Barnhart, Michael- Blue Creek Hymn, for solo psaltery (Digital Download)

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Includes score. 

Print size: Letter (8.5 x 11")

Review from Percussive Notes (2021):

Blue Creek Hymn   

Michael Barnhart    

Yes, this piece is for psaltery, and yes, it belongs in this journal. Why am I this confident? Predominately, because I was skeptical. I received this piece to review and was instantly full of questions and hesitation. However, once I delved into the score, I noticed the myriad ways in which this piece is a perfect fit for percussionists. While the psaltery is not the most well-known instrument from the zither family, it fits into a tradition of zithers being written for percussionists, such as the hammered dulcimer found in George Crumb’s “Quest.”   


This piece, dedicated to percussionists Matt McClung, begins with dissonant dyads, plucked with thumbnails. After this introduction, the texture gradually transitions to a syncopated mixed meter theme in measure 34. This transition is led through a series of expansive circular glissandi using a thimble, which lightly strums across the strings. This oscillating texture is accompanied with isolated pitches being occasionally bowed using the teeth of a long hair comb. In measure 26 the performer starts sounding a low ostinato on the pitch A3 using the flesh of the right thumb. This gesture quickly transitions to a dancing mixed-meter ostinato to accompany a lilting mixed-meter theme, all using chopsticks. This dancing theme expands in scope until it ultimately climaxes in syncopated pitch clusters, which are played by striking across the strings in various decreasing positions along the psaltery. These clusters then subside back to the sections opening low-A ostinato. After a measured pause, the performer plays a muted song-like melody, which once repeated is allowed to ring openly. This celebratory moment is short lived and eventually is resigned to resuming the dancing chopstick ostinato first introduced in measure 34. It is with this meditative repetition that “Blue Creek Hymn” comes to a close.   


This piece by Michael Barnhart offers many gratifying moments and plentiful opportunities for interpretation — great attributes for any piece. For those reluctant to approach a new instrument, the score includes instructions for where to find and how to tune the psaltery. A simple tablature accompanies the notated pitches, which would be a helpful tool when learning this piece. While its modern contemporary style may not be for everyone, “Blue Creek Hymn” offers the percussion performer an opportunity to step away from canonical solo works and expected instrumentation to offer an audience something truly unexpected.   

—Quintin Mallette