A Little Soft In The Middle

A Little Soft In The Middle

Hymn #42 -- "Hail to the Brightness of Zion's Glad Morning!"

Text: Thomas Hastings (1784-1872)
Music: Edwin F. Parry (1850-1935; LDS)
Tune name: BRIGHTNESS

This hymn has several great elements, but I'm not sure they're put together in the most useful or convincing way.

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The text is strong. And even though verse 3 sounds like another Utah hymn, the poet was actually not LDS so the "desert" with "flowers...springing" is not referring to the Salt Lake Valley.

The tune of the first line is quite nice, but putting it together with the text feels a little on the clumsy side to me. For example, emphasizing the word "of" with a 2 eighth-note little melisma is a bit too much. I would have moved the "-ness" of "brightness"  to the right by 1 eighth to beat 3. Then I'd move the "of" over to the last eighth-note of the bar." That helps the clumsiness of the line a bit, but not completely.

I do love the little ending of the line. It's a little bit of 'barbershop' harmony.

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Most of line 2 is a nice average quality. One chord stands out as "fantastic." I wish more of this line had as many nice moments. It's the 2nd chord of the line on the word "to." The A-diminished chord brings a strong dissonance. But being scored on top of the pedal B-flat, it turns into a delicious little moment of tension and resolve. More of that, please!

Line 3 was original without tenor or bass parts. I'm glad it was updated, but I'm still pretty disappointed by this line. I was hoping that we'd get something really special in this line that would lead us to a climax in the 4th line. Instead, we get a pretty pedestrian back and forth between the 1 chord and the 4 chord. The barbershop moment and the A-diminished moment lead me to hear more coming in this line. Alas, it was not to be

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But line 4 does give us a great little gem right at the start that does lead to a climax. The tenor steps down from B-flat to A to A-flat to G. A nice little chromatic line going down while the tune steps up to the high E-flat. The steady bass on repeated B-flats gives the whole bar a nice 'coming home' feel as the hymn prepares to end.

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All in all, I'm not sure this hymn has enough in it to deserve it's place in the new hymnal. I feel like it's in an "in progress" stage. It needs a few more drafts to even out the imbalance of a couple really interesting bits with many less than interesting bits. It has potential, for sure. But it's not quite baked all the way through. 

That's all for today. 'Til tomorrow!

Doug

P.S. Are you sure your hymn is finished? Have you checked it for errors? Click below to download my Free Report: "The 'Is It Finished?' Checklist." 

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Commentary from "The Bench Warmer"

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

This section of hymns seems to work its way into and out of the sealed portion of the hymnal. I suspect this hymn is not scheduled very often for singing in our meetings. Of this hymn, J. Spencer Cornwall said “usually the most telling line in a successful hymn text is the first one. ‘Hail to the Brightness of Zion’s Glad Morning’ is a splendid example of this characteristic. After the exultant outbursts, the entire hymn continues with exclamatory gladness.” I must admit that I find the first line to be a bit of a mouthful. At least that is the initial reaction I have every time I open to this hymn. Karen Davidson remarks that for this hymnal, tenor and bass notes were added to the third line of this hymn. I appreciate that! I don’t think it would work well without them!

To bring out the joy and exuberance of this piece, it needs to be felt in a big one, where a whole measure is felt within one pulse. To be successful at this, the tempo must be brisk, or the pulse devolves into a quarter note pulse. Therefore a good tempo is in the range of quarter note equal to 120-128. It might seem brisk, but it is definitely worth practicing to be able to be proficient enough with this hymn at that tempo. It provides a good singing experience for congregation. I would aim for a nice, bright registration as well, not to thick (so not with a chorus reed, and perhaps not even with 8’ flutes…).

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

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Trumpet 8’ or
Swell: Trumpet 8’
Pedal: Reed 16’