Distress – Unterseher

TTBB div.

An intense, dark setting of a classic Southern Harmony hymn tune and poem.

Purchase on Reg’s web site


This poem, though written in 1760 as a hymn and appearing in Southern Harmony and other
hymnals, is not so much theological as it is a heart-wrenching expression of sorrow and loss.

Anne Steele was no stranger to this subject matter. Her mother died when Anne was only three
years old. When she was 19, she sustained an injury to her hip, which left her permanently
disabled. She was engaged to be married when she was 21, and on the day of her wedding, her
fiance drowned.

This setting was inspired by the Civil War soldiers who would have known this from the
hymnals of the time. The music starts with a quiet statement of fragments of the tune over
a drone, like the soldiers in the quiet introspection of a night in the field. We then hear
the first verse over a minimal accompaniment. The second verse begins with a driving,
marching accompaniment, with the verse now stated in a more bitter, angry way with an
overlay reminiscent of the ghosts of their fallen comrades. In the last verse, we hear
resignation and acceptance as all the voices come together, before going back to a reflection
of the opening.

The tune, DISTRESS, is unattributed in Southern Harmony, and was probably written
by William Walker.


So fades the lovely, blooming flow’r;
Frail, smiling solace of an hour;
So soon our transient comforts fly,
And pleasure only blooms to die.

Is there no kind, no healing art
To soothe the anguish of the heart?
Spirit of grace, be ever nigh;
Thy comforts are not made to die

Let gentle patience smile on pain,
Till dying hope revives again;
Hope wipes the tear from sorrow’s eye,
And faith points upward to the sky.

—Anne Steele, 1760

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About Reginald Unterseher

Reginald Unterseher is Music Director and Composer-in-Residence at Shalom United Church of Christ, Richland, Washington. His works are published by Oxford University Press, Walton Music, and through NW Choral Publishing at www.reginaldunterseher.com. He is the Washington State Music Teacher’s Association’s “Composer of the Year” for 2013. Mr. Unterseher’s compositions are regularly performed throughout the world and have been featured at ACDA and MENC conventions in the US as well as at Carnegie Hall in New York City. He currently serves as Repertoire & Standards Chair for Men’s Choirs for the Northwest Division of the American Choral Director’s Association, and is in demand as a choral and vocal adjudicator and clinician. Mr. Untereseher is a past Artistic Director of Consort Columbia (now Mid-Columbia Mastersingers), founder and past Chorus Master of Washington East Opera, and an active member of Male Ensemble Northwest.