Notes from the Shore

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O Sacred Head Now Wounded

O Sacred Head, Now Wounded is a traditional German hymn written by Hans Leo Hassler. I’ve always loved the melody and chord structure of this song. It’s also stuck in my head for decades since I heard Paul Simon’s American Tune which borrows the melody for the beginning of it’s verse.

The concept for this work is borrowed from the Mannheim Steamroller arrangement of Lo How A Rose E’er Blooming from their album A Fresh Aire Christmas (easily my favorite Mannheim Steamroller project).

It is set for double brass quartet, with the first consisting of trumpet, horn, trombone and baritone, and the second consisting of piccolo trumpet, horn, trombone and tuba. During the beginning, they trade phrases of the original hymn. Then there is a development of the chorale section, with many moving and echoing parts. In the middle of that section is a moving line that captures the opening line of the hymn.

I think my favorite part of the entire chorale is the section right before that descending line. All the parts are working together beautifully, there. The piece closes with a restatement of the final line of the hymn, followed by a full, resounding chord.

I don’t remember why I decided to do this piece as a brass chorale, although I’ve known for a while that I wanted to include one on this project. The chorale section started with the opening run on the trumpet, and grew from there. It went through various forms in my head, mostly forgotten as soon as they were sung. Finally I sat down at my Grandmother’s piano during a visit with some staff paper and wrote out the melody. Then I split that melody between the first and second trumpets. Then the work began.

The section after the descending figure that echos the first line of the hymn was particularly difficult. I have to say that I’m still not 100% happy with it. I threw it out twice and what you hear is the third shot at it. The problem was that I needed to get it to a place that set up the final line of the hymn, which was tougher than I expected.

When I had the piece written, and then filled in all the harmony bits, it was time to get it into the sequencer. I played each line in individually with my WX-5. Then I went back through and edited the MIDI data until it flowed and tongued the way I wanted it to.

When I started the piece, all I had for samples was the Garritan Personal Orchestra v3 (GPO3). While I was working GPO4 came out with some additional brass samples from Project Sam.  I added them in along with the original GPO samples.

Around Christmas, East-West released a freebie library with bits and pieces from their EWQLSO. I picked it up and decided that the legato trumpet from the library would work nicely for the lead trumpet here. Later I decided that I really didn’t like the bass trombone holding down the lowest part for one of the quartets, but I didn’t want to use two tubas. It seemed like overkill.

What I really wanted was a baritone horn, but the only one I knew of is from Garritan’s Concert and Marching Band library, which I don’t own. I did a search and found a decent free soundfont, so was in business. Some of the samples were a little out of tune, but instead of editing the soundfont to clean it up, I just took the rendered line and tuned up the problem areas with Cakewalk’s V-Vocal app.

Now that all the individual parts were sounding good, I needed to get them to play nicely together. I eq’ed most of the tracks to emphasize their line a little and cut everything else. I put the Reverberate LE reverb on a send instead of on the 2-bus (as is my usual method for these kind of ensembles) because the EW trumpet is recorded with some fairly heavy reverb right in the sample. This way I was able to match the reverb of the rest of the ensemble to it. Bootsie’s DensityMkII compressor and Cakewalk’s Boost11 on the 2-bus and I was in business.

So, for your listening pleasure, here it is:

Oh Sacred Head, Now Wounded

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