A Telephone Hymn of Peace
Text: Emma Lou Thayne (b. 1924; LDS)
Music: Joleen G. Meredith (b. 1935; LDS)
Tune name: GRANT
Long distance collaboration is fun, but has its challenges.
Both of my operas and most of my cantatas were written almost entirely long distance from my librettist. We had many phone conversations with singing and piano playing and text workshopping. Thank goodness the iPhone comes with a headphone jack. I can’t imagine how much harder it would be to work like this while holding a big old clunky phone up to my ear.
Much of Hymn #129, “Where Can I Turn for Peace?” was composed this way. This story takes place in 1971, long before cell phones. Surely the collaboration came with a big pain in the neck!
Emma Lou Thayne (poet) and Joleen Meredith (composer) were asked to write a musical number for a young women’s conference. Here’s the story in the composer’s own words:
“I happened to be in the music room of our home at the time. Sister Thayne said she had been thinking of a message of hope and peace as the hymn’s theme. As she began to relate some of the beginning lyrics, I stepped to the piano (I had a long telephone cord) and said, ‘Sounds good — the music should go something like this . . .’ She said ‘good,’ and gave me another line. I responded with additional measures of music. Before the conversation ended, we had mostly ‘roughed in’ the basic hymn. We have lovingly spoken of this number as the ‘telephone hymn’ throughout the years.” (Davidson, ‘Our Latter-day Hymns).
The text came to Emma Thayne in a time of great difficulty. She felt a personal solace after a period of what seemed like constant prayers and pleas of help.
I really like the personal nature of the hymn, the first person perspective. It makes me think of the personal journey we each have with the Savior through trial and challenge. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is the most universal and most personal act of love. We come to Jesus as a congregation, as families, and as individuals. Having beautiful hymns from each perspective is important. This one in particular has helped me many times.
Lines like “in my Gethsemane” are particularly poignant. I’ve been to Gethsemane. Though I went with a large group, we each quietly went our separate ways and had special time alone to contemplate what occurred there. It was a beautiful, personal, private experience.
The tune begins with a gentle falling tune down from the middle register. Then it returns to the A it began on and goes the opposite direction to fill out the register a bit.
Underneath that first line we have at first a steady, pedal D. And then we get the sorrowing sigh of descending half steps from F# to F to E with the tenors joining in the sorrow, but up a 3rd, A, A-flat, G.
Line 2 has a lovely rise, plateau, and fall of a melody. The bass is more active here as if to go along with the text. It hops around a bit more looking for “other sources” to “make me whole.”
Line 3 is similar to line 1. It’s nearly identical at first, then rises in a similar way but takes us all the way up to high D. The bass does another kind of half step emotional movement. This time it leaps tot he A# adding some gnarly emotions, and then resolves up by half step. The great moment here is at the end of the line. The octave leap down and then back up to the beginning of line 4 gets us into the emotional river quickly, if we weren’t already paddling through the rapids.
Line 4 begins with the climax note and a descent down towards the final cadence. The last 2 bars answer the question posed in the last 2 bars of line 2. They both start on the same G. But this time, instead of pausing on the 2nd scale degree with a musical and an actual question mark, we get the musical answer with a final D.
This hymn gets the highest marks from me. It teaches the gospel, it soothes, it communicates, it welcomes the congregation in, it’s easy to sing. It ticks all the boxes.
That’s all for today. Have a great one!
Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”
by Jason Gunnell, Organist
I think I have the same response to this hymn as to yesterdays hymn. This is a beloved hymn in our tradition, and it is a good hymn like yesterday’s, but it doesn’t rise on my list of best or favorite hymns. Like yesterday’s hymn, the tune is a very fitting match for the text. The reverent nature of the tune lends well to the message of yearning for and discovering in whom we find peace. This hymn for me falls much more in the camp of being much more fitting for a personal devotion in times of spiritual need rather than in corporate worship.
This hymn reveals an all-too-common danger with soft hymns, which is that far too often reverent is equated with slow. This tempting thought must be avoided at all cost. There needs to be forward motion and momentum in this hymn. The suggested tempo for this hymn is too broad. The high end of the tempo is a good tempo for this tune, and I would take it at 100 beats per minute. 80 is too slow, though. A reverent registration is appropriate for this hymn.
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’