Best Christmas Chord Progression EVER!

Best Christmas Chord Progression EVER!

Hymn #202 — “Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful”

Text and music: Attributed to John Francis Wade (ca. 1711-1786)

Best Christmas Chord Progression EVER!.jpg

Do you want to hear actual “choirs of angels” singing?

I have a prediction…

Someday we’re all going to be sitting in the after life attending a Lessons & Carols Christmas service.

When it comes time for the angels to sing “O Come All Ye Faithful,” God will invite Sir David Willcocks to the organ and we will all sing together Willcocks’s ABSOLUTELY EARTH SHATTERING arrangement of “O Come All Ye Faithful.”

This is the primo example of what great congregational hymn singing is and can be. Oh how I wish we would have more of the THIS kind of hymn singing in our Church.

Now, I have some REQUIRED listening for ALL of you. Just nod your head and say… “Yes, Dr. Pew.”


Now, you MUST listen to this. This is King’s College Choir at Cambridge University. These guys do religious Church music better than anyone in the world.

Sir David Willcocks was their choir master and organist a long time ago and he wrote a ton of stunning arrangements of favorite Christmas carols for choir and congregation.

Here is the Willcocks “O Come All Ye Faithful.” Now, pay close attention. At the 2:15 mark there’s an amazing descant sung by the boy choristers (these are real choristers, a chorister is NOT someone who directs music in an LDS church service… just a little FYI).

After the verse with the descant, the final verse occurs. It begins at the 3:15 mark.

At the 3:40 mark, the heavens actually open and harmonious sounds of THE MOST incredible harmony, harmony that encases the entirety of the Atoning power, redemptive emotion, and universe creating powers from beyond all come together and rock the very foundation of Christmas.

Pay close attention. It only lasts for 12 seconds. Listen a few times. Then go back and listen to the whole thing again. I can’t think of any single chord that packs the emotional punch, the real meaning of Christmas, the full weight of the power of God on earth through His Son who descended below all in the entire repertoire of classical music as this chord and the progression that follow.

And really, I’m not overstating this. Ask any organist.

Ok, here’s the clip. Now, LISTEN, please… I beg you! You MUST hear this!


Here’s the actual music of this passage.

That’s all I have to say today. Please use this version. Please. And please, let’s sing like this more often in Church. Please, please, please!!!

Happy holidays!


Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

This is perhaps my favorite of all the hymns sung at Christmas time, and I owe that all to Sir David Willcocks. The text for this hymn is considered to be the work of John F. Wade, a copyist who’s copy work is the only source for the original Latin text. This text appears in seven manuscripts from the eighteenth century and not before. All of the manuscripts were copied by Wade, therefore it is presumed he is the author. His text has been translated many times, but the most known and used is by Frederick Oakeley, with some alteration. He penned the first line as “Ye faithful, approach ye” rather than its current first line and title. Not all of the verses of the translated text appear in our hymnal, as the hymn in some translations has at least nine verses.

The tune is also attributed to John Wade, as it appears in the same manuscripts copied by Wade as the text. There is some debate as to whether is is unique to Wade, as other composers have tunes attributed to them with similar characteristics. Known today by the name ADESTE FIDELES (the first line of the Latin text), it was formerly known as PORTUGUESE HYMN, as some hive proposed that the tune is of Portuguese origin (including perhaps by a former King of Portugal), and it was first heard in England in the chapel of the Portuguese Embassy in London.

David Willcock’s magnificent arrangement of this hymn is the primary reason for my affinity. He wrote a masterful harmonization and descant on the penultimate verse, and then another harmonization for the final verse. Church organists worldwide know “the chord” that is so remarkable in the last verse on the word “Word” (in our hymnal, the word is “Son” at “Son of the Father”) and the triumphant build-up to that chord. We sing this every year in Lessons & Carols and anytime I play in Sacrament Meeting, I use this harmonization. Many opine that it is not Christmas until “the chord” is reached! I encourage all to find and use this arrangement!

A strong, stately tempo is recommended here. The church I play in isn’t overly resonant, as is the case for all of our chapels, so at about 108 beats per minute is where I find the tempo lands. This is a good stately tempo, but not too slow as to drag. If you found yourself in the marvelous circumstance to be in a very resonant room accompanying hundreds and hundreds of voices, you might take it a few clicks slower, but such will not be the case for almost all of us. Using a strong registration that builds to the final verse is good practice.

Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Mixture, Flute 8’
Swell: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Flute 8’, String 8’, Nazard 2 ⅔, Larigot 1 ⅓’, Mixture, Bassoon 16’, Hautbois 8’
Pedal: Principal 16’, 8’, 4’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’, 16’ Reed
Sw/Gt, Sw/Ped

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Bourdon 16’, Mixture, Trumpet 8’, Clairon 4’
Swell: Mixture, Contra Trumpet 16’, Tierce 1 ⅗
Pedal: 32’ Flue and Reed,  Heavy Reed 16’

Ode to Joy to the World

Ode to Joy to the World.jpg

Text: Isaac Watts (1674-1748);
altered by William W. Phelps (1792-1872; LDS)
Music: George F. Handel (1685-1759)
arranged by Lowell Mason (1792-1872)
Tune name: ANTIOCH

I can’t think of a better hymn to kick-off the Christmas section in our hymnal.

Right away we’re tossed into the “joy” of the season with a rousing high register and dotted rhythms.

As Jason discusses below, much of this hymn was pieced together by Lowell Mason from favorite parts of Handel’s “Messiah.”

The entire hymn is built on a descending scale, a few dotted-eighth sixteenths, and a winding up repetitive fire cracker.

Why not begin the melody with the high D and blast out the word, “Joy!” I love it. And then after the scale descends, we get to climb back up bar by bar… “earth receive her King!” until we return to the high D.

I really like a brisk tempo. It helps the long note on “King!” feel not so long. And luckily, most of the words are short, single syllable words which makes it easy to sing the words at a fast tempo without getting garbled.

The second phrase is a series of 2 more descending scales from the high D, but this time the scale is sped up and dancing over a pedal bass note. I like to play around with the pedal note in the final verse. I’ll descend down bar by bar, D, C-natural, B, A, for a little variety.

Phrase 3 is where the little wind up fire crackers occur, 4 repeated notes with the 4th one shooting up through sixteenth notes. The off-set men’s parts are add some extra fun to the festive spirit.

The fourth phrase begins with the last of the fire crackers which descend to a low D and a quick octave leap up to high D before descending in a similar way as phrase 1, though taking varied approach to the final D.

There aren’t too many bells and whistles. Just good old fashioned writing, not holding back the joy of the season. The harmony is completely diatonic (fitting the key signature). They rhythm does a lot to propel the hymn forward. It’s all around an excellent Christmas hymn.

I hope that when you program this in your ward, you’ll take it at a festive quick tempo and let that organ sing out with a boom!

That’s all for today. Have a good one!


Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

This is a tremendous hymn to begin the Christmas section of our book. This text is a paraphrase of the last five verses of Psalm 98 by the master hymn-text writer, Isaac Watts. It was not originally intended for Christmas, but was published it in Watts’ Psalms of David Imitated (1719) under the heading “The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom.” Such is the nature of this hymn as apt for the Second Coming that the text in our hymnal has been edited by William Phelps (a common occurrence with this text, as it has a long history of being edited by others…) to more reflect the millennial message.

The tune is attributed to George Frederic Handel and as being edited by Lowell Mason. It is unclear how much of the music is Handel’s, though it is clear that much of the melodic material is derived from his Messiah. It is likely that Lowell Mason took themes from the Messiah and combined them with the Watts text.

It is suggested by one source that the opening is much like “Glory to God,” while another postulates that it is like “Lift up your heads.” Both sources agree that the beginning of the second half “and Saints and Angels Sing…” could be derived from “Comfort Ye My People.” Karen Davidson reports that “Lowell Mason himself gave principal credit to George F. Handel; when he published “Joy to the World” in Occasional Psalms (1836), he marked it “Arr. from Handel.” We do not know for sure why he named the tune ANTIOCH; he took Bible names almost at random for his tunes.”

When I play this hymn every Christmas Eve (it is the final hymn for all of our services), I like to use Mack Wilberg’s arrangement as the source of my introduction, interlude, and harmonization. I think it works very well. My postlude this year after Bach BWV 729 is an arrangement on this hymn by Craig Phillips, followed by I Saw Three Ships by Richard Elliott. I highly recommend the Phillips arrangement!

Both registration and tempo should be bold to exclaim the arrival (or coming) of the Savior! A tempo around 106-108 beats per minute is a great tempo to drive this majestic hymn forward with gusto (please don’t ever play it as slow as suggested in the hymnal, at least not at the slow end… I suppose that the very top of the range is okay, but 76 is mighty slow!). Utilizing the full resources of the organ for your registration is a must!

Registration Starting Point:
Great: Bourdon 16’ (which you can retire for the inner verses), Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Mixture, Flute 8’
Swell: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Flute 8’, String 8’, Nazard 2 ⅔, Larigot 1 ⅓’, Mixture, Trumpet 8’ (see note for 16’ in the Great), Hautbois 8’
Pedal: Principal 16’, 8’, 4’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’, 16’ Reed
Sw/Gt, Sw/Ped

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Bourdon 16’, Mixture, Trumpet 8’, Clairon 4’
Swell: Mixture, Bassoon 16’, Tierce 1 ⅗
Pedal: 32’ Flue and Reed,  Heavy Reed 16’

An Ancient and Non-Favorite Hymn

An Ancient and Non-Favorite Hymn

Hymn #141; 315 — “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee”

Text: Attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux (ca. 1091-1153)
translated by Edward Caswall (1814-1878)
Music: John B. Dykes (1823-1876)
Tune name: ST. AGNES

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Hymn #141 has never been a favorite of mine. I’m not exactly sure why. I’ve been trying to put my finger on it.

The text is beautiful, for sure! Gorgeous, in fact.

Something about the music doesn’t excite me.

I like the 2nd half much better than the first. The slip to A-minor at the start of the 2nd line is beautiful and haunting. The final 3 bars are also very lovely with the bass line and soprano moving up in parallel 3rds before the final cadence.

I think it’s the opening of the melody that I don’t care for. Starting near the top of the overall register with three of the 2nd highest notes in the piece in a row, I think that’s what’s bothering me.

John Dykes does a nice job of keeping the tune motivic, meaning he uses the opening kernel, the repeated notes, to start the 2nd phrase (on the low D) and again in part at the beginning of the 3rd line with two Cs and then stepping down. So I have no problem with the craft. I think it’s very well done.

But those first 4 bars. I’m not sure what it is. Maybe one of you has an idea about why I’m not super excited about that opening phrase.

All the other musical elements of the hymn work really well. It’s worth studying and seeing how the voice leading works well with lots of contrary motion most of the time.

That’s all I have to say about this hymn. I think Jason is much happier with this hymn than I am. I’m not familiar with the arrangements he mentions, but I plan to listen.

That’s all for today. Have a good one!


P.S. Tomorrow we’re going to take a detour. We’re going to have the 14 Days of Christmas Hymns. We’re going to leap ahead to Hymn #201 and go through all the Christmas hymns ending with #215, “I Head the Bells on Christmas Day” on Christmas Day! Should be fun!

Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

This hymn, for me, easily earns a place on the list of the very best hymns. The text is one of a number of different translations of the Latin poem Jesu dulcis memoria commonly attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux. Another commonly used translation is “Jesus, the Very Thought is Sweet” by John Neale. The text used here is from a 50 stanza translation by Edward Caswall. Part of the draw for me to this text is that it is close to 900 years old. It is tremendously inspiring to be using a text that has been drawn upon as a source of inspiration and prayer for almost a millennium!

The text is most often set to the tune ST. AGNES by John Dykes. It is a simple tune, and another fine example that hymns needn’t be complicated to have lasting impact. The simplicity of the melody and the beauty of the harmony pair very well with the meditative nature of the text. I love this hymn, I love the text, and I love the tune, and find it to be one of the very greatest hymns in hymnody.

Two arrangements of this text are very poignant and touching to me. The first is the arrangement of “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee” by Ronald Staheli. He maintains the simple nature of the hymn by adding simple interludes and a beautiful, soaring descant. The other arrangement is Mack Wilberg’s absolutely stunning arrangement of “Jesus, the Very Thought is Sweet.” Words cannot communicate the sublimity of this arrangement.

One should exercise caution to not equate reverence and meditation with slowness. Even though this sublime hymn is very meditative and quiet, it can be taken too slowly. I find that a range between 88-96 beats per minute provides a good range within which to work depending on circumstance. I would use a soft registration, and would likely not alter my registration during the course of the hymn.

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

My Favorite Grandma Hymn

My Favorite Grandma Hymn

Hymn #140 — “Did You Think to Pray”

Text: Mary A. Pepper Kidder (1820-1905)
Music: William O. Perkins (1831-1902)

My Favorite Grandma Hymn.jpg

Whenever I hear or sing or play this hymn, I think of my grandma Pew.

She was a short, cheerful, loving, firecracker of a grandmother. Though she barely reached 5 feet tall, she was a towering powerhouse of a woman with the most intense love for and testimony of the Savior.

She NEVER missed an opportunity to testify to her grandchildren of the Savior.

She was also a party animal. Any excuse to celebrate meant we HAD to have a family gathering. Baptisms, national holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, Groundhog’s Day (not really, but it felt like it sometimes)… she LOVED to be with her big family. And since most of us lived in San Jose and within 15-20 minutes of each other, we got together all the time. It was great!

She’d have boy cousin sleepovers and girl cousin sleepovers. She’d invite each family over in turn for dinner. Offer to take the grandkids if our parents were going out of town. Any excuse to be together, she would jump on it.

