Thursday, December 18, 2014

Winter update 2014

I love this blog. I value each of the articles here. I also seem to rarely have the time to write articles in the more extended format I feel this blog deserves. That's why over the last year I've also expanded to a second blog, which I guess deserves mention here. The blog is, more of a 'micro-blogger' platform where I post some original content but also share interesting finds. I find myself posting a lot of quotes, articles, and artwork that inspire me or provoke thoughts.

This fall has been very busy with my doctoral degree, I feel that I'm finally learning how to handle life (including now three children) alongside of being a composer (or vice versa). I composed a trumpet/piano piece for a fellow graduate student at ASU, as well as working on several commissions that came in this fall. I've also been rehearsing and performing with a percussionist as an improv duo.
a sample of the great content going up on my tumblr blog (my son Nikolas reading a hymnal intently)
More about my prolific hymn writing activity after the break...

One of my biggest musical accomplishments of the last months was to compose almost twenty new hymns, more than doubling my previous lifetime output in that genre and sparking hopes of putting out my own hymnal someday. For example, I'm looking right now at a hymnal put out by one hymn writer with just over 50 original hymns. I'm over halfway to that number. I've been researching into a lot of different hymnals from different eras and denominations, studying the theory and practice of being a hymnist. I always knew that writing hymns was a part of what I do but this outpouring of hymns has forced me to understand that impulse in new and deeper ways.

Perhaps one of the most liberating realizations about hymn writing is that I don't do it for the Church, or more specifically that the hymns I write should be adopted by the Church. I do it for myself. The hymns I write are personal to me. Perhaps the extent that they appeal to others is a sign of the universality of my own feelings. I know that is somewhat at odds with the normal idea that the hymn is for the congregation. I'm not saying my hymns don't work for a congregation or choir. But foremost, at their conception, they are hymns that I feel need to be written and by me. (I think all I am saying is that:) It boosts my creativity and output to take away the hypothetical expectations of others out of the equation, and to simply compose. Some part of me, in the back of my mind, knows that I will feel immensely blessed if even one person connects to these hymns in a deep and spiritual way. Another part of me does secretly hope that if I write a thousand hymns perhaps even just one of them might strike the universal chord and become one of those beloved immortal hymns for the ages. But still the pressure is off: this hymn doesn't have to be that hymn. It just has to be, in the first place. And so I keep writing! I haven't posted many of the new ones online yet but my hymns can be found as they go up at

Today I'm working on my own setting of the old Christmas hymn text "As with gladness men of old" - I'd never heard it before yesterday but the message is a powerful application of the wise men's example to us all. Apparently it is almost always sung to the hymn tune DIX (I love the site, by the way, a wonderful resource!) which, while it works well with the text, will always be associated in my mind with 'For the beauty of the earth.' I was playing through a beautifully illustrated old hymnal called 'A Treasury of Hymns' and came across the text. I little while later I mixed up my key signature when starting another hymn and played a resonant but unusual chord and the next thing I knew I was taking that as a starting place for a new hymn tune. So it goes lately. I've got a backlog of dozens and dozens of ideas for texts to set, musical things to try, and themes I'd like to have a hymn about.

No comments: