In an odd unfolding of Psalmic fate, my top choice settings for two Psalms in the last month were both set to the same tune: SALVATION. “In My Distress I Called to God” (Psalm 120) and “When God Restored Our Common Life” (Psalm 126). The tune had not previously gained my attention, though it’s common enough that I have probably have used it before. It’s from Kentucky Harmony, and like all great early American tunes it is rugged as the Appalachian mountains, yet as balanced a melody as Gregorian chant.

Shape note hymn tunes sound perfect in their original settings, with raw, static harmonies, sung with open-throated energy. However, they can sound like fish out of water when they’re set with more modern harmonies. That’s how I felt about the harmonization in the Psalter Hymnal. (Sorry Kenneth…) It wasn’t bad, but it just didn’t bring out the melody’s charms.

Here’s what I like about my reharmonization: It puts a big fat accent on the pickup note to each phrase; to my ear that’s one of the keys to the tune’s character. It uses big block chords, with no harmonic fussiness distracting from the tune’s earthy modality. The broad harmonic movement is from D minor (i) in the first two phrases to Am (v) in the last two, which gives the melody a sense of movement. Finally, the deceptive cadence and short interlude gives the congregation a quick chance to breath before diving into the next verse.

Wow. I should be a used harmonization salesman… Would you like to take it for a test drive?: PDFMP3.

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One Response to SALVATION

  1. Pingback: SALVATION | The Musical Diary of Greg Scheer

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