To hear the secret shades between sounds, we might have to look within the seemingly familiar. Estimated to be performed at least 10 million times a year, “Amazing Grace” somehow avoids the dullness of repetition, the meaninglessness of cliché. The godless and the spiritual both find the possibility of redemption, if only in the sound of saying so. Even here there are notes between notes, tones between tones, possibilities in the spaces between, a richness to be revealed.
Beginning in the sad strum of folkways fiddle, the sound deepens, thickens, layers into labyrinths of notes, an exceptionally difficult piece of music. Novel in its searching, this 1973 take by Ben Johnston (b. 1926) is always hearted, depthlessly, by the spirit of this old prayer.
Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav’d a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
Though it says "blind," as listeners and musicians perhaps we can say we once were deaf, but now we hear. We can hear the strings sounding Ben Johnston’s brilliant compositional spelunking deep into the sweet, sweet sound of grace?
— From an essay by Andrew Berardini