A Trinity of Heavenly Hymns

A Trinity of Heavenly Hymns

First of all, let me apologize for my absence from the daily posts.

When you’re wife is out of town, you’re left alone with 5 kids, and your eight-year-old has crazy lower right abdominal pain, it’s not the best mixture of circumstances.

Our four-year-old had an appendectomy just a few months ago, and her appendix had ruptured, causing all sorts of problems.

Naturally, I was worried we might be having a reprise of the previous appendix performance.

Luckily, she did NOT have appendicitis. But I spent most of the day Friday attending to her. We’re still not sure what’s going to with her. More tests will be done next week.

In the mean time, we went ahead with her scheduled baptism Saturday morning. She was feeling much better.

I had every intention of making up these posts yesterday afternoon. Yet I found myself crashed on my favorite chair and de-composing for the rest of the day.

An 80 day streak was pretty good. Better than Joe DiMaggio!

To get back on track, today I’ll comment on 3 of the greatest hymns in our hymnal which are published right next to each other. These won’t be as long or detailed, but these hymns speak for themselves. I don’t need to add anything really. But since they’re so great, I’ll say a few things about each.

 

Hymn #81 — “Press Forward, Saints”

Text: Marvin K. Gardner (b. 1952; LDS)
Music: Vanja Y. Watkins (b. 1938; LDS)
Tune name: EDGECOMBE

This hymn excites me ever time I sing it or play it. And I love how clearly it sets a favorite Book of Mormon verse, 2 Nephi 31:20

For those trying to write their own hymn text, this is a great way to go about it. Start with a favorite scripture verse. Borrow freely from it and fit it to a hymn meter. We could use many more hymns based on verses from the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants.

The tune is robust and full of big leaps that are a ton of fun to sing. It starts with a leap of a 5th, then goes down to the bottom of the register in line two before leaping up a 6th to a high D. Meanwhile, the bass is on the move and the inner voices follow the marching cadence. It’s like a battle version of “The Primary Children Sang As They Walked and Walked and Walked…”

Line 3 is really cool. The composer combines the opening licks from line 1 and line 2. We get the leap up to high C, then the same leap up to high D. Our expectations are tingling. Where will she take us next? Being a wise hymn composer, she does not shoot for the high F knowing a congregation will choke on that high note. Instead, she takes aim and nails the high E-flat harmonized by a fantastic minor 5 chord with a 7th (C, E-flat, G, B-flat). C minor doesn’t belong in this key. But it works SO beautifully to kick off the “Amen” section.

10 out of 10 in my book.

 

Hymn #82 — “For All the Saints”

Text: William Walsham Huw (1823-1897); altered
Music: Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
Tune name: SINE NOMINE

Gosh, this is such a great hymn! It’s an out-of-the-park-home-run composed by the great Ralph Vaughan Williams.

The tune is captivating and fun to sing, the Alleluia’s are a blast, and the bass line, marching as “the Saints go marching one by one, hoora, hoora!”

We’ve had a few discussions over the past weeks here on the blog and on Facebook about setting texts to music and how sometimes the verses of the text don’t line up with every syllable.

Have a look at what Vaughan Williams does in this hymn. In almost every phrase there are optional or alternate pick-up notes to give room for extra syllables here or there. I think this is very, very well done. If you have a text that you fell you “must” set, but it has some beats that don’t match exactly, why not craft the music in such a way that the language can feel natural, and the music avoid strange speed bumps that come from off-set syllables?

Of course, a first rate composer like Vaughan Williams would take the time to really craft music that allowed the text to flow in this way, as did Brahms, as did Bach, as many others have done. It’s not good enough to simple leave the music and let an unstressed word like “the” take a strong beat when the composer can easily offer an alternative option.

And I love the 3rd and 4th verse in their 4-part harmony texture. Anyone who decides not to sing all 5 verses is really cutting short a great hymn experience. These are not EXTRA verses.

Take a look at all the internal motion. Like his other great hymn, “All Creatures Of Our God And King,” “For All The Saints” is expertly crafted on every level. Or, as the British might say, “from top to toe!”

 

Hymn #83 — “Guide Us, O Thou Great Jehovah

Text: William Williams (1717-1791);
verse one translated by Peter Williams (1722-1796)
Music: John Hughes (1873-1932)
Tune name: CWM RHONDDA

I can never decide which is more fun to sing in this hymn, the melody or the bass line. This has to be one of the most exciting bass lines of any hymn.

The message of the hymn reminds me of a President Monson talk from a while back. “Pray and go!” The text of the hymn is a prayer, but it’s a pray on the go! There’s no waiting around for confirmation. This is pure action!

I love how the tune is shaped and ornamented with running eighth notes. I also really like the several leaps in a row in bar 3, which the bass line sings as well, but a 10th lower.

Line 3 is particularly fun with the sequence. A-B-C-A in the first bar, then up a step, B-C-D-B, then starting on the high D and continuing the sequence rhythm before holding the high D.

