The Lost Barbershop Sheep
Text and music: Orson Pratt Huish (1851-1932; LDS)
Tune name: JAMES
In this section of the hymnal, we’ve had a few hymns that are very similar to each other. “Nearer My God to Thee” and “I Need Thee Every Hour” are two of them. Today’s hymn, “Guide Me to Thee,” is the 3rd in this series.
Each has a repetitive, yearning, pleading text. Each uses some of the same simple musical building blocks.
Yesterday I mentioned that I prefer “I Need Thee Every Hour” over “Nearer My God to Thee” for various reasons (read yesterday’s post here). Hymn #101 is closer to “Nearer My God to Thee” on my hymn-quality gauge than “I Need Thee Every Hour” is.
It’s okay… but… it doesn’t quite do it for me.
I do like the “call and response” nature of the text. There are repeated statements from the dark that end with the repetitive plea, “Guide me to thee.” I don’t find the text to be, for lack of a better term, “vain repetition.” I can see myself in the text at different times of life, pleading for help.
It’s a lost sheep hymn, and that is what I like and respect about it.
But the musical clothes that dress the message… that’s what I’m not super happy with.
It’s almost like the lost sheep is singing barbershop. Especially in the opening phrase. That 2nd bar, with the descending half steps in the melody, it has that barbershop twinkle in its eye.
Don’t get me wrong, I love barbershop. Yet I can’t quite get the my internal lost sheep to feel comfortable singing in that style.
It’s like a smooth talking sheep was trying to get in with the Good Shepherd using flattery.
I’m sure that’s not what Orson Pratt Huish intended. But that’s what I’m hearing. And to quote the subtitle of a book I recently read (Words that Work by Dr. Frank Luntz), “It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.”
The music sends the wrong message to my ears.
I do like the 3rd line, especially the 2nd bar. The high D on the downbeat is a spine tingling appoggiatura. The B-flat from the last note of the 1st measure leaps up and hits the high D on an A-flat major chord. There are no Ds in an A-flat major chord. So it stands out as a dissonance that resolves on the next syllable. It’s the most effective moment of the hymn.
The next 2 bars follow a similar pattern, but there’s a doubling issue that spoils the mood. The octave Ds in the soprano and alto in the 3rd bar of the 3rd line. Doubling the 3rd of the chord is often permissible. There’s no need for this one. And the fact that the D is the leading tone in this key makes it worse. All the alto would need to do is leap up to an F on the word “in” and leap back to the D on the next chord. That fixes it.
So, should it be in the new hymnal? I wouldn’t mind if it was left out. I’d rather make room for hymns that grab me on an emotional level. We’ll see more emotional hymn strength in tomorrow’s post.
That’s all for today.
Have a good one!
P.S. Are you worried that the hymn you’re writing is in need of an emotional boost? In Part 3 of the “Practical Guide to Hymn Composing” I’m writing, I get into this topic in detail. To be notified when it’s available, click the big green button below.
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Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”
by Jason Gunnell, Organist
While I don’t have the same strong feelings about this song as yesterday’s, it is the third devotional song in a row that doesn’t represent the best of hymnody or of congregational song. I think it is a fine song, and would actually be fitting for personal devotion or for comfort in times of trial or grief as a plea to the Savior for help, but in the context of corporate worship, it just doesn’t seem to fit as well to me.
I don’t have the same concerns about the compound meter in this song as I did in #99. The text fits well into this gently moving meter. Again, I don’t find these subjective type personal devotional texts to be as great of texts for hymns as more objectively-oriented texts, but I do appreciate how Karen Davidson analyzed this text. She identifies it as a type of litany, or prayer in which as certain points a one-line response is uttered. Such is this text and the responsory “Guide Me to Thee.” The tune is simple, yet not cliched in nature like the previous song we discussed yesterday. It is a nice, gentle tune that matches the text well. There is a very nice arrangement of this piece for solo voice in one of the Sabbath Song books that is very fitting, especially for funerals.
Once again, the suggested tempo is far too slow. I find that the tempo is just right around dotted quarter note equal to 56-58 beats per minute (that’s eighth note equal to 148-156, a bit of a difference over the marked 100-120…) I would use the same quite registration for this song as well, but I might also break what some consider to be a cardinal sin, and that is using celestes for congregational singing. To me the last verse of this song is a very good spot to use a string celeste to reflect the affect of the verse…
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:
Great: Retire Principal 8’ (if there is also a principal in the Swell. If not, keep this one.)
Swell: String Celeste 8’ (don’t use a flute celeste… it’s not the same)