2 Small Changes that Transform Hymn #55 from Good to Great
Hymn #55 — “Lo, the Mighty God Appearing!”
Text: William Goode (1762-1816)
Music: Evan Stephens (1854-1930; LDS)
Tune name: QUINCY
Powerful unison sections.
Bright, crisp tempo (though, I want it up in the quarter = 120 or 126 range).
Energetically places tessitura to match the glory of the text.
Hymn #55 has all the right ingredients of a great hymn.
So what’s missing?
Nothing, really. There are just 2 short sections that don’t mix well.
It’s like baking a cake with tofu. You can get close to the taste and texture of real cake, but it’s never quite the same.
I’m referring to the opening 8 beats of line 3 and the opening 4 lines of line 4.
This kind of writing has come up before in the hymnal.
I find these doubled parallel 3rds frustratingly annoying in a hymn texture. This kind of choral writing—and that’s what it is, choral writing, not congregational writing—works splendidly when there is a full accompaniment underneath it.
There are many moments in the great choral repertoire and in more recent fine arrangements when the choir is asked to sing similar doubled parallel 3rds. With full harmony to support it, it works like a charm. It achieves nearly the same honed intense volume level as unison singing but with a bit more color. The orchestra or organ beneath keep the full harmonic spectrum solid.
Without the full harmonic accompaniment as support, the music suddenly turns tasteless like tofu. It doesn’t work for me in a congregational setting.
So, I’ve written a suggested alteration to these passages. Here they are:
For my taste, this method is more rewarding in a congregational setting.
That’s all I have to say about that.
I hope you have a great Sunday!
P.S. Stay tuned later today for a bonus post—”How To Help Your Ward Choir Sing In Tune.” I had a few thoughts and figured I’d share them along with a printable cheat sheet. Cheerio!
Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”
by Jason Gunnell, Organist
In contrast to my more tepid responses to many of the hymns before this, I think this hymn is fantastic! The text is great the tune goes so well with it. There are some characteristics that I think make this tune very strong to communicate this text. The opening phrase in unison I think is a very strong way to communicate a proclamation. I think the parallel thirds in the third and fourth lines also work well in a proclamatory manner. To begin each line with two ways of proclaiming the text through music really works well to energize the hymn.
This hymn wants to go quite a bit faster than the suggested tempo range. Quarter note equal to 126 beats per minute is a nice tempo in order to have energy and move the tune along. I very robust registration is called for here, and I would consider using the Trumpet 8’ on the first verse with a principal chorus to low-pitch mixture, taking the trumpet off for the inner verses, and then having a big registration for the last verse. A 16’ manual stop is extremely appropriate here, especially on the last verse.
Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Mixture
Swell: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Flute 8’, Nazard 2 ⅔’, Mixture (choose the lower pitched-mixture between this and the Great Mixture…, Trumpet 8’, Bassoon 16’ (?)
Pedal: Principal 16’, 8’, 4’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’, 16’ Reed
Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Mixture, Trumpet 8’
Swell: Mixture, Contra Trompette 16’
Pedal: 32’ Flue and Reed, Heavy Reed 16’