A Bishopric of Redeemer Hymns

A Bishopric of Redeemer Hymns

After a wild 8 days of travel, I’m back in the saddle again. Hence a smashing together of 3 hymn reviews all in one.

Today’s trio of hymns remind me of a bishopric or Stake Presidency. On occasion we attend Ward or Stake Conference meetings when the whole Bishopric or Stake Presidency speaks.

When this happens, there’s usually an order of seniority. First we hear from the 2nd counselor, then the 1st counselor, and finally the Bishop or Stake Presidency.

It’s sort of like a progression of authority or a progression of closeness to the Lord. Not that the counselors are not as close to the Lord as the Bishop. I guess it’s just an order of seniority and respect.

These 3 hymns seem like a gradual progression getting closer to the Lord. Rock of Ages gets us started. It’s pretty basic, but lovely and meaningful. Then “Savior, Redeemer of My Soul” takes us further, gets us closer to the Lord with a more active harmonic language and more variation in the texture.

Finally, we’re prepared for the special gem, “Our Savior’s Love.”

Each hymn is a lovely prayer or tribute to the Lord and His grace, but there seems to be a progression from good, to good-er, to great.

Hymn #111 — “Rock of Ages”

Text: Augustus M. Toplady (1740-1778)
Music: Thomas Hastings (1784-1872)
Tune name: TOPLADY

Every time I sing or play through Hymn #111, “Rock of Ages,” my mind slips to Hymn #104, “Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me.”

They are in the same key (B-flat major) and have the exact same structure:

  • 4 bars of principle melody.

  • The middle 4 bars are made up of nearly identical 2-bar chunks, and the rhythm of the middle 4 bars of both hymns is identical.

  • The last 4 bars are the same as the first.

They are not identical twins, but I think it’s safe to call them fraternal twins.

The mood of the hymns are also similar. They are both prayers of pleading for rescue or for shelter.

The tune has a steady, memorable opening which revolves around the F. This makes starts the hymn in an easy, manageable register for congregational singing. Then the prayers ascend with “Let me hide…”

The 2nd line’s tune circles around, just like Hymn #104 and continues to stay in the upper part of the register to stretch out the plea in the first line.

And of course, the last line is the closing bookend, identical to the first.

Harmonically, its is 100% diatonic. There are no extra accidentals. It’s very “1 chord to 5 chord” heavy. There are some quick 4 chords in passing as well as a quick inverted 2 chord at the end of lines 1 and 3. Otherwise it is very basic.

I do like how the bass line rises with the melody at “Let me hide…” It takes the whole congregation up to the higher register to express the emotional content of the hymn.

This is a classic fine hymn that should remain in our hymnal.

Hymn #112 — “Savior, Redeemer of My Soul”

Text: Orson F. Whitney (1855-1931; LDS)
Music: Harry A. Dean (1892-1987; LDS)
Tune name: GLADYS

This is a brighter hymn than others in this part of the hymnal. The way the music presents itself reminds me of some of the old protestant hymns.

The text feels a little more introspective to me than the music allows, but it’s not so out of balance to turn me off.

IMG_0090.jpg
IMG_0091.jpg
IMG_0092.jpg

I like how both of the opening phrases begin the same. They establish the key and the positive mood of the hymn with a steady trek up to high D. The second phrase is identical except for the 6 chord at the end instead of the 1 chord. This prepares us for the journey towards the “bitter cup,” which is depicted skillfully with a cadence on the 3 chord.

After the “bitter cup” 3-chord cadence, the final phrase begins with a nicely dressed sequence.

First “What tongue my grat-i-” begins the sequence and re-establishes the key of D major. But the C-natural on “-i-” tells us there’s a little more to come.

IMG_0093.jpg
IMG_0094.jpg

The 2nd phrase of the sequence steps up and sings the same melodic shape on “-tude can tell.” And having been given permission by the C-natural to wander a bit chromatically, we get a B-major chord acting as the 5 chord to the E minor chord of “tell.” So we’ve cadenced again in minor, but this time in E minor.

The last few bars harken back to the opening phrase with the second half of a scale up to high D. Now we’re back in D major for sure and ready for the final cadence.

