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Tag Archives: Male Quartet Songs

When Storms Around Are Sweeping


To see the sheet music, click here.
To hear the song, click here.

Yes, another song arranged for male quartet singing.  This song has several noteworthy moments for our consideration.  My sight reading teacher, Clint Davis, shared this song with me one day as we were sitting on his living room couch talking about the ministry of teaching others to sing.

Composer: Johanna Kinkel
When Storms Around Are Sweeping is sung to an old German tune, composed by Johanna Kinkel.  Kinkel was well-trained in many areas of music, having received private lessons from Franz Ries, Beethoven’s violin instructor.  She met great success early in her professional career, but her personal life led to much turmoil and grief.  She married an abusive man and left him after six months of marriage, leading to years of divorce proceedings, and debilitating depression. Felix Mendelssohn, a famous composer in his own right, encouraged her to continue her music, which she did with much continued success.  After the divorce was settled, she became director of the Gesangverein (“Choral Society”) of her home, Bonn, Germany (one of the first female choir directors in Germany).  She remarried, this time to a Protestant theologian, Gottfried Kinkel.  As revolution swept Germany in 1848, the musical and literary circles of high society in which the Kinkels circulated collapsed.  Gottfried was elected to represent Bonn in the newly-formed National Assembly.  However, as often happens to revolutionaries, he was arrested and sentenced to death. Later he escaped from prison and the Kinkels fled to London where they became pillars of the local German community.  Johanna continued to work in music, conducting, teaching, and writing two books on music education.  Even after all of their trials, Gottfried proved to be a poor husband; history questions his faithfulness to Johanna and their four children.  In 1858 Johanna’s lifeless body was discovered in the garden, below the window of her third-story bedroom.  While it could not be established, suicide was suspected.  The words Freiheit, Liebe und Dichtung (“Freedom, Love, and Poetry”) were inscribed on her tombstone.

Composition and Arrangement
Click here to see a great video of a German chorus singing the original lyrics.
The tune (“Kinkel”) is associated with the German song “Ritters Abschied” (Knight’s Departure).  Abschied has become a traditional “going-to-war” song, the words of a knight leaving his beloved for the Kaiser’s battlefield. “Farewell, farewell my own true love,” ends each line.  Accordingly, this song has several points for musical dynamics to come into play, each phrase being sung more softly or loudly than those on either side. Wistful and longing would be good terms to describe the feel of this song.

Unusual, though not unseen, is the change from 4/4 in the verses to 3/4 in the chorus.

R.J. Taylor’s hymnal Songs for Worship and Praise (2010) names the tune “Sweeping Storms,” noting that these are the words with which the tune is regularly sung. Taylor’s hymnal (and others) does not have the male quartet arrangement here, but a SATB arrangement.  Some of the chords are different, but not to the point that it would be unrecognizable or musically significant.  This TTBB arrangement was taken from Elmer Jorgenson’s Great Songs of the Church II.

Genre of Music
Stylistically, this is not a gospel song, nor is it quite a(n) hymn.  In a stretch, it could be a highly developed gospel song (harmonies are a bit more complex than your typical I-IV-V-I [do, fa, so, do] gospel song) or a late hymn, somehow blurring the lines between the two types of song.  Lyrics that are addressed to God are also more typically associated with hymns than gospel songs.

Lyrics: Anonymous
There is some slight possibility that Kinkel – who, after all, lived in England – wrote the English lyrics “When storms around are sweeping…,” but it’s considered an outside possibility at best. Most scholars do not even think that she wrote the German lyrics, but that she wrote the tune to match the folk poem.

The English lyrics are divided into three stanzas, joined by a common refrain. So joined are they that the sentences which comprise the verses each find their completion in the chorus.

The meter of the poetic lyrics is 7.7.7.7 with a refrain of 8.8, but of the available hymn tunes, none truly fit these words like “Kinkel.”

The first verse seems to be that of a watchman – whether on a ship or at sea is unclear – during a “dark and stormy night.” I suppose this is not the first dank, tiresome night for this man on guard, after all the storms are plural.  Not only is he awake in the darkest night, but he alone is on duty.  Finding himself surrounded by the descending fires of evil and tempters’ siren call, he appeals to El ‘Elyon.  El ‘Elyon is the Hebrew term translated into English as “God Most High,” literally the Chief (or supreme) Power.  The God we serve is not just strong, He’s not just a mighty one, He is the Mighty One.  This is a humble song that recognizes our lack of strength to withstand the storms of life, but at the same time recognizes the unfathomable might of God.
“Save me, Mighty God, from the temptations of life!”

Does verse two echo the moments of Matthew 14 and Peter’s stroll out onto the stormy sea? The lyricist imagines that he – like the apostle – actually begins to step out on faith, but the out of control “raging motion” of the sea disturbs his faith and it begins to shrink back, causing him to sink into the water.  Again, the only one who can help is The Mighty One.  This is all too similar to Matthew 14:30f, “…when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’”
“Save me, Mighty God, from the weakness of my faith!”

The third and final verse visualizes yet another scenario, a man ensnared by the crushing power of sin.  Like the night of the first verse, the darkness is all-pervasive.  By highlighting the mortality of life in the last couplet, the singer appeals to the All-Mighty to remember him in death, much like the thief on the cross.
“Save me, Mighty God, from the power of sin!”

Throughout the Bible the faithful have implored God, “Remember me!”  Samson (Judges 16:28), Hannah (I Samuel 1:11), Nehemiah (Nehemiah 13:14), David (Psalm 25:7) and others took their prayers before God saying, “Remember me, O Mighty One.”

