It is amazing how much perspective ten years can provide. It is healthy for a composer’s style and sonorities to change with the passage of time as long as the basic building blocks have been established. One of these building blocks for me has been the shorthand that I developed in order to quickly compose at the keyboard. I still use this same shorthand today and probably couldn’t get all of my thoughts down fast enough without it!
One building block that needed more time to develop was my ability to write meaningful lyrics. I had the misconception that I only needed three lines of text to develop an entire choral work. This often works with Latin texts but is less effective with English texts. Like last week’s post that showed how I revitalized Do Not Fear with a lyrical overhaul, Grant Us Peace needed to have its lyrical content expanded in order to have more meaning. The chart below shows the embarrassing repetition of the original lyrics compared with the addition of new lyrics ten years later. Interestingly, I first envisioned it as a Christmas piece with the text “Peace on earth tonight,” then “Bring Us Peace,” and finally settling on “Grant Us Peace.” But it still lacked meaning until its 2016 revamp.
One of the most unexpected edits to this piece occurred during a rehearsal with my Chamber Singers. I had always been unhappy with measures 16-19. I was able to make a small improvement with a dissonant chord on the word “sins” after the lyrical revision but the section continued to kill the momentum of the entire piece. During rehearsal, one of my Tenor I’s sang the wrong note and a lightbulb went off in my head. After making the kids sit for 5 minutes while I tinkered around on the piano, I realized that the solution to building momentum was to add an unexpected flat-VII Chord! This chord originally appeared at m. 21 and always seemed out of place, but by introducing it at the climax of the piece, the jarring chord adds energy to the phrase. It also introduces the sonority so that it feels natural in the harmonic landscape once m. 21 arrives.
After the last performance of “Grant Us Peace” in 2008, I wasn’t sure if it would ever be heard by an audience again. Something just didn’t click but thankfully, eight years and several key edits later, “Grant Us Peace” is a piece that I can be proud of: