Minnie Mouse Sings a Hymn While Adding Mustard to her Ice Cream
Text: Theodore E. Curtis (1872-1957; LDS)
Music: Hugh W. Dougall (1872-1963; LDS)
Tune name: YOUNG
What is it about a hymn that gives it a mood, or an aura, or an emotion?
How do notes become feelings?
Of course a note by itself is just a sound. When a note combines with another note it becomes a little more than just a sound. That sound now has a color. These are chords. But they are not yet emotions.
Only when notes come together and move from one grouping to the next do the sounds become colors and then graduate to emotions. Harmonic relativity, the path created by a string of notes and chords, is what creates the mood, the aura, or the emotion in music.
It’s the same with words.
A letter on its own is just a letter, a single sound. When it combines with other letters, a word is born. But when words are strung together, we can create context, meaning, emotion, and entire universes.
What happens when you combine notes and letters? When done at its best, not only are other universes born, but you can experience them in real time, see their colors, breath their air, feel the new extraterrestrial sun on your face.
But when they are mismatched, you get mixed messages. It’s confusing. You’re not sure how you should feel.
That’s what’s happening in Hymn #114. Mixed messages.
I read this text and see a wandering pilgrim in a mist of darkness. Once he finds the light, he turns and beckons the rest of us to follow.
When I hear the music, I see a cartoon character like Minnie Mouse who got lost on the way to the ice cream shop.
She’s worried and sad, but she’s still cute and colorful with a twinkle in her eye and a dimple in her cheek.
The music on its own is very well written. But it doesn’t mix well with the text.
There are 2 key elements that give the music this twinkle in its eye.
First, the “boom-chuck” harmony. Take a look at the bass line in the first 5 bars. We have C-C-C-C-G and then again, C-C-C-G. That’s the first set of booms and chucks. Like the booms and chucks we get in a waltz or in a Merry-Go-Round ride at Disneyland.
Now bar 3 starts the 2nd group of booms and chucks. This time we get D-G-G-D and on to the boom chucks on the 5 chord in bar 4, G-G-C-C, ending on the 1 chord.
This is standard “boom-chuck” progression. I can see Mary Poppins, Burt, Jane and Michael on the Merry-Go-Round about to jump off and enter the cartoon horse race.
That’s not exactly the right tone for coming unto Jesus, at least not in my mind.
Second, we get these chromatic leaps in the melody. The first is in bar 3 on “solitude.” The second is in bar 4 on “ev’rywhere.”
This kind of thing continues with abrupt, but not musically incorrect jumps to chords outside of the key we’re in. Bar 6 with the B-major chord is the first of several. Nothing wrong with the voice leading, but it fits into the Merry-Go-Round atmosphere a lot more than the mist of darkness.
So, what’s the key takeaway today? Pick one universe and stick to it. Make sure the text and the music belong in the same newly minted celestial sphere. Otherwise it’s like putting Dijon Mustard on Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Both are wonderful. But together…?
That’s all for today. Hope you have a good one!
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Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”
by Jason Gunnell, Organist
Karen Davidson identifies this text as “in reality a lyric poem that serves a hymnlike purpose. A chief characteristic of a lyric poem is that it reflects a personal experience the emotions and responses of a single individual.” She goes on to cite that Theodore Curtis sought a universal experience within a first-person setting, and I am not as optimistic that he was as successful in this text actually being hymnlike as Sister Davidson is. I find it much more like the devotional songs we discussed last week than as a unifying hymn. Therefore this is much more in the devotional song category for me than a hymn.
That being said, I do like this song, and I think it is the tune and perhaps a very good arrangement that holds that appeal for me. Even though there is little rhythmic interest or diversity in this tune, I find that it’s consistent motion pairs well with the text. For some reason, its simplicity draws me in. Barlow Bradford’s magnificent arrangement is the other appealing aspect of this song for me. I think it is very well done, and he adds tremendous harmonic interest to this simple tune that is very compelling.
I think a tempo that matches well with the forward-motion nature of the tune is 98-100 beats per minute. That seems to get me leaning on my toes and gives the melody somewhere to go and also gives opportunity for some stretching in the right spots. If one takes these hymns too slowly, there isn’t that opportunity to draw back at the spots where that might be needed. I would choose a simple registration for this song as well.
Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, Flute 8’
Swell: Principal 8’, Flute 8’, 4’, String 8’
Pedal: Subbass 16’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’
Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Flute 4’
Swell: Flute 2’