Stop Worrying About the Clock and SING!
Text: Bruce R. McConkie (1915-1985; LDS)
Music: John Longhurst (b. 1940; LDS)
Tune name: WHITE CITY
When one of the 12 Apostles writes a powerful hymn text based on His “special witness” of the Savior, I think we need to really pay attention.
This hymn gets a bad rap because of its length. It feels like 8 verses instead of 4. But this is an easy problem to fix.
The problem is not the length of the hymn.
The problem is the tempo.
For once we get the full text written within the staves of music as it should be, rather than as an after thought.
But, unfortunately, many church members get impatient with long hymns. I wish they’d pay closer attention to the meaning of the text they’re singing instead of their watches.
This is a monumental hymn text. And the music is powerful, robust and full of the kinds of emotions that support Elder McConkie’s powerful testimony.
So, I nicely ask that you calm down, quit looking at your watch, and dig into this wonderful hymn.
I also ask the organist and music leader to get the lead out of their system. Please! If we can get the tempo closer to a 2/2 feel, it is much less cumbersome. And, the added bonus of this faster tempo is, the belief in Christ feels much more active, more visceral, more a part of real, every day life instead of a museum piece.
I don’t know what the big deal is with the length anyway. It’s not as long as Hymn #2, “The Spirit of God.” I don’t ever hear anyone complaining about that hymn. Perhaps because it has a chorus.
Well, the point of a hymn like this is to increase our worship. So let’s do a better job at focusing on worship through music than we do on making a meeting go faster so we can get out of church and back to Sunday football games.
The tune starts with a steady runway of F#s and then takes off with a leap from D to B and we’re airborne. It’s a very natural feeling tune to sing. It fits the text wonderfully and has no speed bumps at all. I love how it steadily steps up and up through “I’ll raise my voice” until getting to the high D “in grand amens.” That’s very effective, natural writing. The melody repeats itself almost entirely with a different tag at the end.
The harmony is rich and very directional. The added A# in the first bar give an inevitability to the arrival on the word Christ, which is very appropriate. The C-natural that follows in the alto brings that warm “pastoral” or “shepherd” sound in briefly to show the softer side of the Lord and His grace. The bass line rises majestically all the way up to a high D before stepping down and spending some time on the roots of the minor 6 and minor 3 chords. As the melody steps up gradually to the climax, so does the bass. The texture brings the whole congregation along on this journey closer to Christ.
Since most of they rhythm is quater-note based, speeding up the tempo to a 2/2 feel is not unmanageable. The text is still easy to enunciate and we get the added bonus of forward motion that fuels the fire of our testimony.
I’m sure Jason will mention it below, but I have to give kudos to Mack Wilberg for his incredible arrangement of this hymn. Of his many excellent arrangements, this is probably my favorite. It takes the emotion and the monumental testimony to the full range of expression, especially at the big climax in the final verse. It is overwhelming!
Please everybody, let’s not berate this hymn any more. Let’s pick up the pace. Let’s put down our watches. Let’s dig into one of the most remarkable testimonies and make it our own.
That’s all for today. Have a good one!
Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”
by Douglas Pew, Organist
As Doug and I have engaged in this project of briefly reviewing each hymn in our hymnal, I have become more curious about others reactions to our hymns. Therefore I have made my way around the internet perusing various sites where people have made comments about hymns in our church. Very surprising to me are the amount of comments across various sites, message boards, etc. about the dislike many have for this hymn. I am surprised because of the greatness of the text. Karen Davidson remarks that “coming straight from the heart of a man who had devoted his life to studying about the Savior and serving him, the text of this hymn is truly a powerful declaration of faith in Jesus Christ, a definitive testimony of His divinity and mission.”
I think rather than the text, the tune is a large part of the reasoning why people seem to dislike this hymn. I can understand in a sense why this tune might not be agreeable to some, but only if it is played too slowly and weakly. That might be the reasoning, but I think this tune is a very good tune and a great fit for this text if interpreted appropriately.
Concerning the length of the hymn, John Longhurst’s first impulse was to cut the number of verses from eight to four, as he considered that to be a better length for a hymn. But Elder McConkie wished all eight verses of his testimony to be used and was not in a state of health to engage in revisions. Therefore Brother Longhurst altered his tune to double its length, thus allowing for all of the text to be included, but for the hymn to be four verses in length.
I think this is a powerful text and tune, and can be communicated that way is one perhaps disregards the suggested affect of fervently, or interprets fervency as a strong and powerful testimony of the Savior. Back to my normal regard for the suggested tempos being too slow, this hymn is especially susceptible to being played much too slowly. It is extremely important to consider a tempo that appropriately communicates the message of the hymn and renders the hymn singable. For this hymn, a tempo between 116-120 beats per minute helps this hymn tremendously. (It would also be helpful to consider the pulse in two, rather than four…) A strong registration, utilizing the full resources of the organ is appropriate as well. Too often, this hymn is sung quietly which doesn’t really communicate the resolute testimony of this text. I think Mack Wilberg’s arrangement of this hymn is fantastic and also demonstrates this stronger resolution in both affect and tempo. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMCwRwwP1us
Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Mixture
Swell: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Flute 8’, String 8’, Mixture, Hautbois 8’
Pedal: Principal 16’, 8’, 4’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’, 16’ Reed
Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Mixture, Trumpet 8’
Swell: Mixture, Bassoon 16’
Pedal: 32’ Flue and Reed, Heavy Reed 16’