For Health and Strength, Theme and Variations

I started this to put together some thoughts on how to help my students improv on this theme, but it got a little out of hand. I can’t imagine at what forum I would ever play my version, but here is my theme and variations on “For Health and Strength.”

My variations are:

  1. Blues
  2. Upside Down, Inside Out, and Backwards
  3. Country-Western
  4. Alberti Bass
  5. Johann Strauss
  6. Boogie-Woogie
  7. Haunted House
  8. Latin
  9. Flowing Water
  10. Bossa Nova
  11. Bach Chorale
  12. Persian
  13. Native American
  14. Debussy
  15. John Cage
  16. Chopin



The First Noel

​”The First Noel” is a traditional English carol. It has an unusual structure which made arranging it a little difficult. It essentially only has one music phrase. That phrase is repeated twice in the verse, and then it is repeated again in a slightly different form for the chorus. All of this is just fine in a vocal setting where you have different lyrics to distinguish these phrases. It works well enough, that I had never even noticed how repetitive the melody is until I tried to set it for solo piano. Without words, it quickly verges on . . . boring.

My own arrangement has three verses: one with a simple arpeggiated bass, one with altered rhythm and meter, and one that is partially set in a canon. If you try to sing along the words you will find that my technique for avoiding boring was actually to mutilate the traditional structure. I don’t repeat the phrase before the chorus. Each verse is quite a bit shorter than it would have to be if it were sung.

Below is a typical English scene, except for the fact that it’s technically in Scotland. This was the park around the block from where we used to live, with a view of the parish church just across the hedge. I have no doubt that “The First Noel” has been sung there many, many times.​

***This post originally appeared on my old site here.