I don’t think this fermata should be held very long. I think it works well without the fermata all together.

The final little tag is a nice way to end the piece. And the tenor’s get the last word with their A-C-B resolution.

All 3 of these hymns deserve a great deal more time and attention and study. They are each prime specimens. As I’m in the “catch-up” zone, I don’t have the time to do them justice.

That’s all for today. We’ll be back on track now.

Take care,

Doug


Commentary from “The Bench Warmer” — Hymn #81

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

I think this is one of the very best Latter-day hymns and an outstanding hymn altogether. The text is a wonderful paraphrase of 2 Nephi 31:20 and the tune is a marvelous musical vehicle to convey the text. In addition to this being a wonderful hymn, it is one of my very favorites!

I have had a similar experience in music writing to Sister Watkins, who reports that she “was puzzled to hear a tune to these words insistently going through my mind one evening. I wasn’t home, and it was several hours before I could put the tune down on paper. Then I awoke several times during the night thinking of it and mentally harmonizing it. In the morning I wrote the harmony I had heard and continued to work with it for several days. Then, since I knew of no reason to submit it, I put it away in a drawer without mentioning it to anyone.” When the committee was looking for a musical setting to this text, Sister Watkins submitted her setting and it was accepted. She said that she “knew it was through the Lord’s inspiration that I was given the music to accompany these choice words.”

Karen Davidson says “the optimism and encouragement of this hymn text are complemented by the tune’s brisk tempo and emphatic melody line. The opening musical phrases in lines one and three are almost like a fanfare. And the alleluias in line four have a bold refreshing sound that leads to a joyful expression of praise to the Lord.”

The tune seems to want a tempo just slightly faster than the suggestion, around 122-124 beats per minute. One of the things that I like to do in the final verse at the alleluias is on the half notes of the ‘le’ and ‘lu’ is play the unison melody note on the first beat and then punch the chord on the second beat to give more emphasis to this wonderful part. This hymn is wonderful employing the full resources of the organ, with plenum through mixture at the beginning and adding brilliant chorus reeds for the final verse.

Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Mixture
Swell: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Flute 8’, String 8’, Larigot 1 ⅓’, Mixture
Pedal: Principal 16’, 8’, 4’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’, 16’ Reed
Sw/Gt, Sw/Ped

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

 

Commentary from “The Bench Warmer” — Hymn #82

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

Here we come to another of the all-time great hymns in hymnody. Tremendous text is coupled with an outstanding tune to combine for a wonderful hymn. This text has eight verses in the Hymnal 1982 and eleven verses in the original text. It was written as a processional hymn by Anglican Bishop William W. How.

The tune by Ralph Vaughan Williams was left unattributed in the first publication it appeared in, as Vaughan Williams was the editor of that hymnal and “was reluctant to let it be known that he was the tune’s composer.” Since it originally appeared without the composer’s name, the tune is known as SINE NOMINE, Latin for ‘without a name.’”

This hymn is unique in that it has both harmonization for unison singing and harmonization for part singing, both harmonizations masterful in their construction. This is widely considered one of the greatest tunes in hymnody, and rightly so.

I don’t know why the suggested tempo in our book is so wide, but I think the upper range of the suggestion is a good tempo for this stately tune. Quarter note equal to 116 beats per minute is a nice, robust tempo for this tune and it’s great walking bass line. A strong plenum is recommended, pulling back on inner verses, utilizing chorus reeds on the final verse.

Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Mixture
Swell: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Flute 8’, String 8’, 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: Mixture, Bassoon 16’, Clairon 4’
Pedal: 32’ Flue and Reed,  Heavy Reed 16’

 

Commentary from “The Bench Warmer” — Hymn #83

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

This hymn is another that is beloved in most Christian denominations and is one of the more well-known hymns in Christianity. The text is by a Welsh itinerant preacher who penned the first verse in Welsh. When it was translated into English and proved to be popular, he wrote in English the second and third verses we use today. The original text has six verses in total.

The tune is a fantastic hymn tune that pairs very well with the text. There is something about a bass line that has great movement that really energizes a tune or makes it very interesting. It stands apart from many other Welsh tunes that tend to be in a minor key and perceived as rather gloomy. A great arrangement for organ that I often use as a postlude for services is by Paul Manz (often titled as God of Grace, another text set to this tune).

Again, I must gripe with the suggested tempo markings. I cannot imagine how 76 beats per minute would be a tolerable tempo for this hymn. The vigorous and pushing nature of the text and tune desire for a much more robust tempo, such as between 112-116 beats per minute. This tempo is much more singable and energizing. A strong plenum is again recommended here for this great hymn. I will also concur with Doug that the fermata marking is superfluous. The half note is the right length for that spot before moving to the concluding phrase.

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: Mixture, Bassoon 16’
Pedal: 32’ Flue and Reed,  Heavy Reed 16’