DANIEL GILLIAM | COMPOSER

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I’m drawn to texts, even in non-vocal music. How can a title, or indication to the conductor or player change their performance? Even though this work isn’t vocal, and as I mentioned before not a traditional arrangement, the text can help shape the sound, direction, mood, etc. The hymn’s vivid text, written by John Adam Granade (1803), starts as aspirational and dreamy:

Sweet rivers of redeeming love

Lie just before mine eye,

Had I the pinions of a dove

I’d to those rivers fly;

Then the mood changes and we’re caught in an upward draft, watching the ground beneath our feet become smaller:

I’d rise superior to my pain,

With joy outstrip the wind,

I’d cross o’er Jordan’s stormy waves,

And leave the world behind.

Here’s the music from the hymn at this point: image

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This is also the climactic moment in Sweet Rivers (my work), with horns playing the tune, almost verbatim (with some rhythmic adjustments). The earlier, falling “F down to C” interval becomes the rising “C to F” interval in the hymn on “I’d rise…”

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(Hear Sweet Rivers played by wcfsymphony & jasonweinberger on September 6th at 7:30pm)

The tune and harmonization is by William Moore (1825). Here is an “authentic” performance of “Sweet Rivers” (the hymn) by Allison’s Sacred Harp Singers recorded in 1928.

Sweet Rivers isn’t an arrangement of the hymn by the same name, and the hymn’s influence is subtle and mostly unrecognizable. In a way, I stole some of the best parts (chords, intervals, etc) and used them as binding agent. I’ll write about one exception to this in my next post.

The two pitches that hold the work together are F down to C (or later C up to F). They’re heard in the first 10 bars, at least twice. This “falling” interval gets inverted later, at the aforementioned climactic moment (next post, remember?). Here are the strings as the music begins to take shape. 

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Barely a minute and half into the music, there’s an abrupt key change along with sharp, accented debris that tries to disrupt the motion forward. The orientation has shifted, but we’re still pointed in the right direction.

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The next two minutes of music have strings creating gentle glissandi, an eight-bar arioso for solo cello (with strings hovering over it and a pulsing marimba rippling underneath) a full, thick orchestra swell and woodwinds that evaporate, all before a climactic moment.

Hear all of this (and more, including Duke Ellington!) on September 6th at 7:30pm, with jasonweinberger & wcfsymphony on the Cedar River at Riverloop.

The next few posts (over several days) will, hopefully, give you look at part of the process writing Sweet RiversI wasn’t intentionally looking for a hymn to become the backbone of the, then unnamed and unwritten, new piece, but I did know that a river(s) would shape how I conceived the piece.

I came across the hymn Sweet Rivers in a collection called “Christian Harmony: Containing a Choice Collection of Hymn and Psalm Tunes, Odes and Anthems.” The first edition was printed in 1866 and was compiled by E.W. Miller and William Walker. Similar collections existed under the names Southern Harmony and Sacred Harp, and each possessed a unique style for notating hymns.

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Each hymnbook also contained an extensive section explaining musical terms, meter (in music and poetry), articulations, notations and even conducting patterns.

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In this style of writing, the melody is in the tenor part (sometimes called “soprano,” and the soprano line called “high line.”). I played through the hymn many times, stopping on certain chords or progressions that I thought interesting, exposing passing tones that were dissonant or resting on beautiful chords. Below are a few moments in the hymn that appear in my new work. The melody at the text “I’d rise superior to my pain…” plays an important role.

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(Hear Sweet Rivers played by wcfsymphony & jasonweinberger on September 6th at 7:30pm)