An Apostle Rescued from 'Darkness'

An Apostle Rescued from 'Darkness'

Hymn #45 -- Lead Me into Life Eternal

Text: John A. Widtsoe (1872-1952; LDS)
MUSIC: ALEXANDER SCHREINER (1901-1987; LDS)
Tune name: PARKER

What a beautiful hymn! Any time an Apostle writes a hymn text, I pay attention. Yet this particular hymn and it's author, Elder John A. Widtsoe, had to be rescued from the 'Darkness' by the composer. 

Tabernacle Organist Alexander Schreiner, the composer of this hymn, revealed the journey this hymn took from dark to light.

"This hymn, written by Elder John A. Widtsoe, was originally called 'Father! Lead Me Out of Darkness,' and the music was composed by Evan Stephens. It was in the 1927 hymnbook. When the time came to revise the book, the Church Music Committee suggested that this hymn be left out, since it wasn't ever sung. I objected. After all, these were words written by an Apostle of the Lord. It was decided that I should approach Elder Widtsoe, proposing to change the title, which seemed negative, and adjust a few of the words.

"Elder Widtsoe said, 'You don't understand, Brother Schreiner. It is being sung by a nonmember. I don't want anybody to change the words. Nonmembers are in darkness.'

" 'But Elder Widtsoe,' I responded, 'when you go to a stake conference and give an inspirational and enlightening message to the Saints, how would you feel if the stake president announced that the closing hymn will be "Father! Lead Me Out of Darkness" '?

"Elder Widtsoe could then see the point of giving this fine hymn a positive title, with only the rearrangement of a few words. The change in words made problems for the meter of the song, however, so Tracy Cannon asked me to write new music to suit the new meter."

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As for the music, it is dignified and heartfelt. I quite enjoy it. There are 4 examples of good writing that I'd like to point out. And then there's one little mistake.

Example #1 - In the second bar of the piece the altos and tenors look like they have a problem. At first glance, it appears they are moving in parallel 5th motion. However, the first interval is a perfect 5th and the next interval is a diminished 5th. So, no problem at all. And the contrary motion between upper voices and the bass make it all the stronger.

Example #2 - At the end of the first line there is an A-major chord on the "-ly" of "holy." The F# is a neighbor tone and the G is the 7th of the chord. Normally 7ths, especially in outer voices are supposed to resolve down by step. I point this breaking of the rules as an example of how it can be tastefully done. I think the neighbor tone F# right before it makes us hear the G as if it had already take care of the resolution. I don't mind this broken rule at all in this case.

Example #3 - On the final chord of line one we have an interval of a 5th between soprano and bass. Not look at the first chord of line 2. It also has a 5th between soprano and bass. If this motion had occured mid phrase, it would definetly stick out. But as this is the end of one full phrase and the start of another, I have no problem with it. 

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Example #4 - On the word "Grant" in the second line there is an incomplete chord. We have 2 B's and 2 D's. Hmm, what chord is this? Is it a B-minor chord missing the F#? Or, is it a G-major chord missing the G. I hear is as a G-major chord missing the G. The harmonic progression supports the argument that this is a G-major chord. The most obvious place to put a G in the chord is in the tenor. Yet this causes parallel 5th between the soprano and tenor. So, wisely, Schreiner did not place a G in the tenor. Instead, he left it out completely because the voice leading guided him to this solution. Very nice.

Small Error - Unfortunately, there is an illegal parallel 5th between the "-ise" of "promise" and the word "rest" in the second line. The tenor and alto move in parallel 5th motion up a step. No good. The solution is quick and easy. Have the tenor carry the G over both chords. Done!

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I hope this hymn has a long life in our LDS hymnals. It's a beautiful and very active prayer, a prayer we all utter at some point, offering our whole hearts and service for His strength and watchful care. I only ask that the little correction mentioned above be made.

That's all for today. Have a good one!

Doug

P.S. Do you make these mistakes when writing a hymn or primary song? You'll want to double check before you submit. Click below to get my Free Report: "The 'Is I Finished?' Checklist." 

P.P.S. To see my complete harmonic analysis of Hymn #45, click the link below.


Commentary from "The Bench Warmer"

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

This hymn introduces us to another great hymn text writer in John A. Widtsoe. This beautiful prayer pairs perfectly with Alexander Schreiner’s tune. This hymn is a sublime example of the Augustinian saying that “he who sings prays twice!”

An interesting note while looking this hymn up: Alexander Schreiner wrote a primer for writing hymns entitled “Guidelines for Writing Latter-day Hymns.” It is very much worth reading and learning from!

https://www.lds.org/ensign/1973/04/guidelines-for-writing-latter-day-hymns?lang=eng

I think a tempo at the higher end of the suggestion on top of the hymn is a good tempo. It looks like I would play it around quarter note equal to 88 beats per minute. I would be very gentle in my registration as well, using 8’ foundation stops and maybe a 4’ flute. On hymns such as these, I am not always prone to adding something to the final verse, and occasionally will soften my registration, depending on what the text is communicating.

Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, Flute 8’
Swell: Principal 8’, Flute 8’, 4’, String 8’
Pedal: Subbass 16’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’
Sw/Gt, Sw/Ped

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Nothing, possible taking off the Principal 8’
Swell:
Pedal: