The song “Unclouded Day” was written by the itinerant preacher Josiah K. Alwood after a late-night horse ride under a striking vision of a sky: he saw a rainbow against a dark cloud which covered half the sky, while the other half was perfectly clear. He awoke in the morning with the song’s chorus in his head, and spent a day and a half working out the verses.
“Unclouded Day” is a great banjo tune, because it seldom strays from G major – the key the open strings of the banjo are tuned to. I learned it in Massachusetts from a banjo-playing friend when I was in my early 20’s, and I wrote the arrangement 15 years later, when my church colleague, Nike St. Clair, mentioned that we needed some American folk music to take on our church’s choir tour to Hungary. I got it into my head to write a set of three pieces on the image of “heavenly home” (the other two source songs being William Bradbury’s “Angel Band,” and the Sacred Harp tune “Hallelujah.”) Because we would have to make do without piano in most of our tour venues, I tasked the singers with many accompanimental figures, resulting in the intricate a cappella counterpoint and fuguing textures in the piece.
Heavenly Home: Three American Songs was premiered by the Los Angeles Master Chorale in May 2010 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, conducted by Grant Gershon. The following month, the La Verne Church of the Brethren Sanctuary Choir took the piece on their first international tour to Hungary, the homeland of their conductor, Nike St. Clair. A chamber accompaniment for “Unclouded Day” was written for Michael Ostrzyga and the University of Cologne Chamber Choir for their American tour in spring 2017, and was premiered in the Bay Area with the Albany Consort. This version (which includes recorder) was re-worked for full string orchestra, and was premiered by Steven Kronauer and Artes Vocales of Los Angeles in June 2017. A TTBB version of “Unclouded Day” was also written in 2017, commissioned by Brook Carter Larson and the Orpheus Male Chorus of Phoenix.