Two Towering Testimony Hymns
Text: Samuel Medley (1738-1799)
Music: Lewis D. Edwards (1858-1921; LDS)
Tune name: HE LIVES
What makes a hymn carry a powerful spirit?
How can the Holy Ghost ride on little notes on a staff and sail down into our hearts?
I’m constantly amazed by this phenomenon.
In the case of Hymn #136, I think the majority of the power comes from the words. To say over and over again, “I know…” “He lives…” “He lives…” “He lives…” “I Know that my Redeemer lives!”
Just typing it over and over again brings swells of spiritual feelings roaring up inside me. Declaring our allegiance, our belief, our faith, our knowledge, our love of the Savior is incredibly powerful.
The role of the music in this case, I feel, is to help us express these feelings. And, if we don’t yet have a fully developed testimony (and let’s face it, who does?), at whatever stage of life we’re at, we need to grow. The expression of that testimony, even if we’re wavering, makes it grow. And the melody acts as a “remembering” agent. It’s like Neville Longbottom’s remembrall, only we won’t forget what we’ve forgotten. We’ll remember what faith feels like, even if we haven’t felt it since before we came to earth.
The music is simple and soothing. The tune is steady, encouraging and allows us to express the full range of emotion because it gives us lows and highs. The opening of the chorus, F#-A-D, “He - - lives” is a powerful use of a simple arpeggio, leaping right up the notes of the 1 chord. We get it a 2nd time in a very folk-song-like manner, reiterating our belief. The 3rd time the tune steps down, B-A-G, and lands on the 4 chord, that warm, shepherding, pastoral feel. And the final line ascends again, G-A-B, but this time with a little extra juice provided by the C# in the tenors.
When I was a teenager, my cousins and I formed a choir, the Pew Family Youth Choir (PFYC for short). We sang an arrangement of this hymn very often. It was an important time of life to express testimony. I’m thankful we did that so often.
A few years ago, Elder C. Scott Grow came to our stake in Cincinnati. I was asked to pick the hymns. Elder Grow asked for only 1 change. He wanted the closing hymn of the general session to be this hymn. I complained a bit when I heard the news. But on the day, I was so glad. He was spot on. He spent about an hour closing the session mostly baring testimony of the Savior. It was the perfect way to end the meeting.
This is a MUST-keep-or-there-will-be-riots kind of hymn.
Text: Loren C. Dunn (b. 1930; LDS)
Music: Michael Finlinson Moody (b. 1941; LDS)
Tune name: TORONTO
Michael Moody’s “Testimony” hymn is another lovely selection. I like the tune a lot. It’s simple, but has some surprising turns that keep the interest and allow expression.
The first interesting bit is the dip down to the low B at the end of the first line. I like how it sneaks the 4 chord in there and then the wedge chord on the G# in the bass—which is just an E major chord in 1st inversion—followed by the 5 chord with a nice suspension in the alto.
The second interesting melodic part is the big octave leap in the middle of line 2. It’s a bit unexpected in such a short hymn, but it’s a great way to open up the singing with some emotion before closing the verse out.
The final interesting melodic moment is the leaping in the second to last bar. B-G-E, which is a broken 2 chord in reverse. Then it goes to the 5 chord before ending on 1. It’s a standard 2-5-1 cadence, but the tune spells out the 2 chord. I like that.
This is another keeper. It’s nice to have a short “Testimony” hymn in case there’s not enough time for one of the longer ones.
That’s all for today. Hope you have a good one!
Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”
by Jason Gunnell, Organist
Here we arrive at another beloved hymn in our hymnal. This personal testimony of the Savior finds uses in many settings of life. It is a common hymn sung in Sacrament Meetings, in the home, and at funerals. I think this a good hymn that deserves is place in the hearts of Latter-day Saints, but there is one element found in this hymn that truly irks me and that I have discussed in previous hymn, and that is the misuse of the fermata.
Putting a fermata at the end of each phrase in the first section of this hymn only stultifies the melodic flow of the hymn and makes it very ponderous. We treat each fermata as a grand pause that brings everything to a crashing halt before it has even had a chance to get going. To give each phrase the same ending as the ending of the first big section (after everliving Head) lessons the impact of the conclusion of the first big musical phrase.
Rather than making grand pauses at each fermata, it would be much better to think of those spots as a tenuto, or slight elongation of the tempo. I’ve even seen an arrangement that discards the fermata all together and keeps it a quarter note to great effect. I understand that this would run counter to how it has been ingrained across the church on how to sing this hymn and would require retraining on everyone’s part on how to approach this hymn, but it would vastly improve the musical flow and make it a much stronger hymn.
In addition to seeking to remedy the over-segmentation of this hymn, the other great help is to play this at a tempo that doesn’t connote a funeral procession (even if you play it at a funeral!). The high end or just slightly faster than the suggested tempo is a good place to be. Another great help in getting some forward motion in this hymn is realizing this hymn in 2 rather than 4. So feeling the pulse around 42-43 beats per minute for the half note.
The affect word for this hymn is peacefully, but I tend to think of it as a powerful testimony that keeps building in intensity. Therefore, I begin the hymn usually with Principals 8’ and 4’, and then build the registration each verse until I am playing the second half of the hymn on the fourth verse with most of the resources of the organ.
Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, 4’, Flute 8’
Swell: Principal 8’, 4’, Flute 8’, String 8’
Pedal: Principal 16’, 8’, 4’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8
Possible Sequence of Additions by Verse (with perhaps an addition for the second half of the final verse if so desired, so 2nd verse→3rd→4th→4th second half):
Great: Nothing→Principal 2’→Mixture→Nothing
Swell: Flute 2’→Hautbois 8’→Mixture→Bassoon 16’ & Trumpet 8’
Pedal: Nothing→Soft Reed 16’→Posaune 16’→32’ Flue
This simple, elegant hymn is another good example of a very good hymn text matched with what I think is a very good tune. It shows that heartfelt text can communicate a message well and that tune writing needn’t be complex or obstrusive. I especially appreciate the story of the text’s origin, that Elder Dunn was moved by the powerful testimonies at a Regional Representative meeting that he was moved to write his feelings in poetry. I am drawn to a text coming out of a natural experience rather than a specific intention to compose a hymn text.
This is another hymn that works very well if felt in two rather than four. I am always pleased when I set down to determine what the tempo is that the hymn works best at and find the suggestion in the ballpark. Like many other hymns, I would stay on the high end or just above the suggested tempo. 96-98 beats per minute is a good tempo for this hymn. I would prescribe a softer registration with good 8’ foundation to support the singing.
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’