It Was the Worst of Hymns, and It Was the Best of Hymns
Text: Anonymous (Hymns of the Spirit, 1864)
Music: Frank W. Asper (1892-1973; LDS)
Tune name: WILSON
Ok, “worst” is a little harsh.
But Hymn #132 is not a popular one for good reason.
It’s sad, really, because it starts out in a very promising way. The first line is lovely and fresh sounding. But Brother Asper gets a little ‘too’ creative for his own good.
The harmony quickly becomes too out of the ordinary, especially in the first two bars of line 2 and line 3.
It’s kinda like hitting a speed bump in the dark, the kind that don’t have any reflectors on them.
DA DOMPF!!! Whoops!!
It’s a bit too unorthodox to lead the singer seamlessly from phrase to phrase. It detracts from the message and the flow of what should be a smooth musical experience, especially when we’re singing about the temple.
The last line isn’t bad. But take a look at the harmony at the beginning of lines 2 and 3 so you can make sure you don’t fall into the same trap of over-cleverness.
Text: Angus S. Hibbard
Music: Friedrich F. Flemming (1778-1813);
arranged by Edwin Pond Parker (1836-1925)
Tune name: INTEGER VITAE or FLEMMING
Hymn #133, on the other hand, is a beautiful, smooth, no-speed-bumps-in-site kind of hymn.
It soothes, it summons, it sings! And effortlessly too.
There’s a nice pattern going on here. 1 bar of the same harmony, then we move to a new chord which sustains for the 2nd bar. Then in the third bar, the chord changes every 2 beats before resolving to the 4th bar’s chord which agains lasts the full bar.
This happens again in the next 4 bars, and yet again in the 4 bars after that.
Only the final 3 bars does this harmonic rhythm speed up.
Having the first 2 bars each be a sustained chord gives those early bars the feeling of anticipation. “When’s it going to move? Will it? And where will it go?” Because it moves so slow, we’re not really sure. But by stepping down to the 2nd bar we get a sense that it’s going to move again, but when and where, we’re not sure. So our attention is caught right from the start.
There are some nice inner-voice chromatic wedges. D#s that fit between a rising D to E. And then it happens in reverse in bar 8.
These slow and subtle harmonic changes are what make the somewhat static melody line interesting. When the melody stays on the same note but the bass moves a bit, we know right away that the melody will move soon. It taps our curiosity.
The 2nd phrase does the same kind of thing as it starts. But this time it starts a 3rd higher, so our expectations are even greater.
There’s not much of a climax other than the high C. But our attention is focused and interested the entire way, from start to finish.
This is a well balanced, well executed hymn. The conservative register and lack of super big leaps makes it very easy for a congregation to sing. And the harmony, though chromatic on occasion, adds color without chucking in speed bumps along the way.
This is a keeper, for sure!
That’s all for today, hope you have a good one!
Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”
by Jason Gunnell, Organist
I would love to know how many readers are aware of the existence of this hymn. We may not have discussed a more obscure hymn in our hymnal to this point. Unfortunately, I think there might be good reason this hymn is so unknown and unsung. The text seems to bear similar characteristics to other hymns of the time it was written. It strikes me as a rather typical hymn text.
I have stated in previous reviews my affinity for hymn tunes written by organists. I have found each previous hymn by organists in our tradition to be excellent, but I don’t think I can say the same for this hymn. Frank Asper was Tabernacle Organist in the middle of the twentieth century with Alexander Schreiner, and has many excellent compositions and arrangements, but I don’t think this tune quite matches some of his other works. The melody isn’t very tuneful or ear-catching, the melodic deviations from the key are rather awkward and difficult to follow, and the harmonization also does not help or make much sense, especially to a congregation. All of this combines for a rather disjointed and awkward hymn that I think is difficult to sing.
If you ever were to find yourself accompanying this for congregational singing, after overcoming your surprise at playing this hymn, I think you would also find that the suggested tempo is far too slow. It flows better around 112 beats per minute. I think that the suggested affect word is a bit misleading. The nature of this hymn strikes me much more as a robust or energetic hymn. Therefore, I would recommend a strong registration utilizing at least a principal chorus is appropriate for this hymn, perhaps adding a mixture for the second verse.
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: Mixture ?
This is another of the great hymns in our hymnal. The text is a fantastic example of a reverent corporate prayer to our Heavenly Father that demonstrates quality and beauty of the English language. It is a masterful hymn text. The tune is equally as sublime and exquisite as the text. I find it possessing the same attributes that I find so appealing about “More Holiness Give Me.” I love this hymn. Here is a very nice rendering of it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l43EmVDSydc
I am going to veer far of course here from my normal suggestions, but I think that the suggested tempo here is too fast. To maintain the reverent affect of this hymn, I would play it around 76-82 beats per minute. Not so slow that it is drudgery, but not so fast that it rushes, which I think it does at the suggested tempo. I think the forward momentum is maintained even at a slower tempo. A softer registration is also appropriate for this hymn.
Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, Flute 8’
Swell: Principal 8’, Flute 8’, 4’, String 8’
Pedal: Subbass 16’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’
Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Flute 4’
Swell: Flute 2’