Early American Tunes

Four organ pieces based on Early American tunes, including the popular “My shepherd will supply my need,” and “What wondrous love is this.”

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James Biery, organ of the Cathedral of Saint Paul (Minn.) Audio engineer: Bill Lund, Digital on Location.



Early American Tunes (2001) out of print

Organ solo
Duration: 14′
Commissioned by Grigg and Helen Fountain
Published by Augsburg Fortress.
We regret that this item is out-of-print.
Contact Augsburg Fortress.

  • Middlebury (Southern Harmony)–3′
  • I Wonder–3′ Also available in the Augsburg Organ Library, Christmas.
  • Resignation (Southern Harmony)–3′
  • Wondrous Love (Southern Harmony)–5-6′

Program Notes

two-shot of DET and early american Grigg Fountain

DET and Grigg Fountain, 1986

The Early American Tunes were written in honor of organists Grigg and Helen Fountain. Grigg Fountain (1918–2016) was for over twenty years the beloved choirmaster and organist at Northwestern University’s Alice Millar Chapel, where as an undergraduate I sang in the Chapel Choir. An inspiring conductor and teacher as well as a brilliant player,

Grigg encouraged my early efforts in composition, frequently asking me to arrange music for services, making the oratory of the chapel (the “prophet’s chamber,” he called it) available for me to work in, and even offering the occasional organ or conducting lesson in return.

I was introduced to the shape-note hymns of Kentucky Harmony and The Sacred Harp by Grigg, who was a southerner by birth, so American tunes seemed an appropriate homage.

The collection begins and ends with chorale variations. Melody chorales—the tune clearly stated in a mostly unadorned form—are the internal movements.

The three variations of “Middlebury” each place the tune in a different octave. It emerges first from a polyphonic texture, ascends “to the skies” for the middle verse, and settles in the pedal, surely conducted by stately rhythms to the close.

A wandering flute player (possessed by the blues) circles around the tune of “I Wonder.” She receives no certain answer to her questions, for the music ends with an arabesque on the subdominant.

Resignation” was a particular favorite at Millar Chapel, and in this melody chorale the descending thirds of the accompaniment complement the ascending triads of the tune. Three searching, toccata-style phrases preface

Wondrous Love.” Abundant figuration is woven from the threads of the tune, first in sixteenths with the tune in the tenor, then in triplets, with the tune keening away on a 2′ pedal stop. The final verse treats it in free imitation, and a return to toccata style brings shouts: “Wondrous! Wondrous!”

Read a tribute to Grigg Fountain in my blog. For more chorale preludes for organ, see Welsh Tunes.

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