How a Hymn Turns Us Into God's Glutinous Breakfast Cereal

How a Hymn Turns Us Into God's Glutinous Breakfast Cereal

Hymn #94 — “Come, Ye Thankful People”

Text: Henry Alford (1810-1871)
Music: George J. Elvey (1816-1893)
Tune name: ST. GEORGE’S WINDSOR

One of my seminary teachers challenged us teenagers to make each of our morning personal prayers a “prayer of thanksgiving.” We were to ask for nothing. Only give thanks.

That was hard to do the first few times. I was so in the habit of “please bless this…” or “please bless that…”

At first it was hard to come up with so many thing to be thankful for. I realized I had mostly been asking for favors in every prayer.

After I got the hang of it, it made me take a different view on my life. I started seeing how even the little things I took for granted all the time were blessings from God.

Soon it was easy to thank Him. I could see no end to his blessings.

This is more challenging during times of trial. Like when I was in Poland for 9 months without my family. I was so concerned for their welfare that I begged and pleaded for blessings every day. Many challenges appeared during those months, including my wife’s serious health issues.

I learned some great lessons from President Monson during those months. He gave some monumental talks about gratitude in the first few years of his Presidency of the Church. One in particular was about a German refugee woman after WWII. She had to walk many hundreds of miles to relocate with her 4 children. Her husband had been killed in the war, so she made the trip alone. One by one the children died due to starvation, disease, and exposure to the elements. She buried their little bodies with her only implement, a tablespoon. Until one day the spoon was lost. Finally, she buried her little baby, digging the grave with her bare hands.

When she arrived at her destination, she was dying of starvation herself. But she bore a powerful testimony and thanked God for all her blessings.

Wow, I thought, if she could express gratitude during all that, I need to shape up.

It’s amazing how an expression of gratitude can lead to all sorts of other blessings. Somehow it softens the heart.

The Music

That’s my favorite part of Hymn #94, the encouragement to be grateful. To be “wholesome grain” in the Lord’s Harvest. Just add some milk and we become God’s breakfast cereal.

The tune provides a stately feel, appropriate to giving thanks. The composer uses repetition in a nice way in the first line. The first 2 bars and second 2 bars share identical melodies, but the harmony maneuvers the emotional content of the text nicely.

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Line 3 has a similar repetitive 2-bar phrase. Rather than repeating it exactly, the composer takes the tune up a 4th in in the 2nd half of the line. Then in line 4, the rhythm of the tune continues but now, having already hit the high note, the tune starts its gradual descent to the low F at the end.

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The harmony is not particularly special, though there is a lovely bit in line 3. Following the repetitive melody line, the harmony appears in imitation as well. The repeated opening notes (C-C-C) are followed by a stepping down to F (B-flat, A, G, F). The 2nd half does exactly the same thing but starting a 4th up on F (F, F, F… then stepping down… E-flat, D, C, B-flat). And the suspension in the tenor on the word “provide” is repeated up the 4th as well on the word “supplied.” It’s like a rhyming couplet, but rhyming suspensions instead.

The final interesting harmonic moment is the common tone shift between the last chord of line 3 and the first chord of line 4. The high D in the soprano, the 3rd of the B-flat chord, become the root of the D major chord. It’s a nice shift into G minor before a return to F major.

This is a fine hymn. A keeper for sure.

That’s all for today… (though the saying seems to annoy some).

Tune in tomorrow. Same ‘hymn’ time, same ‘hymn’ channel. (Is that better M.A.?)

Doug


Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

This is another of our Thanksgiving hymns with very strong associations to our American holiday that was penned for different purposes and in a different country. “Come ye thankful people, come” first appeared in a collection titled Psalms and Hymns published in London in 1844. The text was altered several times, including by the author again, and the version we know it varies little from his final revision.

Most hymnals in which this text appears have four verses, and it is a real shame that our committee chose to omit them, as they are fantastic verses, especially looking to the coming again of the Savior.

3 For the Lord our God shall come,
and shall take His harvest home;
from His field shall in that day
all offenses purge away,
give His angels charge at last
in the fire the tares to cast,
but the fruitful ears to store
in His garner evermore.

4 Even so, Lord, quickly come
to Thy final harvest home;
gather Thou Thy people in,
free from sorrow, free from sin,
there forever purified,
in Thy presence to abide.
Come, with all Thine angels, come,
raise the glorious harvest home.

It is also noted that the original fourth stanza was this:

4 Then, thou Church triumphant, come,
Raise the song of harvest-home!
All are safely gathered in,
Free from sorrow, free from sin;
There, for ever purified,
In God’s garner to abide;
Come, ten thousand angels, come,
Raise the glorious harvest-home!

Admittedly I like the advent message paraphrase of this verse that is in most of the hymnals, but it is an interesting comparison.

The text was set to this tune early on in the publications of this hymn, and the association has remain strong to this day. It is a fantastic tune and yet another example in our book of a powerhouse hymn. I think Mack Wilberg’s arrangement of this hymn is very stirring and worth adding to your playlists of great hymn arrangements.

I think the tempo for this hymn settles in nicely just a bit faster than the recommendation. I find it lays down nicely around 112-116 beats per minute. This tempo gives it tremendous energy and forward drive. I would use a strong plenum for this hymn, with the inclusion of chorus reeds and probably a 16’ on the last verse.

Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Mixture
Swell: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Flute 8’, String 8’, Nazard 2 ⅔’, Mixture, Hautbois 8’
Pedal: Principal 16’, 8’, 4’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’, 16’ Reed
Sw/Gt, Sw/Ped

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Mixture, Trumpet 8’
Swell: Tierce 1 ⅗, Mixture, Bassoon 16’
Pedal: 32’ Flue and Reed,  Heavy Reed 16’