And not matter how formal or informal the occasion, she made sure she taught us the gospel. We loved it. We were sometimes annoyed by it. But we really loved it.

So many times I remember her asking if we’d said our prayers before we came down for breakfast. Then she’d sing “Did You Think to Pray.”

Even on her deathbed, with hardly a breath left in her body, she testified boldly of the Savior in a way and with a power a will never forget. I’m so grateful for her example and CONSTANT teaching.

Though Hymn #140 is not a particularly amazing specimen of hymn composition, it has a special place in my heart.

It is more of a song than a traditional hymn. The first half feels more like a Primary Song to me. The chorus opens up a bit more and becomes more hymn-like, allowing for a fuller range of expression.

The melody in the first half stays mostly in the lower half of the vocal register. And as it is rather repetitive, like a children’s song, this lower register seems appropriate. I think it is why so many people like it. It’s lower, in a comfortable register, and sing-song. The low B-flat is about as low as I feel comfortable going in a congregational hymn.

In the chorus, the tune begins on the middle B-flat, circles around it, then leaps up to the high E-flat. This high E-flat is pretty far above the upper octave of the low B-flat. But, it’s the only note in this high register, so I don’t mind it at all. The context around the high E-flat makes sense emotionally. It’s right when the text turns from individual instruction and questioning to a more congregational expression of the power of prayer and how it helps the “weary.”

Many times when I’ve been struggling or afraid or not sure what to do, I hear my sweet little powerhouse grandma humming this tune in her deceptively low contra-alto voice. It reminds me to go to the Lord and remember that He is my advocate and can help through whatever storm is raging.

Will it stay in the hymnal? Almost certainly. It’s too much of a favorite. And, from what I can tell, it seems to translate well to other languages, at least the ones I’m familiar with.

That’s all for today. Have a good one!


Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

This hymn is found in many hymnals. It found particular prominence after the middle of the 20th century. It is one of the more popular tunes in our hymnal, and I find that it is sung relatively often in meetings. Despite its popularity, I don’t find it to be the greatest of hymns. It is more song-like in nature and I don’t think the text or tune are the greatest. I don’t find the line “did you think to pray” to be so artful as to deserve the number of times the line is repeated. While I haven’t been bothered by the large range of some of the other hymns, I find the melodic range of this tune to be too big. B-flat is a very low note for congregational singing. The nature of the tune is also very slow. The rhythmic movement seems to happen often with eighth notes, so the tendency is to go more slowly to accommodate that movement, but some of the cadential moments are an entire measure long. To me, this is very awkward. I can, however, understand the appeal this hymn has that has propelled it to popularity. I also think that Mack Wilberg’s arrangement for choir of this hymn is very nice.

In addition to being slow in nature, this hymn also suffers from being played chronically slow. To make this hymn less dreary from a tempo standpoint, it is most advisable to play this hymn in two. That gives you a chance to overcome the slow inertia. I can’t imagine any in a congregation being comfortable with this hymn sung at 72 beats per minute. This tempo highlights the awkward nature of the tune. It is a fine tempo for the movement of the eighth notes, but interminably long for the cadential moments. I find 98 beats per minute to not be too fast for the eighth notes and not as long for the full measure cadential moments. I would use a similar soft registration as recommended in earlier hymns.

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

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Flute 4’
Swell: Flute 2’

A Pair of Fast Hymns for Slow Sunday

A Pair of Fast Hymns for Slow Sunday

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Hymn #138 — “Bless Our Fast, We Pray”

Text: John Sears Tanner (b. 1950; LDS)
Music: James B. Welch (b. 1950; LDS)
Tune name: FASTING

Our pickings are pretty slim when it comes to hymns about Fasting.

Luckily, the 2 hymns on this topic are expertly composed by 2 great LDS organists.

The first, Hymn #138, was composed by James Welch.

It starts out simply enough, but with a fairly standard opening tune and starting harmony. There’s a nice expressive leap up to high D in the first line, but it’s otherwise not super intriguing.

The 2nd line gets more interesting with the 2 C#s in the soprano, one of which is on a downbeat. C# being the 7th scale degree, it has a strong tendency sound that quickly colors otherwise bland harmony. In this case we get a D chord with major 7th, and then a G major chord with a 9th and a sharp 11 in the form of a suspension. All this on “in open…”


The real magic happens at the beginning of the 3rd line. I simply can’t get enough of the 2nd chord on “thou.”

The soprano and tenor suspend over from the the pick up on “Feed.” The bass and alto leap down forming a G chord, the 4 chord in this key. Because it’s a 4 chord, it’s sounding pastoral and expressive. But add to it the F# and the A, suspended from the previous chord, and you get some exquisite French harmony. A G major chord with a major 7th and a 9th. Delicious!!!

The end of the third line takes a turn towards the key of E minor. First we tonicize the B minor chord on “and bless” with an F# dominant 7th chord. Then before landing on the E minor cadence, we get a D# in the bass and a fully diminished harmony above it. This pulls us towards E minor without any hope of going elsewhere.

After beginning the 4th line with another E minor chord, we pass through some more F# dominant chords, the ones with the A#s, through another fully diminished 7th on G#, and finally back to D major to end it.

Wow, good stuff. And that G major 7th chord with a 9th at the beginning of line 3, yes please, more and more and more of that!

This is a really lovely hymn a deserves its spot in our hymnal without any question.


Hymn #139 — “In Fasting We Approach Thee”

Text: Paul L. Anderson (b. 1946; LDS)
Music: Clay Christiansen (b. 1949; LDS)
Tune name: FRANCOM

The 2nd hymn for fast Sunday was composed by recently retired Tabernacle Organist, Clay Christiansen.

Like the James Welch hymn, there are some more lovely and colorful harmonies. But he manages to achieve these sounds without any accidentals. Pretty cool.

The hymn begins with a long pedal point on C in the bass. This lasts for the entire first half of the hymn. The harmony moves around through many of the diatonic chords (the ones that belong to the key signature) all over that pedal C in the bass.

By the time the C steps up to the D in the bass, it’s very rewarding. He’s been keeping us in suspense as to when he’d make a move off of the C. He then used some lovely suspensions and other non-chord tones that bridge the gaps between chords.

The tune begins in a very mellow, very humble sounding mode with the low Cs and other low voice notes. By the middle of the hymn, when the bass finally moves, we’ve made it up to a high C in the melody. It then steps down and back up again to the climax on high D.

I really like how it descends after the high D. The C-B-A, the the A holds over in a suspension with a dissonance in the tenor, the B, which is rising up from A to C. The the “F-E-D-C” at the end after the big leap down to low F and finally rising up to C. Lovely diatonic harmony. Very well written.

Again, we have a winner that deserves its place in our hymnal. Very well done, gentleman!

That’s all for today. Have a good one!


Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

Hymn #138

The text for this hymn comes in response to counsel from President Spencer W. Kimball remarking that devotional poetry was an appropriate Sunday activity. This hymn was the first collaboration and attempt at hymn writing by both John Tanner, a professional in the field of literature, and James Welch, a professional organist. The result was a very good hymn both looking at the text and tune. I especially like the richness of the chromaticism of this hymn. Unlike hymn #132, it makes sense and is very interesting while still very singable. I think it a very good hymn for Fast Sunday.

To execute this hymn well for congregational singing, I think that it is again helpful to feel a macro pulse in two even though it is notated in four. The top of the suggested tempo range is a good tempo, so I would play it at 96 beats per minute. A registration rich in fundamental is a good registration here.

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

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Flute 4’
Swell: Flute 2’

Hymn #139

The second of our hymns explicitly addressing fasting, it is also the second for which the tune is provided by an organist and for which I am quite drawn to the hymn for its tune. This text is a wonderful example of a prayer focused on the purpose and reason for our fast and is a wonderful hymn for Fast Sunday.

The tune I think is extremely compelling and a wonderful hymn tune. The shape of the melody is wonderful for a fervent prayer, with a continual rising through the hymn until around the golden mean, and then a return to the beginning note. Brother Christiansen does a remarkable job of letting a rather simple scaler passage have much melodic intrigue. He enhances the melody by a wonderful harmonization that highlights the home key. When I play this hymn, I like to emphasize the pedal tone by repeating it off the rhythmic movement. So I hold the pedal tone, only repeating it on beat two. I feel this gives the tune tremendous direction and enhances the forward propulsion.

This is a great hymn. This is also a hymn that is successful at a slower tempo. An excellent way to conceive of this wonderful hymn in a slow, stately manner without dragging is to think of it in one. This keeps the melody moving forward, but provides a stately slow march to undergird the half note-quarter note rhythmic repetition. I prefer the middle of the suggested tempo here, finding the high end too rushed. I find I play it around 94 beats per minute. A strongly fundamental registration is again suggested.

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

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Flute 4’
Swell: String 4’ (if available)

Two Towering Testimony Hymns

Two Towering Testimony Hymns

Hymn #136 — “I Know That My Redeemer Lives”

Text: Samuel Medley (1738-1799)
Music: Lewis D. Edwards (1858-1921; LDS)
Tune name: HE LIVES

What makes a hymn carry a powerful spirit?

Two Towering Testimony Hymns.jpg

How can the Holy Ghost ride on little notes on a staff and sail down into our hearts?

I’m constantly amazed by this phenomenon.

In the case of Hymn #136, I think the majority of the power comes from the words. To say over and over again, “I know…” “He lives…” “He lives…” “He lives…” “I Know that my Redeemer lives!”

Just typing it over and over again brings swells of spiritual feelings roaring up inside me. Declaring our allegiance, our belief, our faith, our knowledge, our love of the Savior is incredibly powerful.

The role of the music in this case, I feel, is to help us express these feelings. And, if we don’t yet have a fully developed testimony (and let’s face it, who does?), at whatever stage of life we’re at, we need to grow. The expression of that testimony, even if we’re wavering, makes it grow. And the melody acts as a “remembering” agent. It’s like Neville Longbottom’s remembrall, only we won’t forget what we’ve forgotten. We’ll remember what faith feels like, even if we haven’t felt it since before we came to earth.

The music is simple and soothing. The tune is steady, encouraging and allows us to express the full range of emotion because it gives us lows and highs. The opening of the chorus, F#-A-D, “He - - lives” is a powerful use of a simple arpeggio, leaping right up the notes of the 1 chord. We get it a 2nd time in a very folk-song-like manner, reiterating our belief. The 3rd time the tune steps down, B-A-G, and lands on the 4 chord, that warm, shepherding, pastoral feel. And the final line ascends again, G-A-B, but this time with a little extra juice provided by the C# in the tenors.

When I was a teenager, my cousins and I formed a choir, the Pew Family Youth Choir (PFYC for short). We sang an arrangement of this hymn very often. It was an important time of life to express testimony. I’m thankful we did that so often.

A few years ago, Elder C. Scott Grow came to our stake in Cincinnati. I was asked to pick the hymns. Elder Grow asked for only 1 change. He wanted the closing hymn of the general session to be this hymn. I complained a bit when I heard the news. But on the day, I was so glad. He was spot on. He spent about an hour closing the session mostly baring testimony of the Savior. It was the perfect way to end the meeting.

This is a MUST-keep-or-there-will-be-riots kind of hymn.

Hymn #137 — “Testimony”

Text: Loren C. Dunn (b. 1930; LDS)
Music: Michael Finlinson Moody (b. 1941; LDS)
Tune name: TORONTO

Michael Moody’s “Testimony” hymn is another lovely selection. I like the tune a lot. It’s simple, but has some surprising turns that keep the interest and allow expression.

The first interesting bit is the dip down to the low B at the end of the first line. I like how it sneaks the 4 chord in there and then the wedge chord on the G# in the bass—which is just an E major chord in 1st inversion—followed by the 5 chord with a nice suspension in the alto.

The second interesting melodic part is the big octave leap in the middle of line 2. It’s a bit unexpected in such a short hymn, but it’s a great way to open up the singing with some emotion before closing the verse out.

The final interesting melodic moment is the leaping in the second to last bar. B-G-E, which is a broken 2 chord in reverse. Then it goes to the 5 chord before ending on 1. It’s a standard 2-5-1 cadence, but the tune spells out the 2 chord. I like that.

This is another keeper. It’s nice to have a short “Testimony” hymn in case there’s not enough time for one of the longer ones.

That’s all for today. Hope you have a good one!


Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

Hymn #136

Here we arrive at another beloved hymn in our hymnal. This personal testimony of the Savior finds uses in many settings of life. It is a common hymn sung in Sacrament Meetings, in the home, and at funerals. I think this a good hymn that deserves is place in the hearts of Latter-day Saints, but there is one element found in this hymn that truly irks me and that I have discussed in previous hymn, and that is the misuse of the fermata.

Putting a fermata at the end of each phrase in the first section of this hymn only stultifies the melodic flow of the hymn and makes it very ponderous. We treat each fermata as a grand pause that brings everything to a crashing halt before it has even had a chance to get going. To give each phrase the same ending as the ending of the first big section (after everliving Head) lessons the impact of the conclusion of the first big musical phrase.

Rather than making grand pauses at each fermata, it would be much better to think of those spots as a tenuto, or slight elongation of the tempo. I’ve even seen an arrangement that discards the fermata all together and keeps it a quarter note to great effect. I understand that this would run counter to how it has been ingrained across the church on how to sing this hymn and would require retraining on everyone’s part on how to approach this hymn, but it would vastly improve the musical flow and make it a much stronger hymn.

In addition to seeking to remedy the over-segmentation of this hymn, the other great help is to play this at a tempo that doesn’t connote a funeral procession (even if you play it at a funeral!). The high end or just slightly faster than the suggested tempo is a good place to be. Another great help in getting some forward motion in this hymn is realizing this hymn in 2 rather than 4. So feeling the pulse around 42-43 beats per minute for the half note.

The affect word for this hymn is peacefully, but I tend to think of it as a powerful testimony that keeps building in intensity. Therefore, I begin the hymn usually with Principals 8’ and 4’, and then build the registration each verse until I am playing the second half of the hymn on the fourth verse with most of the resources of the organ.

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

Possible Sequence of Additions by Verse (with perhaps an addition for the second half of the final verse if so desired, so 2nd verse→3rd→4th→4th second half):
Great: Nothing→Principal 2’→Mixture→Nothing
Swell: Flute 2’→Hautbois 8’→Mixture→Bassoon 16’ & Trumpet 8’
Pedal: Nothing→Soft Reed 16’→Posaune 16’→32’ Flue

Hymn #137

This simple, elegant hymn is another good example of a very good hymn text matched with what I think is a very good tune. It shows that heartfelt text can communicate a message well and that tune writing needn’t be complex or obstrusive. I especially appreciate the story of the text’s origin, that Elder Dunn was moved by the powerful testimonies at a Regional Representative meeting that he was moved to write his feelings in poetry. I am drawn to a text coming out of a natural experience rather than a specific intention to compose a hymn text.

This is another hymn that works very well if felt in two rather than four. I am always pleased when I set down to determine what the tempo is that the hymn works best at and find the suggestion in the ballpark. Like many other hymns, I would stay on the high end or just above the suggested tempo. 96-98 beats per minute is a good tempo for this hymn. I would prescribe a softer registration with good 8’ foundation to support the singing.

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

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Flute 4’
Swell: Flute 2’

A Testimony and a (Warning!) Soapbox

A Testimony and a (Warning!) Soapbox

Hymn #135 — “My Redeemer Lives”

Text: Gordon B. Hinckley (1910-2007; LDS)
Music: G. Homer Durham (1911-1985; LDS)
Tune name: EUDORA

A Testimony and a Soap Box (1).jpg

One of my favorite General Conference talks of all time is President Hinckley’s “My Testimony” from the April 2000 conference, Sunday morning session.

I was a new missionary in Chile listening to the prophet bear an incredible testimony. It moved me so deeply. I bought the cassette tapes (remember those?) and listened to this talk over and over again through the rest of my mission. I could practically recite it word for word.

Just the sound of his voice, when I hear it now, brings me back to that time in my life. President Hinckley was my prophet. I followed him again and again during all those years of huge decisions about college, vocation, avocation, marriage, etc.

Hymn #135 is a little talisman reminder of my prophet. And like him, it doesn’t beat around the bush. It gets straight to the point.

I love the bold melody, the big leap at the beginning, the forward motion of the dotted quarter-eighths, and the quick marching tempo (at least it’s quick when I play it… the tempo marking is too slow…).

The harmony has a handful G#s, C#s. This adds some intensity to the sound and gives it a flavor of the old Protestant hymns, which I love.

The only part I’m not impressed with is the blaring parallel 5th and octave across the 2nd bar line. It’s really too bad that this one slipped in. It’s a very easy fix that keeps all the harmony in tact.


All I’ve done is re-voice the chord on “my” in the first bar to prepare the inner voices in a slightly lower range. This makes the poorly written parallel motion go away.

I’m sure it’s no small thing to suggest a change to a hymn written by a Prophet with music by a General Authority. But I wish the committee would do it anyway. We’ll see.

WARNING! Soap Box Moment

This brings up a bit of a sore spot for me. There’s this pervasive nonchalance with regard to much of the music the Church publishes nowadays.

For example. I was invited to accompany some singers at the General Young Men’s Presidency’s annual Christmas Dinner. It’s happening tonight. One of the pieces the organizer asked me to play is from the 2018 Mutual Album. It’s called “The Body of Christ.”

Now, I have nothing against the composer personally, but the music is sub-par at best. It’s full of power chords, no 3rds in many of the chords, and blatant parallel 5ths and octaves all over the place.

I realize we’re in the 21st century and all that, but come on. This is just lazy, uneducated writing. Not that you have to have a degree to write a song for the church. Not at all. But the editors who publish these songs have a responsibility to help the writers fill the gaps in their songs.

Another example—and I’m sure I’ll get some flack for saying this—is the new favorite Primary song “Gethsemane.” It’s a beautiful message. The best! I LOVE that my kids can’t get it out of their heads. I love that it's in a minor mode and you get the real feeling for the Atonement of the Lord. But the piano part is so poorly written. It’s incredibly incorrect all over the place.

The songwriters of both of these songs would fail 1st semester freshman music theory. They would fail high school music theory. They would fail grade school piano lesson theory.

Again, I don’t really blame them. I blame the editors at the Church office building who agree to publish these pieces with all the problems in the writing. Come on! Let’s help these song writers, who were inspired to share their testimony through music. We can chat with them and help them improve the piece. I could spend an hour with the composer of “Gethsemane” and help him or her (I honestly don’t have any idea what their name is, but I wish them very well and thank them for their inspired song) and help them SO SO SO much to make a truly beautiful song WAY WAY WAY better by following some basic principles of proper voice leading.

“Oh, Dr. Pew…” I can hear some people saying… “you’re being to academic, you’re being too hard on them, you’re too old school…”

Look, we have incredibly high standards in the Church when it comes to our doctrine, our training manuals, our teaching manuals, our temple building, the paintings within the temples (which, by the way, are painted by artists who use the basic principles of the great masters to create their works of art that help us worship). Why are we so lazy and lax with the music? We can do WAY better. It’s really not that hard. I just takes a little extra effort and help. Take the Tabernacle organists for example. Every one of them has a doctorate in music. They can’t even apply for that job unless they have, or are about to finish their doctorates. Those are incredibly high standards. Surely we could ask the chairman of the music committee, who also has a doctorate in music, to work with the inspired songwriters who submit pieces to the church.

Ok… I’ll stop. I just think we can do better. We can raise the bar. We do everywhere else. Why not in music? I’m not at all saying we should do away with these songs. I’m saying that we need to improve them so they aren’t filled with errors and sub-par writing.

Well, that’s all for today. I’m sure I just offended someone. Oh well. I heard a wise man say “if you haven’t offended someone by lunch time every day, you’re not trying hard enough.”

Have a good one!


Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

President Hinckley was the prophet of my youth and early adulthood. He became president of the church when I was 14 and passed away when I was almost 27. That is some of the most impactful times a a persons growing-up years. Therefore I look upon his words and works with great fondness. Such is our fondness for President Hinckley that our second son’s first name is Gordon. I love that we have a wonderful and powerful hymn bearing testimony of the savior by President Hinckley.

I love this story as it relates to the tune for this text: “When President Hinckley first heard Elder G. Homer Durham’s hymn tune, without knowing the name of the composer, he felt it was just the kind of direct, simple tune he had hoped for. When he learned the composer’s identity, he was even more pleased. The two men had been lifelong friends, from grade school through college and mission days and beyond.” That is from Sister Davidson, and I would encourage you to read the entire entry for this hymn (and get the book. It should be in everyone’s library!).

Hymns become great such as this when both the text and the tune are powerful examples of excellent hymn composition. The suggested tempo is too slow for this text and tune. To maintain the great integrity of this hymn, a tempo around 104-108 beats per minute is recommended here. A strong registration is also advised. Here is a wonderful rendering of this hymn:

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

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Mixture, Trumpet 8’
Swell: Mixture, Bassoon 16’
Pedal: 32’ Flue and Reed,  Heavy Reed 16’

Stop Worrying About the Clock and SING!

Stop Worrying About the Clock and SING!

Hymn #134 — “I Believe In Christ”

Text: Bruce R. McConkie (1915-1985; LDS)
Music: John Longhurst (b. 1940; LDS)
Tune name: WHITE CITY

Stop Worrying About the Clock and SING!.jpg

When one of the 12 Apostles writes a powerful hymn text based on His “special witness” of the Savior, I think we need to really pay attention.

This hymn gets a bad rap because of its length. It feels like 8 verses instead of 4. But this is an easy problem to fix.

The problem is not the length of the hymn.

The problem is the tempo.

For once we get the full text written within the staves of music as it should be, rather than as an after thought.

But, unfortunately, many church members get impatient with long hymns. I wish they’d pay closer attention to the meaning of the text they’re singing instead of their watches.

This is a monumental hymn text. And the music is powerful, robust and full of the kinds of emotions that support Elder McConkie’s powerful testimony.

So, I nicely ask that you calm down, quit looking at your watch, and dig into this wonderful hymn.

I also ask the organist and music leader to get the lead out of their system. Please! If we can get the tempo closer to a 2/2 feel, it is much less cumbersome. And, the added bonus of this faster tempo is, the belief in Christ feels much more active, more visceral, more a part of real, every day life instead of a museum piece.

I don’t know what the big deal is with the length anyway. It’s not as long as Hymn #2, “The Spirit of God.” I don’t ever hear anyone complaining about that hymn. Perhaps because it has a chorus.

Well, the point of a hymn like this is to increase our worship. So let’s do a better job at focusing on worship through music than we do on making a meeting go faster so we can get out of church and back to Sunday football games.

The Music

The tune starts with a steady runway of F#s and then takes off with a leap from D to B and we’re airborne. It’s a very natural feeling tune to sing. It fits the text wonderfully and has no speed bumps at all. I love how it steadily steps up and up through “I’ll raise my voice” until getting to the high D “in grand amens.” That’s very effective, natural writing. The melody repeats itself almost entirely with a different tag at the end.

The harmony is rich and very directional. The added A# in the first bar give an inevitability to the arrival on the word Christ, which is very appropriate. The C-natural that follows in the alto brings that warm “pastoral” or “shepherd” sound in briefly to show the softer side of the Lord and His grace. The bass line rises majestically all the way up to a high D before stepping down and spending some time on the roots of the minor 6 and minor 3 chords. As the melody steps up gradually to the climax, so does the bass. The texture brings the whole congregation along on this journey closer to Christ.

Since most of they rhythm is quater-note based, speeding up the tempo to a 2/2 feel is not unmanageable. The text is still easy to enunciate and we get the added bonus of forward motion that fuels the fire of our testimony.

I’m sure Jason will mention it below, but I have to give kudos to Mack Wilberg for his incredible arrangement of this hymn. Of his many excellent arrangements, this is probably my favorite. It takes the emotion and the monumental testimony to the full range of expression, especially at the big climax in the final verse. It is overwhelming!

Please everybody, let’s not berate this hymn any more. Let’s pick up the pace. Let’s put down our watches. Let’s dig into one of the most remarkable testimonies and make it our own.

That’s all for today. Have a good one!


Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”

by Douglas Pew, Organist

As Doug and I have engaged in this project of briefly reviewing each hymn in our hymnal, I have become more curious about others reactions to our hymns. Therefore I have made my way around the internet perusing various sites where people have made comments about hymns in our church. Very surprising to me are the amount of comments across various sites, message boards, etc. about the dislike many have for this hymn. I am surprised because of the greatness of the text. Karen Davidson remarks that “coming straight from the heart of a man who had devoted his life to studying about the Savior and serving him, the text of this hymn is truly a powerful declaration of faith in Jesus Christ, a definitive testimony of His divinity and mission.”

I think rather than the text, the tune is a large part of the reasoning why people seem to dislike this hymn. I can understand in a sense why this tune might not be agreeable to some, but only if it is played too slowly and weakly. That might be the reasoning, but I think this tune is a very good tune and a great fit for this text if interpreted appropriately.

Concerning the length of the hymn, John Longhurst’s first impulse was to cut the number of verses from eight to four, as he considered that to be a better length for a hymn. But Elder McConkie wished all eight verses of his testimony to be used and was not in a state of health to engage in revisions. Therefore Brother Longhurst altered his tune to double its length, thus allowing for all of the text to be included, but for the hymn to be four verses in length.

I think this is a powerful text and tune, and can be communicated that way is one perhaps disregards the suggested affect of fervently, or interprets fervency as a strong and powerful testimony of the Savior. Back to my normal regard for the suggested tempos being too slow, this hymn is especially susceptible to being played much too slowly. It is extremely important to consider a tempo that appropriately communicates the message of the hymn and renders the hymn singable. For this hymn, a tempo between 116-120 beats per minute helps this hymn tremendously. (It would also be helpful to consider the pulse in two, rather than four…) A strong registration, utilizing the full resources of the organ is appropriate as well. Too often, this hymn is sung quietly which doesn’t really communicate the resolute testimony of this text. I think Mack Wilberg’s arrangement of this hymn is fantastic and also demonstrates this stronger resolution in both affect and tempo.

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

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Mixture, Trumpet 8’
Swell: Mixture, Bassoon 16’
Pedal: 32’ Flue and Reed,  Heavy Reed 16’

It Was the Worst of Hymns, and It Was the Best of Hymns

It Was the Worst of Hymns, and It Was the Best of Hymns

Hymn #132 — “God Is in His Holy Temple”

Text: Anonymous (Hymns of the Spirit, 1864)
Music: Frank W. Asper (1892-1973; LDS)
Tune name: WILSON

It Was the Worst of Hymns, and It Was the Best of Hymns.jpg

Ok, “worst” is a little harsh.

But Hymn #132 is not a popular one for good reason.

It’s sad, really, because it starts out in a very promising way. The first line is lovely and fresh sounding. But Brother Asper gets a little ‘too’ creative for his own good.

The harmony quickly becomes too out of the ordinary, especially in the first two bars of line 2 and line 3.

It’s kinda like hitting a speed bump in the dark, the kind that don’t have any reflectors on them.

DA DOMPF!!! Whoops!!

It’s a bit too unorthodox to lead the singer seamlessly from phrase to phrase. It detracts from the message and the flow of what should be a smooth musical experience, especially when we’re singing about the temple.

The last line isn’t bad. But take a look at the harmony at the beginning of lines 2 and 3 so you can make sure you don’t fall into the same trap of over-cleverness.

