While symphonies, operas and art song have become the face of classical music, the soul has always been in the church. From the great masses and requiems to Gregorian chants and chorales, religious institutions have a long history of patronage, employing many of the greatest composers and musicians in history. Even today, churches offer musicians stability in what is otherwise an increasingly unstable industry. It is fitting that so much of our musical canon has a spiritual lineage. Music seems to be a journey to the deepest parts of the soul: those common elements of humanity that remain in solitude, to commune with the good that exists in each of us.
Just as operas and symphonies flowed from music that originated in the church, musical genres such as jazz, show tunes, and rock ‘n’ roll were formed from the foundational melodies of the American Hymnal. Many of these tunes and hymns were borrowed from Europe. As they made their way to the American South, a new sound was created, blending African styles with European melodies. While a few Gospel hymns are included in American Grace, this collection focuses on hymns and styles that were more common to New England and the American West.
American Grace is a collection spanning traditions: from Methodist to Mormon, Baptist to Quaker, Shaker to Moravian to nondenominational. Some of the tunes are traditional and many were not written by Americans. But some tunes have been lost, leaving room for new melodies to be introduced. These words and melodic modes shaped the music that has dominated the 20th and 21st centuries. Perhaps, their simple messages and melodies can give us all a glimpse of grace.