As with many hymn tunes, the tune “New Britain” is better known by the words most often associated with it: “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” Typical of Appalachian folk tunes from the southern United States, “New Britain” was first published as a shape-note hymn tune in Columbian Harmony (1829), and it was first set to John Newton’s (1725-1807) “Amazing Grace” in William Walker’s shape-note hymnal, Southern Harmony (1835).
The tune is popular with players of the Great Highland bagpipe, for which this arrangement is written. Due to the non-chromatic nature of that instrument and the notes available on it, “New Britain” can be played in only one key — D major, with the chanter and drones sounding a constant “A.” However, because the chanter and drones are commonly tuned to a pitch above Bb, adjustments to the instrument must be made to bring the pitch down to Bb (466.16 Hz). With careful tuning to the brass instruments and vice versa, the full ensemble can perform “New Britain” in the concert key of Eb (though the notation for the bagpipe remains in D).
Parts include an optional organ substitute part (played on reed stop) for the bagpipes, so this arrangement may be played with a conventional instrumentation of brass quintet and organ.
In the arrangement, brass quintet plays one verse of the tune in Bb, shifts to Eb for the bagpipe’s entrance and verse, then modulates to Ab for a final verse and ending.