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Rejoice in God

The Hymns of K. Lee Scott

Keaton Lee Scott is a native of Langdale (now Valley), Alabama, where he was born on April 19, 1950. He received his bachelor of music and master of music degrees from the University of Alabama in 1973 and 1976, respectively. Since that time he has served as an adjunct faculty member for the Schools of Music at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Samford University, and as organist/choir director at several churches. But his main occupation has been the writing of music.

Many choirs and directors will be familiar with the anthems Lee Scott has written. These are invariably well-crafted and engaging works that are within the reach of most church choirs but are not “written down” to them. The composer also has several larger works to his credit, including “Christmas Cantata: The Incarnation,” a Te Deum, and a Requiem. (See tinyurl.com/LeeScottPlaylist for a sampling.)

Forty-three of Scott’s early hymn tunes and five service music pieces were gathered into a collection titled Rejoice in God: The K. Lee Scott Hymnary, published in 2000 by MorningStar Music Publishers. Many of these works began as choral anthems or vocal solos but were arranged for congregational singing. The words come from a wide variety of sources, a particular favorite being the British hymn writer Timothy Dudley-Smith, who is credited with twelve lyrics. Second only to Dudley-Smith is the composer himself, who was responsible in whole or in part for seven texts.

Today it is a frequent practice for composers of hymn tunes to write unison melodies with independent instrumental accompaniments. While 15 of the tunes in Rejoice in God fall into this category, the majority of the hymns in the collection are harmonized for part singing, and a few use a combination of part singing and unison singing. One of the latter, HUFSTETLER (10; numbers in parentheses refer to the pages in the collection) begins with vocal harmony and moves to unison singing with keyboard at the refrain-like end of the tune. Another, BLUFF PARK (37), takes the opposite approach, setting the first four phrases in unison and the last four in parts. One tune, MARJORIE, appears with both unison and vocal harmony settings. Choral descants are provided for a number of pieces in the collection.

One feature that is common to many of Scott’s major-key tunes is the use of a flatted seventh degree of the musical scale. Twelve tunes in Rejoice in God employ this flatted seventh in the melody (for example, in NEW PROVIDENCE, 3; ex. 1), while it is found somewhere in the harmonization of 12 more pieces; thus, exactly half of the items in the book make use of this device.

NEW PROVIDENCE and another tune, MICHAELMAS (40), are also notable for their adventuresome melodic and harmonic palettes; the next-to-last measure of the former contains a veritable forest of chromatic signs (ex. 2), while the latter, in C major, includes reiterated Bbs and Ebs, and even an Ab in the melody with similarly chromatic chords in the harmony.

For all their splashy harmonies and chromatic turns, these and most of the other major-key tunes have strong, exuberant, soaring melodies that are easy to learn and natural to sing. By way of contrast, a few pieces—such as TILGHMAN (for Christina Rossetti’s “Love Came Down at Christmas,” 12) and YOUNG (for James Quinn’s “Lord, Make Us Servants of Your Peace,” 30) use only a single accidental or none at all except for those in the key signature. These tunes are often folk-like in their simplicity and general style (see ex. 3 on p. 43) being expressed in Aeolian (natural minor) and few (or no) accidentals in the harmonization, as in TUSCALOOSA (26). Several pieces make use of a raised sixth in some portion of the tune, changing the mode to Dorian (BLACKSTONE, 13).

The rhythms of Lee Scott’s hymns are generally straightforward and fit the texts to which they are set. A few tunes have changing metrical patterns or an occasional asymmetrical measure, for example TUSCALOOSA, which includes two 7/8 measures, though no time signatures are given.

One of Scott’s best-known tunes is undoubtedly SHADES MOUNTAIN (22; also found in Lift Up Your Hearts 684), written for Erik Routley’s translation of a text by Király Imre von Pécselyi (“There in God’s Garden”). Rather typically for Scott, the melody is strong and singable, cadences on the dominant at the end of the second phrase, and reaches its highest pitch in the third phrase before descending to the tonic at the end. In this case, both the melody and the harmonization are almost completely diatonic, the only accidentals being used to form secondary dominants. The rhythmic pattern that is established in the first four measures is repeated for each subsequent phrase except the five-syllable last line, the rhythm of which is essentially an adaptation of the first two measures. In some respects, particularly its rhythmic vitality and sturdy melody, SHADES MOUNTAIN is reminiscent of the Genevan metrical psalm tunes of the 16th century—and that is high praise indeed!

Another of Scott’s strong hymn tunes is JAMES ISLAND, written for the composer’s own paraphrases of Psalm 98:1b, Luke 24:5-6, Romans 6:9-10, and 1 Corinthians 15:55-56. The hymn is composed to be sung in unison with keyboard accompaniment, and opens with a robust burden (a refrain sung before the first stanza and repeated after each stanza) that is completely diatonic in both melody and harmony. The music for the stanzas begins in the relative minor (B-minor) and works its way to the dominant in preparation for the return to the refrain. The only chromatic sign in the stanzas is a G-sharp, reiterated several times, which serves principally to form secondary dominant chords. The turn to minor, then to the dominant in the stanzas serves to set this part of the tune off from the refrain and to enhance the celebratory character of the latter.

In singing the hymn, the stanzas could well be sung by the choir or soloist(s), with the congregation joining on the refrain. The text and music would make an excellent processional hymn for the Easter season. It could also be sung effectively when linked with readings of the scriptures on which it is based. Indeed, the refrain could easily be detached and used separately as an “antiphon” to the reading of Psalm 98 or other appropriate Bible passages.

SHADES MOUNTAIN, JAMES ISLAND, and other tunes by K. Lee Scott are accessible, attractive pieces that have already made a considerable contribution to the singing of congregations across North America. We are indebted to this fine composer for providing singable and expressive tunes for helping us “rejoice in God.”

Where Can K. Lee Scott’s Hymns Be Found?

  • Lift Up Your Hearts (Faith Alive, 2013) [SHADES MOUNTAIN #684]
  • Rejoice in God: The K. Lee Scott Hymnary (MorningStar Music Publishers, 2000).
  • Break Forth in Joyous Song: A Collection of Hymns and Liturgical Songs (MorningStar Music Publishers, 2006) [JAMES ISLAND]