The Babe of Bethlehem

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.

New Orleans

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.

Mastering done…

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).

The Promised Land

Not all the hymns in Southern Harmony, and Musical Companion are anonymous. Far from it. This one was composed by Matilda T. Durham. Her composer page in hymnary.org is https://hymnary.org/person/Durham_MT. From that page:

“A woman of remarkable intelligence and talents; a most colorful personality. She wrote interesting articles for the religious papers of the day, being noted for the witty repartee that characterized her work. She was outstanding as a music teacher and composer of music, some of her songs being “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks”, “Heavenly Treasure”, and “Star of Columbia”. – from http://www.Kletke.com”

It’s a little confusing. Her hymn as it appears in contemporary hymnals can be found HERE. Notice there are verses and a refrain. The original shaped note, reproduced HERE as found in Southern Harmony, doesn’t have a separate refrain but the melodic outline of the refrain is the same as the verse. If you’re new to shaped note music, the melody is found in the tenor, or the staff second stave from the bottom.

My arrangement of her tune is of a different character, completely, from the character of the hymn as presented in contemporary hymnals. I prefer more of a middle eastern dance character.

When I’ve completed the project, the album will credit the attributed composers as well as William Walker, the editor. For more information about this hymn, see https://hymnary.org/tune/promised_land_american.

Salem

Sadly, the name, Salem, has a bad reputation after the Salem witch hunts of America’s early days, But, it has a good rep prior to that. Here’s a bit of info on the name’s significance from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salem_(Bible):
“Salem, the ancient name for JERUSALEM, is referenced in the following biblical passages:

  • “And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God.” (Genesis 14:18)
  • “In Salem also is his tabernacle, and his dwelling place in Zion.” (Psalm 76:2)”

“The name refers to the royal city of Melchizedek and is traditionally identified with Jerusalem.[1] It is also mentioned in Hebrews 7. Possibly a different place is mentioned in Genesis 33:18: “And Jacob came to Shalem, a city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padanaram; and pitched his tent before the city.” The town of Salim corresponds to that location. It is also mentioned in the Gospel of John 3:23: ‘And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim [Σαλείμ], because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized.'”

This hymn tune is one of two hymn tunes named Salem in Southern Harmony, and Musical Companion. It’s also found in another early hymn tune collection, Dossey’s Choice (https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Choice.html?id=EYQhQkh0I1cC), p. 58.