I thought it would be interesting to tell the story of "Three Moravian Hymn Tunes Remembered". I hope it will be interesting to read the story, because it says a great deal about how we came to have settings of hymn tunes to make available through a web site.
If you have read the "About us" page you know that Linda and I are respectively a clarinetist and a bassoonist who feel that an important part of our church life is to contribute musically to the service. Over the years we have found a variety of ways to do so, and a variety of sources of music. I wrote 'Three Moravian Hymns Remembered" to play for a conference of composers to give them some ideas about what kinds of things our instruments could do. I had been asked only that what we played might not be a "typical hymn arrangement" - well, that was a little over a decade ago, and there is more and better music being done now than there was at that time. I thought to myself, "I have been making arrangements as an instrumentalist might do - these are composers - what approach might a real composer take to setting a hymn tune?" My answer to myself was that a composer might be much more concerned with motivic development than with simple iterations of the melody, and I decided to attempt a three (short) movement piece based on that idea.
Now for more background. I grew up - and now reside again in - Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Salem was settled in the mid-1700's by an energetic and deeply committed community of Christians known as Moravians, and very quickly grew into a thriving and highly cultured community - the history, both denominational and local, is fascinating and inspiring. Each church has, in addition to the usual choir and organ, a band of instruments. On Easter Sunday, after going about through the community in the early morning hours playing hymn tunes and chorales, several of these bands traditionally gather at "God's Acre" in Salem for a sunrise service. Now those are common today, but as I was growing up in the 1950's, it was a more unique offering, and people literally came from all over the country to "The Easter City" to attend that service. The musical highlight was the antiphonal playing of the various bands, stationed both at the center and at the corners of the cemetery, and made quite an impression on me when my Dad and I went to a sunrise service with my grandfather, who had indeed made a special visit just for that purpose. I could see mostly only the backs of knees, and many of the words were over my head, but music speaks to even the very young. Not much later I had my first music lessons, at a Moravian church up at the top of the hill from where we lived (we were not Moravian, although I have long maintained that anyone who grows up in Winston-Salem is about ten percent Moravian just from the atmosphere). I did not yet have the strength to play my brass instrunent up to the level I wished to, to be one of the participants - sometimes three generations from a family - in that year's sunrise service, but did learn many of the chorales, the alto parts at least, by heart, and I quote a brief line that I seem to remember in "Jesus Makes My Heart Rejoice". I chose "Holy Lord" for the slower movement because it seems appropriate to be a little quieter now and then to reflect on God's holiness. "Join We All With One Accord", based on the traditional "Gaudeamus Pariter" tune, is not one of those I heard drifting down the street from wherever a band was serenading a congregation member early on so many of my younger Easter mornings. It was "new" in the red hymnal of 1974, when Linda and I were attending a Moravian church, and because of its lively meter and fresh sound, quickly became - well, you could only describe it as a "hit". And that setting is pretty much a straightforward "hymn arrangement" with brief inclusions from the other two movements. My method in the first two settings is to reveal - perhaps "remember"? - various fragments of the melody, until in the end, the tune is stated in its entirety. Working with fragments of the melody, combining them in different ways, remains the basis of whatever "compositional technique" I can be said to have. So, that's the story.