Zion's poetess cries for vengeance

Zion's poetess cries for vengeance

Hymn #17 -- Awake, Ye Saints of God, Awake!

Text: Eliza R. Snow (1804-1887; LDS)
Music: Evan Stephens (1854-1930; LDS)
Tune name: WILLARD

Hymn #17 is the first of 10 in our 1985 hymnal that features a text by Eliza R. Snow. I find her hymn texts some of the most beautiful. For anyone wanting to read more of her poetry, you should check out this great collection of her poems, "Eliza R. Snow: The Complete Poetry." It's available on Amazon as a Kindle book. I've been making my way through it and have found many additional gems than the 10 we have in our hymnal.

We don't often talk this way anymore, but Hymn #17 brings us back to a time when the early church members expressed a desire for vengeance against those who persecuted them. We're often guilty today of taking for granted the fact that we have the right to live and worship as we please and the knowledge that we are generally accepted for our faith. I know I often take this for granted. 

Three of the original seven verses of Eliza's were removed when the 1985 hymnal was published. Karen Davidson says that this was done by the 1985 committee for two reasons. First, they were trying to avoid adding extra verses below the musical staves, to save space. Second, they didn't feel it was as important to portray the desire for vengeance as much as was depicted in the earlier printed versions of this hymn. 

Here are the original 2nd, 4th, and 6th stanzas of the poem.

He will regard his people's cry,
The widow's tear, the orphan's moan.
The blood of those that slaughtered lie
Pleads not in vain before his throne.

Then let your souls be stayed on God,
A glorious scene is drawing nigh;
Though tempests gather like a flood,
The storm, though fierce, will soon pass by.

Our God in judgment will come near;
His mighty arm he will make bare.
For Zion's sake he will appear;
Then, O ye Saints, awake, prepare!

It's a compelling, bold text. Even with the 4 verses that remain in our current hymnal, there is a strong sense of might and determination.

Let's discuss the music.

Generally speaking, I'm a little disappointed with Evan Stephens's music. It's fine. There are no errors. But for me, it falls short of the text. It also gives off the wrong feeling. And then there's the issue with the missing soprano line for 4 bars. 

The Meter

"He will Zion's bondage break." "The God of vengeance will not slumber long." Them's fightin' words! The music feels too gentle for these kinds of phrases. Because the hymn is in a triple meter, the 3/4 time signature, it lulls us into a less aggressive state. 

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The tempo marking, "Vigorously, quarter = 88-112" attempts to make up for the rollicking 3 feel. But I'm not convinced. I really want to be convinced that the singers mean business in this hymn. Looking at the text by itself, my mind starts conjuring up a "marching" kind of music. A hymn like #255, "Carry On" comes to mind. That's a march. All those dotted eighth and sixteenth figures keep us moving forward to the battle. And a march is always in 4 (or a fast 4 which ends up being in 2). 

The tune does have the muscular Sol-Do start to it, and a few dotted eighth and sixteenth note figures (3 of them), but it's hardly enough to overcome the lull brought on by the triple meter.

I tried playing through the hymn as if it had been composed on 2. It sounded much better right away. It marched. There are a few issues with turning it right over into duple meter (in 2 or 4), but those could be fixed easily.

Missing soprano part

As per my usual, I'm kind of annoyed by the missing soprano line from the end of the 2nd line until halfway through the 3rd line. It's as if we've called out the troops, started them up with a roaring chorus (or an imagined one as this triple meter makes it impossible to roar), and then paused them, mid-march, so the bad could get a spotlight. 

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No, no, no, no, no. We want the congregation to sing all together. We don't want the marching off to battle and half to be muzzled halfway through. That doesn't make any sense to me. 

Luckily the final phrase is quite strong with the return of the Sol-Do start to the tune, and then it steps up to emphasized notes on high D, and then the climax on the high E. That's quite nice. But not as nice as it would have been if it had its marching boots laced up instead of its dancing shoes on.

Well, that's about all I have to say today.

Tomorrow we'll have a look at a hymn that has what I think (need to double check) the biggest melodic leap of any melody in the whole hymnal. 

See you then!

Doug

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