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



Holy Child

The melody of this folk hymn comes from Southern Harmony, the 1835 shape note hymnal. The words and the SAB arrangement are my own.

Click here to download the music.


Gentle Jesus, Holy Child,

Born this night, in the dark and wild,

Come to save poor sinners here,

With thy saving grace, draw near.


Angels sang to shepherds there,

Easing nights of pain and care.

Let us all haste to thy side.

In thy presence let us bide.


Bearing gifts, came wise men three.

Gold and myrrh, they offered thee.

We, too, strive to do our part:

Willing hands and contrite heart.


Gentle Jesus, Holy Child,

Born this night to the dark and wild,

Come to save poor sinners here,

With thy saving grace, draw near.


Silent Night

“Silent Night” was meant to be simple. Franz Gruber took a text by Joseph Mohr and set it for voice and guitar, and it was first performed on Christmas Eve, 1818 in the village of Oberndorf, near Salzburg, in Austria.

To my thinking, a large part of the beauty of this carol comes precisely because it is so simple. I have tried to reflect that in my setting for violin and piano, which I have uploaded here.

When we lived in Europe we never made it to Oberndorf, but the original St. Nikola parish church is no longer standing anyway. Salzburg itself was one of our favorite places. The Salzburg cathedral below is probably a bit more grandiose than the church where “Silent Night” premiered, but it has an illustrious musical history of its own. Mozart was baptized here, and he served as organist from 1779 to 1781.
*** This post originally appeared on my other site here..

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.

Be Thou My Vision

Be Thou My Vision is one of the world’s most gorgeous traditional hymns. It’s originally Irish, but it’s so beautiful that it’s very well known in most Christian churches, though that sadly doesn’t include the one I belong to.

There are several different English versions of the text. I took liberties with all of them. I wasn’t such a fan of the battle imagery in one verse. (That imagery is fine in a different kind of song, but I don’t think it really fits with this melody.) I also modified the verse about being God’s son. I wrote this for high voice (mine), and I’m not a son.

My arrangement for high voice and piano is now available here.


An Irish cross in the cemetery at the Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary, Ireland
***This post was originally published on my old site here.