I Heard the Bells

Everybody loves Christmas bells. Except perhaps Colin Buchanan.

I Heard the Bells

Do you hear the bells; they’re ringing? (Peace on earth)
Like the angels singing (Peace on earth)
Open up your heart and hear them! (Peace on earth)
Peace on earth, good will to men

Peace is right up there on the International Leaderboard of Christmas Words, just south of Joy, and adjacent to Hope. It is also generally considered a good idea.

Casting Crowns released this song in 2008, but most of the words are from the 1863 poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The chronic lack of peace experienced by Longfellow echoes the experience of many today. Everyone wants peace; we just don’t know how to get there. Education? Eliminating poverty? Free U2 albums for everybody?

Using this song during our community carols allows us to point to the only true solution. We’ve used it over many years, and the arrangement below has been rewritten at least twice. Hopefully improved.

This arrangement is fairly close to the Casting Crowns version, except with an additional choir/instrumental chorus. It uses instrumental quotes from the melody of O Little Town of Bethlehem. The intention is to connect peace with the coming of Jesus.

It’s lower than the original, and can be sung by male or female (soprano) vocals. The written solo melody should be treated as more of a guideline than a rule.

recording

Recording by the Orchestra Sibelius.

Instrumentation

  • Flutes (Piccolo, 1, 2)
  • Clarinets (1, 2, Bass)
  • Saxophones (Alto 1, Alto 2, Tenor, Bari)
  • French Horn
  • Trumpet (1, 2, 3)
  • Trombone (1, 2)
  • Euphonium
  • Drum Kit
  • Glockenspiel
  • Bass Guitar
  • Piano
  • Vocal Solo
  • Choir (Soprano, Alto)

Downloads

I Heard the Bells – Full Score

I Heard the Bells – Parts

Jerusalem

Easter. Migration season. Time for that biannual church visit to top up the God points. Then, like the evanescent monarch butterfly, they disappear again until the Christmas spirit compels the return journey in December.

Ok, I’ll be honest, I just wanted to use the word evanescent in a sentence.

This presents some challenges to the garden variety church musician. Sometimes I struggle to get a band together for a normal Sunday, let alone a Good Friday service. And yet, the church will probably be fuller on Good Friday than Easter Sunday.

No, the real challenge here is picking songs.  I should pick something musically impressive; perhaps five chords instead of the usual four? Nobody can resist a good old F♯m⁷♭5, right? That chord has street cred.

Perhaps not. Onwards. Let’s talk about a song we did use today.

Jerusalem

Not the one with the lifting of gates and singing. This Jerusalem is from the CityAlight album Yours Alone. The song paints an image of Jesus in Jerusalem, in the hours leading up to the cross.

See Him in Jerusalem
Walking where the crowds are
Once these streets had sung to Him
Now they cry for murder

The imagery is striking:

See the King who made the sun
And the moon and shining stars
Let the soldiers hold and nail Him down
So that He could save them

Dust that formed the watching crowds
Takes the blood of Jesus

And He stood before the wrath of God
Shielding sinners with His blood

The final verse points us towards Easter Sunday (spoiler alert):

See the empty tomb today
Death could not contain Him
Once the Servant of the world
Now in victory reigning

Arrangement

The original arrangement of the song didn’t fit our band well, so I took the liberty of raising the key a half step, and rewriting the chord progression. I was aiming for a more reflective version, to highlight the words as much as possible.

Jerusalem – Lead Sheet

This works with just a piano and vocals. If your pianist is anything like me, you’ll want to remind them to play about half as much as they think they should.

This morning we used:

  • Piano. Played throughout. Probably too much. I can say that because it was me.
  • Bass. My left hand. I have a dearth of bassists.
  • Acoustic Guitar. Sparingly used in the first couple of verses, and then opened up in the fourth. The challenge is to let the song breathe; the tempo at the start can ebb and flow to build and release tension. Don’t be too metronomic.
  • Drums. Cymbal work early on, and then building into the fourth verse throughout the prior instrumental.
  • A brace of flutes. We use our flute players like a string section or a synthesiser player. I can just throw them a chord chart and they’ll figure out what to play. Which is awesome. It also means I can’t post what they played, because it’s not written down.
  • A trumpet. Mostly used to play a third above the melody in the repeated half of the last verse. As with the flutes, I try and avoid letting the melody instruments play the actual melody. It tends to muddy the waters.
  • Vocals. Two female vocals, melody and harmony. Male vocals would work, but I have as many male vocalists as I have bassists.

