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Changes in "i thank You God for most this amazing day"

March 1, 2008 at 4:01 pm UTC

I’m currently working on “i thank you God for most this amazing day” with the chamber singers at Hofstra University, and I had a question about the music I got from J.W. Pepper vs. the recording of the song on Cloudburst. The last stanza, “now the ears of my ears awake…” is written differently in the published music than it is performed by Polyphony. To be honest I like what I hear on the recording (the unison chant-like thing) better than what’s written on the page, and I was wondering if this was a change you made after or before the recording? And could I get my hands on what Polyphony is actually singing for that stanza – I’d rather have my singers learn that if possible. Thanks!– Jeff Tanski

Thanks for your message, Jeff, and for performing the piece. Here is how the ‘insert’ came to be:

When I originally premiered i thank You God with Northern Arizona University back in 1999, I made a lot of changes during those first rehearsals. I rewrote the ‘for the leaping greenly trees’ section, re-voiced some chords, etc. I did all of this in the few days I had with the choir before they first performed it.

One section I didn’t change, and that I loved, was the text “now the ears of my ears awake, now the eyes of my eyes are opened.” For that first performance it was just a simple chant-like round, and I felt that it elegantly set up the next section, a cluster-y meditation on the word “opened.”

Then, literally the night before I sent back the final proofs for publication, I freaked. i thank You God was the third in a set of three pieces (the Three Songs of Faith), and it suddenly occurred to me that I could tie the whole set together by quoting the beginning of the first piece, i will wade out, at the end of i thank You God. So I quickly rewrote the “now the ears of my ears” section, echoing the first leaps in i will wade out, and sent it off to the publisher. I can remember feeling actual pride – a very ‘scholarly’ pride – for so brilliantly and effortlessly manipulating motivic material.

The piece was published, and it must have been a year before I heard the new version actually performed. And when I heard it, I was horrified. It was ridiculously difficult, and I could see the otherwise excellent choir sweating just to make it sound natural. Much worse, though, was this: it completely masked the meaning of the words. The text became lost in the ‘clever’ writing, and the most important sentence in the poem just vanished in a fog of academic writing and… pride.

I conducted that version for years, trying every way I could think of to make it work. It never did, not even once. So when Polyphony asked to see the score, I sent them the original version of i thank You God. That’s the one they recorded, and that’s the one I’ll do from now until the end of time. It’s so much more simple, and humble, and to my ears, the meaning of the text now explodes off the page. It was a great lesson for me, and I think of those measures every time I start to overthink while I’m writing.

So here now, available for everyone, is the insert that restores the original. If you are conducting or singing i thank You God for most this amazing day and are trying to decide which version to do (the published or the ‘urtext’), please know that I strongly encourage you to consider the insert. For me, the published version is a version I’d rather never hear again.

i thank You God insert.pdf


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