Our very own Mormon marching band

Our very own Mormon marching band

Hymn 21 -- Come, LIsten to a Prophet's Voice

Text: Joseph S. Murdock (1822-1899; LDS);
     verse four by Bruce R. McConkie (191501985; LDS)
Music: Joseph J. Daynes (1851-1920; LDS)
Tune name: CANNON

Like the first of the "Prophet" titled hymns (#19, "We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet"), Hymn #21 is not a "worship the prophet hymn." Some of these prophet hymns may rub some of our friends from other faiths the wrong way because, on the surface, it may look to them as if we are worshiping the prophet and forgetting about Jesus.

But a close look at both texts shows that we are pointing our thoughts and actions and prayers to God, not to the current or any past prophet. Hymn #19 is much more a prayer to God thanking Him for so many blessings and a demonstration of how "we feel it a pleasure to serve" Him. 

Hymn #20 is a slightly different angle. It has a strong missionary feel to it. We sing in the act of invitation to our families, our fellow church members, and friends all around us to come and see what God is doing among his children today through His mouthpiece on earth, the living prophet. 

The first line encapsulates this point; "Come, listen to a prophet's voice..." Why? To "hear the word of God." Not to draw attention to the prophet himself, but to learn how the "gloom of sullen darkness" that has "spread thru earth's extended space is banished by our living Head." And who is the living Head? Not the prophet. "...Our living Head, and God has shown his face."

Modern Apostle, Bruce R. McConkie added a fourth verse. His wife, Amelia McConkie, said that her husband "simply felt the three original verses left the thought incomplete, and so he wrote a fourth." (Our Latter-Day Hymns, pg. 50).

Verse four depicts the ultimate goal of church members and why we work so hard both to live the gospel ourselves and to spread the gospel message throughout the world. To obtain eternal glory. In other words, to live with God again someday. It rounds off the hymn beautifully.

Now, what about the music?

This is one of those hymns that makes me think about Mormon Missionary Zeal. It's like a hive of worker bees doing their duty with enthusiasm. The repetitive baseline notes give a sense of marching in step. We start with 9 D's in a row followed by 4 A's and returning to D.

The second line does almost the same thing. As is common, this 2nd line is nearly the same as the first with a slight alteration at the end finished the sentence. And the bassline acts almost identically. 9 D's followed by a quick detour to A by means of a B eighth note and a rounding-off of the cadence on the 5 chord, the A chord, with a D-E-A. 

After hearing nearly the same music for 2 lines, we expect something different in the 3rd line. But not so different that it sounds like a different hymn. The composer wants to keep the same feel, so we can expect more marching. But maybe instead of "left... left... left, right left..." maybe we'll get "right... right... right, left right..." And we do, in a way. It's as if a column of troops has divided off and gone the other direction. Their marching now starts on the dominant, the 5 chord, the A. We get 5 A's in a row, then 3 D's in a row, followed by a unifying step that brings the 2 ranks of troops back together with the unison "Who lived in days of yore." 

Returning to the nearly identical melody as lines 2 and 3, the bassline falls back into its rank and file in line 4 with 9 D's in a row, then 4 A's and a final D.

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The tune and its counterpoint point to the steady marching baseline make me think of a baton twirler leading the marching band through the parade. It leaps up the 1 chord, spins around with a little twist on the G#. Even the tenors get involved and do their own little twists on the E# to accompany the G#. Much of the melody is effectively written in 3rds or 6ths with the alto line. Again, it's as if they are marching in step with each other. The color guard is in sync with the baton twirler. 

There's nothing particularly noteworthy about the tune or the harmony. But the hymn is successful. It arouses that sense of purpose, of duty, of getting to work. I can just see myself back on my mission, getting ready for the day, heading out for another long but happy day of marching up and down the slopes of the Andes mountains in the desert of Northern Chile. Good times!

I like this hymn and I think it has a place in the new hymnal. It's not anything monumental. But it has that consistent, day after day, hard-working spirit to it that depicts our culture so well. 

That's all for today. Tomorrow we'll have a look at a hymn by my first composition teacher and the music editor of the 1985 hymnal.

See you!

Doug

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Commentary from "The Bench Warmer"

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

Just as I freely admit a bias toward tunes composed by organists, I am drawn to the words of apostles and prophets in our hymnal (see my words on Parley Pratt, for example). I think that the fourth verse addition by Bruce R. McConkie is an outstanding addition to this text by Joseph Murdock. I think the tune for this text is a good vehicle to communicate the message joyfully. I’m sure Doug will have much to say of the structure and composition of the hymn, but I find it to be a nice, singable tune. Joseph J. Daynes was the first Tabernacle Organist and also wrote the tune to another of my favorites, Hymn #149, a tune which should be familiar to those who listen to Music and the Spoken Word.

This is another hymn that is most successful in a broad two. This allows for the tune to dance and lilt, two characteristics that greatly aid in creating a joyful affect. That means that the quarter note is at about 120 beats per minute. I would register the principal chorus to mixture, adding the high mixture as well (but taking it off for the inner verses), and probably adding a trumpet on the final verse.

Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Mixture
Swell: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Larigot 1 ⅓, Mixture, Flute 8’ if needed
Pedal: Principal 16’, 8’, 4’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’
Sw/Gt, Sw/Ped

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Mixture, Trumpet 8’ (or the swell Trumpet, but probably not both)
Swell: Mixture, Trumpet 8’  (whichever one works better)
Pedal: 32, Reed 16’