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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Doug


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?
Swell:
Pedal: