Here’s the fifth installment in my series of reharmonized Christmas carols. This tune, simply known as Carol, was written by Richard Storrs Willis and is most commonly heard with text It Came Upon The Midnight Clear.

For those who haven’t read my earlier posts, I’ve been practicing harmony and arranging by working with Christmas tunes, an idea I got from David Berkman’s excellent Jazz Harmony Book. I start with the raw melody, write my own simple accompaniment, and then develop the voice leading and experiment with harmonic variations until I find something that clicks. So far the products have been miniatures like this, where a familiar tune is harmonized in a way that hopefully complements it while also aiming to let us hear a little something new or unexpected in it.

Here’s the third installment in my project of reharmonizing Christmas carols — my brief arrangement of Angels We Have Heard On High:

As with my other reharmonizations I started by establishing the simplest and most stable bass line I could find, and then I tried pushing and prodding it to see if I could get it to budge. In some cases, as with my Silent Night experiments, I discover that my initial bass line is amenable to variation and restructuring, whereas in other cases I find that anything interesting I try to do to the bass line makes it less convincing. This tune fell into the latter category — I stuck to my initial bass line with only a few register adjustments here and there. I added the middle voices in search of a kind of limpid, bell-like dissonance that was in my ear.

After doing some harmonic experiments with the tune Silent Night I’ve decided to try my hand at Greensleeves.  Here’s my first interpretation:

Silent Night seems to lend itself to experiment and can accommodate lots of secondary chords, altered dominants, and tritone substitutions from jazz harmony. Greensleeves is a harder tune to “bend” harmonically, perhaps because it is based on the tight romanesca form which dictates an essentially optimal harmonization. In my version I retain the romanesca bass line for the most part, while adding various levels of spice in middle voices and introducing a few detours that my ear seemed to want.

Prompted by an exercise in The Jazz Harmony Book by David Berkman (highly recommended) I’ve been having fun harmonizing the Christmas tune Silent Night.  What to hear a few experiments?  Here are the first six arrangements I’ve done — each one has been an adventure for me.  The audio files are generated directly from my notation in Finale.

Here are a few clips of my recent practice of Hindustani-style vocal alap. They are works in progress. First is the pre-dawn Rag Lalit:


To Western ears Lalit may be one of the more “exotic” sounding ragas and you might think it is therefore one of the most difficult to sing. There are definite technical challenges here (in particular getting an accurate intonation of komal dha in the middle octave when it is approached from tivra ma) but overall I find the mood of the rag so enveloping that I don’t need to work too hard to maintain its distinctive character — the experience of singing it is trance-like and not particularly cerebral.

Second is the early-morning Rag Ahir Bhairav:


My teacher considers Ahir Bhairav to be an “open” raga without many formal restrictions (therefore lending itself to experimentation) but I have found it quite challenging to express, because its character seems to depend on a proper balancing of the darkness from komal re with the brightness from the Ga-ma-Pa-Dha region. Without continuous attention to integrating those bright and dark elements, the alap can come out sounding like something of a hodgepodge. For me at least, there’s more active “work” required to hold things together here.

Third is the evening Rag Desh:


In contrast to Lalit and Ahir Bhairav where the alap may proceed by “visiting” and bringing focus to individual notes of the raga in succession, Desh calls for a phrase-based approach where the alap consists of the repetition and elaboration of a melodic signature.



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