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Songs of Mystery and Hope

by Alex Pryrodny

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Written by Robert Lowry, 1864 Yes, we'll gather at the river,
The beautiful, the beautiful river;
Gather with the saints at the river
That flows by the throne of God.
Just As I Am 04:09
Poem written in 1835 by Charlotte Elliott Tune “Woodworth” written in 1849 by William B. Bradbury Just as I am - though tossed about With many a conflict, many a doubt, Fightings and fears within, without, O Lamb of God, I come!
Traditional Irish poem, written between 6th and 10th Century AD English translation by Eleanor Hull, 1912 Tune: “Slane,” traditional Irish Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart, be all else but naught to me, save that thou art; be thou my best thought in the day and the night, both waking and sleeping, thy presence my light. Be thou my wisdom, be thou my true word, be thou ever with me, and I with thee Lord; be thou my great Father, and I thy true son; be thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one. Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise: be thou mine inheritance now and always; be thou and thou only the first in my heart; O Sovereign of heaven, my treasure thou art. High King of heaven, thou heaven's bright sun, O grant me its joys after victory is won; great Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, still be thou my vision, O Ruler of all.
A medieval Latin poem, set to music by Johann Crüger and harmonized by J.S.Bach; counterpoint-style introduction arranged by Alex Pryrodny African-American Spiritual, first published in 1899. Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they crucified my Lord? O sometimes it causes me to tremble! tremble! tremble! Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
African-American Spiritual, written before 1861 Every time I feel the Spirit  moving in my heart I will pray. Yes, every time I feel the Spirit  moving in my heart I will pray.
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword: His truth is marching on.
Poem by Henry Francis Lyte, 1847 Tune: ”Eventide" composed by William Henry Monk in 1861 Abide with me; fast falls the eventide; The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide. When other helpers fail and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, O abide with me. I need Thy presence every passing hour. What but Thy grace can foil the tempter's power? Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be? Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me. Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes; Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies. Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee; In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
Poem by John Newton, 1772 Tune: “New Britain,” English traditional, first published in 1829 Amazing Grace! (how sweet the sound) That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.


The idea for this album came to me as I was researching the history of “Glory, Glory Hallelujah,” otherwise known as “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” I read about the early 19th century camp meetings, which were a uniquely American innovative solution to the lack of ordained ministers at the American frontier. At these gatherings emotions ran high, new ideas and modes of worship were constantly tested and new songs were created on the spot after a particularly moving sermon – and that is how “Say, Brothers, Will You Meet Us (On Canaan’s Happy Shore)” was first introduced to the world. This song quickly spread among almost all existing Christian denominations, being a rare example of a tune equally popular among African-American and white worshipers. During the Civil War it acquired a different meaning (and a new set of lyrics) as “John Brown’s Body” and became an unofficial military hymn on the North. Since then countless other sets of lyrics were written, the catchy tune adopted by labor unions, various universities and sports teams. Martin Luther King’s last public words on the day before his assassination were a quote from this hymn: "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

There is perhaps no other melody that captures the DNA of America with all its intersecting layers of meaning and history, of promise and hope and the struggle to live up to the ideals as “Glory, Glory.” Other hymns I found myself drawn towards feature similarly interesting histories: from John’s Newton’s conversion from a “hopelessly profane” sailor and a slave trader to a priest and an influential abolitionist depicted in “Amazing Grace,” to the ancient Irish ballad inspired by the story of St. Patrick, which we now know as “Be Thou My Vision,” to “Abide with me,” which was written by a young poet dying from tuberculosis. I like the story of “Just as I am,” written by a disabled woman who felt powerless and useless one night on the eve of a charity bazaar organized by her church, and responded with a beautiful set of words stating that the Savior will accept and welcome her “just as she was.” Or “Shall We Gather” – probably the only song among this set where the lyrics and the melody were composed by the same person and it shows in how the lilting melody perfectly matches every word, as if shimmering on the surface of a playful otherworldly river.

A note on the creative process used here: all of the “arrangements” are improvised and while I generally had rough plan or at least a mood attached to each song, often the final take sounded quite different from the initial idea – and this sense of spontaneity and letting the music take me to an unexpected place were the key to the entire endeavor. Another key was having a wonderful creative partner in Leslie Valentine, whose impeccable musicianship and deep understanding of the text informed her 2 featured tracks and helped me find new layers of meaning in the process of recording some of the solo tracks as well. I also want to thank my wife Shuo Hsiao who co-produced this album and whose support has been crucial every step of the way, St. John’s Episcopal Church in Huntington for helping to cover some of the production costs, and everyone else who contributed to making this project happen.


released July 3, 2018

Alex Pryrodny: piano, melodica (5), arrangements
Leslie Valentine, mezzo-soprano (3), (7)

Produced by Alex Pryrodny and Shuo Hsiao

Recorded by Jeremy Gerard in at the Scorca Hall of National Opera Center in New York City on June 18th, 2018 (1,2,3,4,7,8) and June 20th, 2018 (5,6) and by Shuo Hsiao at the Sugoi Home Studio in Taipei, Taiwan on July 2nd, 2018 (5).

Mixed by 林正忠 (Lin lao-shi) at the Platinum Studio in Taipei, Taiwan on July 3rd, 2018


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Alex Pryrodny New York, New York

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