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Rearranged Songs / Nearer My God to Thee


To see the music under discussion, click here.

To hear the music under discussion, click here.

As Aaron noted in his comments on the song Crossing the Bar, he is familiar with the song, but not that arrangement.  What does it mean to “re-arrange” a song?

Typically, when a song is written it has a melody (that is, a tune) and a harmonic structure.  That doesn’t necessarily mean it has soprano, alto, tenor, and bass parts, though.  If I asked you to sing your favorite song, you’d probably burst into song – that recognizable tune is the melody (in most church music, the melody is in the soprano part).  Without getting into discussing the study of harmony, let’s just say that harmony is when two or more complementary notes are sounded at the same time, resulting in the “atmosphere” of the song.  To put it in an artistic metaphor: If one drop of rain can refract a tiny ray of sun (that would be melody), ten thousand rain drops can use the same sunlight to make a rainbow (harmony).  So, when an author determines the harmonic structure for his song (not just the tune, but how the whole song should sound, its mood), he’s working on secondary details, on beautification of a solid foundation.

Rearranging, then, can be as simple as a second musician keeping the same melody, but changing the harmony.  There’s an old bit of folk wisdom that says all you need to sing a country [and western] song is “three chords and an old guitar.”  It’s very true that most popular songs can be reduced to 2-4 chords, even if they were originally very complex.  The opposite is also true, though: simple songs can be made more complex, just by adjusting the harmonies that accompany the melody.  (The reason the guitar is the go-to instrument for the lone vocalist – myself included – is that its six strings can easily provide a full harmonic background at a time, without the need for another performer).

Our case in point will be Nearer My God to Thee, a time-tested hymn of high quality.  We’re all familiar with the words (Sarah Flower Adams, 1841), and you probably have a melody in mind, too (mi, re, do, do, la, la, so, do, mi, re…).  The music in this post is based on the familiar melody written by Lowell Mason.  However, notice the following:

  • This song has been rearranged by J.B. Herbert (more on his prolific work later) as a male quartet.  Hence, the parts are not soprano, alto, tenor, bass, but are first and second tenor, first and second bass (all men’s parts).
  • The time signature has been changed from the traditional 4/4 to 6/4, turning this into a waltzy, song with a romantic feel.
  • Notice the echo words in the last line of the song, very different from what we’re used to.
  • The first portion is sung solo by the first tenor part.
  • A keen ear for music is needed to sing this unusual arrangement.  In fact, it’s so unusual, that you might not like it on your first listen.  It took me a little bit before I warmed up to it.
  • All in all, this is the same song, but a different arrangement.

(For your trivial information, earlier than the melody with which we’re familiar, the Nearer text was set to entirely different music.  You may have heard that Nearer was played by the ship’s band as the RMS Titanic sank to the Atlantic seafloor.  It was, but to a different tune [probably called Propior Deo].  We’ll look at completely other tunes in a later post.)

Once I was working on songleading with one of the young men at church.  For his song, he chose Listen to Our Hearts – by far one of most difficult songs in the book (the book being Songs of Faith and Praise).  Now, when sung around a campfire or in a devotional setting, this song comes as naturally as any, but when following the music as written, it becomes difficult.  There are moving parts, peculiar rhythms, an unusual harmonic structure, and a few other curve balls for the novice songleader.  After several moments of frustration, I heard, “I don’t like singing it this way, I like the way we sing it at camp! Why can’t we just do that?”  (I mean no discouragement to the young man, after all – he’d been working on a hard song!)  Even when they’re not written down (like most “camp versions”), we pass down our own home-made arrangements of favorite songs.

If you sit next to me in church while we sing How Great Thou Art, you’ll notice that few of the tenor notes sung don’t match the ones in the book; even more so when we sing This World is Not My Home.  This is fine and well-acceptable (it adds spice and color to our singing together, taking away the temptation to become stale), yet sometimes we meet people who have learned (perhaps “from birth”) to sing the same song with their own “twang” to it.  If there are just a few extra notes here and there, it’s probably safe to say it’s the same arrangement as you’re used to singing; it’s just “embellished.” If there are considerable personal touches to the way a song is sung, it’s probably fair to loosely consider that a “personal arrangement.”  Finally, if a person goes so far as to write down his own way of singing, then they can rightly claim to have rearranged the song.  Such full-scale rearranging can include changing the melody (yet it still must be recognizable), harmony, and rhythm of the song.  The real difficulty arises when your personal arrangement and my personal arrangement don’t mix.  At that point, who “wins”?  If you’re in a congregational setting, the songleader should be allowed artistic control – after all, he’s the leader off of whom everyone else is keying.  When it’s your opportunity to suggest a song be sung in a certain way, though, hopefully your fellow singers can be accommodating.  Keep this peace-loving bit of wisdom in mind, though:  We should not be in the habit of delegitimizing someone else’s song.  Just because “they” sing it differently than I know, than what I grew up with, than what I like, than what’s in the book – that doesn’t make it wrong or a matter of fellowship/participation.  (Now, if it’s honestly a missed note and they’re trying to sing what’s in the book like everyone else, there’s room for gentle corrective instruction, yes!).

Encourage one another to sing, share your songs with one another, share your arrangements of old faithful songs – revive within your fellow singer a passion to worship in song!  Rearranging songs is a great hobby of mine, parts of which I’m sharing through this blog.

 
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Posted by on April 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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