The "Are We There Yet?" Hymn
Text: Joseph Fielding Smith (1876-1972; LDS)
Music: George D. Pyper (1860-1943; LDS)
Tune name: FIELDING
“Mom… How much longer…?”
“He’s touching me!”
“She’s breathing my air!”
Ah, the sultry symphony of seriously sick-and-tired kids on a super slow and sustained sojourn across the country!
Our family has made the drive from Cincinnati, Ohio to Utah Valley more times than I care to remember. 1,600 miles, 1,600 dirty diapers, 1,600 temper tantrums, 1,600 bathroom stops, 1,600 tosses and turns in highway hotel beds with crusty pillows.
Not. My. Favorite. Way. To. Spend. Three. Days.
Driving through Indiana, Illinois and Iowa isn’t so bad. There’s a bit of beautiful countryside. By the time we get to Nebraska, we’re really feeling it. And the sites are less than exciting.
But then there’s Wyoming. Dreadful, dreary, dilapidated, deserted, desolate Wyoming. O the torture. O the almighty bleakness. And I swear, every time we go through Wyoming, there’s some sort of apocalyptic hail storm. I keep imagining a monstrous cyclone in the prairie that’s about so whisk us away and plunge us to our death.
“Does the Journey Seem Long?” asks hymn #127. YES! RIDICULOUSLY LONG INDEED!
Well, the music doesn’t depict the psychotic pain of 3 long days trapped in a metal box on wheels with 5 beautiful children turned murderous zombies. Nor does it depict that after a 2 week stay with family that we have to turn around and MAKE THE DRIVE ALL OVER AGAIN!!!
In fact, the music is quite pleasant. I remember seeing this title many times. But I don’t remember ever having played through the hymn. I really like the music. It has a folksiness to it, kind of like “Home on the Range.” I can almost hear the “boing” of a Jew’s Harp in the background.
My one grip is the misplaced subject in the sentence in the pick up to bar 3 of verses 1 and 2. Every other pick up in the hymn leads to the subject of the sentence which comes on the following downbeat. But in this case, “The path” and “Your soul,” the subject of the sentence comes on the eighth not right before the downbeat. It make it feel off-kilter. The only way to fix it is to change the text.
One of my favorite aspects are the two moments where George Pyper uses pedal tones to create the sustained, prairie-like environment of a long journey. Line 2 begins with one of these pedal tones in the alto, the steady C with the harmony all circling around it.
The next time this occurs is at the very end, to bring it home to its final destination. This time the soprano and bass hold pedal B-flats while the alto and tenor shift the harmony all around it. The best spot is on the word “heat.” The A-flat chord over the pedal B-flats makes a lovely, tangy sound.
My other favorite spot is the slip into C minor. The 2nd line ends with a cadence in C minor and continues to line 3 with this tonality. After a bar full of steady G7 chords at the very start of line 3, we slip back into E-flat major by moving the bass up a half step to A-flat and the soprano up a half step to C. This makes an A-flat major chord, a 4 chord in E-flat major. Then we’re “home, home on the range” again and brought soothingly home over the pedal B-flats.
Very nicely done. Its soothing, thoughtful, and not at all like the long 1,600 mile-long journey from Cincinnati to Utah with screaming children all the way. I’ll swap the experiences any day.
That’s all for today. I hope you have a great one!
Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”
by Jason Gunnell, Organist
This text was written while Joseph Fielding Smith was riding a train to Arizona (where he was treated to miles and miles of desert, a site I personally find very dull and dreary). I imagine him contemplating the long journey and turning to poetry to occupy his mind. This text is a wonderful pondering in question-answer form that I imagine is very relatable to many people.
The tune was written for this text by George D. Pyper, who held several notable responsibilities in the church, including General Sunday School Superintendent and as one of the editors of Deseret Sunday School Songs (1909). I find it to be a fitting tune for this text. Like “The Lord is my Shepherd,” the altos take a turn with the melody for the final phrase of this tune beginning at the word “heights,” a somewhat interesting strategy.
The suggested tempo is too slow for this tune. The melody flows very well and has nice forward motion around 94-96 beats per minute. Due to the unfamiliar nature of this hymn, I find it a very good candidate to solo out the melody, especially for the introduction. Another wonderful practice, especially with unfamiliar hymns, is to play the entire hymn as the introduction. This gives the congregation one hearing of it before engaging in singing. I would use a standard softer registration here, ensuring there is enough foundation, but also a bit of height in the registration, such as a 4’ or 2’ flute.
Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, Flute 8’, 4’
Swell: Principal 8’, Flute 8’, 4’, 2’, String 8’
Pedal: Subbass 16’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’
Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Principal 4’
Swell: Principal 2’