First in line for the chopping block

First in line for the chopping block

Hymn #12 -- 'Twas Witnessed in the Morning Sky

Text: G. William Richards (b. 1918; LDS)
Music: H. Walford Davies (1869-1941); altered
Tune name: SOLEMN MELODY

Up to this point, I've discussed a few hymns of questionable quality. But I've yet to see a hymn that I feel, without reservation, should get the chopping block in the new go around...until now.

*Note of General Clarification: 

Let me be entirely clear. I'm the first composer to raise my hand and admit that sometimes, what I write is total crap. Sometimes it needs to go right into the dung heap. If I am at times harsh or expect more of the composers who have written sub-par hymns, know that I am the sever with myself and the music I write, especially the sacred music as it serves a much more significant and more important role than self-aggrandizement. I am vicious when it comes to revisions of my own music. I take the lead from composers like Chopin and Brahms who only ever published something when they were sure it was perfect! And Brahms spent the last week of his life burning all his sketches. He didn't want his imperfections found by some musicologist and published as an interesting study, or as a Posthumous work of which he vehemently disapproved. 

What I'm trying to do with this blog is NOT to berate composers who have written LDS hymns. What I'm trying to do is offer help to those who want to write their own LDS hymn. So, my nitpicking and "Cardinal red pen" marking mania are meant to draw attention to things that modern hymn-writers should beware or take note of as good or bad or excellent or slipshod hymn-writing. I want to help you build a toolbox so when you're writing, you have your little shoulder angel watching out for you.

Ok, enough of that.

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The text of this hymn is very appropriate and full of Restoration verve. And most of the music is quite nice. But H. Walford Davies commits the Cardinal sin not once, but twice in his adaptation of this hymn. 

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The music starts out convincingly and colors the pause of the half-way point of Line 1 with a diminished chord on B-natural resolving to the 5 chord. The melody comes to a climax and the error jumps out to grab us. A big, fat, parallel 5th on the word "earthward" between the alto and tenor voice. The B-flat of the tenor makes a perfect 5th with the F in the alto. Then, the alto steps down to an E as the tenor steps down in the exact same motion to the A, another perfect 5th. 

Then, after giving an excellent start to the 2nd Line, HE DOES IT AGAIN!! Mama mia!

The thing is, it's a super easy fix. It just requires a little re-voicing and the problem is solved. Here are 2 possible solutions, one for each of the offending parallel 5ths. #1 is for the word "earthward" and #2 is for the word "joyful" at the end of line 2.

In both cases, rather than have the tenor step down to the A, causing the parallel 5th, just keep the common tone. Keep the B-flat. It fits in both chords. Problem solved. Easy!

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I assume Mr. Davies didn't have an editor or someone to run his hymn by to check for errors. This is 1st draft error kind of stuff. And this is why I think the hymn should get the chop. We can do better than this. We don't need basic part writing and voice leading errors like this in our hymnal. 

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Other than these 2 issues, and the bit of adjacent voice crossing at the beginning of the final line, I think this music is quite nice. (The voice crossing happens in the soprano and alto. The first notes, the F and E-flat, both resolve to a unison D. Technically, the soprano had to cross over where the alto was on the E-flat to get to the D. It's a minor offense and not nearly as worrisome as the blatant parallel 5ths.) And there's another nice diminished 7th chord in the last line of the "-tions" of "nations." 

There's potential here for sure. But those parallel 5ths. I just can't let those pass. ("YOU, SHALL, NOT, PASS!" -- Gandalf)

That's all for today. Tune in tomorrow for a bit of an oddity.

Have a good one!

Doug