A Congregational Hymn About Congregational Hymns
Text: Penelop Moody Allen (b. 1939; LDS)
Music: Newel Kay Brown (b. 1932; LDS)
Tune name: DENTON
Why do we sing as a congregation? What’s the point?
And isn’t that kind of silly to write a congregational hymn about congregational hymns?
Ok, so I’m playing ‘devil’s advocate’ a little here.
There are more important things than music in the Church. That’s for sure.
As a teacher of mine taught us at BYU-Idaho, “we do not worship at the altar of music. We worship at the altar with music.”
There are some beautiful lines in this hymn about worshiping God with “songs of praise" … “in words and music give our thanks” … “a heartfelt song by righteous ones is prayer” … “a hymn unites us” … “glad hymns were sung by seed of Abraham” … “the Saints shall sing, when Christ shall come.”
The First Presidency sums it up beautifully in the Preface to the 1985 hymnal.
“Inspirational music is an essential part of our church meetings. The hymns invite the Spirit of the Lord, create a feeling of reverence, unify us as members, and provide a way for us to offer praises to the Lord.
“Some of the greatest sermons are preached by the singing of hymns. Hymns move us to repentance and good works, build testimony and faith, comfort the weary, console the mourning, and inspire us to endure to the end.
“We encourage all members, whether musically inclined or not, to join with us in singing the hymns.”
I LOVE it when I hear a man or woman or child who can’t carry a tune in a bucket to save their lives belting out the hymns.
Too many big headed musicians have dampened too many willing voices because of sour looks and harsh or sarcastic words to those less talented than themselves.
SHAME ON YOU!!!
Music is inclusive. Especially congregational worship music.
Ok, so you sang with so and so and went on tour with so and so and performed at such and such a venue and on and on.
WELL LA-DI-FRICKIN’ DA!
That doesn’t give you the right to snuff out the enthusiasm of anyone just because they’re not as polished or refined or have a stick up there … like you do…
Sorry…I’m getting a little excited. I just HATE this arrogant attitude that’s all too common amongst trained musicians in our congregations. It’s RIDICULOUS!
We should be the ones encouraging people to sing more. Or even just to speak the text while others sing, if they’re not comfortable singing.
There have 2 requirements for people who want to sing in my ward choir. When I tell people this, they get a little nervous. I’m sure they think I’m going to say something like … “you have to have a degree in music and have at least 10 years performance experience.”
I want everybody who has even the slightest desire to sing. So here are my 2 rules, if you want to be in my choir.
You have to either have, be working to have, or wanting to have a testimony of the Gospel.
You have to open your mouth and sing. Whatever comes out, I’ll take it.
Some of us need to work a little harder to get over ourselves.
The point of music in church is not to show off. The point of music in church is to serve. To “sing the song of redeeming love.”
I don’t see anything about tone quality in any scripture references.
But I do see references about every knee bending and every tongue confessing that Jesus is the Christ. And maybe that will be done in a joyful noise, but it will certainly be done as a Congregation.
Doctrine and Covenants 84:96-98
96 For I, the Almighty, have laid my hands upon the nations… to scourge them for their wickedness.
97 And plagues shall go forth, and they shall not be taken from the earth until I have completed my work, which shall be cut short in righteousness—
98 Until all shall know me, who remain, even from the least unto the greatest, and shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, and shall see eye to eye, and shall fit up their voice, and with the voice together sing this new song, saying…
And then the Lord provides the text Himself for THE great congregational hymn we will all sing when His work is done.
Ok…let’s look at the music.
The opening phrases are strong. Like many of the hymns in this section, there is a bit of unison to get us started and some early high notes to raise our spirits and our voices.
The tune and harmony are fairly standard, but fine example of good hymn writing.
I’ll just draw your attention to a few bits of ear candy in the 2nd half.
When we “come before God’s presence,” we bring a special gift. A chord full of crunchy, chocolatey chewy goodness. The “-fore” of “before” is a mish-mash of non-chord tones between the 5 chord and the 5 chord with the 7th in the bass on “God’s” which acts as the path to the 1 chord in 1st inversion on “presence.”
Every note in that chord except for the bass is a non-chord tone. The soprano is an appoggiatura, the alto is a lower neighbor, and the tenor is also a lower neighbor.
The line ends with a nicely prepared cadence on the minor 6 chord, E minor. That’s why there’s all those D-sharps. They act as leading tones (aka, 7th scale degrees) to E minor.
The last line begins with a 1 chord, but it has a 7th on it and that 7th is lowered to an F-natural.
This is that chord we’ve talked about before that prepared a short landing on the 4 chord before the final cadence. It’s the kind of thing a composer uses to wrap it up, or to give it the “coming home” feeling.
I think it works really well with the text “express the heart too full to speak.” Which, by the way, is another reason why we sing in church.
Not only does the line begin with that altered 1 chord, but the phrase ends on the 4 chord with a fermata preceded directly by another 1 chord with the lowered 7th on the word “to.”
And the final cadence offers one last lovely moment. Have a look at the soprano. The 2nd to last chord is a 5 chord. But, it’s missing the key feature of the 5 chord, the 7th scale degree, in this case, the F#. Rather than leaping down to the F# after the A, the composer decided to anticipate the final cadence by sounding the G just a smidge early.
This turns the 2nd to last chord into a sort of reverse suspended kind of sound. In a suspension one of the notes arrives late to the party as the F# in the tenor does on the “-ul-” of “exultant.” In this case, the soprano anticipates the return to the 1 chord and, tired of waiting for everyone else to get with the program, arrives on the 1st scale degree a bit early.
This one’s a keeper, for sure. It is a fine song of praise that praises songs of praise with praiseworthy songs of praise…
That’s all for today. Tune in tomorrow for another excellent old German hymn.
Have a good one!
P.S. I’m curious. Can you help me out?
In addition to being a composer, I’m also a conductor. I have lots of training and experience conducting orchestras and choirs.
I don’t tell you all that to boast, but to express that I think I can be helpful be helpful to you if you’re struggling in a calling where you are asked to conduct the hymns.
I’ve been thinking about offering a short video in each post about how to conduct the hymn of the day. Would this interest you? I’d love to know what you think.
Leave me a note in the comments section below and let me know what you think about this idea. Thanks!
Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”
by Jason Gunnell, Organist
This hymn is a very nice, solid, LDS hymn. I think the tune fits the contour and message of the text extremely well. I think that the tune is especially well suited for a text about singing and hymns. It has an interesting and tuneful melody that I think is also memorable. It is nice to have a memorable melody for a hymn about hymns and singing!
This hymn has a much better pace and movement to it when executed in two, rather than four. The larger pulse gives it very nice forward motion and direction. Half note equal to 60-62 (that is quarter note equal to 120-124) is a nice, joyful tempo for this exultant hymn. This hymn I think calls for a nice, bright registration, with the inclusion of some nice chorus reeds for the final verse.
Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Mixture
Swell: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, String 8’, Mixture
Pedal: Principal 16’, 8’, 4’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’, 16’ Reed
Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Mixture (if removed during an inner verse), Trumpet 8’
Swell: Mixture (if removed during an inner verse), Hautbois 8’
Pedal: Posaune 16’