For my undergrad degree, I needed a music class credit to fulfill a general education requirement. I had a couple of options, but ended up in a generic music appreciation class. I learned a lot – the teacher was charismatic and knowledgeable, and we covered some of the formal components of symphonies and concertos and fugues and the like, as well as some of the history of the major periods – baroque, classical, romantic, modern, that sort of thing. In addition to going to a classical concert and writing it up (I chose the Chicago Symphony Orchestra – they played Mahler), the only other assignment I remember is writing a musical autobiography.
I can’t find it right now, but I know that as part of that project, we were encouraged to consider books that had influenced our musical lives. I know I wrote a bit about Great Hymns of the Faith, the red, staid hymnal from the church I grew up in. We had one at home too, so anyone who wanted to could practice on the piano – three of the five of us were capable of doing so, and I suppose even I occasionally picked out some of the simpler tunes.
I still find many of those old hymns active in my mind – as I run, in the shower, as I’m waiting for the bus. Titles like “Oh for a Thousand Tongues,” “It Is Well with my Soul,” “Power in the Blood,” “Victory in Jesus,” and on and on. In church we sang them in beautiful harmony – the congregation I grew up with was quite musically talented. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know what four part harmony was.
As I begin to remember the violin, I find myself returning to some of those old hymns – they had strong melody lines and were often based on major keys that seem to suit the instrument. I don’t know/remember too much about keys, but I do know the hymns were often written to be somewhat easy to play and sing. Hymns are a kind of people’s music.
Thanks for reading.