Hymn #133 — “Father in Heaven”

Text: Angus S. Hibbard
Music: Friedrich F. Flemming (1778-1813);
arranged by Edwin Pond Parker (1836-1925)

Hymn #133, on the other hand, is a beautiful, smooth, no-speed-bumps-in-site kind of hymn.

It soothes, it summons, it sings! And effortlessly too.

There’s a nice pattern going on here. 1 bar of the same harmony, then we move to a new chord which sustains for the 2nd bar. Then in the third bar, the chord changes every 2 beats before resolving to the 4th bar’s chord which agains lasts the full bar.

This happens again in the next 4 bars, and yet again in the 4 bars after that.

Only the final 3 bars does this harmonic rhythm speed up.

Having the first 2 bars each be a sustained chord gives those early bars the feeling of anticipation. “When’s it going to move? Will it? And where will it go?” Because it moves so slow, we’re not really sure. But by stepping down to the 2nd bar we get a sense that it’s going to move again, but when and where, we’re not sure. So our attention is caught right from the start.

There are some nice inner-voice chromatic wedges. D#s that fit between a rising D to E. And then it happens in reverse in bar 8.

These slow and subtle harmonic changes are what make the somewhat static melody line interesting. When the melody stays on the same note but the bass moves a bit, we know right away that the melody will move soon. It taps our curiosity.

The 2nd phrase does the same kind of thing as it starts. But this time it starts a 3rd higher, so our expectations are even greater.

There’s not much of a climax other than the high C. But our attention is focused and interested the entire way, from start to finish.

This is a well balanced, well executed hymn. The conservative register and lack of super big leaps makes it very easy for a congregation to sing. And the harmony, though chromatic on occasion, adds color without chucking in speed bumps along the way.

This is a keeper, for sure!

That’s all for today, hope you have a good one!


Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

Hymn #132

I would love to know how many readers are aware of the existence of this hymn. We may not have discussed a more obscure hymn in our hymnal to this point. Unfortunately, I think there might be good reason this hymn is so unknown and unsung. The text seems to bear similar characteristics to other hymns of the time it was written. It strikes me as a rather typical hymn text.

I have stated in previous reviews my affinity for hymn tunes written by organists. I have found each previous hymn by organists in our tradition to be excellent, but I don’t think I can say the same for this hymn. Frank Asper was Tabernacle Organist in the middle of the twentieth century with Alexander Schreiner, and has many excellent compositions and arrangements, but I don’t think this tune quite matches some of his other works. The melody isn’t very tuneful or ear-catching, the melodic deviations from the key are rather awkward and difficult to follow, and the harmonization also does not help or make much sense, especially to a congregation. All of this combines for a rather disjointed and awkward hymn that I think is difficult to sing.

If you ever were to find yourself accompanying this for congregational singing, after overcoming your surprise at playing this hymn, I think you would also find that the suggested tempo is far too slow. It flows better  around 112 beats per minute. I think that the suggested affect word is a bit misleading. The nature of this hymn strikes me much more as a robust or energetic hymn. Therefore, I would recommend a strong registration utilizing at least a principal chorus is appropriate for this hymn, perhaps adding a mixture for the second verse.

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

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Mixture ?

Hymn #133

This is another of the great hymns in our hymnal. The text is a fantastic example of a reverent corporate prayer to our Heavenly Father that demonstrates quality and beauty of the English language. It is a masterful hymn text. The tune is equally as sublime and exquisite as the text. I find it possessing the same attributes that I find so appealing about “More Holiness Give Me.” I love this hymn. Here is a very nice rendering of it.

I am going to veer far of course here from my normal suggestions, but I think that the suggested tempo here is too fast. To maintain the reverent affect of this hymn, I would play it around 76-82 beats per minute. Not so slow that it is drudgery, but not so fast that it rushes, which I think it does at the suggested tempo. I think the forward momentum is maintained even at a slower tempo. A softer registration is also appropriate for this hymn.

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

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Flute 4’
Swell: Flute 2’

Wholly Holy and Humble Handful of Hymns

Wholly Holy and Humble Handful of Hymns

Hymn #130 — “Be Thou Humble”

Text and music: Grietje Terburg Rowley (b. 1927; LDS)

How can a piece of music depict humility?

Wholly Holy and Humble Handful of Hymns.jpg

This is a challenging question to answer, but an important one if you’re the composer and your hymn is called “Be Thou Humble.”

If I was composing a hymn with this title, I would feel like I was being very presumptuous.

Hem, hem… let me now instruct you in the subtleties of humility with an instructive hymn I composed, with my master skills of musical persuasion…”

Hmm, that doesn’t sound like it came from a place of humility…

So that’s challenge #1. Get in the right head space. I think I would have to take this angle…

I really need to be more humble. Maybe if I write this as counsel to myself, that could work. I’ll pretend I’m my own little shoulder angel encouraging me on to a more humble approach to life.”

That might work…

Then, the tune needs something special in it that brings out the right kind of emotion. What Grietje Rowley does is use various types of suspensions to create his “humble” sounding music.

At the start of the hymn there are multiple suspensions right away. The down beat of bar 1 suspends the soprano, alto and tenor over from the pickup and then resolves down to the first 1 chord. The next down beat does it again in the soprano and alto.

Bar 3 does not have any normal suspensions, but the chord is a sort of suspended 1 chord. It’s really a 4 chord, but with C in the bass. So it’s like an entire suspended measure hovering over the 1 chord, rooted by the C in the bass, and then finally resolving to a 1 chord at the end of the line. It’s the same kind of sound as a regular suspension.


The 2nd bar of line 2 begins with something similar to a suspension, but this is an appoggiatura. The G in the soprano doesn’t fit the chord and resolves down on the next beat.

Line 3 begins with the same suspensions as line 1. Bar 3 of line 3 is similar to bar 3 of line 1. But this time the melody leaps all the way up past the high 1st scale degree and lands on the 2nd scale degree, a high D. But the harmony is the same kind of suspended 1 chord. This time it goes even further with the D# and F# on the down beat of the last bar, but it resolves to the 1 chord just like line 1.


Line 4 begins the same way line 2 does, but this time bar 2 has a real suspension, not an appoggiatura. The last part of the line finishes the warm sounding music with a low 4 chord (the low Fs in the bass) and another type of suspended 1 chord. This time the suspended 1 chord in the 2nd to last bar is not a 4 chord with C in the bass. This time it’s a C chord with G in the bass that goes to a G7 chord before resolving to the final 1 chord.

All these suspended kinds of sounds work well to depict the humble feel Rowley is going for.

My favorite bit is the 3rd to last bar when the C# in the also gets lowered to a C natural underneath that final soprano suspension. It’s a very warm downward slip of harmony that closes the harmony of the hymn with a special little gem moment.

This is a very effective hymn. It’s a MUST keep in our hymnal.

Hymn #131 — “More Holiness Give Me”

Text and music: Philip Paul Bliss (1838-1876)
Tune name: MY PRAYER

Similar to the question above, how can a hymn bring about the feeling of wanting more holiness in one’s life?

It’s another interesting challenge.

In this case there are 3 key elements in the success of Philip Paul Bliss’s writing.

The 3 elements are the use of “pedal” notes, the duet-like sounding use of 3rds and 6ths between voices and the consistent use of eighth-note triplets.

The rhythm is the same in every bar. Quarter note, 3 eighth-not triplets, then 2 quarters or a half note. 8 iterations of the same rhythm could get boring quickly. But by using it as only 1 of 3 consistent and interesting elements, the rhythm stays fresh throughout.

Take a look at line 1. The bass sings the first pedal point of the hymn carrying the D all the way through the first bar. The soprano and tenor sing in alternating 3rds and 6ths. Bar 2 has all the same elements. But this time the tenor and bass take the 3rds and the alto sings the pedal point.


Line 2 begins exactly the same as line 1. The 2nd half moves the pedal point again to the alto but continues the 3rds between soprano and tenor.

Line 3 moves the main pedal point to the soprano and the tenors join in the fun. They are singing a 7th apart which is a dissonance that desperately wants to be resolved, giving this phrase it’s particular strong sound. The alto and bass take up the ascending 3rds. In the 2nd bar the soprano and tenor continue the pedal point and the bass is the only moving voice.


Line 4 keeps the pedal point in the soprano with the climactic high C. The altos join in the pedal and the tenors and basses rise in steady 3rds. The last bar moves the pedal point back to the bass and the soprano and tenor return to the 3rds and 6ths.


The building blocks are incredibly simple. What keeps our interest is the variation of these 3 main elements. Bliss moves them around, juggles them and uses them to color the text beautifully.

This is a gem of a hymn and another MUST keep in our hymnal.

That’s all for today. I hope you have a great weekend!


Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

Hymn #130

This is the third hymn in a row that has the same spirit of affect, message, and tone, and my response to this hymn is the same as the previous two. I like this text, with the message of humility and its associated blessings. But I think like the previous hymns, it lends itself much more to a devotional application than perhaps a more general setting, unless the subject of a a talk is overtly about humility, in which case this hymn is a very good musical response.

I think the tune is good as well. I especially like the contrast in the second statement of the theme, where the high note goes to a D, rather than the expected C. It sets up the rest of the descending melody line quite nicely. I also like how the simpleness of the harmony in the first phrase and its restatement is simple, which provides greater contrast for the harmonic movement of the second and fourth phrases.

I don’t mean to sound too repetitive, if one can remember what my remarks are from day to day in these reviews, but I seem to repeat over and over that the suggested tempos in our hymnal are often much too slow and almost always too wide. Here, the upper range of the tempo is good, in fact, I think I play it always at 76 beats per minute, which is the upper limit of the range. But I would play it no slower, and perhaps only a titch faster if need be. 63 is far too slow, and with this hymn, would lead to much lethargy. I would use the same basic quiet registration as recommended in previous quiet hymns.

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

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Flute 4’
Swell: Flute 2’

Hymn #131

Philip Paul Bliss is responsible for a couple of the more beloved hymns in our book. This is actually one of my more favorite hymns in our book, and I think a couple of arrangements are responsible for my affinity for this hymn. One is the arrangement by Ronald Staheli,, (oh my goodness, the BYU choirs at General Conference. How sublime!) and the other is an organ prelude for organ arranged by Darwin Wolford.

I love the poignant plea for the granting to us of more Christlike attributes. I think the text is very well matched with a plaintive and pleading tune. Perhaps a difficult property of this hymn in consideration of accompanying this hymn for congregational singing is determining whether it is in simple or compound meter.It is notated in simple meter, but one could successfully argue that since the moving notes are all triplets, that it is truly a compound meter. However you conceive it, it is important to keep a steady tempo. I find the suggested tempo for this hymn to be very good. And, dare I say it, I think that the high end of the suggestion might be slightly too fast. I probably play it around 44-46 beats per minute. But take care not to let the tempo drag and get slower as the hymn progresses.

Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, Flute 8’
Swell: Principal 8’, Flute 8’, 4’, String 8’ (maybe consider the string celeste as well)
Pedal: Subbass 16’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’
Sw/Gt, Sw/Ped

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Flute 4’
Swell: Flute 2’

A Telephone Hymn of Peace

where is my solace....jpg

Text: Emma Lou Thayne (b. 1924; LDS)
Music: Joleen G. Meredith (b. 1935; LDS)
Tune name: GRANT

Long distance collaboration is fun, but has its challenges.

Both of my operas and most of my cantatas were written almost entirely long distance from my librettist. We had many phone conversations with singing and piano playing and text workshopping. Thank goodness the iPhone comes with a headphone jack. I can’t imagine how much harder it would be to work like this while holding a big old clunky phone up to my ear.

Much of Hymn #129, “Where Can I Turn for Peace?” was composed this way. This story takes place in 1971, long before cell phones. Surely the collaboration came with a big pain in the neck!

Emma Lou Thayne (poet) and Joleen Meredith (composer) were asked to write a musical number for a young women’s conference. Here’s the story in the composer’s own words:

I happened to be in the music room of our home at the time. Sister Thayne said she had been thinking of a message of hope and peace as the hymn’s theme. As she began to relate some of the beginning lyrics, I stepped to the piano (I had a long telephone cord) and said, ‘Sounds good — the music should go something like this . . .’ She said ‘good,’ and gave me another line. I responded with additional measures of music. Before the conversation ended, we had mostly ‘roughed in’ the basic hymn. We have lovingly spoken of this number as the ‘telephone hymn’ throughout the years.” (Davidson, ‘Our Latter-day Hymns).

The text came to Emma Thayne in a time of great difficulty. She felt a personal solace after a period of what seemed like constant prayers and pleas of help.

I really like the personal nature of the hymn, the first person perspective. It makes me think of the personal journey we each have with the Savior through trial and challenge. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is the most universal and most personal act of love. We come to Jesus as a congregation, as families, and as individuals. Having beautiful hymns from each perspective is important. This one in particular has helped me many times.

Lines like “in my Gethsemane” are particularly poignant. I’ve been to Gethsemane. Though I went with a large group, we each quietly went our separate ways and had special time alone to contemplate what occurred there. It was a beautiful, personal, private experience.

The Music

The tune begins with a gentle falling tune down from the middle register. Then it returns to the A it began on and goes the opposite direction to fill out the register a bit.

Underneath that first line we have at first a steady, pedal D. And then we get the sorrowing sigh of descending half steps from F# to F to E with the tenors joining in the sorrow, but up a 3rd, A, A-flat, G.

Line 2 has a lovely rise, plateau, and fall of a melody. The bass is more active here as if to go along with the text. It hops around a bit more looking for “other sources” to “make me whole.”

Line 3 is similar to line 1. It’s nearly identical at first, then rises in a similar way but takes us all the way up to high D. The bass does another kind of half step emotional movement. This time it leaps tot he A# adding some gnarly emotions, and then resolves up by half step. The great moment here is at the end of the line. The octave leap down and then back up to the beginning of line 4 gets us into the emotional river quickly, if we weren’t already paddling through the rapids.

