A while back I wrote three preludes based on the hymn tune, St. Anne, better known as “Oh God, Our Help in Ages Past.” This is the 2nd movement of that set. The hymn tune is stated twice. During the first half of the prelude, the melody (in G major) is the top note of the chords in triple meter (it’s usually in quadruple meter), in the second half of the piece, the melody’s in the top note of the chords in the right hand. The melody’s easier to hear in the second half.
This will be one of the selections I play for this coming Sunday’s in-person/Facebook Live service. It’s Charter Sunday, celebrating the founding of this church. At one time, this song by Doris Akers was the theme song for the parish so it seemed appropriate to do it.
This is one of the movements of a collection of pieces I wrote for use during Lent on year at Lakewood UCC. The collection is titled Meditations & Reflections. The sheet music for the whole collection or for individual movements is available at SheetMusicPlus. The audio CD for the entire collections is available at BandCamp.
I’m enjoying getting back in the groove of using my little home studio after not having it available I’m enjoying getting back in the groove of using my little home studio after not having it available while we moved and after Lakewood went back to in-person services from only cyber. But absence really does make the heart grow fonder: I’ve come to realize just how much making music means to me! So, even though they’re not required at Lakewood, I’ve started back up making them for the pleasure of making them and hopefully for the pleasure of listeners.
I’ll be doing a piano version of this as part of this coming Sunday’s service. I love writing descants. I think every church I’ve ever worked at has hymnals with penciled in descants of mine! LOL
This blog primarily serves as an electronic “business card” for myself as a composer/performer. At first, I talked about what I knew…teaching composition. But, then the damn pandemic hit (I called it the “damndemic”). As dreadful as this has been–and continues to be–my worklife as a musician was changed from life performance to studio only in order to provide the music my job required. I loved working in the wee hours in my studio and releasing the results as needed for my job (music director at Lakewood UCC). I posted those music videos here.
Then, thanks to the vaccine, I was able to return to live performance of a limited sort (socially distanced, fully masked, fully vaccinated participants). Then, suddenly, my need to provide studio music no longer existed. So now what? What intrinsic PURPOSE does my music have now that there’s no extrinsic need requiring it?
The picture at the top is of Igor Stravinsky. I was very, very lucky to attend, for my last two years of undergraduate study, the University of the Pacific Conservatory of Music in Stockton, California. My composition teacher was Standworth Beckler. If I was lucky to be at UoP I was even luckier to be Mr. Beckler’s student. Once a semester he offered to both grad and undergrad students a class based entirely on his own research. One such course was a his analyses of every piece Igor Stravinsky wrote! Every piece!
I took away a lot from his courses, and one thing I took away from his Stravinsky course was that Stravinsky seemed to be teaching himself how to compose throughout his life. That was the only explanation I could find that accounted for the wide, wide, wide range of styles he wrote in throughout his life. Stravinsky, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, and the Beatles all had that continual stylistic exploration in common! Perhaps it’s no coincidence I am as fond as I am of these composers.
It’s dawned on me, as I look back at my own life, including the present, that–although I’m not claiming to be a Stravinsky–when there is no external circumstance demanding a “product,” the underlying purpose of my music–why I compose–is to learn how to compose. The “product” is my learning. What people hear is just the “byproduct.” The real product is what happens within me and the growth of my skills.
It is freeing whenever I remember this. It doesn’t matter what others think. If they happen to like something, that’s nice, but their liking it doesn’t provide the purpose for me doing it in the first place. It’s what I learn how to do that’s important.
It’s not even vague things like “crafting a work of art” or something. With each piece my subconscious has things it (me) wants to learn how to do. In making the piece I discover (that’s a key word I think…I don’t “figure out,” I “discover,” it’s very much a non-verbal how-to) how to do that. The piece is just a result.
Curious how this lines up with what I spent my life doing as a profession: teaching others to compose. For me, it’s about learning, discovering. Down deep, that’s the intrinsic motivation for me. Extrinsic opportunity to show-and-tell is nice, but when I want to do something that “matters,” for me it’s learning how to compose.
Marco has been my private composition student since he was 14 (maybe it was 13… can’t remember). He starts with dual enrollment at Julliard and Columbia this fall. I highly encourage your attendance either in person or live streamed. He is exceptional.
This is the final tune in my current project of arrangements of tunes from Southern Harmony, and Musical Companion (CD title is Simple Hymns, pairing it with last year’s project, Simple Songs).
The music begins with the piano alone, playing what seems to be the melody of the hymn tune, except it’s not. It’s actually a countermelody. Then the strings come in–first the violins, then the cellos–playing what feels like a counter-melody, but it’s actually the real hymn-tune melody.
Things finally straighten out halfway through the arrangement and the piano plays the real hymn-tune melody by itself, followed by the strings playing versions of the original countermelody.
This is another tune from Southern Harmony for which Walker, the 1835 editor, lists a composer: Robert Boyd. Here’s a couple links to info about him: https://hymnary.org/person/Boyd_R and https://hymnology.hymnsam.co.uk/r/robert-boyd. I can’t find any clue to why he might have named this tune New Orleans!
Here’s a scan of the tune in Southern Harmony itself–remember, the melody is in the tenor.
Here’s a link to a little better understand of the four-note shaped-note system (there’s also a 7-note system, which this is not): https://www.britannica.com/art/shape-note-singing.
“Enigma Variations are 14 musical compositions in honour of Elgar’s dearest friends and family. Variation IX, also known as Nimrod, is dedicated to Augustus J. Jaeger, who helped the composer through his darkest periods of self-doubt and depression. Nimrod is a favourite piece for funeral music and is always played at the Cenotaph [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cenotaph] on Remembrance Sunday.” [https://www.carrollandcarrollfunerals.co.uk/funeral-music/]
I’ve finished mastering my current project (https://soundcloud.com/hilton-kean-jones/sets/songs-from-southern-harmony). Still need to add Nathan’s album artwork and other metadata, then it’s ready to send off. A while back, I mentioned that I’ve discovered over time that the seeds of the next project always seem to lie in the current project. It’s true this time. I want to do more piano-only recordings like these two: https://soundcloud.com/hilton-kean-jones/salem and https://soundcloud.com/hilton-kean-jones/sweet-rivers. Don’t know yet if they’ll be my own tunes, or more folk arrangements, but I know I want to make more solo piano stuff I can just sit down and play for friends and family. A book I often used to recommend to composition students is Hermann Hesse’s “Magister Ludi.” Its conclusion, where the protagonist discovers, after a lifetime of absorption in the complicated Glass Bead Game, the real joy of The Game is playing a simple flute in the forest, parallels needs I feel compelled to satisfy in my next project. Each project satisfies personal needs and teaches me something (about music…and life).