Precious Lord, Take My Hand
About the inspiration for the work
Music can serve many purposes. It can inspire, it can illustrate, it can cause waves of emotion…and it can comfort. I’m sure many of us have had moments in our lives when our greatest comfort was a favorite song, melody, or great work.
2020 has been a stressful year. I’m not sure what the history books will say about it, but I am certain they will have something to say. We’ve had a pandemic, a political social media war, a civil rights reckoning, and more. All of this is to say that there were several factors that led to the creation of this setting of Precious Lord, Take My Hand.
First, I wanted to create something that would comfort people. In this regard, I wanted a gentle melody and something that was familiar. Precious Lord has always been one of my favorite hymn-tunes, and I was excited to create a setting of this beloved work.
Second, I wanted to create something that was relevant. Reverend Thomas Dorsey wrote the lyrics to Precious Lord during a time of profound personal loss and sorrow. In 1932, Dorsey’s wife, Nettie Harper, and his infant son died while Nettie was in labor. He set the words to the hymn tune Maitland, by George Allen. It was also a favorite of Martin Luther King, Jr., and was performed at many of his civil rights rallies by gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. The song has become a symbol of comfort and hope in times of despair, and it is with this intent that I decided on its use.
Third, I have always believed that substantial music can exist in any format, but there seems to be a great deal of resistance by many publishers to publish wind ensemble music that isn’t in an expanded instrumentation. This makes it challenging for small-yet-talented ensembles to find music that easily fits their instrumentation. Here, I set out to create a musically substantial work that could be played by as few as 13 players, though would still retain a full sound and interesting interplay amongst the voices. In this, I hope I have succeeded.
When performing or listening to this work, I hope it brings you comfort. I hope that it brings you hope. I hope that, in the song’s lyrics, you find comfort in asking for guidance and asking for a hand to hold and shoulder to lean on. To quote Stephen King, “Life is short and pain is long, and we were all put here to help one another.”
Peace, Love, and Music.
About the format of the work
This work has been written in such a way that it may be performed by as few as thirteen musicians, but would still be appropriate for larger ensembles. It has been cross cued generously to provide a great deal of flexibility for all instrumentations. The French Horn and Piano parts may be omitted, though their inclusion definitely enriches the orchestral color. While the piece is short (for endurance), the musical ranges and ensemble challenges will provide substance for developing and accomplished musicians.
-Consider some showmanship. The soloist(s) may be staged in the audience, on the edge of the stage, anywhere. Let’s break those traditions!
-While there is substantial cross cueing, the most accurate performances will omit any cues and stick to the original orchestral colors; having said that, you do what you gotta do.
-Soloists should feel free to embellish the gospel feel of the work, within reason.
-If more mallet percussion are available, consider doubling the piano part with more percussion. Do NOT just let them sit there.
-Dynamics should be noticeable and taken to extremes.
-Performances of the work should have a dramatic, cinematic quality.
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