How A Few Small Tweaks Can Take a Hymn Up a Notch

How A Few Small Tweaks Can Take a Hymn Up a Notch

Hymn #77 — “Great Is the Lord”

Text: Eliza R. Snow (1804-1887; LDS)
Music: Ebenezer Beesley (1840-1906; LDS)
Tune name: EBENEZER

Wasn’t General Conference great?! I really enjoyed it. And there was lots of wonderful music.

I especially enjoyed the 2 non-hymns we heard. But my favorite number was the closing hymn. The music is from Hymn #337, but the words were written by President Nelson himself. He presented it in conference several years ago in his talk “Sweet Hour of Prayers.” You can read more about it here.

https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2003/04/sweet-power-of-prayer?lang=eng

Today’s hymn is a fine, bold hymn. I really like the internal unison phrases. We often get them at the start of a phrase, but starting with a full chord and then going to a brief unison passage is a nice way to change it up a bit.

However, there are 4 things that I think could make the hymn a bit stronger.

#1

The tempo marking is, again, way too slow. The half-note beat needs to be between 92-96 for my taste.

#2

The opening chord works really well for verse 1, but the text of verses 2 through 4 suggest up beats before the strong down beat. Why not provide an up beat for those verses?

And, if the up beat route is taken, that will require a couple alterations to the text in bar 1. I’ve written it out below.

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The same issue occurs at bar 8. Verse 1 works better without a pickup. So, why not score it that way?

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#3

You may have noticed that in my version of bar 8 (above) I changed the rhythm slightly in the 2nd half of the bar. After the lovely dotted-quarter eighth-not figure in bar 5, I hear bars 8, 10, and 12 with the same rhythm in the 2nd half of the bars, dotted-quarter eighth-note.

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#4

I like the tune tune a lot. But it poses a problem. The range is a 12th, from low C to high F. Why not transpose the whole thing down a whole step to the key of B-flat?

Doing so will be much more comfortable for a congregation and it will not lose any of its verve. That’s what I’d do. A high F is just not a good idea for our congregations. We have a hard enough time getting every one to sing. Scoring a high F just makes it worse.

The hymn sounds great in B-flat. The bass part is perhaps too low now with the low F, but that’s not as much of an issue as the melody hitting the high F, at least in my book.

That’s all for today. Tomorrow we’ll get out our trumpets and have some fun with a great fanfare!

Have a good one!

Doug


Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

So we have here the second hymn in a row with the tune by Ebenezer Beesley. An interesting juxtaposition of tunes by the same composer, as the first is rather a dud, and the second is utterly fantastic as a tune. I think that this tune is a perfect musical setting for this text!

I think Eliza Snow’s name also belongs in the discussion of greatest LDS hymn-text writers. This printing of the hymn only uses four of the eight original verses and engages in a bit of reordering of the verses. I don’t think it would hurt to have put all the verses in the hymnal, but I have made my feelings known about that in my previous observations on hymns.

I find the use of unison singing in the harmonization of this tune to be very powerful in a declamatory manner. I also love the ascending nature of the tune and the sequence in the second half of the tune.

I know that Doug is going to gripe about the F in the tune, but I love it. It serves as a wonderful climax to the melody, and if the key were any lower, it wouldn’t have the same energy and brilliance that serves the tune so well. (I also think that these sneaky high notes serve to show that folks can sing higher than they think, as congregations seem to be able to get up there, just as with the F in The Morning Breaks) I think there is much to like and much to emulate about this hymn. I find it to be a wonderful example of pairing of text and tune and a really fine example of great hymn writing and harmonization.

I am glad to see that this hymn is in two in the hymnal, as it well should be! The affect suggestion of “with dignity” doesn’t quite seem to match this particular hymn. I think better words are proclaiming, declaring, resolutely, or exultantly. I think those are better words to convey the message of this hymn than just with dignity.

A great tempo for this hymn half note equal to 80 beats per minute, which is just a bit faster than the recommendation. A strong registration employing a plenum is proper for this great hymn.

Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Mixture (use the lower-pitched mixture between this and the Swell), Flute 8’
Swell: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Flute 8’, Mixture
Pedal: Principal 16’, 8’, 4’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’, Hautbois 8’
Sw/Gt, Sw/Ped

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Mixture, Trumpet 8’
Swell: Mixture, Bassoon 16’, Trumpet 8’
Pedal: Bourdon 32’, Posaune 16’