Line 4 begins with the climax note and a descent down towards the final cadence. The last 2 bars answer the question posed in the last 2 bars of line 2. They both start on the same G. But this time, instead of pausing on the 2nd scale degree with a musical and an actual question mark, we get the musical answer with a final D.

This hymn gets the highest marks from me. It teaches the gospel, it soothes, it communicates, it welcomes the congregation in, it’s easy to sing. It ticks all the boxes.

That’s all for today. Have a great one!


Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

I think I have the same response to this hymn as to yesterdays hymn. This is a beloved hymn in our tradition, and it is a good hymn like yesterday’s, but it doesn’t rise on my list of best or favorite hymns. Like yesterday’s hymn, the tune is a very fitting match for the text. The reverent nature of the tune lends well to the message of yearning for and discovering in whom we find peace. This hymn for me falls much more in the camp of being much more fitting for a personal devotion in times of spiritual need rather than in corporate worship.

This hymn reveals an all-too-common danger with soft hymns, which is that far too often reverent is equated with slow. This tempting thought must be avoided at all cost. There needs to be forward motion and momentum in this hymn. The suggested tempo for this hymn is too broad. The high end of the tempo is a good tempo for this tune, and I would take it at 100 beats per minute. 80 is too slow, though. A reverent registration is appropriate for this hymn.

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

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Flute 4’
Swell: Flute 2’

The Albus Dumbledore School of Hymn Composition

The Albus Dumbledore School of Hymn Composition

The Albus Dumbledore School of Hymn Composition.jpg

Hymn #128 — “When Faith Endures”

Text: Naomi W. Randall (b. 1908; LDS)
Music: Stephen M. Jones (b. 1960; LDS)
Tune name: WENDY

Today we take a look at a hymn by a living Latter-day Saint composer. None other than Dr. Stephen Jones, professor of composition, and former Dean of the School of Performing Arts at BYU (I think I got that title right…sorry if I didn’t, Stephen…).

Though he’s a generation ahead of me, we both earned our masters and doctoral degrees at the same school (University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music) and studied with the same teacher (Dr. Joel Hoffman).

Stephen is a fantastic composer! His works have been performed by many major ensembles around the world including the Chicago Symphony, the Cleveland Chamber Symphony, the Utah Symphony, and many others. He is also a former Stake President.

When his lovely hymn, #128, was published in 1985, he was only 25 years old. He was off to a great start.

I really like his hymn. The only downer for me is that it has only 1 verse. I wonder if this is why we don’t hear it very often in Sacrament meetings?

There are many layers of communication involved in the art of composition. When a text is involved, we get another couple layers, at least. And when the text is intended for use in a worship service, we add yet more layers. For this reason, it is for me, one of the most challenging, yet most reward types of composition. It’s easy to write big complicated music. It’s much harder to write music that is meant to be voiced by a congregation of many different ability levels and be music that moves them emotionally, spiritually, and is music that is appealing, singable, a delight to hear, uplifting, etc., etc.

Every note send of emotional signals. Every note attaches to a word in a phrase that is intended to elicit a feeling in the singer or hearer. This reminds me of something Albus Dumbledore said in the 7th Harry Potter book.

“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic, capable of both inflicting injury and remedying it.”

So true! But then there’s the tone of voice that adds another layer to the power of words. Tone can completely alter a series of words. Try saying a phrase with different tones of voice and see how quickly it changes the meaning.

Music can take the “inexhaustible source of magic” created by the words we say or sing, give them a tone of voice, and then attach to it an emotion. That sounds simple, but how easy is it to describe your emotions exactly? It’s terribly difficult to convey the precise feeling or motivation or yearning one feels inside with words alone. That’s where music comes into play.

So when a composer sits down to put musical notes to a sacred text meant for worship, the composer is not just a craftsman, he or she becomes an influencer, a marketer, a persuader, a psychologist, a prognosticator, a soothe sayer, an alchemist. The baroque composers understood this implicitly. They called it, the Doctrine of Affections.

To quote Dumbledore again, this time from Harry Potter book 1…

“Ah music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here!”

Stephen Jones understands this and knows how to use these tools. I’ll let him tell you about his process, his ideas, his alchemy.

“The opening lines express faith and confidence in the Lord’s love. Here the repeated, stable bass gives the music a solid, foundational beginning. The modulation in the second phrase lifts the music, depicting the ‘inner strength and peace of mind’ found through the Holy Ghost.

“The third phrase is the only one that does not begin with a solid, foundational bass. Here the bass and soprano move outward, opening the sound of the music and depicting the act of giving the Father our trust, prayers, and humility. The highest note in the melody occurs in this phrase, perhaps indicating a reaching out to God with the willingness spoken of in the text.

“The last phrase ends in the long note values, suggesting the endurance we need to show in exercising our faith.”

For those who are writing hymns, I recommend careful study of this hymn. Pay close attention to the balance between consonant tones and dissonant tones. Hear their gravity. Study how the harmony subtly enhances the gravity of the melodic tension and resolve.

I vote that we sing Stephen’s beautiful a whole lot more! And, I vote that we add some more verses. It’s a beauty. It’s a keeper. It’s a great example of a hymn that does what a hymn should do, it moves the congregation to feel, to see, to act. Great work, Stephen!

That’s all for today!


Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

This is a hymn that I am rather lukewarm about. The text is okay, and the music is okay, thus making a serviceable hymn, even if it doesn’t stir in me the type of reaction that other hymns in our survey have. Again, this may have to do with my preference for objective hymns. This hymn, being in first person and more relating to a feeling or response to a point of doctrine is more subjective, rather than expounding upon the doctrine itself.

Karen Davidson relates the words of the tune’s composer. “The opening lines express faith and confidence in the Lord’s love. Here the repeated, stable bass gives the music a solid, foundational beginning. The modulation in the second phrase lifts the music, depiction the ‘inner strength and peace of mind’ found through the Holy Ghost. The third phrase is the only one that does not begin with a solid, foundational bass. Here the bass and soprano move outward, opening the sound of the music and depicting the act of giving the Father our trust, prayers, and humility. The highest note in the melody occurs in this phrase, perhaps indicating a reaching out to God with the willingness spoken of in the text. The last phrase ends in long note values, suggesting the endurance we need to show in exercising our faith.”

This hymn and its explanation of tune I think is much in line with what Doug is looking for or describing when he discusses the tunes and their relation to the text, but I am not always convinced of the musical elements actually conveying a specific point. I can appreciate the words of the composer and his intentions, however, I don’t know that I would identify these aspects without the explicit definition or explanation. But I readily acknowledge that this explanation might ring true or recognizable for others.

I think the tune moves along nicely a bit faster than the suggested tempo. I find that I play this hymn around 96 beats per minute. I would also disregard the fermata in the middle. I find it disruptive to the forward motion of the text and tune and that just a slight acknowledgement of the phrase ending is enough, rather than treating it as a dotted half note. Treating it as if there were a tenuto mark there I think works much better that a pause or cessation of the pulse. I would use a quiet registration similar to many of the recent hymns.

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

The "Are We There Yet?" Hymn

The _Are We There Yet__ Hymn.jpg

Text: Joseph Fielding Smith (1876-1972; LDS)
Music: George D. Pyper (1860-1943; LDS)
Tune name: FIELDING

Mom… How much longer…?”

He’s touching me!”

She’s breathing my air!”

Ah, the sultry symphony of seriously sick-and-tired kids on a super slow and sustained sojourn across the country!

Our family has made the drive from Cincinnati, Ohio to Utah Valley more times than I care to remember. 1,600 miles, 1,600 dirty diapers, 1,600 temper tantrums, 1,600 bathroom stops, 1,600 tosses and turns in highway hotel beds with crusty pillows.

Not. My. Favorite. Way. To. Spend. Three. Days.

Driving through Indiana, Illinois and Iowa isn’t so bad. There’s a bit of beautiful countryside. By the time we get to Nebraska, we’re really feeling it. And the sites are less than exciting.

But then there’s Wyoming. Dreadful, dreary, dilapidated, deserted, desolate Wyoming. O the torture. O the almighty bleakness. And I swear, every time we go through Wyoming, there’s some sort of apocalyptic hail storm. I keep imagining a monstrous cyclone in the prairie that’s about so whisk us away and plunge us to our death.

“Does the Journey Seem Long?” asks hymn #127. YES! RIDICULOUSLY LONG INDEED!

Well, the music doesn’t depict the psychotic pain of 3 long days trapped in a metal box on wheels with 5 beautiful children turned murderous zombies. Nor does it depict that after a 2 week stay with family that we have to turn around and MAKE THE DRIVE ALL OVER AGAIN!!!

In fact, the music is quite pleasant. I remember seeing this title many times. But I don’t remember ever having played through the hymn. I really like the music. It has a folksiness to it, kind of like “Home on the Range.” I can almost hear the “boing” of a Jew’s Harp in the background.


My one grip is the misplaced subject in the sentence in the pick up to bar 3 of verses 1 and 2. Every other pick up in the hymn leads to the subject of the sentence which comes on the following downbeat. But in this case, “The path” and “Your soul,” the subject of the sentence comes on the eighth not right before the downbeat. It make it feel off-kilter. The only way to fix it is to change the text.

One of my favorite aspects are the two moments where George Pyper uses pedal tones to create the sustained, prairie-like environment of a long journey. Line 2 begins with one of these pedal tones in the alto, the steady C with the harmony all circling around it.

The next time this occurs is at the very end, to bring it home to its final destination. This time the soprano and bass hold pedal B-flats while the alto and tenor shift the harmony all around it. The best spot is on the word “heat.” The A-flat chord over the pedal B-flats makes a lovely, tangy sound.


My other favorite spot is the slip into C minor. The 2nd line ends with a cadence in C minor and continues to line 3 with this tonality. After a bar full of steady G7 chords at the very start of line 3, we slip back into E-flat major by moving the bass up a half step to A-flat and the soprano up a half step to C. This makes an A-flat major chord, a 4 chord in E-flat major. Then we’re “home, home on the range” again and brought soothingly home over the pedal B-flats.


Very nicely done. Its soothing, thoughtful, and not at all like the long 1,600 mile-long journey from Cincinnati to Utah with screaming children all the way. I’ll swap the experiences any day.

That’s all for today. I hope you have a great one!

Take care,


Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

This text was written while Joseph Fielding Smith was riding a train to Arizona (where he was treated to miles and miles of desert, a site I personally find very dull and dreary). I imagine him contemplating the long journey and turning to poetry to occupy his mind. This text is a wonderful pondering in question-answer form that I imagine is very relatable to many people.

The tune was written for this text by George D. Pyper, who held several notable responsibilities in the church, including General Sunday School Superintendent and as one of the editors of Deseret Sunday School Songs (1909). I find it to be a fitting tune for this text. Like “The Lord is my Shepherd,” the altos take a turn with the melody for the final phrase of this tune beginning at the word “heights,” a somewhat interesting strategy.

The suggested tempo is too slow for this tune. The melody flows very well and has nice forward motion around 94-96 beats per minute. Due to the unfamiliar nature of this hymn, I find it a very good candidate to solo out the melody, especially for the introduction. Another wonderful practice, especially with unfamiliar hymns, is to play the entire hymn as the introduction. This gives the congregation one hearing of it before engaging in singing. I would use a standard softer registration here, ensuring there is enough foundation, but also a bit of height in the registration, such as a 4’ or 2’ flute.

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

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Principal 4’
Swell: Principal 2’

Hymns in Minor Mode?! Blasphemy?!

Hymns in Minor Mode?! Blasphemy?!

Hymn #126 — “How Long, O Lord Most Holy and True”

Text: John A. Widtsoe (1872-1952; LDS)
Music: B. Cecil Gates (1887-1941; LDS)
Tune name: JACOB

Why is there such an aversion to hymns in minor in our church?

I’ve never understood this.

The minor mode opens up a whole set of new emotional possibilities.

Maybe it’s the Molly Mormon idea that everything is sunshine and roses all the time. Or, that we should always be cheerful.

I’m all for being cheerful. But that doesn’t mean that we sometimes don’t need to express the challenges of life. If we bottle it all up, we’re likely to explode.

Getting into the minor mode sometimes acts like a release valve of internal tension for me.

Hymn #126 is very deep in the sealed portion of the hymnal. Probably for the sole reason that it’s in a minor key. That’s really too bad because it’s a beautiful hymn.

And, the text was written by an Apostle.

We quote texts all the time that depict difficulty and challenge. Like Doctrine & Covenants 121 and 122 when Joseph Smith was in Liberty Jail. Those verses get pretty dark and gloomy, until the answer comes. Why can’t we do that more often in our hymns? The minor mode is perfect for that kind of expression.

Well, hymn writers, I want to encourage you to work in minor when you feel the need. If more of us wrote excellent hymns in minor, maybe a few would catch on and we could make a change in the Latter-day Saint worship music scene.

One of my hymns is in minor. It’s a Holy Week hymn called, “What Cost, What Price, What Debt We Owe.” My friend and collaborator, Dr. Carlton Monroe, director of music at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Cincinnati, love this hymn. He told me that he can’t imagine a Palm Sunday without it. I was able to get deep into emotional content because of all the harmonic options the minor mode presented me.

The tune in hymn #126 is nice, shapely, easy to sing (for the most part), and emotional. The harmony is also nice. I like the slow 2/2 tempo and the gentle moving of the harmony, sometimes in half notes, other times in quarters to reach a high point in a phrase.

One small element that stands out to me as a nice touch is when the melody holds a dotted half note as the harmony moves in half notes. That subtle rhythmic alteration both moves the hymn forward and ads some nice variety.