No recording because I’m not humble enough to put one on the internet, and we also don’t have anything to record it with anyway.

He Who Is Mighty

Christmas is truly here.

Well, not truly. I’m just finally getting around to cleaning up and posting some of my concert band arrangements in the hope that they might prove useful.

He Who is Mighty

Oh, the mercy our God has shown
To those who sit in death’s shadow
The sun on high pierced the night
Born was the Cornerstone

We’ve used this song during our community carols in 2016 and 2017. The imagery is beautiful, and I tried to capture some of the mystery and wonder of Christmas in the instrumentation. Like Who Would Have Dreamed, it’s from the Sovereign Grace Music album Prepare Him Room.

This arrangement does require a fairly strong upper woodwind section, and parts within each section do not always follow each other. This can be difficult for younger musicians.

There is also no notated piano part as yet. I played from the chord chart. I’ll pretend that was intentional, and not because I’m a terrible sight reader.

This arrangement is a half step higher than the original, in F Major. Sovereign Grace have an unrelated orchestral arrangement available as well.

Recording

Again, a Sibelius special. The vocal part is not present in the recording.

Instrumentation

  • Flutes (Piccolo, 1, 2, 3)
  • Oboe (doubles Flute 3), Bassoon (doubles Bass Clarinet)
  • Clarinets (1, 2, 3, Bass)
  • Saxophones (Alto 1, Alto 2, Tenor, Bari)
  • French Horn
  • Trumpet (1, 2, 3)
  • Trombone (1, 2, 3)
  • Euphonium (or Trombone 4)
  • Tuba
  • Timpani
  • Percussion (Drum Kit, Suspended Cymbal)
  • Glockenspiel
  • Bass Guitar
  • Lead Sheet
  • Vocals

Downloads

He Who Is Mighty – Full Score

He Who Is Mighty – Parts

He Who Is Mighty – Audio

Who Would Have Dreamed

It’s probably a criminal offence to be thinking about Christmas carols in March, but such is life. Or, more accurately, if I don’t start thinking about it now, I’m going to be in serious trouble come October.

We’ve been running a carols event for our local community for a number of years, and I’ve written a few arrangements for concert band. You may find them useful.

Who Would Have Dreamed

And who would have dreamed or ever foreseen
That we could hold God in our hands?
The Giver of Life is born in the night
Revealing God’s glorious plan
To save the world

I first ran into this song on a family road trip between Darwin and Cairns. As you do. It’s from the Sovereign Grace Music album Prepare Him Room, and we’ve used it for the past three years.

It’s one of my favourite Christmas songs, and I’ll let the author introduce it.

This arrangement mostly follows the form of the original, and it’s a half step lower in E Major. Most concert bands do not take kindly to E Major.

Note that Sovereign Grace have an orchestral arrangement available for sale. This arrangement is unrelated. I do not own any rights to this song.

Recording:

This was generated using Sibelius, so you’ll have to forgive the lack of realism.

Instrumentation:

  • Flutes (Piccolo, 1, 2)
  • Oboe (or Flute 3), Bassoon (doubles Bass Clarinet)
  • Clarinets (1, 2, 3, Bass)
  • Saxophones (Alto 1, Alto 2, Tenor, Bari)
  • French Horn
  • Trumpet (1, 2, 3)
  • Trombone (1, 2, 3)
  • Euphonium (or Trombone 4)
  • Tuba
  • Timpani
  • Percussion (Drum Kit, Suspended Cymbal, Shaker)
  • Glockenspiel
  • Piano
  • Bass Guitar
  • Lead Sheet
  • Alto Vocal Solo
  • Choir (Soprano, Alto)

Downloads:

Who Would Have Dreamed – Full Score

Who Would Have Dreamed – Parts

Who Would Have Dreamed – Audio