A Pair of Fast Hymns for Slow Sunday

A Pair of Fast Hymns for Slow Sunday

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Hymn #138 — “Bless Our Fast, We Pray”

Text: John Sears Tanner (b. 1950; LDS)
Music: James B. Welch (b. 1950; LDS)
Tune name: FASTING

Our pickings are pretty slim when it comes to hymns about Fasting.

Luckily, the 2 hymns on this topic are expertly composed by 2 great LDS organists.

The first, Hymn #138, was composed by James Welch.

It starts out simply enough, but with a fairly standard opening tune and starting harmony. There’s a nice expressive leap up to high D in the first line, but it’s otherwise not super intriguing.

The 2nd line gets more interesting with the 2 C#s in the soprano, one of which is on a downbeat. C# being the 7th scale degree, it has a strong tendency sound that quickly colors otherwise bland harmony. In this case we get a D chord with major 7th, and then a G major chord with a 9th and a sharp 11 in the form of a suspension. All this on “in open…”

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The real magic happens at the beginning of the 3rd line. I simply can’t get enough of the 2nd chord on “thou.”

The soprano and tenor suspend over from the the pick up on “Feed.” The bass and alto leap down forming a G chord, the 4 chord in this key. Because it’s a 4 chord, it’s sounding pastoral and expressive. But add to it the F# and the A, suspended from the previous chord, and you get some exquisite French harmony. A G major chord with a major 7th and a 9th. Delicious!!!

The end of the third line takes a turn towards the key of E minor. First we tonicize the B minor chord on “and bless” with an F# dominant 7th chord. Then before landing on the E minor cadence, we get a D# in the bass and a fully diminished harmony above it. This pulls us towards E minor without any hope of going elsewhere.

After beginning the 4th line with another E minor chord, we pass through some more F# dominant chords, the ones with the A#s, through another fully diminished 7th on G#, and finally back to D major to end it.

Wow, good stuff. And that G major 7th chord with a 9th at the beginning of line 3, yes please, more and more and more of that!

This is a really lovely hymn a deserves its spot in our hymnal without any question.

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Hymn #139 — “In Fasting We Approach Thee”

Text: Paul L. Anderson (b. 1946; LDS)
Music: Clay Christiansen (b. 1949; LDS)
Tune name: FRANCOM

The 2nd hymn for fast Sunday was composed by recently retired Tabernacle Organist, Clay Christiansen.

Like the James Welch hymn, there are some more lovely and colorful harmonies. But he manages to achieve these sounds without any accidentals. Pretty cool.

The hymn begins with a long pedal point on C in the bass. This lasts for the entire first half of the hymn. The harmony moves around through many of the diatonic chords (the ones that belong to the key signature) all over that pedal C in the bass.

By the time the C steps up to the D in the bass, it’s very rewarding. He’s been keeping us in suspense as to when he’d make a move off of the C. He then used some lovely suspensions and other non-chord tones that bridge the gaps between chords.

The tune begins in a very mellow, very humble sounding mode with the low Cs and other low voice notes. By the middle of the hymn, when the bass finally moves, we’ve made it up to a high C in the melody. It then steps down and back up again to the climax on high D.

I really like how it descends after the high D. The C-B-A, the the A holds over in a suspension with a dissonance in the tenor, the B, which is rising up from A to C. The the “F-E-D-C” at the end after the big leap down to low F and finally rising up to C. Lovely diatonic harmony. Very well written.

Again, we have a winner that deserves its place in our hymnal. Very well done, gentleman!

That’s all for today. Have a good one!

Doug


Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

Hymn #138

The text for this hymn comes in response to counsel from President Spencer W. Kimball remarking that devotional poetry was an appropriate Sunday activity. This hymn was the first collaboration and attempt at hymn writing by both John Tanner, a professional in the field of literature, and James Welch, a professional organist. The result was a very good hymn both looking at the text and tune. I especially like the richness of the chromaticism of this hymn. Unlike hymn #132, it makes sense and is very interesting while still very singable. I think it a very good hymn for Fast Sunday.

To execute this hymn well for congregational singing, I think that it is again helpful to feel a macro pulse in two even though it is notated in four. The top of the suggested tempo range is a good tempo, so I would play it at 96 beats per minute. A registration rich in fundamental is a good registration here.

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 #139

The second of our hymns explicitly addressing fasting, it is also the second for which the tune is provided by an organist and for which I am quite drawn to the hymn for its tune. This text is a wonderful example of a prayer focused on the purpose and reason for our fast and is a wonderful hymn for Fast Sunday.

The tune I think is extremely compelling and a wonderful hymn tune. The shape of the melody is wonderful for a fervent prayer, with a continual rising through the hymn until around the golden mean, and then a return to the beginning note. Brother Christiansen does a remarkable job of letting a rather simple scaler passage have much melodic intrigue. He enhances the melody by a wonderful harmonization that highlights the home key. When I play this hymn, I like to emphasize the pedal tone by repeating it off the rhythmic movement. So I hold the pedal tone, only repeating it on beat two. I feel this gives the tune tremendous direction and enhances the forward propulsion.

This is a great hymn. This is also a hymn that is successful at a slower tempo. An excellent way to conceive of this wonderful hymn in a slow, stately manner without dragging is to think of it in one. This keeps the melody moving forward, but provides a stately slow march to undergird the half note-quarter note rhythmic repetition. I prefer the middle of the suggested tempo here, finding the high end too rushed. I find I play it around 94 beats per minute. A strongly fundamental registration is again suggested.

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: String 4’ (if available)
Pedal: