Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Bright Wind is Blowing

Ah Pentecost - the time of year when the imagined suddenly seems possible. Althought not strictly an "old treasure", The Bright Wind is Blowing suggests creative accompaniment. It is something of a puzzle to me why this song, so rich in pentecostal imagery, is included in the section Jesus Christ: Lord and Redeemer rather than Holy Spirit. But I digress... This song was written by John Maynard (1925-85) to the words of Cecily Taylor (1930-  ). It is number 263 in TIS (Together in Song), the most recently sanctioned hymnal of the Uniting Church in Australia.
'The Bright Wind' sung in Victoria (Aust) recently was
accompanied with flute, recorder and bodhran.

Sadly it is broadly assumed to be an "organ hymn" by virtue of inclusion in TIS. By assuming all songs contained in hymnals stem from the same era and continent, we inhibit and belittle what is a richly diverse collection of world music across many times, peoples and cultures.

Why choose this one?
This song is in a minor key. So what, you say. This may sound trivial, but the reality is most music is written in major keys. This means alternative tonalities may have greater impact than we realise. Another less common feature about this song is that it is in triple time enabling it with a freedom and dance quality others songs may lack. Furthermore, "hymns" often have melodies that move predominently by step (one note to the very next) but here we welcome a more expansive quality which is refreshing and entirely singable.

Imagining Creative Accompaniment
The most productive way I find to settle on song accompaniment is simply to sing it around for awhile, without subscribing to the prescribed accompaniment. Pick the melody out on your instruments initially, but then move away: sing it in the shower, hum it over the ironing, and whistle it while cycling. In an hour or so, you'll have begun to adopt a flavour - one that comes naturally to you. This process will undoubtedly suggest a tempo and instrumentation.

You will come up with your own ideas. Here's mine. I was drawn into the triple time feel, and found myself imagining a gentle dance, slightly emphasising the first beat of each bar, with the first beat of the second bar still being strong but with less emphasis than the first. So we would sing: The bright wind is blowing the bright wind of heaven, and where it is going to no one can say. This shouldn't be deliberate and laboured (and certainly NOT announced), its just a feeling.The metronome speed given in TIS is cathedral pace, and way too slow for my taste. Try singing it unaccompanied and you will find you settle on a comfortable singing speed. This should dictate the pace the instruments play - not the other way around! I like singing this song at about = 132.

Informed by Imagery
In the intial stages the text can sometimes call instrumentation to mind. This song text makes many wind references, so wind instruments have a certain relevance. It is also the "bright wind" not the "stodgy old wind" , or "stormy", or "gruff", "cold" or "mellow wind".The text includes the unexpected nature of the wind, so an instrumental surprise here and there may be justified.

Gladly this somg has a counter melody included in TIS (Together in Song), alongside the suggestion it can be played on a woodwind instruments. or even sung. Your faith community may be limited as to the instruments available, so consider your choice carefully. A flute, recorder, tin whistle or trumpet will provide the "bright" timbre required. Harmonica, electric guitar, or glockenspeil will render quite a different effect. Clarinet, oboe or saxophone will produce a mellow quality. Children's voices will lighten, whereas trained adult singers may weigh it down and inhibit the tempo. Only you know the resources contained wthin your community, or just beyond it. There is no need to cling to this counter melody. Feel free to improvise or invent your own, or improvise on the notes given.

Simple percussion contributes to the dance - my preference in fact, is to do away with all instruments except for a drum (either bongos, toms, bodhran or tambour) and a tin whistle. No piano, no guitars and definately give the organ a rest for this one. Even the simplest drumming pattern will lift the singing.

If you do choose to use piano, consider abandoning the given accompaniment and play the guitar chords in a simple pattern alongside the drumming.

Breathing Space
An introduction and space in betweeen verses is important. The simplest way of doing this is to have the drumming begin and your melody instrument of choice play through the song once as an intro. In between verses, just have the drummer play four bars of drumming, and your wind player reprise the last 4 bars of the sung melody, and there you have it.

Teaching it.
If this is new to your community, try this. Don't give them a hymn number, or show them the words. If they have a book or words to look at they'll be reading the words, not learning the song. Trust me. Check out How to teach a Song in 4 Steps.

You may also be interested in
Sounds Like Pentecost
Virtual Music Barriers
Percussion Perspective
Psalm 107 with Drum 
Revisiting Old Treasures

No comments: