How to Follow the 'Latter-day' Yellow Brick Road

How to Follow the ‘Latter-day’ Yellow Brick Road

Hymn #76 — “God of Our Fathers, We Come unto Thee”

Text: Charles W. Penrose (1832-1925; LDS)
Music: Ebenezer Beesley (1840-1906); LDS)
Tune name: WOOBURN GREEN

For the first of 2 Ebenezer Beesley hymns, we have a lovely setting of a text by Charles w. Penrose. Penrose’s text “School Thy Feelings” is one of my all time favorites.

Actually, I have an arrangement of “School Thy Feelings” for 2-part mens choir and either piano or organ. If you’re interested, you can have a look here.

https://www.douglaspew.com/school-thy-feelings-choir

The text of hymn #76 is another lovely Penrose text. I like how Beesley takes advantage of the core message of the text, “never from thee let us stray!” by repeating the “never” and “ever” in the chorus. It’s kind of like our own version of “Follow the Yellow Brick Road.”

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I’m not happy with the suggested tempo marking. I think it’s WAY too slow. This should be joyful. As the tempo slows, it feels like we’re questioning our “never” “ever” statements. Like they each have a question mark. I much prefer a quarter = 132, in 1 feel, to this hymn. It gives it that joyful “whistle-while-we-work-and-never-stray” feeling to me.

I like how the tun begins in by circling around the A and then decides to settle down to the A. The next phrase starts by circling around the A again, but this time it decides to go up to land on the high C.

By the 3rd phrase, “Grant us the joy…” it begins on the high C with similar circling motions, then resolves down to a G and then a low C by the end of the verse.

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I have no issues with the harmony at all, other than wishing it was a bit more chromatic in the 3rd phrase. It doesn’t “need” to be. It’s fine how it is. But the composer in me wants to take advantage of the space by adding something new to the mix rather than only the same chords we’ve already used.

Considering what’s to come in the chorus, mostly more of the same kind of harmony, I like the idea of switching things up a bit in phrase 3. Though, to debate the other side of this argument, the text gives off signals of “never straying…” …so… maybe it’s more correct to stick with the same kind of harmony.

Well, regardless, I might add a little more color to phrase 3 like this:

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As for the chorus, as I mentioned above, I like the repeated “never” and “ever.” I also like the quick augmented chord we get. The one with the G#. There aren’t many augmented chords in the hymnal.

If you’re new to augmented chords, what you do is take a major chord. A root, a third in the middle and a fifth on top. Then, raise the fifth by a half step. That’s an augmented chord. And the raised fifth wants to go up again by half step. In this case, to the A. Which it does.

All in all a nice, solid hymn. The “core” message is clear. It’s very singable by a congregation. There’s not a ton of motion in the tune, but it has enough interplay with tendency tones to lead us toward each cadence without getting stuck in the mud.

It’s not a zinger, but it’s a good solid hymn.

More tomorrow. This time Ebenezer Beesley teams up with Eliza R. Snow. She always has something wonderful to say in her hymns.

See you then!

Doug

P.S. Click below to subscribe to these posts and I’ll send you my free report: “9 Ingredients of Great Hymn Writing.


Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

The text for this hymn is a very fine text in my estimation by Charles Penrose, who also penned another fantastic text that we never use in our hymnal, the text for School Thy Feelings. Though I find this to be a very good text, I don’t find the pairing with this tune to be of much help to it. I find the tune to be rather dull and pedantic.

It seems to plod along and not ever go anywhere. The chorus is especially so, with it sitting lower in the vocal range for the repetitions of “never” and “ever,” and the plodding nature of the rhythm. Boosting the tempo does little to increase the interest or energy of the tune. I’ve almost always found this tune very boring, with not much that one can do with it to have it be otherwise.

One of the dangers with this hymn is that it is too often played far too slow. As the organist, it is helpful to feel the pulse of this hymn in one. That gives a fighting chance for the melody to move along without dragging. I find the suggested tempo once again far too slow.

As I already indicated that I think the tune is rather dull, going at 88 beats per minute would only strengthen that observation. I find that I would want to go at about 116-118 beats per minute to get a good, flowing tempo for this hymn. A “resolute” registration could include chorus reeds, and perhaps reserving the mixture for the final verse.

Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Flute 8’
Swell: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, String 8’, Flute 8’, Hautbois 8’
Pedal: Principal 16’, 8’, 4’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’
Sw/Gt, Sw/Ped

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Low-pitched Mixture
Swell: Bassoon 16’
Pedal: Contra Bassoon 16’