For the Mystic Harmony
Subtitle: Hymns for Concert Band
E-flat Soprano Clarinet
B-flat Soprano Clarinet I-II-III
B-flat Bass Clarinet
B-flat Contrabass Clarinet
B-flat Soprano Saxophone
E-flat Alto Saxophone
B-flat Tenor Saxophone
E-flat Baritone Saxophone
B-flat Trumpet I-II-III-IV
Horn in F I-II-III-IV
Percussion I-II-III-IV-V, including:
- Bass Drum
- Orchestra Bells
- Sizzle Cymbal
- Snare Drum
- Suspended Cymbal
- Temple Blocks
- Tubular Bells
None discovered thus far.
This work, commissioned for a consortium of high school bands ... is my fifteenth mature work for the wind ensemble (not counting transcriptions). When I asked Todd Dixon, the band director who spearheaded this project, what kind of a work he most wanted, he wanted to leave the details to me. During a long subsequent conversation, he mentioned that his grandparents, Norwood and Elizabeth Dixon, were prime supporters of the Ft. Worth Symphony, going so far as to assist in the procurement of a number of high-quality instruments for that orchestra. This intrigued me, so I asked him more about his grandparents and was provided an 80-page biographical sketch. Reading that article, including a long section about their devotion to supporting a young man through the rigors of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition for a number of years, moved me very much. Norwood and Elizabeth Dixon weren’t just supporters of the arts: they were passionate lovers of music, and of musicians. I determined to make this work a testament to that love, and to the religious faith that sustained them both. The idea of using extant hymns was also suggested by Todd Dixon, and this ten-minute work is the result.
I have employed existing melodies in several of my works, delving into certain kinds of religious music more than a few times. In seeking new sounds, new ways of harmonizing old tunes, and the contrapuntal overlaying of one tune with another, I was able to make works like Zion (using nineteenth century Revivalist hymns) and Laboring Songs (using Shaker melodies) reflect the spirit of the composers who created these melodies, without sounding like pastiches or medleys. I determined to do the same with this new work, with the added problem of employing melodies that were more familiar. I chose five tunes from the nineteenth century: hymns, spirituals, and folk-tunes. Some of these are known by differing titles, but they are all in the public domain and appear in hymnals of various Christian denominations with differing titles and texts. My idea was to employ the tunes without altering the notes, but instead using a constantly modulating sense of harmony -- sometimes leading to polytonal harmonizations of what are normally simple four-chord hymns.
The work begins and ends with a repeated chime on the note C: a reminder of steeples, white clapboard churches in the country, and small church organs. Beginning with a Mixolydian folk tune of Caribbean origin presented twice with layered entrances, the work starts with a feeling of mystery and gentle sorrow. It proceeds, after a long transition, into a second hymn that is sometimes connected to the sea (hence the sensation of water and waves throughout it). This tune, by John B. Dykes (1823-1876), is a bit more chromatic and “shifty” than most hymn-tunes, so I chose to play with the constant sensation of modulation even more than the original does. At the climax, the familiar “Were You There?” spiritual takes over, with a double-time polytonal feeling propelling it forward at “Sometimes it causes me to tremble”.
Trumpets in counterpoint raise the temperature, and the tempo as well, leading the music into a third tune (of unknown provenance, though it appears with different texts in various hymnals) that is presented in a sprightly manner. Bassoons introduce the melody, but it is quickly taken up by other instruments over three “verses”, constantly growing in orchestration and volume. A mysterious second tune, unrelated to this one, interrupts it in all three verses, sending the melody into unknown regions.
The final melody, which I must name, is For The Beauty of the Earth. This melody, by Conrad Kocher (1786-1872), is commonly sung at Thanksgiving -- so it was the perfect choice to end this work celebrating two people known for their generosity.
Keeping with the sense of constant modulation that has been present throughout, I chose to present this hymn in three growing verses, but with a twist: every four bars, the “key” of the hymn seems to shift -- until the “Lord of all, to Thee we praise” melody bursts out in a surprising compound meter. This, as it turns out, was the “mystery tune” heard earlier in the piece. After an Ivesian, almost polytonal, climax, the coda begins over a long B-flat pedal. At first, it seems to be a restatement of the first two phrases of “For the Beauty” with long spaces between them, but it soon changes to a series of “Amen” cadences, widely separated by range and color. These, too, do not conform to any key, but instead overlay each other in ways that are unpredictable but strangely comforting.
The third verse of For The Beauty of the Earth contains this quatrain:
For the joy of ear and eye, —
For the heart and mind’s delight
For the mystic harmony
Linking sense to sound and sight”
and it was from this poetry that I drew the title for the present work. It is my hope that audiences and performers will find within it a sense of grace: more than a little familiar, but also quite new and unexpected.
- Program Note by composer
(Needed - please join the WRP if you can help.)
None discovered thus far.
To submit a performance please join The Wind Repertory Project
- Wylie (Tx.) High School Wind Symphony (Todd Dixon, conductor) - 22 December 2017 (2017 Midwest Clinic) *Premiere Performance*
Works for Winds by This Composer
- Arches (1985)
- Castle Creek (1989/2009)
- Downshifting (2014)
- For the Mystic Harmony (2017)
- Glacier (2003)
- Hauntings (1986)
- Laboring Songs. See: Symphony No. 3, "Shaker Life"
- Minstrels of the Kells (2002)
- Perpetual Song (2008)
- Songs Without Words (2001/2007)
- Spumante (1998/1999)
- Symphony No. 3, "Shaker Life" (1997)
- Symphony No. 4, "American Visionary" (2005)
- Symphony No. 6, "Three Places in the East" (2017)
- Upriver (2011)
- The Yellowstone Fires (1998)
- Zion (1994)