REVIEW BY CHRIS DUMIGAN
Early American Hymn Favorites for Classic Guitar
10 pieces arr. Tanja Miric
(Mel Bay, 24 pp)
This set of ten early American hymns was largely unknown to me, and apparently also to the arranger, Bosnia and Herzegovina-born Miric, when William Bay suggested she try to arrange them. The results largely do away with the harmonization one might expect, namely block chords, but moreover it uses the guitar to great effect by employing the open strings in an adventurous way. She thus creates a large and rich-sounding set of solos, which tend to each be a “variations on a theme” idea, wherein the theme is presented simply at first, with gradually increasing inner parts and often shorter notes until a final version of the theme, which usually returns to the more simple approach.
The opening piece Nettleton (Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing), written by one Robert Robinson in 1758, has dropped D (as do a few in this volume) and begins with a warmly harmonized, relatively straightforward rendition of the melody. The second time around, the middle voice becomes more flexible, followed by gradually increasing gentle dissonances in the harmonization, and subsequent shorter note values—all of which greatly increase the interest value of the pieces, but also the difficulty. Pilgrim is another standout arrangement, wherein the tune sounds like a folk–dance melody, with its modal harmonies and almost constant use of bottom D as a drone.
The arranger has gone out of her way not to make these pieces too obvious in their harmonies, and in this respect she has admirably succeeded, because what we get is a nice set of solos that are memorable and pleasing to play and hear. One slight criticism is that a number of times when she gets to the end of the tune, there is an incomplete bar that starts the next time ’round, which is fine as far as it goes, except that if the piece is in 4/4 time, the incomplete bar, often 2/4 in length, isn’t marked as such, but rather stays there as if it’s a misprint. I would have thought that such bars could have been correctly written into the arrangements, and not look wrong. That said, this is a fun book, and the arrangements are at times reasonably challenging, but well worth getting your hands around.
Contents: Nettleton (Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing); Bellevue (How Firm a Foundation); Pilgrim; Beach Spring; Jefferson; Saints Bound for Heaven; Wondrous Love; Pisgah; My Home; The Christian’s Hop
The book can be ordered as either a print edition or a download from Mel Bay or print-only from Sheet Music Plus.
Play Tanja Miric’s Balkan-influenced composition Snow Has Fallen on Blossoming Trees, which was published in the Winter 2018 issue of Classical Guitar magazine. Complete music, plus Miric’s tips for playing it!