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Some hymns - John N MacNeill


Hymns in four-part harmony. John N MacNeill holds the copyright for all the music and for the words for “And when God ...” and “Mirror of Grace”; the words for the other hymns (except for small changes) are not original. For the words offered, it is one note per syllable (no melisma) except occasionally in a lower part and as explained in the remarks for Pax Tua.


Pax Tua ("Make me a channel of your peace")

Charis ("May the grace of Christ our Saviour")

Ultra Verba ("Come dearest Lord, descend and dwell")

Mirror of Grace ("In the heart, in the head")

Kilmeny ("And when God was creating")

Cove ("Once there came to earth")

Kernsary (“God is love: let heaven adore him”)


In three-part harmony.

Faith Distilled ("How shall I come into the presence of the Lord")


A traditional hymn arranged for unison singing.

Let us break bread together


A flexible setting of the tune Som Stranden.

Som Stranden ("The love of God is broad like beach and meadow")


A Christmas carol arranged for piano or organ.

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen


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Pax Tua

Pax Tua (Latin for Your peace) gives an alternative tune for "Make me a channel of your peace". So it is rather unlikely to fit any other words. There are five beats in the bar, which may deter some people. Also, since verse three has more syllables than the earlier verses, there are places in it where two syllables are to be sung to one note - "pardoned", "in dy-", "gain e-" and "-ternal". How to do this is not indicated in the score, but just steal a crotchet from the minim (or dotted minim) - which makes "and in dy-ing that we gain e-tern-al" all crotchets. A friend of John's who is a composer and choirmaster, not being a big fan of the original tune, suggested the need for another tune. Anyone wishing to dip a toe into these tunes should probably start with one of the others.

Words

Scorch sheet music: Piano; Choir; Soprano; Alto; Tenor; Bass.

Audio: Piano; Choir; Soprano; Alto; Tenor; Bass.

PDF sheet music: Piano



Charis

The slow gentle tune Charis (Greek for Grace) was written for “May the grace of Christ our Saviour” (John Newton), which could suit the end of a service; but Charis may fit many other sets of 8.7.8.7 words. The soprano part starts with seven consecutive Ds, each differently harmonised, and ends with another four an octave lower. The B-Bb-A-Ab-G sequence with which the alto starts is echoed later in a different harmonic context in the bass two octaves lower. Singing the soprano part should be easy.
There are tunes that start with more repetitions of a note, for instance Sabre Dance (Aram Khachaturian), Come Rain Or Come Shine (Harold Arlen) and Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye (Cole Porter). Charis is notable for the number of harmonic shifts accompanying the repeated notes.

Words

Scorch sheet music: Piano; Choir; Soprano; Alto; Tenor; Bass.

Audio: Piano; Choir; Soprano; Alto; Tenor; Bass.

PDF sheet music: Piano



Ultra Verba

The slowish 8.8.8.8 tune Ultra Verba (Latin for Beyond Words) was written for “Come dearest Lord descend and dwell” (Isaac Watts – slightly amended) and could suit the start of a service. The first two lines of words end with the same suspension, but each is resolved differently (bars 3 and 6). Singing the soprano part should be easy.
Bass part corrected 9 January 2011.

Words

Scorch sheet music: Piano; Choir; Soprano; Alto; Tenor; Bass.

Audio: Piano; Choir; Soprano; Alto; Tenor; Bass.

PDF sheet music: Piano



Mirror of Grace

Mirror of Grace has original words that not everyone may be comfortable with. The tune has a Celtic flavour. Some may find this harmony version tricky to sing as there is polyphony - except for in the middle section, the altos and tenors come in with their words one bar after the sopranos and basses have sung those words, and with the same rhythmic pattern (except a bar later) but with different notes. So there's a mirror in the text and an echo in the music. Singing the soprano part should be easy though. Try unaccompanied?

Words

Scorch sheet music: Piano; Choir ; Soprano ; Alto ; Tenor ; Bass .

Audio: Piano; Choir; Soprano; Alto; Tenor; Bass.

PDF sheet music: Piano; Choir

There is also the following version for unison singing. Note that the two versions are not compatible, though the words are as above for both, and the melody too is the same for both.
Unison version slightly amended 18 March 2015.

Scorch sheet music: Piano.

Audio: Piano.

PDF sheet music: Piano.



Kilmeny

Kilmeny (which had been provisionally called And when God ...) is another Celtic-flavoured hymn with original words. Musically, though, it is quite different – no rhythmic independence of parts, no accidentals. The words are adventurous in that they speculate on the mind of God; so the words go no further than asking questions. Singing the soprano part should be easy. There is a short coda – not something you would welcome if the hymn is being learnt by a congregation – and the soprano part finishes one tone above the “home note”, which is unusual and probably unexpected, but suits, perhaps, words that are questions.
The name Kilmeny is in honour of Neil MacNeill, born in the parish of Kilmeny on the island of Islay. Neil was the composer's grandfather, who died long before John was born. As a young man, Neil came to Greenock and found work as a ship's carpenter. In his bachelor days, he was choirmaster at the Gaelic Parish Church in Greenock, which town unsurprisingly had many Gaelic speakers, since a steamer service docking there was the most convenient way of travelling from much of the West Highlands. According to family legend, Neil was the first man in Greenock to be seen pushing a pram; he explained that he had helped to fill it and so he would help to push it.