I find this hymn quite satisfactory. It’s not in my top 30. It’s not a “wow” hymn. But it’s a solid, useful, lovely hymn. I think it should stay in our hymnal. But I’d love to see another version of this text, or more of Whitney’s texts represented in our hymnal. He is one of the greatest of all Latter-day Saint poets. And he was an Apostle, which is an intriguing combination.

Hymn #113 — “Our Savior’s Love”

Text: Edward L. Hart (b. 1916; LDS)
Music: Crawford Gates (1921-2018; LDS)
Tune name: ETERNAL LIFE

And now for the grand finally. We’ve progressed to an absolute gem of a hymn. I would expect nothing less from one of the greatest Latter-day Saint composers ever.

This hymn is a study in melodic storytelling. The text sets up the opportunity to write such a melody. Reading the text on its own shows a journey from start to finish. I’m so glad Brother Gates didn’t settle for a formulaic hymn structure.

Yes, there are 4 rather square phrases, if you count the number of bars and where the cadences fall. But there’s nothing boring about them. Each phrase is a leg of an important journey closer and closer to our King. And the bass line is as much a character on the journey as the melody is.

IMG_0096.jpg

From the beginning, we get a sense of reverence. Something internal. Something special. The G, major-7th chord (G-B-D-F#) in the 2nd bar helps color the hymn with these emotions right off the bat.

And the shape of the opening phrase, and every other phrase, is full of direction. Up and down, leaping to the G, then after a leap down to E, a step by step hill of melody.

IMG_0099.jpg

The second line begins with the same shape as the first. A leap up of a 3rd, a leap down of a 3rd, and a leap up of a 4th, this time to high D. The 2nd half of the phrase isn’t quite as stepwise as the end of the 1st phrase, but it take the main character through that next patch of forest to a cadence on the 5 chord.

Line 3 begins in the same way as lines 1 and 2. The difference this time is it does not leap up a 4th to the 2nd bar. Instead, it goes down another 3rd. But the stepwise pattern continues in the 2nd half of the phrase.

Towards the end of phrase 3, we get my favorite bit of harmony in this hymn. A G chord with B in the bass going to a B-minor chord. But before it lands full on the B-minor chord on the word “his,” there’s some tension in the alto and tenor, the E and C# neighbor tones. It’s a warm, somewhat dark dissonance that doesn't’ really resolve all the way because the cadence is delayed. Well, the neighbor tones resolve, but the darkness does not, quite yet. Not until “to share” in the middle of line 4.

That’s the E minor chord that the B-minor chord with neighbor tones was aiming at. Delayed gratification is always a powerful tool.

The beginning of line 4 follows the patter of the previous 3 lines. Up a 3rd, down a 3rd, but now it leaps way down to low D to prepare for the final cadence. Instead of having the tune do a stepping half-phrase as was done before, there’s a long held note and a final drop down to 3 Es and a final D.

Though there is a pattern, a mantra, a modus operandi, the hymn never feels tedious. The story keeps my attention from the first not to the last without any dips in concentration.

One of the internal devices that helps the story along are the extended moving parts in the inner and lower voices.

Here are a few examples:

IMG_0097.jpg
IMG_0100.jpg
IMG_0101.jpg

Each of these elongates the phrase. If the melody is the hero’s “external” journey (like Frodo traveling from the Shire to Mount Doom), the inner and lower voices depict the hero’s “internal” journey (what Frodo feels, how he changes as a person on the journey).

This is powerful writing with many layers that make the whole a truly special hymn. It is one of the best written hymn in our hymnal and on my Top 10 list of favorites.

It will surely remain in our hymnal.

Well, that was a bit of a long one. But as I mentioned, I needed to catch up after my travels.

I hope you have a great day!

Doug

P.S. Click the big green button below subscribe to these posts and I’ll send you my free guide, “9 Ingredients of Great Hymn Writing.”


Commentary form “The Bench Warmer”

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

Hymn #111 — “Rock of Ages”

This very popular text has gone through many “revisions” and “improvements” from many editors and authors for various publications through time. The original text by Augustus Toplady began appearing in the publication Gospel Magazine in 1775 by one of Toplady’s pseudonyms, and went through further discussion and debate until the full text appeared in an article in 1776. Our hymnal contains three of the four verses of this presentation, but in much more the form as it appeared in an 1815 London publication  of T. S. Cotterill’s Selections of Psalms and Hymns.

