"When Jesus Wept" is an exquisite canon and one of William Billings (1746-1800) most famous pieces. Billings, a Colonial American composer, was a true revolutionary of the American cause. He was friends with Samual Adams and Paul Revere. Paul Revere was the engraver of the cover for Billings collection "New England Psalm-Singer". A tanner by trade, Billings was largely self-taught in music and earned the title by many of Father of American Church music. Regarding his approach to composing, Billings wrote: "I don't think myself confined to any rules of composition, laid down by any that went before me, neither should I think (were I to pretend to lay down rules) that any one who came after me were in any ways obligated to adhere to them, any further than they should think proper; so in fact I think it best for every composer to be his own carver."
The handbell part plays the canon nearly verbatum. If hand chimes are available, the second repetition of the melody should be played using the chimes. This adds an interesting contrast to the texture. Another interesting twist might be to invite your choir to join (in unison) and sing the melody once through starting at the pick up to measure 66.
What makes this an unique arrangement is the overlay of the organ after all the voices have commenced. First in the pedal, then adding one voice, and another in the development and repetition of ominous motifs, building to a fortissimo climax at the end. And the final (optional) element that puts this arrangement over the edge.... prepare an audio tape of recent news broadcasts that depict the sinfulness of the world in a very clear way.
When I began working on this setting of "When Jesus Wept", the part of the text that caught my imagination was "When Jesus groaned, a trembling fear seized all the guilty world around."
When Jesus wept, the falling tear
in mercy flowed beyond all bound;
when Jesus groaned, a trembling fear
seized all the guilty world around.