My Masterpiece

Jazzer's picture

I'm mostly keeping this for posterity, so it's probably not going to be very interesting to begin with. It certainly won't be interesting to those who aren't music nerds like I am, and it most likely really won't be interesting to you if you don't like church music. This is to kinda keep a record of my progress thus far on my arrangement of the hymn, "For All The Saints."

"For All The Saints" (or FATS) is probably my favorite hymn ever. Even moreso than the old favorite "Amazing Grace." It is sung on All Saints Day, which is November 1st or the first Sunday after Pentecost, depending on which church we're talking about. All Saints Day is a universal Christian Feast that honors and remembers all Christian saints, known and unknown.

I can't say, exactly, when I got the idea that I wanted to write an arrangement of it, but I know that it was sometime in the late Fall of 2004. I've done arrangements of other songs that I've liked before, and with moderate success. They'd only been for smaller, brass quintet-type groups, and I wanted to try for something bigger.

In my mind, I started working on a concept for the piece: "How would it go? Would it have six verses like the hymn, or would I change it? What would the instrumentation be?" All these questions were racing through my head. Finally, I decided that I would keep the six verses and treat it as a theme and variation type of composition. Around this time, I also decided on my instrumentation: organ, brass quartet (two trumpets, trombone, and tuba), choir (mixed), tympani, chimes, triangle, snare drum, and church bells (ala Tchaikovsky and his cannons for the 1812 Overture--more on the church bells later).

About January, I started working on my first "movement" of the piece. I decided that since FATS is such a well-loved song in many churches, the congregation might like to sing the first verse, so that's one down, five more to go. Since I've had the most experience writing for brass ensembles, I decided to start on that first.

Looking over the tune, it was a no-brainer that I would take the time to analyze the chords and write them out first, so that I would have the harmonic structure to base my interpretations off. After doing that I went right to work on the brass quartet's verse of the hymn.

For this movement, I decided to use altered harmonies so that it would sound very 20th century. The melody notes remained the same, but the harmonies changed somewhat. For those non-music people who've stayed with me so far (woo hoo!), imagine taking your head and putting it on someone else's body. That's kind of what I'm talking about here. You would still be you, in terms of how people recognize your face, and in terms of your memories, but you would now be in a totally different body from the neck down. Your foundation, in a sense, would change.

The process of doing this first movement was fairly easy, and luckily my music notation program was able to play back what I wrote, so I got immediate feedback on what sounded good and what didn't. And to my surprise, it sounded pretty good. After a few minor tweaks, I was on to my next movement.

Next, I worked on the final movement, because I'd been hearing that in my head the most. And again, to my surprise, the only thing keeping me from finishing it was time (I was working all day at this point and when I got home, was so tired I went straight to bed) and my ability to notate what was in my head. Certainly there was some trial and error, but most of it was already there. I worked on the coda quite some time, but now when I listen to it, I don't care much for it, so I'm going to change it. But the final verse of the hymn is done--this is where all the instruments play (even the church bell). Three down, three to go.

Then, using a common compositional technique, I decided to once again reharmonize the piece, so that it would be in a minor key instead of major. That was very easy to do, and that practically wrote itself. The choir will sing this a capella. Two more to go.

This one movement, I have to say, is my favorite. Instead of putting it in 4/4 time, I decided to put this one in 7/8 time, and let me tell you, the results are sensational! The song really moves along, and compared with all the other movements, I think this one breathes the most life into the hymn. I wrote this one for the brass quartet again, because...well...because I can. :)

The final movement that I wrote is my throwaway movement. It has a nice concept (it's sort of a mixolydian mode re-harmonization), but it just goes by too quickly. I wish I could develop it a little bit more, but I think it'll be just fine on its own. In any case, the organist will have a nice time playing this, I think.

So now what? Well, believe it or not, there's still a lot of work to do. First, I have to finish writing the coda, which may take a while. I have a really fabulous concept for it, but getting out what I hear in my head is proving to be harder than I thought. I also have to start printing out parts, put some finishing touches on a few percussion parts, and get the OK from the church that I want to perform this at. They've been very receptive to the idea so far, and for the first time in a while, this REALLY looks like it's going to happen. And that kinda scares me. Ugh.

No need to fret now. I think that I just need to focus on the task at hand, and start becoming worried when I have to be. Thanks for reading.



ahrounoftheearth's picture


that's so cool! when it's all done, is there any way i can hear it?