My talented colleague Tim Shaw is an excellent pianist as well as a successful composer of sacred music represented by major church music publishers. He’s about to record a CD of hymns for piano and asked if he could include a piece of mine. He remembered that I’d shown him a setting of Softly and Tenderly years ago.
I was delighted to say Yes, of course, but then said, Wait. I’d composed it a few years ago—I looked: 1986, oh my, that long ago—and then I looked at the music and, oh my, much of it was quite, um, poor. So I asked for some time to “brush it up”: major reconstructive surgery is what I meant.
It actually didn’t take long, once I sat down with it, and there wasn’t much rehabbing. No, not really, just those bass notes that sequenced and oughtn’t’ve. And that treble-clef run that had one chromatic too many, and the dynamics that couldn’t make up their minds, and the pedaling that couldn’t make up its mind, and the muddy, confusing inner voices under the low emergence of the melody, and those other bass notes that really did need to change but hadn’t, and the meter changes hopelessly red-flagging me that they had no idea what they were doing or where they were going, and the doltish dead spots between phrases, and the two brief but major interludes that were shockingly mindless.
Okay, I fibbed. It did take long, once I sat down with it. I guess I knew it would, which is why I’d put off sitting down with it for 26 years. It was a good piece; rather, it was waiting to be a good piece, it was hours away from being a good piece. Hours and hours over a few days, for 33 measures, just once through with these words behind it:
Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
Calling for you and for me;
See, on the portals He’s waiting and watching,
Watching for you and for me.
Come home, come home,
Ye who are weary, come home;
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
Calling, O sinner, come home!
It was nice to come home.
(For the Broad Street Review, I wrote about the process of revising this; you can read that here.)
I sent the new version off to Tim this week, hoping he hadn’t yet looked at the old one. Here’s some of it on MIDI piano: