My Favorite Grandma Hymn
Text: Mary A. Pepper Kidder (1820-1905)
Music: William O. Perkins (1831-1902)
Tune name: STOCKBRIDGE
Whenever I hear or sing or play this hymn, I think of my grandma Pew.
She was a short, cheerful, loving, firecracker of a grandmother. Though she barely reached 5 feet tall, she was a towering powerhouse of a woman with the most intense love for and testimony of the Savior.
She NEVER missed an opportunity to testify to her grandchildren of the Savior.
She was also a party animal. Any excuse to celebrate meant we HAD to have a family gathering. Baptisms, national holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, Groundhog’s Day (not really, but it felt like it sometimes)… she LOVED to be with her big family. And since most of us lived in San Jose and within 15-20 minutes of each other, we got together all the time. It was great!
She’d have boy cousin sleepovers and girl cousin sleepovers. She’d invite each family over in turn for dinner. Offer to take the grandkids if our parents were going out of town. Any excuse to be together, she would jump on it.
And not matter how formal or informal the occasion, she made sure she taught us the gospel. We loved it. We were sometimes annoyed by it. But we really loved it.
So many times I remember her asking if we’d said our prayers before we came down for breakfast. Then she’d sing “Did You Think to Pray.”
Even on her deathbed, with hardly a breath left in her body, she testified boldly of the Savior in a way and with a power a will never forget. I’m so grateful for her example and CONSTANT teaching.
Though Hymn #140 is not a particularly amazing specimen of hymn composition, it has a special place in my heart.
It is more of a song than a traditional hymn. The first half feels more like a Primary Song to me. The chorus opens up a bit more and becomes more hymn-like, allowing for a fuller range of expression.
The melody in the first half stays mostly in the lower half of the vocal register. And as it is rather repetitive, like a children’s song, this lower register seems appropriate. I think it is why so many people like it. It’s lower, in a comfortable register, and sing-song. The low B-flat is about as low as I feel comfortable going in a congregational hymn.
In the chorus, the tune begins on the middle B-flat, circles around it, then leaps up to the high E-flat. This high E-flat is pretty far above the upper octave of the low B-flat. But, it’s the only note in this high register, so I don’t mind it at all. The context around the high E-flat makes sense emotionally. It’s right when the text turns from individual instruction and questioning to a more congregational expression of the power of prayer and how it helps the “weary.”
Many times when I’ve been struggling or afraid or not sure what to do, I hear my sweet little powerhouse grandma humming this tune in her deceptively low contra-alto voice. It reminds me to go to the Lord and remember that He is my advocate and can help through whatever storm is raging.
Will it stay in the hymnal? Almost certainly. It’s too much of a favorite. And, from what I can tell, it seems to translate well to other languages, at least the ones I’m familiar with.
That’s all for today. Have a good one!
Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”
by Jason Gunnell, Organist
This hymn is found in many hymnals. It found particular prominence after the middle of the 20th century. It is one of the more popular tunes in our hymnal, and I find that it is sung relatively often in meetings. Despite its popularity, I don’t find it to be the greatest of hymns. It is more song-like in nature and I don’t think the text or tune are the greatest. I don’t find the line “did you think to pray” to be so artful as to deserve the number of times the line is repeated. While I haven’t been bothered by the large range of some of the other hymns, I find the melodic range of this tune to be too big. B-flat is a very low note for congregational singing. The nature of the tune is also very slow. The rhythmic movement seems to happen often with eighth notes, so the tendency is to go more slowly to accommodate that movement, but some of the cadential moments are an entire measure long. To me, this is very awkward. I can, however, understand the appeal this hymn has that has propelled it to popularity. I also think that Mack Wilberg’s arrangement for choir of this hymn is very nice.
In addition to being slow in nature, this hymn also suffers from being played chronically slow. To make this hymn less dreary from a tempo standpoint, it is most advisable to play this hymn in two. That gives you a chance to overcome the slow inertia. I can’t imagine any in a congregation being comfortable with this hymn sung at 72 beats per minute. This tempo highlights the awkward nature of the tune. It is a fine tempo for the movement of the eighth notes, but interminably long for the cadential moments. I find 98 beats per minute to not be too fast for the eighth notes and not as long for the full measure cadential moments. I would use a similar soft registration as recommended in earlier hymns.
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’