Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Collaborators And Creations: Tim Sharp/Rejoice The Lord Is King

Summer of 2006 in the UK was...HOT!!

As in over 100 Farenheit hot, pasty northern European people collapsing from the heat hot. I had the joy of walking practice rounds at The Open (not The British Open, they will frostily remind you. It's The Open, thank-you-very-much-Yankee.) Those £2 bottles of water sold at a rapid clip, and Hoylake golf course outside Liverpool turned a uniform shade of brown. Not a breath of wind, sitting on a promontory overlooking the Atlantic. The greens turned to concrete. Balls that landed on them just kept on rolling, and rolling. Didn't phase Tiger a bit, though, as he won at 16 under...

It was hot, and his conditioning training paid off. He looked fresh at the end, while those chasing him wilted.

All in all it was a most memorable two weeks in the UK, hot though it was.

I found myself in Cambridge for a few of those days, with an assignment from the intrepid Tim Sharp: He provided a library reference at the Fitzwilliam Museum, where I would locate the manuscript of George Frederick Handel's sketches of three hymn tunes set to texts of the Wesley brothers--two by Charles and one by John. With some legwork, I found myself in the reference room in the museum basement.

I turned up at the appointed hour with my little slip of paper with the reference numbers, sat at the table assigned me, and presently was greeted with a librarian and a bound volume of Handel manuscripts, turned to the exact page.

I took out my manuscript paper and pencils, and viewed the page. It then dawned on me that Mr. Handel had actually applied that ink to that piece of paper. From his imagination to that paper to this hot day in 2006 in Cambridge...it was simultaneously exciting and humbling. The reference room felt like a sauna, I was sweating...whatever you do, Wes, don't touch that paper!

Three hymns to copy out, carefully, carefully. Just melody lines and figures, very straightforward, in that non-fussy Handelian sort of way.

One of them especially caught my eye: Rejoice, The Lord Is King. Handel had really nailed the text with that tune, and he seemed to sense it. There was a bass line and figures past the statement of the tune, as if he intended to return to it to develop the idea further. Being human like the rest of us, he never got around to it. But it was intriguing! What if?

Tim encouraged me to work on this one first, as he planned to take it on tour of Ireland and the UK, and perform it alongside Messiah in Dublin in commemoration of the first hearing of the masterpiece.  I went to the edition drawn from the Dublin version and set to work. It felt like walking a tightrope: This thing had better by-golly sound like Handel, not Wes. It took some time to achieve, and I came away with a deepened understanding and love for Handel's craft in the process.

Final draft was prepared as the financial markets (and it seemed at the time, the world) were coming completely unhinged. There was a real sense of joy in working with this text, which included lines such as 'His kingdom never fails, he rules o'er earth and heaven'. The contrast between the chaos of events and the order of Charles Wesley's and Handel's creation was striking, and comforting. 

Tim kept his encouragement coming, and provided a brilliant suggestion on ending the piece in true Handelian flourish.

It worked!! The Harmony International choir gave a rousing Irish premiere, and Tim soon followed up with a USA premiere. We were both so proud to have a hand in such an exciting, singable creation.

Follow this link to hear a live recording of the US premiere Tim conducted in Augusta GA with the Davidson Chorale, and to review the score. 


We created an SATB-orchestra version, as well as an SATB-organ reduction. Both are available to purchase.

Orchestra parts are available for rental--just contact me as wes(dot)ramsay (at) gmail.com

We keep it simple and affordable--we want you to enjoy singing 'Rejoice, The Lord Is King' as much as we enjoyed creating it!

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