Gracious Epiphanies combines the classic Isaac Watts hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” with a new musical setting of texts adapted from Galatians 2, vs. 20-21. The lyrics and, as a result, the title, suggest realizations of the grace of God—often in an ironic or unexpected way. The music aims to create moments of harmonic expectation which are confounded by the introduction of material in more distant keys—for example, at m. 36, the oscillating pitches B-flat and G imply g minor, but the hymn-tune makes its entrance in E-flat Major. These types of two-tone modulations (the “epiphanies”) happen several times throughout the piece.
Stylistically, the piece makes use of an almost unbroken ostinato in the piano, and culminates with an explosion of minimalist textures—these elements are intended to symbolize elements of God’s grace: constancy and profound simplicity.
The “offstage quartet” that sings the first two verses of the hymn should be positioned somewhere away from the main ensemble. In a church where a traditional “stage” will likely not be available, a variety of locations may be appropriate (a choir loft, a balcony, the back of the sanctuary, along the sides of the room etc.).
The organ plays in the last stanza only—at the climactic moment at the end of the piece (the last “epiphany”). The registration should be bright and loud (at least 8’ principal, Mixture IV, 8’ Trumpet, 4’ Flutes, 2’ Flutes, 16’ Pedal etc.). The appropriate registration will differ depending on the organ and the acoustic space—for many churches the full organ should be used. The organ should have sufficient volume to be heard as the primary source of sound during the final section, but shouldn’t completely drown out the instruments.