O! What a Beautiful City

A sure bet for a concert “closer.” This arrangement combines the African-American spiritual “O What a Beautiful City” with a rhythmic “alleluia” ostinato inspired by the Ukrainian Orthodox church, reflecting the image of the “universal city” in the song’s text.  An optional “cut-time” coda turns an already-elating piece into a full-blown party.

This score is published in two versions by Boosey & Hawkes. Press “Order Score” or click here to view and listen.

Available as: SATB piano | SSA piano



In the mid-1990’s a friend gave me a Chanticleer recording with a thrilling rendition of “O What a Beautiful City” as arranged by Joseph Jennings.  The song stayed with me, having made a powerful first impression.  A few years later I was living in Chicago, surviving as a freelance musician, and happened to sing for some Ukrainian Orthodox Easter services.  The unique five-syllable “al-le-lu-i-a’s” got into my brain.  One afternoon a few weeks after Easter, in a bright practice room where I was waiting to accompany a voice lesson, the idea for this piece suddenly “showed up”: a five-syllable “halleluia” ostinato underneath the timeless melody of the old spiritual.  Fast forward a few more years, to the early 2000’s in California, where I fleshed out the piece for my church choir, improvising an accompaniment.  For the better part of the decade, we performed this piece from time to time, still without any written part for the piano.  The excellent choir from our local high school Bonita High School performed it a cappella at a festival, and I began to get requests for the piece.  But still no piano part! — these choirs continued the a cappella performance tradition.  Finally, for the purposes of the Boosey & Hawkes publication of the piece, I caught some notes “in amber”– and, inspired again, added a “cut-time” coda to take this rafter-raising closer of a piece even higher!

This publication also gave me occasion to alter a few things about the structure that I had never quite been happy with; the interlude after the antiphonal third verse used to be quite a bit longer.  Now the melody jumps back in atop the ostinato right away, and the proportions of the piece are “happier.”  If ever there were a piece to prove my point that my best results are a decade or two in the making, this would be it!  Just like a Broadway show that relies heavily on “real-world” trials, when the piece is in previews, this piece had fifteen years to be tested and tried.  Maybe now it is true!

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