An interview with the eminent professor of hymnology, Herr Daric Kirchenbank [16/341]
Hymn #16 -- What Glorious Scenes Mine Eyes Behold
Text: Anonymous (ca. 1840)
Music: Ebenezer Beesley (1840-1906; LDS)
Tune name: ABRAM
I'd like to introduce you to a dear friend and former mentor of mine, Herr Professor Doktor Daric Kirchenbank. I met Prof. Kirchenbank while living in Poland and engaging in post-doctorate studies at the Chopin University of Music.
When I first met Prof. Kirchenbank, I was a bit intimidated. He's a large man with a gruff demeanor. His booming voice and heavy German accent make him all the more imposing. But what made me tremble in my boots while attending his classes was his absolutely harsh, acerbic, white-hot, wickedly brutal, zero tolerance for anything less than Bach-like perfection in voice leading. Writing a parallel 5th or 8va in his class turned him into a real life, short-fused stick of dynamite.
But he means well. I learned a ton from him. And he's so kindly agreed to participate in our blog discussion about LDS hymns. I love getting a fresh point of view from an expert like Prof. Kirchenbank.
So today's analysis will take place in an interview format. I spoke on the phone with him and recorded our discussion about Hymn #16.
One quick word of warning. He is not for the week hearted. As I mentioned, he can have an incredibly sharp tongue. If you have a hard time with criticism, you might want to skip this post altogether and come back tomorrow. He can be brutal. So, fair warning. He's a firey one. You might be offended by his approach. And because his accent is so thick, he can be hard to understand sometimes. Ok, enough of that, you've been warned.
And now, without further ado, Herr Doktor Professor Daric Kirchenbank.
DR. PEW: Welcome, Professor Kirchenbank! It's so great to have you with us as we analyze another LDS hymns. You taught me so much while I was in Poland. I can't wait for my friends to learn from you.
PROF. KIRCHENBANK: Ah, ya, ya! I'm zo glad to be hier mit you und your little Mormon friendz. Danke.
DR. PEW: Ok, let's jump right in. Today we're taking a look at Hymn #16 in the LDS hymnal, "What Glorious Scenes Mine Eyes Behold."
PROF. KIRCHENBANK: Ya. I don't know why you pick zo boring a hymn for me to look at. Fur me, eet is not a very goot hymn at all. I don't know vhat dis Herr Beesley vas tinking vhen he compohzed this hymn. I am tinking he must have been kzrazy or somting.
DR. PEW: Ah, well. Ok. Let's look at it. As usual, you don't mince any words, Professor.
PROF. KIRCHENBANK: Nein, nein. I don't have any time fur boring hymns. I vant to find the great hymns. Und I vonder, did Herr Beesley write any other hymns in your book? I hope they are not zo boring like dis one.
DR. PEW: Yes, he did write others. Actually, we have 12 of his hymns in our hymnal. Did you see my post about Hymn #5, "High on the Mountain Top"? This is one of my favorites. And it's an excellent hymn. I think even you would approve.
PROF. KIRCHENBANK: Ah, ya, ya! I am tinking that I remember dis post about the mountain and the svitchbaks und things like that.
DR. PEW: Yeah, that's the one.
PROF. KIRCHENBANK: Ah, ok, ok. Zo he is not a Wienerschnitzel composer after alles.
DR. PEW: No, not at all. Some consider him to be one of the greatest hymn writers in the LDS tradition.
PROF. KIRCHENBANK: Ah, ok, ok. I give him benefit of doubt, if you zay zo.
DR. PEW: So, Professor, what is it about this hymn that you don't like?
PROF. KIRCHENBANK: Zo, it ees hard to zay vhat exactly is wrong mit dis hymn. I can’t really put on my finger that it ees. I zee no parallel fifth or octave. It ees gut that I don’t find dis because I vould probably go krazy. You know I can’t shtand dose parallel fifths and octaves.
DR. PEW: Yeah, I know what you mean. I can’t really put my finger on what I don’t care for in this hymn either. It’s hard to say. I don’t think I’ve ever sung this hymn in church. And though the text is very nice and very appropriate for our congregation because it refers a lot to the Book of Mormon, the music seem very bland to me. Actually, there is one spot that kind of stand out to me as something I would avoid if I was writing this hymn.
PROF. KIRCHENBANK: Oh? Vhere ees dis spot you don’t like zo much?
DR. PEW: It’s most of the 3rd line. The text “All thing appear divinely new.” He sits on the D major chord for far too long for my taste.
PROF. KIRCHENBANK: Ya, ya. I totally agree mit you. I don’t know vhy he waste zo much time on dis one chord. Already his melody ist kind of boring. Doesn’t really go anywhere special. Und then he make it vorse by zitting for 4 bars on da same khord. Dis is why I vas tinking he vas krazy or someting. But vee know he can comphoze a great hymn like number 5. It ees hard to believe this hymn vas comphozed by the same comphozer. But, o well. It ees not zo eazy to comphoze great hymn.
DR. PEW: That’s for sure. I find it to be some of the most difficult writing I do.
PROF. KIRCHENBANK: Ah, ya, ya. Fur shure.
DR. PEW: It’s hard because I want to write something fresh. Something new. But also something that will really enhance the worship experience. Something that taps into the deep tradition of Bach and the other master hymn writers. I want it to have motion, but not too much to distract. I want it to be enjoyable to sing. I want the altos and tenors to have fun parts too. And I want to stay true to my compositional voice even though I’m writing in a tradition that’s hundreds of years old. This is really hard to do. And you only get 8 or 16 bars, sometimes 20 or 24 for a longer, 2-page hymn.
PROF. KIRCHENBANK: Ah, ya, ya. You make zome very goot points. Und I remember how vhen you come to my class, you write some hymns that vere too busy. Too many busy notes. But we vorked together and you now wrote many goot hymns. I think my favorite is your hymn “Savior of the Sheep,” or zometing like this. Vhat is it called?
DR. PEW: “Savior of the Wandering Sheep.” Yeah, that’s the one. Oh, thank you Professor. That means so much to me coming from you. That’s a special hymn for me. It’s from my cantata “The Good Shepherd.” I think I spent as much time writing just that hymn as I did writing the rest of the 30 minute cantata. It had to be perfect. I think I just might have pulled it off.
PROF. KIRCHENBANK: Ya, ya, fur shure. I am tinking it ees one of da best new hymn I am zeeing. You should zee if dees Mormons will publish it in da new hymnbuk.
DR. PEW: Ah, thank you so much! Yes, I’m definitely planning to submit it for their consideration.
PROF. KIRCHENBANK: Goot. Goot.
DR. PEW: Well, Professor, is there anything else you’d like to say about this hymn, Hymn #16?
PROF. KIRCHENBANK: Nein, nein. I don’t really have anyting else to zay. I am tinking that I already forget how it goes. My mind haz a hard time to remember dis because I am tinking it is zo boring. Und I’m shure there is zome Schwester or Bruder in your Mormon Church who still like dis hymn. But I don’t like it. I am tinking it should not be in da new hymnbuk.
DR. PEW: Ok. Well, thank you Professor for joining us today. I hope you’ll come back again soon.
PROF. KIRCHENBANK: I love to kome bach. But maybe you pick better hymn next time.
DR. PEW: Ok. It’s a deal.
Well, that’s all we have time for today. As you can see, the Professor didn’t have too much to say about this pretty obscure hymn. I’ll definitely bring him back again as we continue our journey through the hymnal.
Thanks for tuning in. Come back tomorrow. We’ll have a look at the first Eliza R. Snow hymn in the book.
Have a good one!
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