How to cover up the boring bits of your hymn

How to cover up the boring bits of your hymn

Hymn #8 -- "Awake and Arise"

Text: Theodore E. Curtis (1872-1957; LDS)
Music: Carolee Curtis Green (b. 1940; LDS)
Tune Name: EMERSON

The is the youngest hymn we've seen so far. 

In 1984 when Carolee Curtin Green heard that the church was asking for members to submit new hymns for consideration in a new hymnal, she decided to set and submit a special hymn with a text written by her grandfather, Theodore Curtis. 

She said she was excited to team "up with [her] dear grandfather, who might be noticing from heaven." 

"The hymn won first place in the 1984 Ensign hymn-writing contest, was printed in the Ensign in March of that year, and was then accepted for the 1985 hymnal." (Our Latter-day Hymns, pg. 37-38)

Carolee said her "goal was to convey 'what a child and loving parent feel when a parent wakes the child from sleep to see or do something beautiful.'"

Theodore Curtis's text brings to mind many passages from scripture. The references in the hymnal mention Doctrine & Covenants, but it reminds me of Isaiah and Nephi. There's something about it that makes me think about a "voice from the dust." It's an excellent Restoration hymn, waking up the old covenants in the final dispensation.

As far as the music goes, I'm impressed with how Carolee Green manages to use a super repetitive rhythm without tiring me. To my ear, it's the bassline that keeps it all fresh. By the end of the first line, the bassline follows the rhythmic pattern, but when the second line gets going, the bass moves just enough to keep it all fresh. And I love what she does in those 2 bars. Notice how the bass on the words "heaven have" steps down and then leaps up a third, D-C-B-flat-D. In the next bar, She takes that motion, transposes it up a fourth, and flips the direction upside down. E-flat-F-G and then a leap back down to E-flat. And the freshness keeps going in the next bar with the A-natural in the soprano and tonicizing the 5 chord at the end of line 2. So far, so good. 

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Let's stay on the bassline for a while. Carolee takes the same step-step-leap from line 2 and keeps it going in line 3. But this time, she uses it as a sequence followed by the same shape but expanded through the first half of line 4. Remember, a sequence is a group of notes, a motive, that has a specific shape and is then repeated up a step or down a step. In this case, since we are "awaking" and "arising," it makes sense that the sequence is going up.

On the word "greatest" the sequence starts. G-F-E-flat-G and then A-flat-G-F-A-flat. Then the third time the expansion comes. It begins on the high B-flat, which we expect, but it sustains a bit, then gets down to the A-flat by beat 4 and then does a bit swooping descent G-E-flat-B-flat, and then up again, E-flat-F-G. And with one last move to keep us engaged, she leaps down the octave too low G and back up to E-flat, through A-flat and B-flat. Just enough motion, and lovely, imitative motion. Very cohesive. 

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I forgot to mention the bassline of phrase #1. Keeping with the theme, it rises right up, not once, but twice. And though the first rising is in similar motion with the melody, like we saw in Hymn #4, Carolee moves in 10ths avoiding any parallel 5ths or octaves. 

The melody is very clearly helping us "awake" and "arise" as well. Starting from the deepest part of the register and shooting right up to the higher B-flat by the start of the 2nd full measure followed by a big leap of a 6th from E-flat up to C and rounding out the phrase coming down the scale in contrary motion to the bass.

The melody in line 2 makes use of the sequence as well on "heavens have opened their..." A-flat-F-A-flat and then G-E-flat-G while the bass does that cool inverted imitation, the upside down trick I mentioned before. 

But the 2 strongest bits are yet to come. 

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Line 3 starts the same as line 1, exactly. In the first line when the melody lands on the half-note B-flat and then hits the C half-note on the next downbeat, it sets us up to expect the upward motion to continue. But it doesn't that first time. When we hear the identical start to the tune on line 3 Carolee pays off the rising line on 4 consecutive downbeats; B-flat with 2 leaps down, to G and E-flat. Then the 2nd downbeat hits the C, goes down 2 leaps on A-flat and F. Then leaps up another 6th hitting high D, the 7th scale degree, and now the hook is set. We've gotta hear the high E-flat. The melodic gravity is overwhelming. And she saves the word "burst" for the high E-flat, the big climax! 

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The final strong melodic bit is on the first syllable of the word "children." The B-flat doesn't belong to the chord, and that's what's so delicious. Carolee suspends the B-flat over from the previous bar and then resolves down to the A-flat on beat 2, followed by a step down to the tonic, the final E-flat. It's what we call a 9-8 suspension. The note that doesn't belong is a 9th above the bass note, and then it resolves down to an octave above the bass.

I really like this hymn all around. I wish we sang it more often. I can't remember the last time I sang it. And I think it deserves to stay in the new hymnal.

Tomorrow we'll have a look at the first hymn with the "Unison" indication.

Have a great day!

Doug

P.S. Thank you to everyone who's commented on the blog or on Facebook. I really enjoy hearing what you think, especially when it differs from what I think. Please keep the comments coming! And don't forget to subscribe if you haven't already. Just click the button below.