My process for setting “Come, All True-Hearted Southern Boys” is a method that I learned from Alice Parker. I allow the words to create the tune and the tune to create its own setting. I cooperate with the process, with the work itself as it develops.
The first thing I did was to read the poems over and over and determine the best stanzas to use. I then took a long time to invent the tunes. My concept was that these were to be tunes that a Confederate soldier might have sung, and therefore not very hard to learn. The tunes needed to have a relationship to existing tunes of the time, yet fit these particular words. (It would be possible to invent any number of tunes to go with any given text. I could have made up an unusual scale as the basis for a tune, or used a mode from medieval times, or the pentatonic scale. But the most respectful way of setting this text seemed to be to write it in a way that the author himself might have appreciated, to try to use music that the author himself could have understood.)
After I had the tunes for both poems, I let the tunes sit awhile, then came back to them after a few days to see if I still thought they were right. Once I was sure, I then started to listen to “voices” in my head sing the words, and I paid attention as to who was singing: unison men, unison women, four-part, soprano/alto, tenor/bass?
After I had the basic plan, including the interludes and the ending, I started to write out the score. Along the way, I reluctantly made a few small changes to the text. I would not change the text of a living author without asking, but as it was impossible to ask permission in this case, I used my best judgment.
If I became stuck while working out a section, I would go back and listen to what I had already done. Perhaps this piece of music is an exotic plant that grows through time instead of through physical space; from the “seed” of the first few notes to the flowering of the last phrase, the music grows as one organic whole. I provide proper growing conditions, observe the growth, and gently prune the plant when needed.