Can Little Black Dots Physically Heal You?
Text: Eliza R. Snow (1804-1887; LDS)
Music: George Carless (1839-1932; LDS)
Tune name: RELIANCE
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.
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’
Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Mixture ?
Swell: or Trumpet 8’ ?
Pedal: Reed 16’