An “Alleluia” Chorus
Hymn #64 — “On This Day of Joy and Gladness”
Text and music: Leroy J. Robertson (1896-1971; LDS)
Tune name: ALLELUIA
At last, I think we’ve escaped from the labyrinth of the sealed portion of the hymnal, or at least, most of it. David Bowie and all those puppet goblins were nipping at our heals….
This fine hymn by Leroy Robertson was written for the youth of the church. At the time it was composed, Robertson was the chairman of the General Church Music Committee.
As the Church was encouraging the formation of youth choruses, something that would be nice to resurrect, Robertson wanted to write a special song of praise for these youth choirs and Hymn #64 was the result. (Davidson, 94).
There are several great examples of strong writing in this hymn.
From the start, there’s a sense of praise and verve brought on by the harmony, especially the pedal G in the bass part. The rising quarter note tune followed by the dotted-quarter eighth in addition to suspended pedal G sound is what gives the opening that celebratory sound. And the dotted quarter-eighth on the word “gladness” is a rhythmic seed for later development.
We get a bit more of the “gladness” dotted quarter eighth figure right away on “praise” and “holy.” And then the tenor realizes what’s going on and joins in the fun on “name,” but with a special addition of the C#.
The first phrase comes to an end with that tenor C#-D and the second phrase begins with some very familiar music. In fact, if you look closely, you’ll notice that the next 6 beats are nearly identical to beats 3 through 8 at the beginning of the piece. In other words, the text “In this sacred” that starts phrase 2 is set to almost exactly the same music as the opening text (minus the first word) “this day of joy…” The only difference is that “this day of joy” begins with an F# in the soprano and “In this sacred” starts with a D. But every other note is precisely the same.
Do you see it? They are offset by 1 beat. But it’s the same music. What a clever way to start the 2nd phrase of the hymn. Take the strong opening line, offset it by 1 beat, and use the 6-beat melodic figure to lead towards the melodic climax of the first half of the piece. It stays fresh because of the rhythmic displacement. Now that it starts on beat 1, that puts different importance and emphasis on different beats. So we have a seemingly new tune, but it sounds awfully familiar.
Before we get to the chorus, notice one last little detail. remember how the piece began with that pedal G in the bass? That’s a recognizable feature of this hymn. So, why not use that technique again, and why not consider using it in a different voice? We get a bit of that at the end of the 2nd line going to the 3rd line in the tenor part, “the promise shall be…” And as soon as the 3rd line begins, the alto joins in the pedal position on G. It brings a cohesiveness to the opening phrases.
Now the composer’s dilemma is what material to present in the chorus. A typical thought process could be…”Do I introduce new melodic material? A new melody? Or can I use some bits of the melody I’ve already written to make a quasi-new tune in the chorus? Are there any interesting rhythmic motives or melodic kernels I can use and develop to give it a sense of the new but keep it feeling and sounding like the same piece of music?
Have a look at the 1st “Alleluia.” Do you recognize that melodic motive? Where have we heard that before? Bar 4 is the first time we hear that rhythm. So Robertson, ever the “developer” takes that motive and goes to town with it. He makes a quick trip past E major and A minor finally rounding out the phrase with a chromatic descending bass and a familiar cadence. Compare bar 6 in line 4 to bar 2 in line 2. Ah! We’re back on familiar ground. and the rest of the hymn is a copy of the 2nd phrase of the the first half of the hymn creating firm bookends around the piece.
What I like about the chromatic descending bass on “Bright and clear our voices,” apart from the fun chromaticism, is that it’s sort of a mirror image of the opening phrase of the hymn. Rather than step upwards by step from low to high, the bass, taking it’s cue from the opening tune does the same thing in the opposite direction. To make it even stronger, this descending mirror bass line is accompanying a melody line that goes up and up before resolving at the cadence. Very strong writing. It’s motivic, it develops itself, it has climaxes, it has great contrary shape throughout. Excellent A+ writing!
That’s all for today. We’ll be back tomorrow with a somewhat quirky hymn and a bit of asymmetry. See you then!
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Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”
by Jason Gunnell, Organist
This is a fabulous hymn native to our tradition. It is a tremendous example of a hymn or praise, celebration, and worship. Abridged and adapted from an anthem Leroy Robertson wrote entitled “Song of Praise,” Robertson’s daughter related that her “father always loved to set to music the Hebrew word Alleluia, probably because of its inherently beautiful sounds, its historical importance, and its meaning (‘Praise Ye the Lord’); it is the key word to the entire text. This is a song of joy and promise, characteristic of his profound love of the gospel.” (Davidson, 94.) The text reflects this love of the gospel and desire to praise the Lord, and the music is perfectly suited to communicate this idea.
Though marked in ¾ time, the tempo suggestion correctly (I think) suggests to us that this hymn is in one. The pulse in one allows the music to have a forward thrust that keeps the interest going and provides lovely movement to the great melody. The suggested tempo at the fast end is a fantastic tempo for this piece, and I’d push to be able to play it around that dotted-half note equal to 56 beats per minute. That gives the tune a wonderful lilt that fits the text so ably. (I have been thinking a bit about these tempo suggestions, and I think that it is important to make every exertion to be able to play these hymns at these tempos, as these tunes definitely work best at a certain tempo. However, much more important is the ability to confidently play the hymns for singing in our meetings. Therefore, it is better for confident and secure playing over a proper tempo, but I would implore the aspiring and called organist to make every effort to magnify your calling and practice these hymns on the organ until you can achieve confident and secure playing of any hymn at any tempo. You and those you play for will be blessed immensely for this effort, as hymn singing is the most important thing we do musically in our meetings.) I would use a nice, bright registration. A principal chorus (not using any other 8’ stops to fill out the fundamental sound) and mixture, employing the high-pitched mixture as well.
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’
Possible Final Verse Additions:
Swell: Mixture (if taken off for second verse), Hautbois 8’, Trumpet 8’ for Alleluia’s
Pedal: Posaune 16