09 January 2014

Short piece with a long name

Before my present appointment as Music Director of my very own choir, it was my musical pleasure and honor to substitute frequently in the fine choir at First Church in Boston. The choir serve an historic Unitarian parish, and although it is nothing to my purpose to speculate upon the rarity of such occasions, of all the times when I sang there, I remember only one occasion when, in the course of the sermon, the minister read from the Bible. (Yes, that Bible.) The combination of the uniqueness of that incident, and the rich poetry which characterizes so much (not all, we never said all) of the Scriptures, had the effect of pressing the event upon my memory, and I made mental note of one of the verses, which struck me as eminently suitable for the title of a musical work.

Thus it is that the piece which I finished two evenings ago, for shakuhachi (the Japanese bamboo flute), handbell choir and tenor drum, bears the name When the morning stars sang together, and the sons of God shouted for joy.

My friend and colleague, Charles Turner, a fellow composer who continues to perform, as well, met with me in the Fall to demonstrate the shakuhachi. To the exquisitely evocative sound of the shakuhachi, I was no stranger; but it was the closest I have ever been to the instrument (and probably the first time I had been in the same room, since Wooster days). Various busy-nesses of the final quarter of the year intervened.

But this past Sunday, when Charles, fellow composer Jim Dalton and I met for organizational work on the coming concerts, Charles gave another demo. That sonic reminder, and the fact that, now that the Christmas services are done, we need fresh material for the handbell choir, inspired me to write the piece.

The top of this page is a draught of material in Jazz for Nostalgic Squirrels; but immediately below is the start I made on When the morning stars sang..., starting with figuring out how many bells our hands could accommodate. The pitch world of the bells is a scale with no perfect octave; that is, as the scale ascends, the interval pattern begins again at the minor nInth.

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