Be Thou My Vision

Be Thou My Vision is an old hymn of Gaelic origin. There are at least two sets of lyrics floating around for it. One tends to be found in more traditional churches (i.e. Catholic or Presbyterian), and the other in more evangelical churches (i.e. Baptist). Believe it or not, I cannot find the Catholic lyrics that I grew up with.

Either way, this is an instrumental version. As I was starting to think about this project, I knew this would be one of the hymns represented. I’ve always loved the Celtic feel. I could hear the open fifths and fouths in the haprsichord. One night of inspiration, I wrote out the entire form of the piece.

It started out in Finale writing out the harpsichord continuo (including the right hand starting in the second verse) and double reeds in melody and harmony. I wanted a less refined sound and so chose the English Horn as the lead instrument. I toyed with using a more antique instrument, but when I recorded this, my only alternative was a poor quality crumhorn sample that is a little too “primative.”

Next I moved it to Cakewalk Sonar to play in the piano part for the bridge. Theoretically you can do this sort of thing in Finale, but I’ve never gotten it to work to my satisfaction. With the piano in place I recorded the harpsichord and then the sustained winds.

The third verse is a copy of the second with the addition of the piano accompaniment. Lastly, everything drops out but the original three instruments for the coda.

In some of my earlier posts you can read about my struggles to produce a realistic lead line for the reed instruments. This is mostly related to the difficulty in using a keyboard instrument to simulate a sustained sound – a sound that can be shaped in real time in the acoustic world.

After several iterations, the answer was to purchase a Yamaha WX-5 wind MIDI controller and edit some soundfonts to respond to breathe control. This tool will ultimately be appearing on almost all the tracks on this new project.

I had a pretty clear idea of the percussion I wanted on this track. I knew I wanted some sort of a large skin drum, and a pair of finger cymbals. The cymbals are the only instrument recorded live in my studio – I searched everywhere and couldn’t come up with a decent sample to use. Fortunately, my friend and the percussionist on the Djembe Soundfont project had a pair from Latin Percussion which worked nicely. I compressed the tails of the strikes so the nice ring wouldn’t get lost in the mix.

The skin drum was a little more difficult, as I didn’t know specifically what I was looking for, just the sound. Fortunately, I came across a bodhran soundfont in my travels and downloaded the free version. It did the trick, so I purchased the full version from FJMSoft, who also make the Awave Studio product. Their handbell soundfont may well turn up on another track on this project (I’m thinking Fairest Lord Jesus).

This track represents a significant step forward for me in arranging and acoustic (well, psuedo-acoustic) recording. The next one I’m working on, This Is My Father’s World is even more ambitious. I’m learning how to play Hammered Dulcimer! (Well, a keyboard version of it, anyway).

Well, here’s the track, I hope you enjoy it.

Be Thou My Vision

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