How Yoda snuck into the LDS hymnal

How Yoda snuck into the LDS hymnal

Hymn #10 -- Come, Sing to the Lord

Text and music: Gerrit de Jong, Jr. (1892-1978; LDS)
Tune name: BELLE

Yesterday we discussed a hymn who's composer and poet are the same person. Today's hymn belongs in the same category. 

Composer and poet Gerrit de Jong said: "When an edition of hymns was going to be printed, Tracy Y. Cannon, chairman of the Church Music Committee, asked me to send him a congregational hymn. I wrote it in a few minutes after Sunday School and had a quartet sing it in Sacrament meeting that night in the Highland Park [Salt Lake] Ward." (Cornwall, Stories of Our Mormon Hymns, pg. 39.)

My immediate response to De Jong's statement is, "I wish he'd have taken a bit longer to polish this hymn text. It's not my favorite."

Come, sing to the Lord,
his name to praise.
He in these latter days did raise
A prophet to his name,
The blessed gospel to restore.
Come, sing to the Lord, his name adore!

Of course, I love the topic and the message of this verse. But a line of text like "He in these latter days did raise..." makes me wish he'd have sought some help from a poet friend. It sounds like Yoda talk. Actually, what it really sounds like is he wrote the music first and then, not wanting to change it, he sort of forced this text into the meter of the melody. I'm totally speculating, but that's what it sounds like to me.

And as before, I'm being a bit harsh. I hope that if you're writing a hymn, you'll really think twice about a text that's not smooth, that doesn't read clearly without making the reader do a double take and have to decipher what you meant. 

As for the music, it's well written overall. 

I like the unison opening and how it brings the congregation together in unison praise. I also like the reprise of the unison bit in the last line. It's a nice coming-back-together of the voices in one final line of praise.

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I like the "accented passing tone" in the first line, on the word "name." An accented passing tone is a "non-chord-tone," or a note that doesn't belong to the chord. It is approached by a "step" from the previous chord, and it is followed by a step in the same direction as it resolves on the next note. So, in this case, the B-flat on the word "his" belongs to the chord. It steps down to A-flat on the word "name," but this A-flat is not a part of the chord. It's the "non-chord-tone." The A-flat then resolves to a G, a note that belongs to the chord being played below. Again, that's what we call an "accented passing tone." It spices up the melody a tad as it works it's way back down to the E-flat where the tune started. 

There's another delicious non-chord-tone at the end which is my favorite part of the hymn. For more about non-chord-tones (aka, 'non-harmonic tone' or 'embellishing tones') and how to use them, click here.

https://www.musictheory.net/lessons/53

The melody in the 2nd line has a nice descending sequence. The C to A-flat to C in the first measure steps down to B-flat-G-B-flat, followed by one more slightly different iteration of the sequence, the A-flat to G to A-flat. Instead of leaping down a 3rd like the 1st and 2nd parts of the sequence, this 3rd bit does a little something different, as it should. It steps down and back up instead of leaping. 

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The 3 descending bars just mentioned are followed right away by a rising melody up to high D and finally resting on B-flat, the 5 chord. This is the halfway point of the hymn. Usually, the halfway point happens with a cadence on the 5 chord just like this one. And very often, as we've already seen several times in the first 10 hymns of the hymnal, it's preceded by the dominant of the 5 chord, the F major 7 chord on "to his" and right before "name." It's the most common 'secondary dominant,' the dominant of the dominant, or, the 5 of 5 chord.

And now my least favorite bit. 

Though we do get the answer to the high D, the 7th scale degree, that sort of left us hanging in the previous phrase as the soprano reaches up to the E-flat, we get one of these "women only" phrases. I do like the fact that we get all voices singing in unison after the women's section. It's a nice way to bring everyone back in. But dropping the men out right when you're trying to make the hymn hit a natural climax, which usually occurs somewhere in the 3rd phrase of a 4-phrase piece, really weakens the piece for me. It's enough of a statement to bring back the unison singing on "Come, sing to the lord" a second time, after a lovely climax phrase in 4 full voices. You don't need a women-only part. 

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I always harmonize this bit. One easy way is to hold a B-flat in the left hand or pedal while the sopranos and altos do their thing. Return the bassline to an E-flat on the first word of the final line, on the last syllable of the word "store" to finish off the phrase. Of course, there are many ways to harmonize this line. But the easiest is to hold that B-flat for 3 bars and resolve to E-flat on the 4th bar.

The saving grace of this hymn, my favorite part, is the 3rd to last note in the soprano voice. This is the other non-chord-tone I referred to above. It's what we call an 'escape tone.' The G does not fit the chord. So, as we do with all non-chord-tones, to figure out what they are, we ask the 3 cosmic questions, "who am I? where did I come from? and where am I going?"

Question 1, "who am I?" I'm a G. I don't fit in this B-flat 7 chord. 

Question 2, "where did I come from?" I came from a high C. Mr. high C had to leap down to get to me. So, I came from a leap.

Question 3, "where am I going?" I'm going a step down from G to F.

Ok, so we have a "leap" down to the non-chord-tone G, and then a "step" in the same direction. That's the definition of an 'appoggiatura.' It's very similar to its cousin, the escape tone. But don't get them confused. An appoggiatura is a leap to a non-chord-tone and then a step, usually in the opposite direction, but this time, the composer stepped in the same direction. An escape tone is a step into a non-chord tone and a leap out of it to a chord tone. 

Ok, that's enough theory class for today.

The moral of today's story, "beware the Yoda-like hymn texts." 

Tune in tomorrow when we'll discuss one of my least favorite hymns by one of our greatest LDS hymn composers.

Have a good one!

Doug

P.S. If you know someone who'd like learning more about hymn writing, someone who really wants to submit a hymn to the church for consideration in the new hymnal, please share this blog with them. I want to help as many people as I can. They might also like my Free Report: 9 Ingredients of Great Hymn Writing. Thanks for sharing!