Steven B. Eulberg,
Hark, the Glad Sound!
(Owl Mountain Music, 1999)

Hark, the Glad Sound! is an enjoyable and unique CD focusing on Advent, or the anticipation of Christmas. Subtitled "Hymns for the Season of Advent," it was preceded by the book Dulcimer-Friendly Worship, Vol. 1: the Season of Advent with dulcimer arrangements of the pieces recorded here. This isn't an instructional CD, though; the arrangements include bowed psaltry, guitar, fretless bass, some drums and recorders, as well as both mountain and hammered dulcimers. It's beautiful and serene to hear, evoking the joy and anticipation of the Advent season.

Most of the sixteen songs are not commonly heard, which makes this CD an excellent companion to other CDs of Christmas music. While most Christmas music focuses on Dec. 25, the focus here is on the anticipation of Christmas rather than the fulfillment of the day itself. I enjoyed hearing music from many lands, much of it new to me, with this theme. The lands represented here range from Europe to America and the Philippines, and the eras from medieval times to today, making for a particularly diverse collection tied together with the arrangements and instrumentation.

I love medieval and Renaissance carols, and the ones here are lovely. "Savior of Nations" is based on a medieval plainsong melody, and the setting gives it a timeless feel. "O Savior, Rend the Heavens Wide" adds a recorder to the dulcimers and tambourine, sounding like a medieval dance melody.

Eulberg chose folksongs that blend well with the medieval pieces, especially in the tunings used. "Rejoice, Rejoice Believers," a Swedish folk melody, has a particularly medieval sound. "Prepare the Royal Highway" also has a Swedish origin, and it uses typical Scandinavian rhythms and melodic pacing. The bodhran gives "Hark, the Glad Sound!" something of a medieval dance sound, although I think it would have sounded even better with the addition of a recorder and tambourine, as in "O Savior, Rend the Heavens Wide." The livelier "Comfort, Comfort Now My People" similarly could have used a richer arrangement, although the five dulcimers used are quite nice on their own. "Who Will Set Us Free?" is the Filipino song mentioned above, a meditative piece with bowed dulcimers and psaltries, and a bell.

"O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," one of the most familiar of the songs on the album, starts the CD with a modern and trancelike setting with medieval roots. "Stir Up Your Power, O Lord" has a more contemporary sound, with a rich arrangement and some attractive ornamentation; it's an original piece based on prayers in Advent services. "Soon and Very Soon" is even more contemporary, with its gospel melody and rhythms are set off by the African ashiko drum and shekere. "Fling Wide the Door" is German in origin, and begins slowly and simply with a solo, then picks up the pace and adds a bodhran. While I understand the reasons for including "Mine Eyes Have seen the Glory," it did not fit well in the context for me, although the arrangement is very nice; its martial nature seemed at odds with the spirit of Advent, and a particularly odd choice to follow the spiritual Filipino piece.

American shape-note music is a fascinating style that is reminiscent of Gregorian chant. "The King Shall Come" combines two mountain dulcimers with different tuning with a hammered dulcimer, with an effect that sounds like a modern harpsichord rendition of an old tune, nicely ornamented. "Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus" has three parts, and the treble, melody and bass dulcimers take turns with each of them, with an effect similar to some baroque music. The second piece of this title makes a medley of some of the tunes to which these lyrics have been set -- a fascinating idea, and one that works well musically. "My Lord, What a Morning" allows the beautiful, haunting melody to shine with a very simple finger-picked approach to this spiritual.

[ by Amanda Fisher ]

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