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Easter Medley: a duet for piano and guitar

This is an original arrangement for piano and classical guitar, by Joanne Niewinski and me. We played it last year in our ward’s Easter Sacrament Meeting. Some of the ward leaders resisted having a guitar perform in such a holy setting, until we challenged them to show us the handbook’s ban on guitars. There never was such a ban, of course, Mormon legends to the contrary notwithstanding. As Michael Moody said, speaking as Church General Music Director, “We are an international church and do not discriminate against any instrument or musical tradition, as long as the sacred character of the Sacrament is preserved.”

For those who would like to try an ambitious project like this, I am including both my guitar part and Sister Niewinski’s piano part, (with her kind permission.) I'm sorry the piano part didn't scan well, but it is playable. It is a medley of “He Is Risen,” and “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.” Both sound very good as a piano-guitar duet, and are in the key of C, an easy one for both instruments.

It’s intended to be an instrumental duet; the words are only included for reference. The music goes faster than it would if it were sung. Even with all three verses of “He Is Risen,” a complete verse of “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” a four-bar introduction, several reprises, and a finale, it barely occupies three minutes of time. Feel free to lengthen the introduction and finale, add more verses, or make other changes, if you wish.

I played my Cervantes classical guitar, with high-tension D’Addario strings, and used a regular, Church microphone on a boom, playing through the chapel sound system, which was set a notch louder than usual. The piano was not amplified. The sound balance was good, but I had to place the microphone right at the sound hole, very close to the strings, which made playing around the microphone rather awkward. It would have been possible with a straight microphone stand, but really clumsy. The boom helped a lot. A guitar mic or acoustic pickup would have solved the problem perfectly, but I couldn’t find one that would interface with the Church’s sound system. If I’d had a “stand-alone” sound system, designed for a guitar, I’d have used it.

At the end of the Guitar Coda, the meter changes briefly to 2/4, so the last two counts of the measure can be dropped. We go right into the beginning of “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” dropping the last syllable of “vic-tor-y.” We did this to create some musical tension, which we resolved by bringing the piano in for the “alleluyah” at the end of the line. We tried bringing the piano in at the beginning of the line, but it sounded like the pianist came in early by mistake.

There are lots of ligados-- hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides. They make a nice contrast to the more staccato piano. Most of the ligados are simple, but in a few places, there are several in a row. The trickiest part is in the last line on page two, where you have three ligados, a fast bass run, then a complex riff in the last measure. The hard part is the timing. Some of the notes are eighth-notes, while others are quarter-notes. Remember to count: “ONE-and-TWO-and-THREE-and-FOUR-and” for every measure, paying attention to which notes fall on the counting numbers and which fall on the “ands”.

The piano part in the third verse is lighter and more delicate than most piano music played in church. It sounds a bit like a music box. The guitar just plays rhythm here, hence the strummed chords. Where the piano plays loud in the last line of the verse (“Death is conquer’d, man is free”), the guitar needs to be as loud as possible (ff, or fortissimo), or the piano will drown it out. The rest of the line can be a little less forte, but still moderately loud (mf, or mezzo-forte).

After the piano and guitar each take a solo on the same line, the finale is played together. We used these multiple repetitions to drive home the message that “Christ has won the victory,” which is the whole point of Easter. Even though the words were not sung, the congregation heard them in their heads, and got the point.

The two parts diverge musically in the finale, then reunite for the final chord, which both instruments sound simultaneously. Do whatever it takes to make it simultaneous. The slightest error in timing will be obvious. Hold the chord for two full measures, if possible. Unless you have an electric guitar, you will not be able to sustain the chord as long as the piano. It’s important that guitarist and pianist damp or release the chord at the exact same instant. If not, it will sound like you were competing for the longest hold. (And the piano won.)

We performed this duet as the climax of the Easter Sacrament Meeting, just before the closing prayer, and not as an instrumental “rest hymn” in the middle of the service. It was a wonderful, spiritual experience for everyone. Even those who had resisted having a guitar in Sacrament Meeting loved it. Several came up to me afterwards and admitted their prejudice. Only then did I learn that one of them had been the bishop.


Owen Andrus said...

I played an acoustic arrangement of "I am a Child of God" guitar/piano duet from the Simplified Hymns book with my daughter at her first piano recital. Word got out and we are being asked to play it in sacrament. I've never seen a guitar played in sacrament, but I've been told it is an authorized instrument. I'm super excited, mostly because my daughter will be able to get use to playing in front of others with me by her side.

Don Fallick said...

You're an awesome dad, Owen! See Handbook 2, Administering the Church, sections 14.4.2 and 14.4.3 for the official church position on music and musical instruments in the church.

Matthew said...

My son is wondering what the underscores on the tablature mean?