Stately Hymn Rebukes the Non-Singers
Text: Isaac Watts (1674-1748)
Music: Aaron Williams (1731-1776)
Tune name: ST. THOMAS
This is a short, yet powerful little hymn.
My favorite part is in verse 2 when the Isaac Watts rebukes all who do not sing praises to God.
So, no more sitting with your mouth closed in Sacrament meeting during the hymns. Instead, declare you love for the Savior by opening up and making some noise. A joyful noise! And if you can’t quite hit the right notes, don’t worry. It’s much more about allowing yourself praise the Lord out loud. It’s kind of like baring your testimony. The more you open you mouth and speak a testimony, the more it grows within you. The same goes for singing hymns of praise to the Lord. The act of singing praise hymns allows your testimony to increase through the act of declaring it through song.
The tune is an old, delightful stately melody. It’s full of just the right amount of eighth-note motion to drive forward, especially in the 2nd to last bar in both lines.
And the leaping thirds, first down, then back up, in the last line, give the hymn a feeling of stability and grandeur. Notice, though, that the composer does not simply leap around in thirds. Look at the tune at the beginning of the 2nd line. C-A-F. These leaps down are followed by a step up to G. By not continuing to leap too many times in a row, the tune remains anchored. Just that one step to G give the tune permission to leap down to C and back up the tonic triad to high C. But then one it hit the high C, it steps again, to the high D, anchoring it again at the climax point.
I love how the bass line is very much a duet with the soprano. Lots of 10ths and 13ths, or 3rds and 6ths, lots of mirrored motion. That keeps the hymn fluid instead of stodgy. Lyrical instead of blockish.
The motion throughout, especially with many inverted chords, keeps harmonic interest throughout, even though there’s only 1 chromatic note. Very nice diatonic writing!
I don’t have anything else to say, other than we should sing this beautiful hymn more. It deserves its place in the hymnal an in our worship services.
That’s all for today. Hope you have a good one!
Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”
by Jason Gunnell, Organist
This is a fantastic hymn! The original text is ten stanzas long by the great hymn writer Isaac Watts. Our hymnal contains four of those verses, with some alteration by John Wesley.
The text is well matched to the tune ST. THOMAS by Aaron Williams. This stately tune is a wonderful example of a great hymn tune.
Ronald Staheli has an excellent arrangement of this hymn for choir, as does Douglas Bush for organ. In fact, when I play this hymn, I will use the introductory canon of the Staheli arrangement as the introduction and use the Douglas Bush arrangement for my alternate harmonization. It works out very well, I think! (though this does require one to transpose the hymn into the key of G)
I find that this hymn settles in nicely in the 88-90 beats per minute range. This gives it a good, stately feel while maintaining the forward drive of the pulse. A strong registration is definitely called for here.
Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Mixture
Swell: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Flute 8’, String 8’, Larigot 1 ⅓’, Mixture, Hautbois 8’
Pedal: Principal 16’, 8’, 4’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’, 16’ Reed
Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Bourdon 16’, Mixture, Trumpet 8’
Swell: Mixture, Bassoon 16’
Pedal: 32’ Flue and Reed, Heavy Reed 16’