There is nothing more rewarding than writing an original piece of music from scratch. It is an opportunity to take a blank aural canvas and expand 12 simple pitches into an endless array of possibilities. The complex process necessitates countless decisions regarding melody, harmony, rhythm, chords, range, form, lyrics, dynamics, phrasing, and expression. To your average non-composer, it may seem like writing an arrangement is a significantly easier task. But it is not.
The writing of an arrangement involves all of the same decisions but in a different way. Rather than creating a melody, you must decide whether to keep the original melody intact or alter it through ornamentation and embellishment. As I discussed in my blog posts about The Star-Spangled Banner, a transposition into the parallel or relative minor can help to develop a deeper understanding of traditional lyrics that may have lost their meaning over time. The reharmonization of a familiar tune can create fresh, new sonorities and an alteration to the rhythmic structure can transform the piece into something brand new. I employed all of these ideas in my arrangement of “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken.”
One of the most noticeable changes to this traditional hymn is that it is transposed into the relative minor. It creates a dramatic backdrop for these words of praise as it portrays the plight of Christians trying to follow God in a fallen world. The opening is particularly interesting as the Bass pedal tones and Tenor ostinato create dissonance with the melody.
The other notable feature of the piece is its use of mixed meter. The time signature alternates between 3/4 and 6/8, often times occurring simultaneously to create a two-against-three polyrhythm. The written time signature indicates where the strong beats are in any given measure, but it is easy to see in the example below that certain voices are clearly in 6/8 while others are in 3/4. The alternation of these duple and triple meters creates a driving rhythm that builds to the piece’s climax.
The piece continually gravitates toward the major but falls back into minor. Finally, it settles into G-major at the onset of the third verse. This finale has a more traditional chord structure that is ornamented with of ninths and other nonharmonic tones. This combines with a steady 4/4 time signature to shift the focus from the fallen world to a glimpse of Heaven. The rhythmic and harmonic contrast tell a story of their own amidst the traditional hymn of praise.
“Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken” is another example of a mediocre piece that I was able to salvage once I had the compositional experience to fix it. The piece that I composed in 2011 was overly complex and confused, but I’m so glad that these 2016 edits have allowed the full potential of the piece to be recognized.