There is one spot in the middle of the hymn that makes the tune a bit awkward. It’s the C# at the beginning of bar 12.


I assume the composer did this to create a consistently descending melody line to accompany the steadily descending chromatic bass line. However, the C# feels a little abrupt in the texture. If I had composed this hymn, I would have written this passage like this:


Avoiding the C# by holding over the D and descending down to the C-natural keeps with the feel of the texture. And we don’t lose the emotional content created by the slowly descending chromatic bass line. That does its job perfectly and is my favorite element of the entire hymn.


All in all, I think this is a lovely hymn that should be programmed in our services. I love the way it goes a little darker to contemplate the internal challenges we all face. Music’s purpose in worship is to bring us closer to the Lord. Usually we yearn for Him most when we’re experiencing challenges. A hymn like this one can be just what one needs to bridge the spiritual gap between us and the Savior.

That’s all for today.

Have a good one!


Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

This is a fantastic hymn, and so unfortunate that likely only those who have given significant study and consideration to the hymnal know of its existence. It could be that due to the paucity of hymns in our book in a mode other than minor, we are unaccustomed to hymn tunes in modes or minor keys. This is rather unfortunate, as some of the very best hymn tunes are not in a major key. We might do well to borrow some of them and place them in our new hymnal!

The text of this hymn is by John A. Widtsoe, an apostle who also wrote the text for “Lead me into life eternal” (Hymn #45). It is a plaintive and sincere prayer to Heavenly Father asking for help with mortal frailties and seeking the hastening of the establishment of Heavenly Father’s kingdom, also teaching that seeking Heavenly Father’s will and truth are what help light our way. This text is an example of a lamentation or cry by Elder Widtsoe in the same vein as scriptural pleas, such as we find from prophets such as Nephi and Jeremiah. What a powerful example of how hymn texts of the wide variety of subjects for great hymn texts.

What better manner to accompany a plaintive plea and lamentation that a tune in a minor mode. While minor keys need not always be associated with sadness, laments, trials, etc., music in minor modes do tend to often carry these connotations. The tune is masterful, as is the accompanying harmonization. Some elements of this tune and harmonization that make it one of the finest hymn tunes we have in our hymnal include: the rising bass line in the first phrase, the amount of time in the hymn that the bass note is not the root of the chord, the deceptive cadence at the end of the second phrase, the descending chromatic melody in the third line, and the final cadence with the use of appoggiatura on the final word, delaying the resolution to the final chord. I cannot stress how great I think this hymn tune is. It is masterful.

I like the suggested tempo. It is appropriate for the solemn nature of this hymn. This is one hymn that I think can afford to go slowly, and the suggested tempo is I think a very good range. On how to register this hymn, I would explore the darker colors of the organ, likely utilizing the Hautbois if it is dark in color (but not if it is more similar to a Trumpet…), and using 16’ stops in the manual divisions, especially toward the beginning.

Registration Starting Point:
Great: Bourdon 16’, Principal 8’, Flute 8’
Swell: Principal 8’, Flute 8’, 4’, String 8’, Hautbois 8’, Bassoon 16’ (if it is not too prevalent)
Pedal: Subbass 32’, 16’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’, Contra Bassoon 32’, 16’ (if available)
Sw/Gt, Sw/Ped

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Flute 4’
Swell: Flute 2’

Mr. Incredible-Tenor Gets Back in the Hymn-Game

Mr. Incredible-Tenor Gets Back in the Hymn-Game

Hymn #125; 314 — “How Gentle God’s Command”

Mr. Incredible-Tenor Gets Back in the Hymn-Game.jpg

Text: Philip Doddridge (1702-1751)
Music: Hans G. Nageli (1773-1836);
arranged by Lowell Mason (1792-1872)
Tune name: DENNIS

How can you keep the tenors happy in your hymn writing?

It’s not hard. Tenors are kind of like my 8 year old when she stays home sick from school.

“Mom, I’m bored… there’s nothing to do…”

She thrives on motion. She wants something to do at all times. When she’s home without any other siblings or friends or classwork to keep her occupied, she’s bored out of her mind.

The same goes for tenors. Altos get this way sometimes, but they’re usually much more patient and understanding of their role than tenors. Tenors fancy themselves as heroes, always in the action. When they get benched, life stinks.

It’s kind of like Mr. Incredible in the new hit movie Incredibles 2. He gets benched and his wife gets to go out and be the star. He tries really hard to be okay with it, to let Elastagirl get the glory. But he’s miserable inside.

Hymn #125 is a great example of keeping Mr. Incredible-Tenor happy. Through the entire hymn, he’s on the move. Even though the harmony is rather simple, just 1 chords 4 chord and 5 chords, the tenors get to move in a duet with the sopranos throughout the whole hymn.

Because the melody leaps around in thirds a lot, it make create a soprano/tenor duet very easy. So the basses and altos lay down a stead harmonic backdrop and allow the sopranos and tenors to hop around depicting the kindness of God as manifest through keeping His commandments.

It’s a nice way to put together a hymn.

I have to admit, this hymn does not thrill me. But it’s solidly built and keeps the singers happy. I’m glad it’s short. This more basic type of writing gets old much faster in a longer, 4-line structure. It works much better in a short offering like this one.

That’s pretty much all I have to say about that.

I hope you all have a great day!


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Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

I love Karen Davidson’s discussion on this text which, for me, greatly strengthens the message of the text. She teaches that “the words command and commandment usually carry stern connotations. But those who obey the Lord find their load lighter, not heavier. This is the paradox of obedience: if we seek obedience rather than happiness, the result is happiness after all.” She continued, quoting Bruce R. McConkie, who “stated emphatically, ‘It is God’s right to command; he is not restricted to sending requests or petitions.’ He then focused on the point made in our hymn, citing 1 John 5:3 and adding italics to the last phrase: ‘For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.’ In Elder McConkie’s words, ‘In his infinite wisdom he orders us to do what will further our interests and his.’ The security and joy described in the hymn text are the reward of obedience.”

This tune is most often set to the text “Blessed be the tie that binds” in most denominational hymnals, but the text “How gentle God’s Commands” is most often found with this tune. Thus the tune is well-known, in not the greatest hymn tune written. It gets the job done, though. A great arrangement of this tune for organ is by Robert Manookin.

The repetition of the melodic notes and harmony can cause this hymn to be very notey if care isn’t taken in how one prepares to play this. If the tempo is too slow and emphasis is given to every beat, it plods along and becomes quite pedantic. Therefore it is wise to conceive the pulse in one rather than three and to have a good tempo that moves the melody forward. A good tempo would be with the dotted half note getting around 37-40 beats per minute (111-120 if you need the metronome for each quarter note). A nice, light, registration with a 2’ flute I think would work well for this hymn.

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

A Soothing Hymn in the Heat of Battle

A Soothing Hymn in the Heat of Battle

Hymn #124 — “Be Still, My Soul”

Text: Katharina von Schlegel (b. 1697);
translated by Jane Borthwick (1813-1897)
Music: Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)
Tune name: FINLANIA

A Soothing Hymn in the Heat of Battle.jpg

Not many hymns come from the traditional Symphonic repertoire.

I think Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” appears in some hymnals, though not in ours.

But I’m hard pressed to think of any other famous hymns hymns that appeared first in a piece for large orchestra.

“Be Still My Soul” is the middle section of a great, Nationalist piece of music by Finland’s greatest composer, Jean Sibelius.

The opening of the piece is very robust. It sounds as if war is coming. Dark clouds brood over the landscape of snarly trombones and roaring timpani.

After this initial throat clearing, we’re off to the war charge. Chariots and horses and swords a spears. It gets pretty exciting and pretty intense.

After this initial battle, there’s a shift if perspective. The forward motion continues. The tempo is quick. The battle still rages. But over the top of the forward thrust comes a heavenly hymn. A comfort during the battle. A balm in the heat of war.

The tune we know as “Be Still My Soul” comforts the warriors as they continue to fight for their country. The adrenaline continues to surge, but the heart is calmed and the spirits are lifted.

This is the context of this hymn.

When I hear this hymn played or sung at a ridiculously slow tempo, as it usually is, I can hardly stand it. It’s such a great hymn. Yet it gets completely butchered at the typical snail’s pace.

It needs to be conducted in 2. It should have been scored with a 2/2 time signature instead of a 4/4 marking. The metronome marking should read With Spirit, Half note = ca. 56.

The genius of this hymn is its rhythm. When it’s taken at an appropriate tempo, the hymn lifts off and soars into graceful flight. The syncopated entries, the dotted quarter eighth figure, followed by another syncopation on the long notes. The bumping up against the beat that’s created is completely lost at a slower, plodding tempo. And poor, brilliant Sibelius turns in his grave.

Thy rhythm is not complicated, but it’s off set just enough from the norm, that it makes for a delicious musical experience. And you get a sense of the forward motion of battle. And isn’t life a battle? Don’t we need a heavenly rallying cry to aid us in the day to day battle of life while we’re zooming on our figurative horse and combating life’s challenges? YES, WE DO!

So please, don’t take the tempo slow ever again. It destroys the essence of this music.

Another wonderful element is the simple tune. It doesn’t do anything wild melodic acrobatics as some other interesting tunes. Instead, it keeps to a very small range. But what’s brilliant about it is the lack of Do in almost the entire melody. Only a few times does the tune actually land on an F, the 1st scale degree. And when it does, in most cases, it’s mid-phrase and in camino to the next syncopated cadence.

Keeping the tune hovering around Me (the A) and Sol (the high C) add to the “up in the air” feel of the hymn. It’s afloat most of the time and only touches solid ground at the very last minute.

Lastly, the bass line creates a 2nd melody which is almost as interesting as the main melody. It accompanies it in a very satisfying and singable way.

All of these things combine to create a hymn built by keeping an eye on the altimeter gauge. It’s the kind of hymn that was composed not to follow rules or frameworks. It is a vignette into real life, with real lift off, with real tension and release build into the rhythm and flow, instead of relying on harmony alone. It’s is an excellent slice of a fine symphonic work turned into a powerful hymn. But don’t forget where it comes from. Try to keep it in context. That’s where it works it’s magic best.

That’s all for today. Have a good one!


Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

This is another sublime hymn that benefits by being set to one of the most beautiful melodies written by Jean Sibelius. The text is very poignant and speaks of a plea for the stilling of our souls in times of grief and pain. There is a fourth verse of the English translation omitted from our hymnal that seeks for solace in the departing of dearest friends, making this hymn even more appropriate for funerals.

The tune comes from the Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius’ tone poem, Finlandia. It is instrumental in nature, but pairs excellently with this translated text. Because of its instrumental nature and the length of the melodic lines, it can be somewhat difficult to pull off well for congregational singing. It is therefore imperative that the tempo of the hymn be such that the long lines are singable without dragging. Thinking of this hymn in 2 goes a long way in aiding in keeping the motion moving forward. A tempo of half note equal to around 56 beats per minute I find to be a good tempo to encourage forward momentum.

Another difficult characteristic of this tune is that the phrases begin on the weak beat immediately after the downbeat. This can be somewhat difficult to navigate and make clear for the congregation to sing. This is where I think Mack Wilberg’s arrangement for choir is brilliant and could aid very well in approaching how to accompany this hymn for congregational singing. What Brother Wilberg so brilliantly does is put something on the downbeat that aids in the motion of the hymn and feeling comfortable knowing where the next phrase begins. So on the downbeat at the beginning of the hymn, he has a I chord and then the voices come in. At the downbeats immediately before each phrase entrance, he has a harmonic movement or some other way to emphasis the downbeat and provide a great roadmap for the congregation to come in on the next phrase. I highly recommend studying and analyzing his arrangement to find ideas on how to lead the congregational singing for this hymn. I shamelessly admit that I borrow his harmonic language when I play this hymn, especially on the final verse, but choose to highlight the downbeats preceding each phrase entrance as well. I think it is a great solution to the bit of puzzle this hymn tune presents. I would again use a more subtle registration, ensuring that I have a very strong and broad 8’ line.

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

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Flute 4’ ?
Swell: Flute 2’ ?

Why Music? Why Do We Sing? Why Do We Worship with Music?

Why Music? Why Do We Sing? Why Do We Worship with Music?

Hymn #123 — “Oh, May My Soul Commune with Thee”

Text and music: Lorin F. Wheelwright (1909-1987; LDS)
Tune name: STERLING

Why Music_ Why Do We Sing_ Why Do We Worship with Music_.jpg

On occasion, when I get into a funk, I sometimes ask myself…

Why music? Why all the thousands of practice hours?

Why the decades of scratchy violin lessons, piano lessons, voice lessons, composition lessons, conducting lessons, recitals and concerts?

Why 9 years of college, mountains of tuition, student debt, months away from my family while getting a post-doc in Europe?

Why? Why? Why?

The first knee-jerk reason is, I can’t breath without it. I’m a raging addict. Worse than the worst alcoholic or heroine junkie.

The second reason is, I’m such a roaring addict because of what music does for my spiritually. I’ve never actually had a drop of alcohol, or taken heroine or any other illegal drug. I don’t need to. I get incredibly high on great music. But I’ve discovered why it lifts me up so high. Music feeds my spirit. I also feed my spirit with scripture study, prayer, temple attendance, church attendance, time with family, etc. But music music works some sort alchemical transformation in my spirit that brings me closer to God. More in tune with Him. More in tune with my purpose in life.

The third reason is, unlike illegal drugs or alcohol, music doesn’t just serve the user. It can be turned into a powerful instrument in the hands of the user. An instrument God created to allow us to bless the lives of others with powerful music. I can write a series of black dots on a page that go into a singers voice, that soar across a cathedral, into the ears of a congregant, and straight down into their heart, feeding their spirit with heavenly rocket fuel the way music feed me.

This is my real ‘why’. I choose to dedicate a huge part of myself to the creation of great worship music because by doing so, I truly become an instrument in the hands of the Lord. I help others commune with God and in the process, I find greater and greater access to the Lord’s Atonement.

As my Polish teacher said to me one day in our lessons… “We must compose for God.”

KaBOOOOMM! My mind was blown. But my spirit suddenly started resonating like mad. As if my internal tuning fork had found it’s frequency.

Communion with God. Helping others to commune with God. That’s my why. That’s why, though I know how to write many types and styles of music, I choose to focus all my composition efforts—and have done since that day in Poland in October 2011—to composing for God.

Hymn #123

“Oh, May My Soul Commune with Thee” depicts this special communion with God so beautifully. It could be my composer valedictory hymn.

Tune tune, though very simple looking, using a very clever device. Each phrase, except for the climax, starts on a middle range or high note and then descends down.

“Oh, may my soul…” G, G, F, E

“commune with thee…” C, C, B, A

“and find thy holy peace…” A, G, F, E, D, D

“From worldly care…” G, G, F, E

(and now the 1 different phrase, because it’s the climax, goes up to the high E, and then down)

“and pain of fear…” C, E, D, C

“please bring me sweet release.” A, G, E, F, F, E

It’s as if each phrase we are reaching up and trying to coax the blessing to shower down upon us. Each phrase is a humble plea, except for the climax point. We get a little impatient, because the “pain” on the high E hurts. Then we go back to our calm pleading for communion.

I love how the tune ends on the 3rd scale degree. It makes it sound just slight unfinished. As if this is a continual, life-long plea for communion. Which it is. Ending on E instead of C leaves the experience open ended.


The harmony, though simple for the most part, has just the right amount of hair-raising in it to make us feel the plea in this prayer.

Bar 1 starts with a regular 1 chord. Bar 2 adds some tension with the G#, making that a C augmented chord. That’s an unsettled, I-must-resolve kind of chord, which fits the emotional content perfectly.


We get the C augmented chord again in the 2nd bar of line 2. This time it’s inverted, meaning the E is in the bass instead of the C. But it doesn't’ resolve the tension as quickly this time. Instead, it steps to an F chord and then a D# fully diminished 7th chord with F# in the bass. That further “augments” our yearning feelings before stepping through a nice circle progression and ending on 1.

There’s another element in this hymn that gives it it’s special sound. There are many passing tones that sort of pull feeling out of us as they pass between chord tones. Very effective use of dissonance and the tension/resolve kind of harmony that is so satisfying.

For me, this is a perfect hymn. A+ on all fronts. It’s a MUST keep in the new book.

That’s all for today. Have a good one! And don’t get trampled out there while Black Friday shopping.


Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

I love this sublime hymn. I find the text and tune to be of much more substance and quality than many of the subjective hymns we have previously surveyed. The test is a powerful prayer asking for strength and power to align our will with Heavenly Fathers and to find greater communion with Heavenly Father. It is a wonderful example of a powerful hymn text.

The tune is equal to the tune in its effectiveness in the plea to commune with our Heavenly Father. The raised fifth scale degree in the second measure is a superb tool to show a pleading nature which Brother Wheelwright again uses to great effect in the second line. The climax of the tune occurs right around the golden mean, and then returns to the same range that the hymn began. I especially love the tune ending on the third. This is a tremendous tune and harmonization. This fantastic text and tune are tremendous examples of outstanding hymn-writing.

I find a good tempo for this hymn to be around 82 beats per minute. That is within the range of the suggestion, but I would stay on the higher end of the range. 69 is too slow, I think. I would choose a quiet registration, and may not vary the registration at the end unless I was soloing out the melody on one of the verses.

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

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Flute 4’ or none?

Can Little Black Dots Physically Heal You?

Can Little Black Dots Physically Heal You?

Hymn #122 — “Though Deepening Trials”

Text: Eliza R. Snow (1804-1887; LDS)
Music: George Carless (1839-1932; LDS)
Tune name: RELIANCE

Can Little Black Dots Physically Heal You_.jpg

Have you ever felt spiritually or physically healed after hearing or singing or playing a piece of music?

It seems illogical. How could sound waves soaring through the air cause healing?

It’s happened to me more than once. In the great Passions of Bach. In many of his Cantatas too. Also in Handel’s Messiah, in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, in Saint-Saens’ 3rd Symphony, in Faure’s Requiem, in John Rutter’s “Lord, Make My and Instrument of Thy Peace,” in Brahms’ “Geistliches Lied,” in Bruckner’s 7th, 8th and 9th Symphonies, in James MacMillan’s “7 Last Words from the Cross,” and in many other great pieces.

It’s happened most powerfully when I was struggling through “deepening trials” but had to complete a commission for a piece of church music. It sounds silly, but it’s hard to describe the moment of healing. It’s a sacred experience.

The first time it happened while singing one of my own compositions, was at the Praga Cathedral in Warsaw, Poland. We were singing my Mass on a Sunday evening. At the time, my wife was terribly sick and living back in Utah with our kids. She had an autoimmune disease and was not doing well. I felt the weight of the whole situation fiercely.

When we sang the Agnus Dei movement, I was overwhelmed and singing through the thorny, harrowing harmonies, reaching the release of all the built up tension in the music to the big climax, I physically felt the weight lighten. It was remarkable.

 Final phrase of ‘For I Was An Hungered’ by Douglas Pew. © 2015

Final phrase of ‘For I Was An Hungered’ by Douglas Pew. © 2015

Later I had a similar experience at St. Thomas Episcopal in Cincinnati. The first of many. When we reached the final phrase of my piece, “For I Was an Hungered,” the section that quotes Jesus, “inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” All the challenges I was facing—which I won’t get into here—seemed to lift from my shoulders. My burdens were light.

What a beautiful, magical, heavenly power sacred music can have.

Hymn #122, “Though Deepening Trials,” has a similar story. George D. Pyper, friend of the composer wrote:

“George Careless composed the tune while under physical distress. He was very ill and needed encouragement—something to dispel his fears and raise him from the state of despondency into which he felt himself drifting. . . .

“ ‘Addie,’ he called to his eleven-year-old daughter, ‘bring me the hymn book.’ She brought it to him. After scanning its pages for a few minutes he found what he was searching for—what his physical body as well as his spirit required. It was Eliza R. Snow’s hymn, ‘Though Deep’n-ing Trials Throng Your Way.’ It gave him courage to fight his bodily ills and the faith that soon raised him from his bed of affliction. At the same time it inspired the music that enabled him to pen one of the noblest of his compositions—one which, united with Eliza R. Snow’s comforting poem, is among the most popular numbers in our Church hymnody.”

The text alone is masterful. Eliza R. Snow had a great gift for writing texts that easily pierce the deep places of the heart.

The music is well written. The tune is somber, at times, soothing, and at other times allows the singer to extract their internal wounds by raising their voices to the higher parts of their range and sing with full yearning.

For me, the spot that allows that yearning to come out the most is the section, “Will spread its life and truth abroad.” The repeated melody notes act as a runway for the voice to lift off to the high E-D-C#. Then we come back down to earth as the final phrase descends to the low D. Very effective.

The harmony is fairly standard. There are a few wedge chords with sharps filling the gap in the stepping line. The D# at the end of line 1. The D# in the middle of line 3. The A# in the middle of line 4. These are the kinds of sharps Bach would use when hardships were to be depicted in his music. Trials increasing = more sharps. Trials being soothed = fewer sharps, moving towards the flats.

My only gripe is—as I’m sure if you’ve been following these posts for a while, you’ve already guessed—the lack of a bass line in the 2nd phrase. It completely interrupts the flow, at least for my taste.

Here’s an easy way to harmonize it with 2 simple bass notes.


Though, I’d rather play or sing something like this:


It’s a shame we almost never sing any of the verses printed outside the staff. They are beautiful and moving. We should use them.

All in all, this is a wonderful hymn which deserves its place in our hymnal. I really hope it stays.

That’s all for today. I wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving!


Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

This is a great hymn. The text is a fantastic hymn text by one of our greatest hymn-text writers, though I again renew my objection for not including all of the hymns within the music and for not singing all of the verses. This practice in our faith often causes me to pause and lament that generally we don’t understand the purpose of music in our worship. This is a topic that deserves much more fleshing out and consideration than what the scope and purpose of these hymn reviews provide, but it is worth studying the words of prophets and apostles concerning this matter.

The tune is a great tune as well, though I think the title and first line of the hymn trick people into believing that the hymn has a somber or solemn affect, when in reality it is one of rejoicing and joyful proclamation. Note the suggested affect of cheerful. Too often, this hymn is not cheerful, but slow, sad, and quiet. This shows the great impact the organist can have on a successful interpretation of the hymn.

I think too often we get caught up in this idea that life is full of trial and tribulation and we don’t recognize the merciful hand of Heavenly Father in our lives and his willingness to provide us with blessings upon our petitioning for them. Thus the title of the hymn of deepening trials fools us, I think, into perceiving the affect of this hymn as something it is not. A very nice arrangement of this hymn can be found on the Tabernacle Choir’s Come, Come, Ye Saints CD by Robert Manookin.

The suggested tempo again is too slow and doesn’t lend itself well to communicating a cheerful affect. I find a good cheerful tempo and where the tune tends to want to be is around 112 beats per minute. I would choose a nice, bright registration, perhaps choosing to open with a principal chorus through 2’ Principal, and adding a low-pitched mixture and perhaps a nice chorus reed later on.

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

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Mixture ?
Swell: or Trumpet 8’ ?
Pedal: Reed 16’

How Chopin Slipped Into the Latter-day Saint Hymnal

How Chopin Slipped Into the Latter-day Saint Hymnal

Hymn #121 — “I’m a Pilgrim, I’m a Stranger”

Text: Hans H. Petersen (1835-1909; LDS)
Music: Leroy J. Robertson (1896-1971; LDS)
Tune name: BOSTON

How Chopin Slipped Into the Latter-day Saint Hymnal.jpg

I’ve always found it incredibly interesting that the lives of Joseph Smith and Frederic Chopin were almost simultaneous, and almost exactly the same length.

Joseph Smith was born in 1805 and died in 1844.

Frederic Chopin was born in 1810 and died in 1849.

They were only 5 years apart and lived the same, short number of year. They were both 38 years old when they died. And that in itself freaks me out because I just turned 38 a couple months ago.

Thinking about how much these men accomplished in their short lives makes me feel like a major slacker!

One of the hallmarks of Chopin’s music was a special, romantic, sighing kind of harmony. This harmony appears in many of his pieces throughout his life. But it became more and more prevalent as he approached his final illness and death. His last few Mazurkas are full of this kind of sagging, descending by half-steps, kind of harmony. It is a very melancholy sound, which is fitting, as he was a very melancholy man.

It makes a lot of sense that Leroy Robertson, one of the finest composers in our tradition, used this despairing kind of harmony at the beginning of the 3rd line of Hymn #121. “Oft despairing, oft despairing…”

There’s Chopin’s life in a nutshell.

I have always loved the music of Chopin, and have played quite a lot of it. But when I was a student in Warsaw, finishing up my doctorate as a Fulbright scholar, I became much more intimately acquainted with it. Having been exiled from his homeland, and watching from afar as they struggled against foreign regimes, Chopin was filled with nostalgia and angst.

The beautiful Polish people, having been so often conquered, tortured, re-conquered, ruled over by vicious dictators, are resilient re-builders. But they remember their challenges. They are fresh in their memory. On nearly every street corner in Warsaw there is a plaque or monument to an uprising against this regime or that potentate.

They were very often pilgrims in strange lands, forced to leave their home. The same was true of Chopin. The same was true of many Latter-day Saints, those who left their homes abroad to come to American and follow the Prophet, and those who were kicked out of city after city until finally settling in the West.

So a Chopin-esque harmony makes a lot of sense to me in this hymn.

With all this wonderful, adventurous, dramatic harmony, I wonder if it goes a little too far. Perhaps not. Maybe it’s just the music nerd in me. But when I sing or play this hymn, I completely lose track of the tune. My attention goes straight to the harmony.

I don’t find it to be a particularly inspired tune. It’s adequate. But for my ears, it’s lost amongst all the harmony. That is one thing Chopin would not have done. He would never have sacrificed his melody for interesting harmony. He was an incredible melodist. His harmony was as adventurous as any Romantic composer, and much more than some. But it always supported the melody without eclipsing it. If there’s a fault in Hymn #121, it’s that the harmony, at least to my ears, eclipses the melody.

So, let’s have a look under the hood at all this harmony stuff. Let’s go bar by bar.


Bar 1 — Nothing too intriguing. A 1 chord and a 5 chord with the 7th in the bass. And, theres a little suspension in the soprano, the G hanging over from the previous chord which resolves down to F.

Bar 2 — It starts with another 1 chord, but this time in 1st inversion, with the G in the bass. Now we get our first Chopin moment. The sagging chromatic bass line, G-F#-F. The 2nd chord, the F# diminished 7th chord is interesting. Normally diminished chords built on notes outside the key signature, and on sharps, they usually resolve upwards. The F# would go up to G and the chord would usually be G minor, in this key. But in Chopin-esque fashion, the composer lets the diminished chord sag down rather than raise up and we land on a B-flat chord with F in the bass followed by another B-flat chord, the 5 chord, this time with a 7th on it, the A-flat.

Bar 3 — The phrase restarts with the same chord as the opening chord of the hymn. But now we have a pedal E-flat through the bar with a dominant 7th chord on E-flat, the one with the D-flat. This resolves to an A-flat chord, still with E-flat in the bass, and then back to a regular 1 chord.

