A Titanic Hymn-Cure for Hypothermia
Text: Sarah F. Adams (1805-1848)
Music: Lowell Mason (1792-1872)
Tune name: BETHANY
Hymn 100. Wow! I sort of can’t believe I’ve kept this up for 100 days.
I hope you’ve found it all worthwhile and helpful. That’s the goal. I’ll confess to some occasional grumbling on my part. But I think those who “can” help “should” help. So, here we are.
“Nearer, My God, to Thee” is a classic hymn with music by American church music maven, Lowell Mason. This is his most famous of the 1600 hymns he wrote.
Sarah Adams, who wrote the text, depicts the story of Jacob’d dream in Genesis 28. It is another beautiful “yearning” hymn.
The hymn was so well known as a hymn of comfort that even when the Titanic was sinking, the string band played this hymn as its final musical offering to the terrified passengers. Those poor musicians, having to play while sinking to an inevitable icy death. I’m not sure going into the depths of an ice cold ocean is come “nearer” to God, or how it could thaw frozen fingers and toes. But, whatever…
Verses 4 and 5 are beautiful. I wish we were in the habit of singing them even though they’ve been doomed to obscurity by means of being printed at the bottom of the page.
Musically speaking, I find this hymn very similar to Hymn #98, “I Need Thee Every Hour.” It has the same puritan feel to it. The building blocks are very simple. Not as plain as Hymn #99, which takes the simple into the real, perhaps not of the absurd, but it stretches the plainness too far for my taste.
Hymn #100 does have a chorus-like 3rd line that goes up into the higher register, increasing the yearning. But it doesn’t quite reach the level of Hymn #98’s chorus. They are not much different, but if I had to choose between Hymn #98 or #100, I would choose #98.
It’s hard to put my finger on why that is exactly. My first gut reaction is that after 3 or 4 verses of #98, my attention is still fully engaged. By the end of 3 verses of Hymn #100, I’m starting to get tired of the music. The text is wonderful. I could keep that going for a while. I just wish there were one or two extra musical twists or turns in #100. The last line is the perfect place to do that. But Mason decides to copy line 2 exactly. It works. But I’m getting musically tired after a while.
That’s all for today, the 100th day of our journey through the hymnal.
Tune back in tomorrow for the first of another 100 hymns.
Have a good one!
P.S. To learn how to add the little extra twists and turns that can spice up a hymn just enough, be sure to click the green button below. I’m writing a book, a practical guide to hymn writing and primary song writing. I’ll go into detail on this topic. Click the button to be notified about my progress and when the book is ready to go.
P.P.S. And don’t forget to subscribe to these posts, if you haven’t already.
Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”
by Jason Gunnell, Organist
We’ve made it to 100 hymn reviews! I think I can safely say this is my least favorite song in our book. I have never liked this song and I still don’t. I find it to be rather mediocre and overdone to the point of being rather trite. Doug in his kindness occasionally points out to me that I have little tact or am too harsh on occasion, and I think that you can see here that his observations of my personality are probably true in this case. Most of the time I don’t mean to be too harsh or tactless, but in this case, this is how I feel about this song.
A comment was made on yesterday’s song that it is effective in the temple or at funerals, and I will readily admit that there are appropriate times for today’s song as well. I think that there are probably many people that find solace and comfort in this song at certain times, so I am not blind to this being a beloved song. I just find the text rather uninspiring personally and the tune and harmonization extremely boring. I’m sorry to be so harsh on this song, but there are so many other hymns and anthems that communicate a similar message of longing and comfort that are excellent, that I tire quickly of this song that I think is very mediocre. I am not naive, however, that I am likely in a small minority with this song.
If one were to play this song within the recommended tempo in the hymnal, I would feel they were just trying to prolong my discomfort with this song. I would probably play it around 96 beats per minute. I would also fidget much with the harmony and try to add a little more interest to the tune through some judicious reharmonization. I would follow the registration pattern of the last few hymns as well.
Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, Flute 8’
Swell: Principal 8’, Flute 8’, 4’, String 8’
Pedal: Principal 16’, 8’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’
Possible Final Verse Additions: