Details at a Glance
- Voicing: SATB a cappella
- Music: Lorin F. Wheelwright, arr. Ronald J. Staheli
- Lyrics: Lorin F. Wheelwright
- Language: English
- Key(s): B
- Difficulty: easy
- Duration: 3:15 min.
- Pages: 4
- Price: $0.99/copy (10+ copies); $1.35/copy (<10 copies)
- Download Site: Holy Sheet Music
- Listen: Holy Sheet Music
Ronald Staheli was the conductor of BYU’s premiere choir, the University Singers, for thirty years. During that time, his ensemble toured internationally more than a dozen times and recorded dozens of albums. The man knows choirs. Consequently, he should be on every ward and stake choir director’s A-list of arrangers.
Staheli’s version of “Oh, May My Soul Commune with Thee” is the little black dress of hymn arrangements: elegant, timeless, and flattering. The tone of the arrangement embodies that old MTC catch phrase, “quiet dignity.”
The alterations Staheli makes to the hymn book version of the hymn are minimal:
- He retains the basic parts for 3 out of the 4 verses but transposes the music down to the more-comfortable-for-choirs key of B major.
- In verse two, the tenors and basses hum their parts in sustained tones.
- In verse three, because the men take the melody for most of the verse, Staheli does rewrite the women’s parts. Here, too, his touch is light. He the women’s bars 17-20 on the hymn’s basic tenor part. By the end of verse 3 (bars 23-25), the voices go back to their standard parts.
- Staheli concludes verse four with a lovely deceptive cadence that enables him to repeat the final phrase half as fast.
That’s it. Those are the only changes. These tweaks are surprisingly refreshing for how subtle they are. This is the modest version of high art — knowing what little changes will make a profound impact and confidently executing them.
Any choir that can sing parts from the hymn book can sing this arrangement. Still, there are a handful of spots that will need rehearsing:
- bar 6, altos: The leap from G-sharp to D-natural will likely need some help. Note that this leap repeats each verse (bars 14, 22, 30).
- bars 17-22, everyone: This will take a little work simply because the parts are different here. They’re not difficult.
- bar 32, basses: The basses will likely need help with the leap from G-sharp to F-sharp, then the chromatic step down to F-natural
- Overall: If you plan on taking the hymn at the recording’s tempo, you’ll need to teach your choir to sustain their breath support. In other words, they need to keep the air moving and directed through each phrase rather than singing each note as disconnected events.
Like the music itself, the required ranges are modest. The sopranos go up to D-sharp and the basses down to F-sharp. Altos and tenors also stay in a comfortable range.
If your choir has confident readers, they could perform this arrangement after one rehearsal. If they are less confident, then it may take one additional rehearsal. If you need to accompany your choir in performance, at all costs, find a way to do so with the organ. The piano’s inescapably percussive sound is at complete odds with the sound of this arrangement.
Ronald Staheli’s “Oh, May My Soul Commune with Thee” is a model of artful yet modest hymn arranging. It is elegantly written, simple to sing, and reverent in tone. I cannot recommend it enough.