Words

Scorch sheet music: Piano; Choir; Soprano; Alto; Tenor; Bass.

Audio: Piano; Choir; Soprano; Alto; Tenor; Bass.

PDF sheet music: Piano; Choir



Cove

The slow gentle tune Cove is named after a place that the composer could see across the loch. It suits the words “Once there came to earth(Dorothy Angus), slightly amended mainly to make the metre more regular. It is unlikely to fit any other set of words, as the metrical pattern is 57885. On a piano, every note of the music is a white note, despite which the key is G major, using a modern approach to the fifth mode (“myxolydian”).

Words

Scorch sheet music: Piano; Choir ; Soprano; Alto; Tenor; Bass.

Audio: Piano; Choir; Soprano; Alto; Tenor; Bass.

PDF sheet music: Piano



Kernsary

The tune Kernsary is named after a place that the composer frequents on walks and with which there was long ago a family connection. It would suit the words “God is love: let heaven adore him(Timothy Rees). Kernsary may fit other sets of words with the metric pattern 8787D. Of the hymns on this page, this is probably the one with the soprano part least easy to sight-read. There are prominent F sharps in the tune, despite which the key is D minor. It is unusual too that at one point the soprano and alto parts are just a semitone apart; that should prove quite easily singable though. At times the tenor and bass are just a semitone apart.
Music amended 9 January 2011;
further amended 2 August 2016.

Words

Scorch sheet music: Piano.

Audio: Voices & piano

PDF sheet music: Piano; Voices



Faith Distilled

The title Faith Distilled was chosen since the words relate to the "epitome of true religion" given by the prophet Micah (6:6-8). For some songs, the verses are sung by a soloist and everyone sings the chorus. Here it is the opposite: each verse represents the words of the people and has a refrain sung by a lone voice, male or female, representing the response of the prophet. Ideally, the singing should be unaccompanied. The setting is entirely in the dorian mode - no accidentals. Although there are some unusual harmonies, the melody (the soprano and solo parts) is singable and the lower parts (which have slightly different words) are simple. An earlier version of this piece (whose title was just the first line of the text) was written after the composer first heard the Miles Davis album Kind of Blue. This latest version reinstates some of the original harmony.
Alto and male-voice parts amended 30 January 2012

Words (Soprano and soloist)

Scorch sheet music: Choir ; Soprano; Alto; Male voice; Solo voice.

Audio: Choir; Soprano; Alto; Male voice; Solo voice.

PDF sheet music: Choir



Let us break bread together

The traditional hymn Let us break bread together is set to an Afro-American folk melody. The harmony here is more adventurous than is usual for this tune. The score is set out on three staves: melody (treble clef); three-note chords (treble clef); bass line (bass clef). A church organist could play all of that using two manuals and the pedals. Another possibility is for a precentor to sing the melody (or an instrument to play it) while a piano plays the chords and the bass line. If instead of an acoustic piano there is an electronic keyboard or a stage piano, then it may be good to split the keyboard in order to give the bass line the sound of a pizzicato double bass or a bass guitar.

Words

Scorch sheet music

Audio

PDF sheet music



Som Stranden

"The love of God is broad like beach and meadow" are the English words associated with the tune Som Stranden by Lars Åke Lundberg. This arrangement was written to meet a need for a simple setting adaptable to unusual instrumentation. The version in the hymnbook that was to hand was stripped down to just the melody and the bass line, and the only addition was a simple counter-melody. In the first audio file, the instruments are two trumpets and a bass trombone, but that is only one of many instrumentations that would work. A pianist (as in the second audio file) or organist could play all the parts. Or give the melody to a suitable instrument (oboe/trumpet/electric guitar/saxophone or whatever) and the other two parts to the piano.
The counter-melody can be sung as an alto part.

Words

Scorch sheet music: 3-stave version 2-stave version

Audio: brass piano

PDF sheet music: 3-stave version 2-stave version



God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen

This arrangement of the Christmas carol God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen for piano or organ was written in response to a request from a friend of the composer's for something to play at a charity carol-singing evening to let the audience rest their voices - perhaps a jazz-inspired carol setting. The first section indeed has a jazz-like 12/8 feel, but it also nods towards Bach's simpler two-part works. The second section is just a slow statement of the theme with the interest being in the harmony; the notation has the melody in the treble clef and accompanying chords in the bass clef, but sometimes the right hand needs to play bass-clef notes - and a pianist with small hands may not cope. The third and final section is contrapuntal, though the four voices do not have much rhythmic independence. The arrangement has been used as an organ voluntary in the Christmas period.

Scorch sheet music

Audio

PDF sheet music



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