Part of the Liturgical Harp project consists of looking through shape-note collections like The Sacred Harp in search of tunes that are also in common use in denominational hymnals. In a previous post I described my setting of NEW BRITAIN (“Amazing grace”), which is one of the most popular tunes in shape-note books, but also (in somewhat altered form) one of the most popular tunes in current hymnals.
The Liturgical Harp will also present tunes not found in any previous shape-note collection. I have been searching for tunes that could benefit from a setting in dispersed harmony and shape notes. These tunes usually have these characteristics:
- A folklike or dancelike character
- Little or no chromatic alteration
- Polyphonic settings emphasizing linear part-writing rather than vertical harmonies
- Less concern for the rules of European common practice counterpoint
Here is my setting of one such tune, the Welsh tune HYFRYDOL. (Downloadable PDF sample.) The melody (tenor part) is given exactly as found in most current hymnals, so that congregations can sing along with this setting. The other three parts, however, are newly composed, and are substantially different from the commonly published arrangement by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Here is how my approach to the tune differs (an approach learned from my experience with shape-note tunebooks):
- Each line is meant to be of equal melodic interest, regardless of whether it forms parallel fifths or octaves with another part.
- There are no chromatic alterations in this setting.
- The subdominant harmony is used sparingly: only in the final phrase is the bass allowed to rest on the fourth scale degree.
- Common practice harmony is not shunned if it is appropriate. The middle section of the tune is harmonized in thirds in a passage deliberately evoking common practice harmony. Within the shape-note tunebooks, common practice harmony does occur, but only as one possible style among many. My model for this technique is the tune AMSTERDAM, which has a similar passage in thirds for a reduced ensemble.
Another feature of The Liturgical Harp is its orientation toward the greater importance of the liturgical year and the Common Lectionary in Protestant congregations. I present certain tunes with more than one choice of text, so that the tune can be used in different parts of the liturgical year. Here is the facing page to the setting of HYFRYDOL:
Unfortunately, it is not possible for me to include all of the dozens of hymn texts set to HYFRYDOL, and budgetary considerations require me to exclude any copyrighted texts. With help from the invaluable site Hymnary.org, I have tried to include the most used public domain texts, in a rendering that is not drastically different from what is in most current hymnals. Music directors at churches participating in a license agreement such as OneLicense or CCLI can reprint copyrighted hymn texts for use with the settings in The Liturgical Harp.