If you’ve been through my hometown, you probably suppressed a chuckle at how much it looks like a Hallmark set. And in perfect Hallmark character, we put on a Christmas concert every December. This year a family friend directed the program, and she asked my brother and I to perform. The request was pretty specific: we were assigned O Come, O Come, Emmanuel with my brother on viola and me on violin. Also, she asked me to write the arrangement.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel has always been one of my favorites, largely thanks to Chip Davis, The Piano Guys, and a handful of other artists. Writing my own arrangement of the hymn was tough in their shadow. Not long after hearing from the director, I took a day and wrote four or five different starts. Each lasted about fifteen minutes before getting scrapped. After a little over an hour with nothing to show (I’m pretty impatient), I wisely put the project away and focused on something else.
That night I dreamed that I was watching a friend play an upright piano. He could tell I wasn’t paying attention, so he waved me closer and told me to focus. Then he played a soft, calling theme that made the rest of the room disappear. When he finished, he played it again, and then again, and so on until it gently woke me.
I couldn’t get my friend’s theme out of my head as I dressed and showered. Before breakfast I scribbled it down with a few tempo notes, and then I skipped class to fill in the harmony (no comment). The rest of the piece unfolded as though I were transcribing rather than writing. It was done by the end of the week.
If you’ve never heard the lyrics to O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, you need to. They give beautiful voice to captive Israel’s longing for Emmanuel, the Redeemer prophesied by Isaiah in the Old Testament. To the Christian world to which the hymn is native, that Redeemer is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. His character is especially referenced in the latter verses, which talk of conquering death and the way to our heavenly home.
We aren’t all Christian, but we are all captive at one point or another, and I’ve yet to meet anyone who has never needed redeemed. O Come is dedicated to that redemption.