A Field of Voices

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A Field of Voices James E. Clemens and David Wright. Dayton, VA: Table Round Press (www.tableroundpress.com), 2007. 80+viii pp. ISBN-13: 978-0-9792046-0-9. U.S. $9.95.

While Mennonites are renowned within The Hymn Society for our congregational singing, almost everything we sing is borrowed from other traditions. Fortunately, several recent Mennonite writers and composers are now providing quality hymnody for Mennonites, and also offering a Mennonite voice to the wider church. Composer James Clemens and poet David Wright contribute a strong collection to this refreshing stream.

Clemens and Wright's spiral-bound book of thirty hymns and tunes is expertly engraved, and with the exception of a few awkward page turns, easy to navigate. The hymns are arranged alphabetically, and are followed by a section of accompaniments for selected hymns. Next are five pages of notes, and then several suggested worship services incorporating the hymns. Indexes are for "Musical Voicings," "Themes and Uses in Worship," and "Scriptural References." The "Musical Voicings" listing reveals the variety in Clemens' tunes. In addition to "Four Part, a cappella," he includes unison tunes-a cappella, accompanied, and in canon. Additional categories cover "Call and Response," "Four-Part, accompanied," and two-part, both a cappella and accompanied.

Clemens composes lyrical melodies with pleasing harmonies. His voice leading is natural and satisfying. His best work is with melancholy material, either supplications or lament. My favorites include the first in the collection, Spirit, Fill Us, which features two interweaving voice parts that join in unison for a refrain. Additional highlights are the canon Shine Upon Us, and SEEK THE PEACE, a four-part a cappella setting.

Wright has published several collections of poetry, and began writing hymns a few years ago thanks to his friendship with Clemens. …