My Terrifying Organ Debut with Hymn 92
Text: Folliott S. Pierpoint (1835-1917)
Music: Conrad Kocher (1786-1872)
Tune name: DIX
Hymn #92 always reminds me of a panic attack I had at the organ.
Here’s the story…
I was in Rexburg, Idaho attending the 2002 summer semester at BYU-Idaho. Some music-major friends and I were playing a musical number at the campus-wide devotional.
After our rehearsal in the auditorium, we sat on stage waiting for Devotional to begin.
About 10 minutes before the devotional began, President Bednar’s (you know… Elder Bednar… but before he was an Apostle) secretary came over to me looking flustered.
“We don’t have an organist for today. For some reason, the music department didn’t send anyone to play. Can you please play the organ for the opening hymn?”
“Sorry, I don’t play the organ. I could play the hymn here at the piano. There’s a mic on me. That would work,” I said.
“Brother Pew, would you please play the organ for the opening hymn?” He repeated with added emphasis.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know the first thing about playing the organ. Why can’t I just play it on the piano?”
I was starting to get worried. I’d never played the organ in my life. I didn’t know what the heck to do with the stops and the pedals. And this was a VERY public setting. Thousands of students were filing in to attend Devotional.
“Brother Pew, would you PLEASE play the organ for the opening hymn? We NEED you to play the organ. PLEASE. Come with me. It’s almost time to start. Come with me now please.”
Reluctantly, with chattering teeth and wobbling knees, I gave in.
He walked me down to the enormous organ console and told me the hymn was #92, "For the Beauty of the Earth."
I sat there staring at the 100+ stops and four manuals. What in the $*@# was I going to do?
I saw a few stops that said "Principal." That seemed harmless enough. Hopefully I wouldn't blast the bejeezus out of this thing.
But what about the pedals? Holy crap! Play with my feet? My size 15 monster clodhoppers? Um, yeah right!
Ok, I'm in the key of G. Maybe I can hold a G down in the pedal. And maybe a D too. That should cover enough of the harmony.
My heart was pounding like a "Peter Priesthood" returned missionary asking a girl out on a date for the first time.
This ain't gonna be pretty. But, here we go...
I think I forgot to play the D in the pedal during the first verse. I'm pretty sure I just held a pedal G and played the written parts in the manuals. I'm sure it sounded ridiculous. I may have managed a D or two in the other verses. But I can't be sure. Boy was that embarrassing. What a debut on the organ. What a mess!
After months of organ-playing PTSD and shock therapy, I got over the trauma and decided I'd better take a few organ lessons.
I'm not crazy about the musical setting of this hymn. There's nothing incorrect or technically "wrong" with it. It just doesn't do much for me.
It's hard to get John Rutter's setting out of my ears. I love his lilting melody and elegant, and much more natural text setting.
I recently completed an arrangement of this hymn. It's in my new book vocal arrangements which should be coming out in the next month or two. Here's the first page.
I've set it in the style of one of my all-time favorite composers, Johannes Brahms. Finding a classical art song or other piece of music and working in a hymn tune is one of my preferred methods of writing hymn arrangements. And who better to mimic than Brahms?
I’ve altered the tune quite a bit. Composer’s prerogative. Enough of it remains that you get the flavor of the original.
I don't mind if this hymn stays in the book. We have so few Thanksgiving flavored hymns. It's nice to keep this at the very least for that time of year.
That’s all for today.
Have a good one!
Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”
by Jason Gunnell, Organist
This popular hymn has strong associations with Thanksgiving Day and has also historically found wide use as a children’s hymn. The text originally contains eight stanzas, but has been shortened and altered through the years. There are a few other verses that I think would fit well in our book, but some of the verses and some of the previous words wouldn’t quite fit with our theology, so I don’t mind a judicious paring down of the verses and text alteration within this text.
The tune was composed by a German musician and was longer than what we know today. William H. Monk shortened the melody and harmonized it. This text is most frequently set to this tune (DIX), but does find settings to other tunes. The Hymnal 1982 sets it to LUCERNA LAUDONIAE, and I actually like this setting better than DIX. I think it sets the text a bit better and has move of a nice lilt as a vehicle for a song of praise.
The upper range of the suggested tempo is a good suggestion. I find I play it around 112 beats per minute. I would use a bright registration, but I think I would refrain from employing mixtures or chorus reeds. I think a principal chorus to 2’ is very appropriate for this hymn.
Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’
Swell: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’
Pedal: Principal 16’, 8’, 4’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’
Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Principal 2’ (if retired for the second verse of if not used in the beginning)
Pedal: Soft Reed 16’