the StarsThe choir often sings this arrangement of mine of New Century Hymnal #111 at Easter. Here is that same arrangement performed on organ. You’re welcome to follow along. The exact words as found in our hymnal aren’t found online, but a common text found in other hymnals is at Those words have 6 versus. The New Century Hymnal version, however, has only 5 verses.

The picture to the left is of a door at the Salzburg Cathedral.

Come, O Spirit, with Your Sound

As part of my job as music director at Lakewood UCC, I write a lot of original music (original hymns, anthems, solo keyboard pieces, hymn-tune settings). Because of the corona virus lockdown, I’ve been doing all those same things, but for online posts by Lakewood. If those interest you, you can hear those posts at

I’ve decided to post some of those here: the ones that feature original content by me. This post was originally posted on May 27, 2020 at

Pentecost2This is the second in a series of Pentecost hymn-tune posts. In the New Century Hymnal, it’s #265. The hymn tune is BOUNDLESS MERCY from the Union Harmony, 1837. The harmonization is by Hilton Rufty (1934), but the flute obbligato in the 2nd verse is mine. Copyright restrictions don’t permit a text to sing from, but if you have a NCH there’s a four-bar organ intro; then, start singing with the flute entrance. The author of the text is John A. Dalles.

You’re probably heard of the Southern Harmony, source of many famous hymns tunes such as Amazing Grace. The Union Harmony is equally interesting.

A reminder that all the music I’ve put together for Lakewood UCC since we began the covid-19 lockdown is available as a free streaming playlist at

Music in honor of St. Patrick

revised IRISH TUNES coverThroughout March, Hilton is playing music during the service exclusively from the rich tradition of Irish folk songs. If you click on the arrow in the player below, you can hear 15 of the pieces he’s playing this month. This streaming music is for free and with no need to download anything.

Here’s a list on the songs in this playlist:

  1. Sally Gardens
  2. Red Haired Boy
  3. Carrickfergus
  4. The Maid That Sold Her Barley
  5. Raglan Road
  6. Spancil Hill
  7. Come To The Hills
  8. My Love Is A Band Boy
  9. The Meeting Of The Waters
  10. The Durham Rangers
  11. Slievenamon
  12. St Anne’s Reel
  13. The Wild Rover
  14. 4 Jigs
  15. Wexford Carol


No magic brush


This is the most important truth I still have to learn for every piece. It’s like I completely forget how to write music after every piece. At one point in my life, I kept the first scraps of paper from pieces so I could look back, the next time, to see how miserable the first notes were. This really is the Number One lesson to learn. That Disney thing where the brush sweeps across the screen and the picture just flows off the brush just isn’t the way it really happens. It’s true, the Cosmic Radio does exist, but sometimed the reception isn’t that great. It can be like driving across country late at night and listening to AM radio. You might pick up a station that’s really from a different piece, or maybe a different spot in the same piece, or perhaps just a bad idea, or maybe…aliens.

Your cosmic radio

About hearing notes in your mind: if you can firmly hear one note in your mind, the mind will usually wait to “play” the next note for you until you’ve done whatever you have to do to figure out what the first note was. It’s as if the notes are sort of already in a tube waiting for you and you can take them out one at a time. They won’t all disappear (usually!). If the “cosmic radio” metaphor doesn’t resonate for you, maybe think of the process as a “musical Pez dispenser.”

It takes a while to trust this process. Use whatever it takes to facilitate identifying the pitches: take an ear-training class, sing them into a tape recorder, use your music software to find them, find them on a keyboard or some other instrument, record them and painstakingly identify them one note at a time in the editor, guess (sometimes you’ll be right).

I recommend singing them and taking an ear-training class. Those two things are part and parcel of the same skill. Secondly, my next preferred method is finding them on a keyboard. The danger with that method is that all too often, the fingers will “do the talking,” and what they come up with isn’t what you heard.

But, as you develop your ear-training skills, usually the notes will be there in your “cosmic radio,” waiting for you. Try singing. It strengthens your ear and also keeps you honest so you don’t write “paper music.”

Tabletop drummer

Not billiard balls, but balls nonetheless!
Not billiard balls, but balls nonetheless!

