Brother James’ Air

“Brother James’ Air” was composed by James Leith Macbeth Bain (1860-1925), a Scottish-born poet, author, mystic, and healer whose ministry took him to Liverpool and London, where he became known simply as “Brother James.”

The tune is often sung to the metrical paraphrase of Psalm 23, “The Lord’s My Shepherd,” by the Puritan religious author and English politician Francis Rous (c. 1581-1659), published in his The Psalms of David set forth in English meeter (1643).

The angular, highly arpeggiated tune in bar form (AAB) is both stark and lovely, rising and falling before ascending to a high tonic cadence in its final phrase. The harmonic simplicity of “Brother James’ Air” — consisting primarily of I, IV, and V chords — lends itself to alternate harmonizations with substitute chords.

Following a short introduction, this arrangement presents the tune four times: first, alternating between the two trumpets; second, by trio of horn, trombone, and tuba; third, in minor tonality (reflecting the psalm’s verse 4 and the text’s paraphrase, “Yea, though I walk thro’ death’s dark vale”); and fourth, with powerful extended harmonies and surprise cadences resolving to a quiet, peaceful conclusion.

Score, parts (Bb tpt. 1, Bb tpt. 2, F horn, tbn, tuba) — $12.99