“O Holy Night” presented several challenges that I had not anticipated. Going from my original arrangement’s 8-part harmony with a 5-voice accompaniment to this arrangement’s maximum 5-part vocal split without any support from an accompaniment seemed impossible and necessitated a complete change in direction. First, I traded in the regal 16-bar brass introduction of my old arrangement for the simplicity of unison women’s voices. This better sets the atmosphere of a quiet, holy night beneath the stars. (For more information on how this project came to fruition, see my previous blog post here).
Even though the simple opening of the piece worked, it didn’t take long for me to encounter an even larger issue with the rhythm. I found that it was difficult to utilize the flow of 6/8-time in an a cappella setting while maintaining the slow tempo that I envisioned. I had all but given up on this project when I realized that I could incorporate the necessary motion with a piano accompaniment. This meant trading in my vision of a piece supported solely by female voices for a new set of challenges. Now, my challenge is to incorporate an accompaniment that will compliment the voices instead of distracting from them. The goal is still to create lush harmonies in the voices so they will still provide the harmonic structure of the piece. The only purpose of the accompaniment will be the provision of a slightly driving rhythm and occasional colorations to the chords.
In the first verse and refrain, the accompaniment supports the harmony of the piece without doubling the vocal melody. It uses an arpeggiated style to create motion and outline the chords while the melodic rhythm of the piece remains exclusive to the voices. I am also finding the accompaniment useful in helping the vocalists to distinguish between the standard triple 6/8 feel and the occasional duplets throughout the piece. The piano plays a more substantial role in the second verse as it establishes chord roots beneath the polyphony of the voices. The melody also finds its way into the accompaniment, but I will save an in-depth explanation of that for my next post. The final refrain includes a lot of doubling between the vocal parts and the accompaniment. These final moments are so powerful that I wanted to focus all attention on the melody and chords by having the treble voices and right hand performing the same notes. These parts are complimented by the driving rhythm and bass range provided by the left hand.
It is exciting to watch this piece evolve throughout the compositional process. I typically have a very clear vision from the start but this project is forcing me to adapt and problem solve as new issues appear. There are too many cool possibilities to turn back now, including the Silent Night/O Holy Night mash-up that I will discuss next time!