This post is a further exploration of one of the tricks mentioned in a grain of sand: coming up with a rhythmic idea devoid of any pitch content.

There is a legend, quite possibly not apocryphal, because the game of billiards was indeed one of his hobbies (another apparently being the collection of bathroom graffiti while on tours throughout Europe which he detailed in letters to his father), that Mozart would sometimes use the rhythmic pattern of the clicking of the balls in a break as the generation of rhythmic motives.

But, unless you’re a billiards or lawn bowling player (hmmm… shuffleboard would work too, wouldn’t it?!), you’ve undoubtably given into the urge to spontaneously tap out a rhythm on the tabletop of a diner while waiting for a 2 a.m. breakfast, or, possibly scat sing one like THIS. For this discussion, we’ll use my vocalized motive heard in that example.

The next step can be tough for someone without formal ear-training–but it’s doable with some effort and free software–and that’s turning that improvisation into written music notation. Either of those methods, however, depend on one basic skill: memory. Develop the skill of remembering exactly what you just improvised so you can repeat it exactly, over and over until you’ve sussed out the notation of the rhythm.

Developing this skill has other applications, too. There’s a technique used in certain types of pop vocals where the artist overdubs tracks with themselves singing in unison with what they sang before. I’ve heard pros who could do this matching every slight inflection and nuance of their first track’s performance for a 3 minute tune. Memory is a valuable skill.

Anyway, back to the task at hand.

Once you’re certain you’ve got your riff (motive) deeply embedded in your memory, you’re ready to write it down using the techniques you learned in Ear Training 101…or, if you prefer the software method, record it on your cell phone, then open the mp3 in your free Audacity software. I use Magix’s SoundForge Pro Mac 3, simply because I’ve used it for so long and my fingers do their thing without me having to think about it, but Audacity is great. Get it. It’s cross platform. And it’s FREE! Whichever audio editor you use, you’ll see your waveform, like this:

Screenshot 2018-04-03 10.27.42.png

Now, I bet you “patted your foot,” either mentally or physically, when you improvised your rhythm. Breaking down this procedure a little bit further, let try to identify where those “foot pats” are in the waveform.
Screenshot 2018-04-03 10.27.42 A

The red lines in the above example represent where I felt the beat to be for my riff. That tells us a little, but not everything we need to know. To get closer, try tapping your foot exactly twice as fast as you listen to the motive. The blue lines in the following example show where those would fall.
Screenshot 2018-04-03 10.27.42 B

We’re almost there! Now, suppose we subdivide each of those in half. The green lines in the next example represent those subdivisions.
Screenshot 2018-04-03 10.27.42 C

Patience, patience, patience…almost done, almost done.

Now, suppose that the distance between red lines is a quarter note, then the four subdivisions would each be sixteenth notes, wouldn’t they? Mapping that out using music notation it would be 2 sixteenth notes, then a long note starting on the last sixteenth of that beat, then another short note halfway through the next beat, followed by two more sixteenth notes on the beat (like the opening). Looks like this in music notation:
Screenshot 2018-04-03 11.03.33

OK…that’s enough for now. We’ll continue this exploration next post by adding pitches, harmony, orchestration, tempi, and dynamics in Tabletop drummer part 2. We’ll also take a peek in a 3rd part at how this motive could be explored even further by developing into throughout time.

Look forward to seeing you next time.

Books about music

Foyles bookstore, London, UK
Foyles bookstore, London, UK

The Eastman School of Music Sibley Library is possibly the largest music library in the world, rivaled by maybe only the Library of Congress and the other world class state conservatories (Moscow, Paris, London). Despite its size I remember wandering around it as a graduate student and coming to the realization that damn few of the books about music had little to teach that was truly useful, or if they did, perhaps only a scrap or two of ideas in the whole book were of lasting value.

The collection of music scores and recordings (and live performances, of course), however, was an entirely different story. That, mostly, is where I learned what I learned, the music itself (including the musical examples in the books). If you have $10 bucks and a choice between a book about music and the music itself, buy the score!

That said, there are books that I keep beside my desk, even in this world of the Internet in which we keep the sum of the world’s knowledge (and quite a few lies) in our shirt pocket. This is my list. If you can find them and afford to buy them, I recommend them. A few were only of value to me when I was young, but most still help me, and I reach for them often when working.

Next to each book, you’ll see some of the ideas that spoke to me most in that book.


The Study of Orchestration — Samuel Adler Everything!
The Technique of Orchestration — Kent Kennan Everything…much less info than the Adler, but sometimes that’s just what you need.


What to Listen for in Music — Aaron Copland
A Composer’s World — Paul Hindemith
Counterpoint — Knud Jeppesen This is the primo modal counterpoint book. If you’re one of those who believes in “the two-voice framework” modal counterpoint is essential
Polyphonic Composition — Owen Swindale While the Jeppesen is practically a primary source, the Swindale actually teaches you how to write points of imitations and motets and such…that’s why it’s named what it’s named.
Form in Tonal Music — Douglass M. Green Each of these books covers the same material, but each has its own unique observations and techniques of showing them.
Form in Music — Wallace Berry
Musical Form — Ellis B. Kohs
Essentials of Eighteenth-Century Counterpoint — Neale B. Mason As Swindale does for the 16th Century, this book does for the 18the Century. It teaches you how to actually compose in its contrapuntal forms.
Counterpoint — Walter Piston An early, but important, counterpoint book, although not as authoritative as the Jeppesen is to modal counterpoint.
The Craft of Musical Composition — Paul Hindemith His unique theory and approach to step progressions (that melodies have skeletons) and his classification of harmonic dissonances make this important; later theories (Heinrich Schenker, for instance, took Hindemith’s step progression theory way too far until it became meaningless. Hindemith keeps it reigned in.)
20th Century Harmony — Vincent Persichetti Not valuable for me any more, but as a high-school student it gave me entry into something beyond J. S. Bach (I was an organist).


Harmony — Walter Piston An early, but important, harmony book. Its weakness is, in a way, its strength: it’s only concerned with the order of traditional harmonic progression.
The Contrapuntal Harmonic Technique of the Eighteenth Century — Allen McHose McHose’s approach to analysis was entirely statistical, based on rigorous statistical analysis of important Classical composers. What I like about his approach, other than this statistical grounding, is his chart of traditional harmonic progressions that I will present in my own simplified form at some point in this blog.

I know, I know, I know: yes, I’m betraying my very old-fashioned training; yes, each one of those books (except the Adler and the Kennan) may only contain a few fragments of ideas that are valuable; yes, some of those books are so old they’re probably not in print any more. NEVERTHELESS, they’re my favorites (was raised on ’em) and I was surprised to see that even something as obscure as the McHose is available, used, on the Internet. The Hindemith Craft of Musical Composition is even available in downloadable PDF. So…hunt around, you can find them, and probably pretty cheap. Keep them in your knapsack.

Olivier Messiaen’s “Technique of my Musical Language”

Books by historically significant composers on composing are few and those that do exist are uneven in their approach. My favorite, probably, is Olivier Messiaen‘s book, Technique of my Musical LanguageYou probably won’t find it for sale anywhere and if you do, it will be prohibitively expensive. But, you do occasionally find it in major libraries. Also, most university libraries can get it for you on interlibrary loan from somewhere like the Eastman School of Music Sibley Library (I notice there’s a link on that page to interlibrary loans). Note, the copy at the Sibley Library (Eastman is where I got my master’s degree) is the traditional two-volume version (text in one volume, examples in another) — be sure to get both volumes.

What I like so much about Messiaen’s approach is how thoroughly practical it is. He doesn’t justify anything. He just describes what he does. It’s quite literally about how he composes. He only describes some of the things he, himself, does, certainly not everyone. It’s the most honest book on composition I know. It is completely without pretense.

If you get a chance to look at this book, I recommend it to you. It may give you some ideas.

Here’s a YouTube video with score of Book Two of his Catalogue d’oiseaux.

You might discover you don’t like his music, but you do like some of the ideas in his book. That’s okay. That can happen! Don’t let prejudice against his style blind you to what valuable ideas you might discover in his book. And, you never know…someday you might find you like, at least, some of his music. I know I do.

%d bloggers like this: