How A Horde of Wild Chilean Mormons Taught Me to Sing

How a Horde of Wild Chilean Mormons Taught Me to Sing

Hymn #52 — “The Day Dawn Is Breaking”

Text: Joseph L. Townsend (1849-1942; LDS)
Music: William W. Clayson (1840-1887; LDS)
Tune name: MANCHESTER

Hymn #52 brings back fond memories of my mission in Northern Chile. Well, actually, the first memories are not so fond.

We sang this hymn ALL. THE. TIME. on my mission. But it was often way too slow. Part of the problem was that it was really rare to find a ward that had a pianist. Most of the time, at least during my first 6 months, we sang all they hymns without a pianist. None of the chapels had organs in them. So when it came time to sing, the music leader would wave their arm and everyone would start singing in whatever key the Spirit moved them to sing in. It was utter chaos for about the entire first verse.

By the start of the 2nd verse, we were down to about 3 simultaneous keys, and that’s where we stayed for the remainder of the hymn. But what was great was, when we sang “The Day Dawn Is Breaking,” it was like attending a Chile vs Argentina futbol match in the big stadium. They sang from their toes, full body, throat tearing, all out war-cry kind of singing. They really love this hymn. But they sang it SO slow. That got to me after a while. Enthusiastic yet slow singing. Kind of strange.

I was transferred back to Antofagasta (the main city in the northern region) to work in the office and finally was able to attend a ward that had a piano. I was happy to accompany the hymns and hoped I could finally bring some order to the mad chaos I had tried to come accustomed to in Sunday services.

I laughed my head off after the first Sacrament meeting with my new assignment at the piano. We sang “How Great Thou Art” for the closing hymn. Person after person came up to me and told me how I had played it incorrectly.

“Um, hermano, I played the notes exactly how they’re written on the page.”

“No, no, no, 'Gringo, it goes like this…” And then they’d sing their own version of the opening of the chorus and sing some wacky notes. It was hilarious!

Pretty soon it was time to sing “The Day Dawn Is Breaking.” I’m pretty sure it got programmed at least twice a month in Sacrament meetings and then we’d sing it in Priesthood meeting and district meeting and zone meeting. We sang it a lot.

That fist time, though, I told myself I was going to really push the tempo. I wanted to see if I could convince them to sing at a more reasonable tempo.

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To my delight, I didn’t have to drag them along at all. This ward was apparently used to singing it at lightning fast speeds. Forget 3/4. The whole thing was in a crips 1. They sang the 3/4 part as if each measure was one compound beat of the 9/8 section. And it was so quick there was no time to pause for a tempo change. It was really fun! Chileans speak at lightning fast speeds too, which I think may account for their quick tempo. And every other place I went on my mission they did the “lightning” tempo. There must have been something wrong with that first congregation that sang it so slowly. I’m not sure.

Now it’s in my blood at the super fast tempo. I’ve gotten myself into trouble on multiple occasions when playing this hymn at the breakneck Chilean speed in an American Sacrament meeting. But I can’t do it any other way now. I’m hooked.

As for the composition of the hymn, it kind of reminds me of Hymn #3, “Now Let Us Rejoice.” It has the slightly low brow feel of a drinking song. And you know, I don’t mind at all. Any hymn that can get a congregation singing with the kind of vigor my wild Chileans sang is alright with me.

As for reverence, yes, we need to be reverent. But there’s also a time for enthusiasm. Why not light a fire in the congregations pants and get a little riled up. Isn’t’ the Gospel a bit riling? More than a bit. We might as well let our hair down and enjoy the ride.

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

Doug

P.S. I have a few openings in my calendar. I’d love to help some more of you out with hymn critiques. Click below, tell me a little about yourself and your original hymn or primary song, and I’ll send you some helpful comments and suggestions.


Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

To be honest, I don’t really like this hymn at all. I don’t like the sing-songy nature of the tune and definitely don’t like the switch between simple and compound meter. It appears in consulting Karen Davidson’s tome, that my opinion differs from J. Spencer Cornwall’s, but I am okay with this!

As with hymn #13 in which we discussed how one could handle the meter change, the best solution I think is to keep the same macro pulse. So this hymn for the ¾ section is best conceived in one (so three quarter notes in one pulse) and then keeping that same pulse for the compound section (thus three eighth notes in one pulse). In this hymn, playing in this manner does work to obfuscate the meter change, but to my ear, if the first section is felt in three (pulsing on each quarter note), it becomes quite plodding and pedantic. But that is just me. So a pulse of 60 beats (or pulses) per minute is a good tempo to match the sections. I would use a nice bright sound for registration, so a principal chorus to 2’ with the addition of a mixture to taste.

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

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Mixture
Swell: Mixture
Pedal: Reed 16’