Speedy Gonzales Learns to Sing

Speedy Gonzales Learns to Sing

Hymn #106 — “God Speed the Right”

Text: William E. Hickson (1803-1870)
Music: Ernst Moritz Arndt (1796-1860)

¡Ariba, ariba! ¡Andale, andale!”

On my mission we sang Hymn #106 as if we’d been hyped up on amphetamines. Forget 2/2, we sang this baby in 2/1. 1 beat per bar. I call that Speedy Gonzales tempo…..

This is one of the best examples of a hymn that uses unison singing in the first couple phrases. It get us started with a big load of energy. The opening rhythm helps too, the dotted quarter eighth, which feels like a dotted eighth-sixteenth, if it had been in 2/4 or 4/4.

The little refrain at the end of the first 2 lines, the “God speed the right” repetitive ending, keeps us in check so we don’t go flying of the page in a burst of speed. I love how the rhythm of the 3rd phrase changes things up a bit with steady quarters every other bar.

But my favorite bit is the race to the top of the hill right before the end. We hit the peak on high E, and then suddenly drop over an octave to the lower register creating the echo off the mountain tops cause by the congregational shout. Such good, rousing writing!

Without a doubt, this is a keeper. I only wish we sang it more often. I think organists are afraid of this hymn because of the unison and the fast tempo. That’s really too bad because this does exactly what you want a hymn to do. It brings the congregation together in unity and spurs them into action!

The harmony is very simple. There are no chromatic notes at all. Everything is firmly in C major. But the tempo, the rhythm, and the extended phrase 3 with double cadence ending, one high and one low, keep us fully engaged at every step of the way. Top notch!

That’s all for today.

Have a good evening!


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Commentary form “The Bench Warmer”

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

I think this is a good, sturdy hymn with a very good hymn text and a tune harmonization that well-emphasizes the great power of unison singing. I also think that this hymn tune very well matches the affect and message of the text. It is a very stirring and effective hymn all the way around. I especially love the change in register for the final recitation of the phrase “God speed the right.”

I appreciate that I am making the comment a little more often in these last few hymns that the suggested tempo is a good marking. The only caveat to that is that the suggested tempo markings are generally too broad. 66 beats per minute is too slow for this hymn, but 76-80 (remembering that this hymn is in two) is a very good tempo. As I played through it to check where I was at, I was between 78-80.

This is a good hymn to note as well that one cannot be rigorously metronomic or remain strictly with an unmoving tempo. Steadiness is absolutely called for the vast majority of the time, but at certain phrase endings or particularly at certain points of music, flexibility is called for. I am looking in this specific example at the second to last phrase of “God speed the right.” Expanding the tempo and slightly delaying the entrance of the final “God speed the right” I think is absolutely called for, with the final phrase also played slightly slower.

The danger with this practice is starting the next verse in the slower tempo you ended in. Where you utilize rubato in hymns (when called for...remember, use discretion), it is imperative that you return to the original tempo. But exercising caution and judgement when using rubato allows the hymn to be sung with greater expression and the congregation also generally feels these natural tendencies. Remember, the organist is the leader of congregational singing (and I don’t mean to offend, but really, the organist and not the conductor in congregational singing, except for very few and obvious exceptions such as General Conference, and even then, the organ still prevails when the sound system is adequately loud enough), and the congregation will follow along with your efforts.

I would use a robust registration, employing principal chorus through mixture and probably using chorus reeds and 16’ manual stops as well. Depending on the organ, I might consider playing the last iteration of “God speed the right” on the Swell or closing the box a bit. The register change will make it naturally softer, but I may experiment with a slight dynamic decrease in the organ as well, but nothing too abrupt.

Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Mixture, Flute 8’
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’, Trumpet 8’
Pedal: 32’ Flue and Reed,  Posaune 16’