Bar 4 — At first it looks like a regular end to a phrase. The bass goes 4, 5, 1 with a 2 chord, a 5 chord and a 1 chord. But Robertson slips in a foreign chord by pivoting on the G in the soprano. Beat 4 is a G7 chord with F in the bass. This sounds like he’s about to slip into the relative minor key. Remember those? That’s the minor key that shares the same key signature with the major key. In this case, we’re in E-flat major, so the relative minor key is C minor. And a G7 chord is the 5 chord in that key. So by ending the 1st line on that G7 chord, especially when it has the 7th in the bass, our ear expects to hear some C minor coming next, and probably in 1st inversion, with E-flat in the bass.

Bar 5 — He does eventually get to the E-flat in the bass, but not straight away. First he makes he decides to do that same sagging Chopin thing where he takes the bass down by half steps. This time the F from the last chord of bar 4 sags to the E-natural and then E-flat in bar 5.

He starts with another fully diminished 7th chord outside of the key, built on E-natural. When the tenor moves to the A-natural, the chord becomes an A7 chord with E in the bass, the D-flat is basically a C# in that context. Then the sagging bass finally arrives on the E-flat underneath a regular 4 chord.

Bar 6 — Now the bass reverses it’s direction and starts slithering up the chromatic scale. E-flat 7, then up to E diminished 7, then F minor, and then what looks at first like an F# diminished chord. But it’s not. The chord is A-flat, C, E-flat, F#. If you re-spell the F# as G-flat, you’d have an A-flat dominant 7th chord. But, since it’s an F#, this is what we call an Augmented 6th chord. The A-flat to the F# is an interval of an augmented 6th. The F# resolves up to G and the A-flat resolves down to G. This corroborates our previous thoughts of slipping into the key of C minor. This is a German Augmented 6th chord in the key of C minor. This chord normally resolves to a 1 chord in 2nd inversion, or, in this case, a C minor chord with G in the bass.

Bar 7 — The Augmented 6th chord does resolve correctly and we start bar 7 with a C minor chord with G in the bass. After leaping up to the B-flat and turning the C minor chord into a C minor 7 chord, we get a regular F minor 7 chord (4 chord in C minor) and another C minor chord with G in the bass. It sounds like we’re going to have a full on cadence in C minor.

Bar 8 — But, yet again, our expectation are dashed. The harmony repeats itself a bit. F minor 7, to the F# in the bass which is that same German augmented 6th chord. But this time, instead of resolving the German augmented 6th chord to a C minor chord with G in the bass, it goes directly to a G7 chord in root position. It sounds like a half cadence in C minor. But it doesn’t last long because the bass is still on the move, stepping down to F.


Bar 9 — And now comes the big Chopin moment. Instead of any semblance of a cadence, we despair our way through 3 diminished chords in a row. E fully diminished 7, then dropping to A half diminished 7 with E-flat in the bass, then D half diminished 7 with a suspension in the soprano, extending the yearning. Very “heart-on-sleeve” writing, just like Chopin.

Bar 10 — It was so fun the first time, why not do it again?! It doesn’t happen quite the same, but it’s similar. F minor 7 sags down to F half diminished 7 with the C-flat in the tenor. Then we get a G minor chord with B-flat in the bass and a very rare chord at the end, an Augmented triad. Instead of B-flat, D, F, we get B-flat, D, F#. The F# acts like another sagging sigh between the 2 G’s on either side of it.

Bar 11 — With only 2 bars left, we have to get some sense of a home key going here pretty quickly. But before that, Robertson sneaks in a few more chromatic yearning pleas. First a 1 chord turned into a dominant 7th chord, and with the 7th in the bass. After 2 beats of that, we expect it to resolve down, as it should, to an A-flat chord, the 4 chord, but in 1st inversion, with C in the bass. The bass does resolve properly, but rather than an A-flat chord, he sticks the knife in just a little deeper with an A-natural, turning this into an A diminished chord with C in the bass. It’s followed by an F7 chord, the 5 of 5, then we finally get a regular (well, almost regular) dominant 7 chord that finally resolves to the 1 chord. What’s unusual about the final 5 chord is the un-resolved, hanging suspension.

Bar 12 — The C in the soprano on the downbeat carried over from the previous bar. It should then step down to a B-flat. But like an immigrant ripped from his homeland, the suspension is left hanging and the soprano leaps down to the low D before finally resolving.

Phew, we made it! What a chromatic journey! But very well written and expertly modeled after one of the greatest composers of all time. Ladies and gentleman, don’t try this at home! Adult supervision is needed to avoid any catastrophes.

That’s all for today. Have a good one!


Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

If yesterday’s hymn felt adventurous harmonically and one that is unknown to most, this hymn makes it look tame and well-known comparatively. I find the text very compelling, and much more so than some of the other first-person texts that we have come across to this point. I find it a more vivid picture of our need to rely on Heavenly Father than some of the other pleas.

The tune was written by Leroy Robertson in fulfillment of a class assignment while at the New England Conservatory of Music which he later adapted to this text. Leroy Robertson is one of the greatest LDS composers and you can see him practicing his compositional chops with this hymn. The chromaticism lends itself very well to this text. There are times when the text matches perfectly with the given topics for speakers, and thus has been sung in wards I have attended (only because I have been the one selecting the hymns), and it doesn’t seem to big a challenge for the congregation to sing this. I would play the entire hymn as the introduction, though, to let them hear it once.

I have been pleasantly surprised with the last few hymns having appropriate tempo suggestions, but here we are back to the suggestion being far to slow. To really have the chromatic harmonic movement make sense and have direction, the tempo needs to be quite a bit faster, around 90-92 beats per minute. My registration would be heavy with 8’ stops, and I may or may not add anything on the final verse.

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

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Flute 4’

A Holy Body Builder's Theme Song

A Holy Body Builder's Theme Song

Hymn #120 — “Lean on My Ample Arm”

Text: Tehodore E. Curtis (1872-1957; LDS)
Music: Evan Stephens (1854-1930; LDS)
Tune name; ESTHER

A Holy Body Builder's Theme Song.jpg

For some reason I keep hearing this text in an Arnold Schwarzenegger voice…

My ahm is zo big, yoo kan leen on it. And don’t vory, I’ll be bach.”

All joking aside, this is a rather muscular hymn. At least when it comes to the use of harmony. Evan Stephens really flexes his composer muscles. He shows how pivoting between a major key and both its relative and parallel minor keys can be incredibly effective.

Ya, I pump kompohzer iron.”

What is uniquely beautiful about this hymn text, is it comes from Jesus to his followers. Very rarely are any of our hymns presented from His perspective, speaking to us. I find that one of the most comforting elements of this truly beautiful, but tragically almost unknown hymn.

The tune begins with a simple imploring turn of phrase. Then it matches the more robust part of the sentence, “O thou depressed,” with a leap to the high register.

The second line begins with a variation of the opening 2 bars and a step into the parallel minor key of D minor. That’s where the composer gets the B-flats from. Then the phrase ends in a pretty standard half cadence, pausing on the 5 chord.

The tune then becomes a study on the high D. We hear 4, 2-bar phrases in a row that all start with a high D. The harmony takes each phrase on unique emotional journey and finally comes to a close with a variation of line 1.


The harmony is where the real body-building composer-flexing occurs.

The hymn begins with a quick step into the parallel minor key, D minor. Parallel minor meaning, the piece still begins and ends on D, but instead of D major, it slips to D minor.

The pedal D in the bass keeps on on solid ground. The tenor is responsible for the slip to d-minor with the sagging lowered 7th and 6th stepping down to A.

The end of line 1 falls back into normal harmony. It supports the high melody with a strong sounding 5 chord with the 7th in the bass, the G, which has a very powerful urge to resolve down to the F# as a 1 chord in 1st inversion


Line 2 ups the ante a bit. The opening bars follow the same harmony as line 1, but the melody rises a bit more hitting the B-flat. The second half of the line prepares for the pause on the 5 chord with the 5 chord of the 5 chord, the E-major chord. Pretty standard too.

But now the fun is about to begin.

The last melody note at the end of line 2 is a high C#. This is the 7th note in the scale. So a pause on this high note needs to be resolved in our ear. We need it to go up to D and land on a 1 chord.

Well, it does hit the high D, but we don’t get a 1 chord. Not even close.


The first high D tops an E# fully diminished 7th chord. This doesn’t fit in D major at all. It doesn’t fit in D minor either. But it does make sense in the “relative” minor key of B minor. Remember, relative keys share the same key signature but start on different notes. This hymn is in D major, which shares a key signature with B minor.

So an E# diminished chord sounds like it’s going to precede an F# chord. And F# is the 5 chord in B minor. So when we hear this chord, whether you know it or not, starts listening for a resolution to an F# chord.

But we never get an F# chord. Instead, the composer, after passing through a C# minor chord, rests on a quick D major chord. So we’re not firmly in B minor because the phrase rests on D major, the original 1 chord. We’re in a sort of limbo between the two relative keys and pivoting back and forth on the strongest common note between the keys, the high D.

The second half of line 3 basically repeats the first half, with a couple subtle differences.

But line 4 decides it hasn’t yet had enough of the “parallel” minor. The same key we slipped into in the first 2 lines, with the C-naturals and B-flats.


Line 4 repeats the high D, but this time on top of a B-flat major chord. We call this chord the chromatic sub-mediant. Sub-mediant, meaning the chord built on the 6th note in the scale, the B. Chromatic, meaning it’s not a normal B, it’s a B-flat, which belongs to the “parallel” minor key of D-minor.

As line 3 did, the opening of line 4, though it’s stepping out of its home key, ends the phrase back in D major.

We’ve now had 3, 2-bar phrases in a row with a high D to start us off. Some were in the “parallel” minor mode, others in the “relative” minor mode. What will the 4th and final phrase of this middle section do to round it off?


It beings as line 4 began with a high D and a B-flat major chord. The there’s an important chord that answers all these questions about which key we’re really in followed by a big climax chord, D-major in 2nd inversion with a super high F# on top.

But what’s the super special chord in between with the B-flats and the G#s?

The chord is B-flat, D, E, G#. Or in solfege syllables, Le, Do, Re, Fi. The B-flat resolves down a half step to A and the G# resolves up a half step to A while the rest of the fermata chord holds a D and F#.

This is what we call a French Augmented 6th Chord. Basically, it’s a dominant 7th chord built on the lowered 6th scale degree. In this case, the B-flat. But it’s spelled incorrectly and on purpose. A normal B-flat dominant 7th chord is spelled B-flat, D, F, A-flat. This one changes the A-flat to a G# so it will resolve up to an A. And it swaps out the F for an E to add a little “french” color.


It’s a powerful “wedge” kind of a chord that fits between pre-dominant chords (chords that come before a 5 chord) and the 5 chord itself. But rather than resolve directly to the 5 chord, it often resolves to a 1 chord in 2nd inversion, which almost always resolves to a 5 chord afterwards.

Rather than resolve to a 5 chord, an A chord, line 5 starts directly on the 1 chord and takes us home to the final cadence without ever hitting a 5 chord. Instead, the composer borrows again from the “parallel” minor of D minor and gives us a beautiful, emotional final cadence. It skips the 5 chord all together and plays first a 2 chord, then a 2 diminished chord, then the final 1 chord.

It’s so unfortunate that this hymn gets stuck in the sealed portion of the hymnal. It’s a brilliant hymn with all sorts of wonderfulness.

I think many pianists and organists are afraid of all the sharps and flats. And I think the high F# condemns the hymn from regular congregational use. I don’t see why the hymn couldn’t be set down a whole step in C major. This would be much more manageable for a congregation. Alas, I’m not the decision maker here. Though I wouldn’t mind having a say in things like this.

Regardless, I hope you’ll come to love this hymn and use it in your Sacrament meeting services. And use it as an interesting model of harmonic hymn writing that is very effective.

That’s all for today. Have a good one!


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Commentary form “The Bench Warmer”

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

Like hymn #118, we are reaching into the deepest recesses of the sealed portion of the hymnal for today’s hymn. And like #118, it is an absolute gem of a hymn. Continuing with the similarities to Ye Simple Souls Who Stray, it is a hymn that is considered to be more difficult for a congregation to sing, not only due to its unfamiliarity.

Concerning this hymn, J. Spencer Cornwall commented that “this choir hymn is almost of anthem proportions. It is somewhat dramatic in its harmonic content, reaching an imposing climax in the fourth line. The final measures which reiterate the first phrase are calm and impressively peaceful.”

Ever optimistic, Karen Davidson reports that “this hymn was labeled for choir use in the 1950 hymnal. The pitch was lowered for the 1985 hymnal, and the music is not too difficult for most congregations.” I agree with her, as I think that we are capable of doing more congregationally than we do. I think people are surprised at their vocal range when they aren’t thinking about it or aware of it. When I warm choirs up with many who are untrained, they are surprised when I tell them what notes they were singing during the warm up. I think we are capable of more than we think, and that not being able to sing above a certain point is very often only a self-imposed limitation. Of course this is a general observation, knowing that some voices do have limitations, but I think that far more often that is the exception, and not the rule.

The harmonic language of this hymn is fantastic and highlights how departing from simple harmony can be extremely effective in painting a poignant text such as this. Though not always needed or advised, for this tune and text, the harmony is brilliant. If you have never heard this hymn, I encourage you to play it and to listen to it. It is sublime! (this is hymn singing at its absolute finest!)

I am not keeping track of all of my tempo recommendations and how they differ from the suggestion, but this may be the first or second that I would recommend taking on the slow end. 88 I think is too fast for this piece. 72 beats per minute is more inline with the text and melody, though I can understand taking it a titch or two faster for congregational singing. I would use a quiet registration and not vary it for the second verse.

Registration Suggestion:
Great: Principal 8’, Flute 8’
Swell: Principal 8’, Flute 8’, 4’, String 8’
Pedal: Subbass 16’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’
Sw/Gt, Sw/Ped