Friday, July 6, 2007

O Kingly Love

The night before my vicarage placement service at the seminary - the night before the big chapel service where, as a second-year seminarian, I received my assignment for the year of full-time field training - I was too excited and nervous to get any sleep. So I decided to work out a problem to keep my mind occupied. A musical problem, to be exact.

I tend to view composing as a kind of problem-solving exercise. In a sense, any creative artist is a problem-solver. A painter, before he paints a masterpiece, must analyze the problem and decide how he will solve it. His problem: how to capture a particular image in such a way that it says what he wants it to say. His solution involves many choices: what materials and tools he will use, his range of colors and their consistency, the texture of his brushwork, the way he will arrange and shape the elements in his picture so as to move the viewer's eye from this point to that. Likewise, a composer must select his materials - words, themes, instruments and voices - and decide how they will be deployed, over what period of time, in what textures and color combinations, and within what structural framework.

The puzzle I picked on the eve of vicarage night was fairy modest: How would I write a tune that a congregation could readily learn to sing, a tune to go with the Martin Franzmann hymn "O Kingly Love"? Lutheran Worship carried the hymn, but with a tune that, in my view, did not succeed in solving this problem. And a sticky problem it was. Franzmann's hymn has an enormously long refrain and a very unusual metre. Doing better than the composer whose tune was in LW would be very difficult. But I stayed up all night, humming to myself, and scribbling on a scrap of musical notation paper.Here (above and below) is the tune I came up with. Click on the thumbnails to see full-size pages.The day after I wrote the tune I spent an hour or two putting harmony to it. I showed it to one of my musical friends, whose off-the-cuff reaction was surprisingly close to the intentions I had in mind when I wrote it: "It sounds kind of Anglican." I also used it in at least one of the parishes I served as pastor. It challenged the congregation, but it caused nothing like the train-wreck the LW tune caused every time I heard a congregation attempt it.

So if you're interested in using this hymn, you may have to ask Concordia Publishing House for permission to use the text, but you can go ahead and use my music. Give credit where due, of course. And if you want my 4-part piano/organ arrangement, you'll have to get in touch with me (leave a comment, etc.), and we'll arrange for you to get it.

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