Sherlock Hymn-Holmes Gets On the Composer's Case
Text and Music: Tracy Y. Cannon (1879-1961; LDS)
Tune name: ROSE ANN
Something about this hymn bugs me.
I played through it many times trying to pin point what exactly was rubbing me the wrong way.
I guess I’ve been watching too many detective shows lately because my half-asleep brain started imagining I was Sherlock Holmes examining the dust lines between bars, deducing from skins of 1 chords, examining the ash from 5 chords.
Hey, any time I can feel akin to Benedict Cumberbatch, I’m happy!
So, what did my super-detective spidey-senses find? (sorry, mixing my fictional characters…)
Hard Act to Follow
First of all, being printed right next to one of the greatest hymns of all time, Hymn #72 “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, could have something to do with my initial displeasure. That’s not an easy act to follow.
So I started comparing the 2 hymns. What about #72 is so pleasing that’s missing from #73?
I found a couple small details which led me to find the 1 big miss-match causing that “this bugs me” sensation I’m feeling.
First, the few small things.
I cannot find any errors in voice leading. Everything is fine in that regard. But the first noticeable difference between #72 and #73 is the harmonic rhythm. #72’s harmony is constantly on the move, and there are many minor diatonic chords with leaping bass parts.
#73 spends more time on most of its harmonies before moving to the next one. Look at the first bar. 3 and a half beats of the 1 chord with a quick 3 chord before 2 beats of 4 chord and back to 2 beats of the 1 chord.
Further more, the way the harmonies are put together, especially this double suspension going from bar 1 to bar 2 in the soprano and alto, it’s very “soft” harmony. And the double suspension comes back in the last line.
If we were to compare these hymns to types of Rock-’N’-Roll, Hymn #72 would be Led Zeppelin and Hymn #73 would be Kenny G playing a song in a Rock feel. Not exactly the same. Not even close.
Now have a look at the cadences. 1 and 5 and 1 and 5 and 1 and 1. Too much of the same for this kind of “praise” hymn. Maybe I wouldn’t mind so much if between the standard cadences there was something more gripping or adventurous.
In a way, this hymn reminds me of a line from Downton Abbey. Dr. Clarkson, the family doctor, is being very cautious about the health of one of the family. This is only a few months after one of the daughters, Lady Sybil died in childbirth. One of the family members kindly rebukes him for being too cautious. His over-sensitivity is understandable given that he’d just lost one of their daughters. But he says to them, after the kind reprimand… “You mean, I’m being an old woman.”
That’s what this music feels like. It feels like it used to be bold, but now it’s being overly sensitive.
Zooming in on these details revealed the big issue with Hymn #73. It’s false advertising.
While the music is fine, the tune is nice, etc. it is not a “praise” hymn. The text is definitely the kind of text that can stand next to a power-house like Hymn #72. But the music is milk-toast compared to #72.
This music is more reverent, more tender, much less robust and much less like the kind of hymn this text “should” be set to.
This mismatch makes me think it should be kindly discarded from the new hymnal.
But I’d love it if someone would take this text and write a new hymn, a bold, striking, Led Zeppelin kind of Rock-’N’-Roll hymn. I mean, nobody likes Kenny G anyway…right?
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Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”
by Jason Gunnell, Organist
This hymn is somewhat intriguing to me. Karen Davidson writes that “Tracy Y. Cannon, who wrote both words and music for [this hymn] said that he was drawn specifically toward this focus: ‘The music of this hymn came to me before I wrote the words. I was therefore under the necessity of writing words that would fit the music. As I wrote the words, I had a strong desire to make the hymn a song of praise to my creator.’”
The reason this hymn intrigues me is that I don’t think the tenor of the tune is one of joy or praise. I think this is a very good hymn tune and very singable and memorable, but it doesn’t in any way strike me as joyful or evoking of praise. It seems much more fitting to me as a hymn of imploring, of supplication, or fervency. I don’t know how to place my thumb on exactly why this tune strikes me this way, but it seems much more fitting as a pleading or thoughtful and subdued tune, rather than one of praise. But that just might be me…
Due to the nature of the text and my feelings about the tune, often it is hard for me to get the tempo going in the right manner to match the text, as the tune to me wants to be slower and more thoughtful. I would follow the suggested tempo at the fast end and take it about quarter note equal to 104 beats per minute. I would also get a feel for the pulse in two to get the tune moving along. To match the text and the suggested affect of Joyful, I would use a bright registration, using a principal chorus to mixture, giving thought to maybe adding the Hautbois at some point.
Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Mixture
Swell: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, String 8’, Mixture
Pedal: Principal 16’, 8’, 4’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’
Possible Final Verse Additions:
Swell: Mixture (if removed during an inner verse), Hautbois 8’
Pedal: Contra Bassoon 16’