Mr. Incredible-Tenor Gets Back in the Hymn-Game
Text: Philip Doddridge (1702-1751)
Music: Hans G. Nageli (1773-1836);
arranged by Lowell Mason (1792-1872)
Tune name: DENNIS
How can you keep the tenors happy in your hymn writing?
It’s not hard. Tenors are kind of like my 8 year old when she stays home sick from school.
“Mom, I’m bored… there’s nothing to do…”
She thrives on motion. She wants something to do at all times. When she’s home without any other siblings or friends or classwork to keep her occupied, she’s bored out of her mind.
The same goes for tenors. Altos get this way sometimes, but they’re usually much more patient and understanding of their role than tenors. Tenors fancy themselves as heroes, always in the action. When they get benched, life stinks.
It’s kind of like Mr. Incredible in the new hit movie Incredibles 2. He gets benched and his wife gets to go out and be the star. He tries really hard to be okay with it, to let Elastagirl get the glory. But he’s miserable inside.
Hymn #125 is a great example of keeping Mr. Incredible-Tenor happy. Through the entire hymn, he’s on the move. Even though the harmony is rather simple, just 1 chords 4 chord and 5 chords, the tenors get to move in a duet with the sopranos throughout the whole hymn.
Because the melody leaps around in thirds a lot, it make create a soprano/tenor duet very easy. So the basses and altos lay down a stead harmonic backdrop and allow the sopranos and tenors to hop around depicting the kindness of God as manifest through keeping His commandments.
It’s a nice way to put together a hymn.
I have to admit, this hymn does not thrill me. But it’s solidly built and keeps the singers happy. I’m glad it’s short. This more basic type of writing gets old much faster in a longer, 4-line structure. It works much better in a short offering like this one.
That’s pretty much all I have to say about that.
I hope you all have a great day!
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Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”
by Jason Gunnell, Organist
I love Karen Davidson’s discussion on this text which, for me, greatly strengthens the message of the text. She teaches that “the words command and commandment usually carry stern connotations. But those who obey the Lord find their load lighter, not heavier. This is the paradox of obedience: if we seek obedience rather than happiness, the result is happiness after all.” She continued, quoting Bruce R. McConkie, who “stated emphatically, ‘It is God’s right to command; he is not restricted to sending requests or petitions.’ He then focused on the point made in our hymn, citing 1 John 5:3 and adding italics to the last phrase: ‘For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.’ In Elder McConkie’s words, ‘In his infinite wisdom he orders us to do what will further our interests and his.’ The security and joy described in the hymn text are the reward of obedience.”
This tune is most often set to the text “Blessed be the tie that binds” in most denominational hymnals, but the text “How gentle God’s Commands” is most often found with this tune. Thus the tune is well-known, in not the greatest hymn tune written. It gets the job done, though. A great arrangement of this tune for organ is by Robert Manookin.
The repetition of the melodic notes and harmony can cause this hymn to be very notey if care isn’t taken in how one prepares to play this. If the tempo is too slow and emphasis is given to every beat, it plods along and becomes quite pedantic. Therefore it is wise to conceive the pulse in one rather than three and to have a good tempo that moves the melody forward. A good tempo would be with the dotted half note getting around 37-40 beats per minute (111-120 if you need the metronome for each quarter note). A nice, light, registration with a 2’ flute I think would work well for this hymn.
Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, Flute 8’
Swell: Principal 8’, Flute 8’, 4’, 2’
Pedal: Subbass 16’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’