The Hymn That’s Got a Hitch in its Get-a-long
Hymn #65 — “Come, All Ye Saints Who Dwell on Earth”
Text: William W. Phelps (1792-1872; LDS)
Music: William B. Bradbury (1816-1868)
Tune name: KEOKUK
I was so hopeful when it came time to do this critique. The text is so promising.
I thought perhaps due to the “Cheerful” marking and half-note tempo marking that all the repetition I saw would be fun and kind of like some of the barn dances we’ve seen thus far, like Hymn #3.
Yet I was disappointed.
The tune goes almost nowhere. It’s like the terrified 4-year-old who’s afraid to let go of the side of the pool and make the journey across the pool. “Look ma, I’m holding on with only 1 hand!”
I’d rather see a melody really go for the deep end and nearly drown trying to make it.
The low register of most of the vocal parts and the overly stagnant direction of the melody and harmony make this hymn rather boring, to be honest.
Then there’s the asymmetry.
Notice how the first line of music is built with a 3-bar opening chunk of music followed by a 2-bar chunk. I don’t mind some asymmetry, but the very next phrase is a 2-bar chunk followed by a 2-bar chunk. Then the final line is another 3 + 2 phrase like the first.
I like the opening bass line quite a lot. The move up the tonic triad is nice, but I’m so distracted by the asymmetrical phrase by the end of the first line that I forget all about the bass line. And then to follow that with too much repetition…hmm…not my idea of a strong hymn. I like some kinds of repetition quite a lot. But this type seems pointless to me.
So, over all, this scores very low on my scorecard. I think we can put it in the “no” pile for the new hymnal.
That’s all for today. See you soon!
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P.P.S. I’m having so much fun working on your hymn critiques. A handful of you have submitted 2 hymns. I heard from someone today who plans to send me 6 hymns for critiques. I’m so glad I can help you all out with your writing. It’s quite fun to see what you’re up to and how you’re finding new ways to tell gospel stories through hymns and primary songs. If you’re on the fence about sending me one or more of your pieces, don’t worry, I’m nice and work really hard to be helpful and maintain your unique voice. Click below to apply for a hymn critique and tell me about your original work.
Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”
by Jason Gunnell, Organist
William Bradbury has composed several tunes that are known generally across Christendom, including Sweet Hour of Prayer and Jesus Loves Me, This I Know. (He also wrote the tune for Just As I Am, without One Plea, which is one of the tunes that William Bolcom used for his Gospel Preludes, which I have mentioned earlier, and are an interesting listen. I like to try and encourage folks to listen as much as they practice to get a very good sense of how others play and also become more accustomed to how organs are used in the repertoire. Plus much of the organ repertoire is fantastic!) Most of the texts that are set to his tunes are examples of subjective hymns, and I think he does a very fine job finding tunes that work well with these texts. Here, we have a more objective text that is set to a tune by Bradbury, and I don’t think it quite works as well to communicate a cheerful and exuberant text. I find the many repeated melodic notes and rather static harmony, along with the tessitura sitting in the low range (especially for this tenor!) to not serve the text very well, especially such a musical text. The tune doesn’t strike me as cheerful or majestic, and doesn’t quite suit the text in my estimation.
This tune, especially to be more cheerful, seems to desire to be played around half note equal to 80-82 beats per minute (and hurray! the time signature is in 2!). I would use a nice bright registration, but include some strengthening of the 8’ line, unlike the previous hymn. I would examine how I could use chorus reeds to strengthen the sound in later verses.
Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Mixture
Swell: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Flute 8’, Nazard 2 ⅔’, Mixture (choose the lower pitched-mixture between this and the Great 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: Posaune 16’