The tune most commonly matched with this text has the name of the text’s original author. It was published as a trio in Spiritual Songs for Social Worship edited by the tune’s composer and Lowell Mason. The tune is characterized by dotted rhythms and a risings and falling shape. It is unsurprising to me that this text and tune have attained wide appeal through the years, as it is a singable tune and poignant text, though I must admit it not being too appealing to me.

As with many other hymns that are poignant or pleading in nature, the danger is to play this much too slow. I am glad to see the suggested tempo not be too slow, though the range is a little to wide, and the slow end is too slow. I think 76-80 is a good place to be in for this hymn, as it keeps the motion moving and the phrases singable.

Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, Flute 8’
Swell: Principal 8’, Flute 8’, 4’, String 8’
Pedal: Subbass 16’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’
Sw/Gt, Sw/Ped

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great:
Swell: Flute 2’
Pedal:

Hymn #112 — “Savior, Redeemer Of My Soul”

I related the great talent that Orson Whitney has as a poet in a previous entry which he provided the text for (Hymn #37). It doesn’t hurt to reiterate what I related there, specifically that Elder Boyd K. Packer said of him that he was a “gifted and inspired poet whose work is virtually unknown in the Church.” That is unfortunate, as his texts are very good. I think this hymn text is excellent.

I think the tune is a good tune as well. I’m not willing to gush about it as a great tune, but I think it is a very good tune that sets the text well. I think that Harry Dean adds harmonic interest into the tune very naturally in the harmonization that goes well with the arc of the melody.

To get this hymn to flow smoothly and have forward motion, rather than a static feel of sensing each beat, I think it important to sense the pulse of this hymn in one (so that three quarter notes are in one beat). If the tune is thought in three, it becomes too slow and plodding. Therefore a tempo around dotted half note equal to 38-39 beats per minute is a good tempo (that gives a pulse of quarter note equal to 114-117 beats per minute, but give it a try in one!) that keeps the momentum going forward. I would again use a softer registration highlighted by a strong 8’ foundation.

Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, Flute 8’
Swell: Principal 8’, Flute 8’, 4’, String 8’
Pedal: Subbass 16’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’
Sw/Gt, Sw/Ped

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Flute 4’
Swell: Flute 2’
Pedal:

Hymn #113 — “Our Savior’s Love”

This hymn is one of the greatest LDS hymns in our book. I love this reverent text that speaks to various characters of the members of the Godhead and the fervent prayer it ends with as we pledge to sing praises to our Heavenly Father and pledge to obey his law. Of the text, the composer of the tune suggested that we “read, study, and ponder this beautiful and profound poem.”

Equally as sublime as the text, this tune to me is remarkable. It is instantly memorable, and so beautifully melodic that I have a hard time finding words for how excellent I find the tune. Crawford Gates’ harmonization is equally as beautiful as the arc of the melody as well. Gates, when given this text to set, remarked that “it was a text to which I could extend my full conviction for its message. For me, the simple melody does not seem to tire easily. I feel so blessed to be the channel by which it has come to be a part of the sacred hymnody of the Lord’s kingdom.”

I love this hymn and find it one of the best hymns I know, LDS or not. I love that right from the beginning you get a feeling of reverence and sublimity, beginning on the third of the scale and pausing on the sixth before going on. I love the movement of the harmony at places where the melody is held out. I love the harmonic movement of the harmonization. It is such a great hymn.

It is not quite so great is played too slowly, my common refrain for all hymns. But this hymn especially with the movement in the harmonization at long melodic notes invites the tempo to be at such a place that the forward motion is not disrupted. I think a good tempo for this hymn is in the vicinity of 96-100 beats per minute. Not too slow to drag and not too fast to rush. I would choose my same reverent registration, and consider perhaps taking something away on the third verse rather than adding.

Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, Flute 8’, 4’
Swell: Principal 8’, Flute 8’, 4’, 2’ (??) String 8’
Pedal: Subbass 16’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’
Sw/Gt, Sw/Ped

Possible Final Verse Reductions:
Great:
Swell: Flute 2’
Pedal: