Sunday, February 22, 2015

A few favorite hymns (and parts of hymns)

Here's a meditation on worship music for your Western Sabbath. Sometimes when I play the piano at church, I get to thinking about my favorite hymns, and my favorite parts of my favorite hymns.

Joseph Smith's First Prayer. I think this hymn is a gem and if you disagree, you are SOULLESS. Some of our quirky hymns get tired with repeat singings, but not this one. It is always fresh and meaningful to me. My favorite part is if you put a little pause in after the "Joseph" in the first line of the last verse, then run through until after "Hear him," then put in another slight pause. Perfection.

Let Zion in Her Beauty Rise. I heard this for the umpteenth time, but for the first real time, at the YW meeting of general conference in 2005. I have never forgotten it. My favorite part is that this song is a prime example of when tempo can make or a break a song. If you sing this song with gusto and speed, it is glorious. (See also: On This Day of Joy and Gladness.)

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty. You are not allowed to grow up in Craig Walker's house without loving (or learning to love) this song. So, I do. My favorite thing about it is the truly beautiful lyrics.

Lord, Dismiss Us With Thy Blessing. It took me years to un-hear "Go Tell Aunt Rosie," but once I did, I fell in love with this song. I think a certain MoTab arrangement helped. My favorite part is the "Oh refresh us" refrain.

O God, the Eternal Father. I might have to write a separate post just about sacrament hymns, because there is so much to love. This one has my all-time favorite moment, though: "To walk upon his footstool/And be like man, almost-". The comma before almost is exquisite, and that line is possibly my favorite stretches of music in the entire hymnbook.

I don't remember who put me onto this, but another favorite sacrament hymn is if you take the words of Thy Will, O Lord, Be Done and sing them to the tune of In Memory of the Crucified. They fit together perfectly and the new tune sets off the "thy will, O Lord, be done"s better.

O Savior, Thou Who Wearest a Crown. AKA the most difficult hymn to play in the entire hymnbook. Maybe that's why I love it! Also, because I feel a little bit Catholic when I sing it.

Brightly Beams Our Father's Mercy, but with the purer version of its melody from Should You Feel Inclined to Censure. The Lower Lights got me hooked on this song and every time I play it at church, I get a little lost in it.

O Home Beloved. I'm sad this song is stuck in the men's section, because it has such a touching melody and message that have held great meaning for me over the years. Bonus: 10 years ago or so, Russell M. Nelson wrote different, more spiritual lyrics for the tune. If they ever put together a new version of the hymnbook, I hope they include his version of the song, meant to be sung by the entire congregation.

Well, those aren't all my favorites, but they are some of them. I'll have to do a sacrament hymn edition sometime.


Señora H-B said...

Hymn love twins!

Totally agree with you on the proper phrasing in Joseph Smith's First Prayer. It makes such an enormous difference.

I get teary whenever I hear this line in 'Let Zion in Her Beauty Rise': "A thousand years, oh, glorious day! Dear Lord, prepare my heart to stand with thee on Zion's mount and nevermore to part". Love that hymn.

I love 'Come, O Thou King of Kings' a lot. I didn't discover 'Father in Heaven' until we had a special sacrament meeting where we could choose our favorite hymn and the congregation would sing it. It's a really beautiful prayer.

I wish we had more time to sing all of the verses of most hymns. It bugs me when a story/poem just ends in the middle. 'How Firm a Foundation's latter verses are so powerful. I love the later verses of 'Come Follow Me', too. I mean, "For thrones, dominions, kingdoms, pow'rs, And glory great and bliss are ours, If we, throughout eternity, Obey his words, "Come, follow me."" Come on! That's great songwriting there!

Suzanne Bubnash said...

I could write a book about favorite hymns and profound portions of hymns.

What comes to mind today is that we sang one of my favorites this morning, "The Morning Breaks." It's not an easy one to sing, I usually have to drop down an octave, but the message of the restoration is powerful. No mistake that the hymns of the restoration are first in the hymnbook. And as a convert I can relate to it on a personal level, for it describes the building of a testimony: "the clouds of error disappear, before the rays of truth divine . . ." and "thus Zion's light is bursting forth . . .", etc.

Yeah for the new version of a comforting favorite. Dad was part of a men's quartet that sang O Home Beloved, and it was sublime.

Speaking of sacrament hymns, and without looking I can't think of the title of this one, but the line, "With my body on the tree, I have ransomed even thee." Yes, He has ransomed even me, the lowliest of all.

Ariana said...

I love the hymns so much!! I just wish we could sing some of them a little faster and louder. When I was at BYU and taking a music history class, one day the professor was sick at the last minute and had his TA teach the class. The TA was a masters student in organ performance, and started the class by playing "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" on the big organ (we had class in the Madsen Recital Hall) SO LOUD and powerfully that it shook the air in my lungs. I had never paid any attention to that hymn before, and since then it's one of my favorites. He played it through a couple times, then played it again and had us sing at the top of our lungs. It was a fairly big class, so we really raised the roof! IT WAS SO COOL. Maybe we don't need to raise the roof quite that much in Sacrament meeting...maybe just a little. :)

I think 'How Firm a Foundation' is my all time favorite (especially is sung with gusto and with some energy). The line "fear not, I am with thee, oh be not dismayed, for I am thy God and will still give thee aid..." brings tears to my eyes every single time.

I love 'God of Our Fathers, Whose Almighty Hand'...once again, played and sung with GUSTO. The fanfare part is cool, especially with a good organ and organist.

I love 'If You Could Hie to Kolob'...the words and melody make me want to go far away, stare at the sky, and think about the universe.

I love the harmonies in 'Master The Tempest is Raging'. I sing alto...I like interesting harmonies.

I love 'Carry On'. The music is just cool, especially if the organist is talented. It always reminds me of my dad, who loves the hymns and tried to learn the piano as an adult but never got very good. It's always been his dream to be able to play that song well.

Ariana said...

Oh, and I love 'Be Still, My Soul' because it always reminds me of playing Finlandia in high school (I played viola). Both are amazing pieces of music. I love the words of the hymn.

Julee said...

I remember that phrasing of Joseph, this is my beloved... Thanks to Sister Reeve and youth choir.
Lol (at myself) but until this day I have remembered it as "Go Tell Aunt Rodie". I guess Rosie makes more sense;).
You are soulless if you don't think the fourth verse of How Great Thou Art is powerful!

Karen said...

Thanks for your thoughts on hymns. All too often our congregations forget that we sing hymns for a reason!

Liz Johnson said...

I'm so intrigued by this post, because I don't really know many of the ones you mention (O Savior, Thou Who Wearest a Crown??). I agree with Señora H-B about the latter verses of "How Firm a Foundation" - those verses probably make that my favorite hymn these days. I also love "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief" and "Lord, I Would Follow Thee."

I'm off to listen to some of your favorites!

I'd be verrrrrry curious to hear what your least favorite hymns are, too. :)

Bridget said...

Senora and Ariana and Liz, How Firm a Foundation is so good. I love that they had the Primary kids learn it a few years ago. And AMEN about singing the extra verses of that and other songs. I am a militant extra-verse singer and I get to mandate it for everyone else since I'm in charge of the music.

Mom, I think that's Reverently and Meekly now. I really need to do a Sacrament version of this post! There are so many good ones.

Ariana, that experience with AMFIOG sounds amazing. I love that hymn.

Liz, don't tempt me to follow up this post with a least favorites. I think I could really offend people. Here is a preview of me offending people: I don't care for I Believe in Christ. It is too long and takes so much energy to sing but it's not fast enough to really punch through so I'm left feeling exhausted. That said, I get why people love it; it's just not for me. Now I will duck to avoid the things you are throwing at me.

I guess I could write the post still, but stick to the easy answers like Scatter the Smiles and Sunshine.

Señora H-B said...

You won't offend me with your feelings on 'I Believe in Christ'. I don't like the tune. It's too repetitive which makes it seem like the longest. song. ever. I do love 'I Know that My Redeemer Lives' and 'My Redeemer Lives'. I think the tunes are much more appropriate to the message.

I forgot about 'O Savior, Thou Who Wearest a Crown'. I love to play it on the organ. It's so clearly an organ piece because I find it infinitely easier to play with an organ keyboard than on a piano. Interestingly, this tune switches out very well with 'If You Could Hie to Kolob' and makes for some interesting singing.

I had forgotten about 'Reverently and Meekly Now' too! I love it because it's the Savior talking, instead of us singing about how to worship him. Another favorite.

I like a lot of the more obscure hymns, probably because I get tired of hearing the same music over and over again. I went through a recent obsession with 'The Wintry Day, Descending to its Close'. It's so delightfully weird and will almost surely be taken out of the next hymnbook because it talks about 'the fearless Indian band'.

I agree with others who have mentioned tempo being crucial. I just drag the congregation (and sometimes the chorister) right along with me when I play the organ. People dragging their feet while hymn singing is THE WORST.

Suzanne Bubnash said...

The above comment reminds me that for at least a year we had a chorister who led music at about half the expected tempo. It was terrible. You could catch a few winks between phrases. The bishopric spoke to her but eventually they just had to find her another calling. Now we're back to perky enthusiastic Barb L. as chorister, and if I were a stranger attending for the first time I'd be swept up in Oak Hills Ward's powerful sacrament singing and never want to leave!

Bridget said...

We have a great chorister who seems to like tempos as snappy as I do. It is the best. Singing hymns slow is fine if they are meant to be slow (like a lot of sacrament hymns). But all the rest - speed it up! Enjoy it!

Susanne said...

I enjoyed this post. I recognized a few from the post and more from the comments that we sang in the Baptist church. Several, understandably, I've never heard.

I've heard it as Go Tell Aunt Rhody, too. I didn't know it had other words. :)

It was fun reading your favorites.


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