The Hans Zimmer Technique for Drawing On the Deepest Emotions With Music

The Hans Zimmer Technique for Drawing On the Deepest Emotions With Music

Hymn #30; 326 -- Come, Come, Ye Saints

Text: William Clayton (1814-1879; LDS)
Music: English folk song
Tune name: ALL IS WELL

Did you see the WWII film "Dunkirk" that came out last year? (Spoiler Alert!) What an amazing movie by one of my favorite filmmakers, Christopher Nolan. Once again, he and Hans Zimmer, the composer of the soundtrack, combine as a killer combo of storytelling. I think they are rivaled on by Stephen Spielberg and John Williams when it comes to combining great cinematic storytelling with fantastic orchestra soundtracks. And any film with Kenneth Branaugh in it is A-OK with me! He's my favorite!

Do you remember the scene when at long last, after being stranded on the Northern coast of France, terrified of being bombed by the utterly devastating Nazi Airforce, over 300,000 Brittish, French, Belgian and Dutch troops see that help is on the way? 

The Royal Navy requisitioned all the civilian vessels in the UK that could get to the beach to fairy soldiers out of harm's way. When Kenneth Branagh's character, Commander Bolton, sees the flock of boats making their final leg of the trip across the English Channel to come to their rescue, there's a moment of sheer movie music magic.

Of course, Kenneth Branagh, ever the amazing actor with easy access to his emotions, portrays a wonderstruck, teary commander. The gratitude for the dangerous rescue of his countrymen is all over his face in one quick shot.

For over an hour, Hans Zimmer's score is mostly the nerve-racking ticking of the clock and the never-ending corkscrew rising of what's called a Shepherd Tone. Then, at precisely the right moment, the moment when the soldiers realize they are about to be rescued by these brave civilians, Zimmer quotes just 4 notes of what is probably the most beloved Brittish melody ever written. The "Nimrod" Variation from Edward Elgar's "Enigma Variations." 

There's something deeply patriotic about this piece for the Brittish. It's like the auditory description of their heart and soul as a people. And when Zimmer, having saved it for this precise moment, and having wound us up so tight with the Shepherd Tone we're about to burst, releases the tension with these 4 notes, all the understanding of what it means to be Brittish, what it means to be human, what it means to put oneself in the heat of the danger zone to save countrymen who they've never met, simply out of the goodness of their hearts, it's all encapsulated in this brilliant moment. The full tune is played out in an augmented, stretched out way. And what a feeling of sheer gratitude at being saved from the terrible beast coming to kill them.

It seems to me that Hymn #30, "Come, Come, Ye Saints," is the LDS equivalent of Elgar's "Nimrod" Variation. When we tell stories of members of the Church being stranded on the plains, freezing to death, stories of handcarts and covered wagons, and all the heroic and tragic stories that came with the Mormon Exudos, we accompany them with this hymn. 

We don't have the time or space here to go into any of these specific pioneer stories. 

So, what is it that makes this hymn have such a powerful hold on our hearts? Of course, it is tied at the hip with our history. But is it the text that accomplishes this powerful emotive expression, or the music itself?

I think it is 80% the work of the words and 20% the work of the music, at least in the case of this hymn. The fourth verse, especially, encapsulates the covenants we've made and the dedication we have to the cause.

I think William Clayton was wise to select a well known English Tune to accompany his words. It has that folk-like quality to it. Simple, generally conservative register, lots of repetition, and easy to stick in the mind. 

The meter of the text is unusual. The first half follows a 10 6 10 6 syllabic pattern. The second half follows an 8 8 8 6 pattern. For this reason, we get the mixed meter, 4/4 then 3/4. This is very common in folk music, the switching up of meters to fit the text. I also like it because in my mind I see a large group of people all moving together, but then I zoom in and see individuals with their different paces and gaits and limps and hitches. 


I'm not overly fond of the word "But" on the downbeat of bar 3. It's similar to the emPHAsis on the wrong syLLAble that we have in the 2nd verse on "Gird up." We don't speak "Gird up" as "weak-strong." It's usually spoken with a strong emphasis on the word "Gird." But this goes back to the poet's setting and suggesting a change to this hymn text seems somewhat blasphemous. So I'll leave it alone.

The tune's most interesting bit is the beginning of the chorus. We rise up to the top of the register on a high D and then gradually make our way down the Rocky Mountains via a few melodic switchbacks landing on consecutive downward scale degrees on each bar. D to C to B to A and finally G on the text "Do this" before rising right back up to the scale to high D. This prepares us for the climax, which is really the last 2 bars. This seems fitting. The journey doesn't reach its melodic climax until the very end.

Harmonically the hymn is very basic. Almost all 1, 4 and 5 chords with a few 2 chords in 1st inversion which mascarade as 4 chords. I do love how the 2nd to the last bar pauses on a 2 chord in first inversion and then goes to the final cadence. It gives it a sort of Plagal feel. Remember that term? That's the "A-men" cadence kind of feel. The 4 chord resolves to the 1 chord. That doesn't happen exactly here. But it's kind of close. Close enough to give off the Plagal odor. 

That's all for today. If you haven't seen it yet, go rent Dunkirk. You won't regret it! And have a listen to Elgar's "Enigma Variations." It's a true classic!

Have a good one!


P.S. Did you tune in to yesterday's LIVE hymn critique? If not, you can see it in our Facebook Group. Just click below. 

P.P.S. Are you worried that you might be laughed at or sneered at by friends or family if they learn that you're writing a new hymn or primary song to submit to the Church? I know this feeling all too well. It's nerve racking letting your creation out into the world. That's why I'd like to help you. Apply for a hymn or primary song critique with me by clicking the button below. I can help you calm your nerves by polishing up you music. You can be confident that together we will find a way to make your music special and impactful to those who hear it. I look forward to working with you!

Commentary from "The Bench Warmer"

by Jason Gunnell

Perhaps one of the most beloved hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this venerable hymn is likely the most easily recognized of LDS hymns. It is played daily in recital at the Tabernacle, and has found its way into a few hymnals of other faiths. I submitted to Doug a recording of my arrangement when I play there (when he asked for some examples of my playing to introduce me) to get a taste of this hymn as an organ solo. This hymn and tune deserve its lofty status in our tradition. It so wonderfully encapsulates our pioneer heritage and the ever-present call for us to become like the Savior and to know our Father in Heaven. My favorite choral arrangement of this piece is by Leroy Robertson, also on the Tabernacle Choir’s Come, Come, Ye Saints disc that I have cited earlier. It is definitely worth finding and listening to. It is tremendous!

Surprisingly, I play this within the recommended tempo markings in the book. I probably find myself somewhere between 70-76 beats per minute, but am not put off by a rather robust 84 either. This hymn allows me to comment on fermatas (𝄐) as well. I think that it is too common of practice to hold these out for too long. Once upon a time, rather than indicating to hold or pause, they were simply a symbol to indicate the end of a phrase. In this tune, it appears on the β€œday” of β€œas your day.” Even with the symbol there, it would be making too much of that spot to give that note more than a quarter note. This is a great example of the fermata as an end-of-phrase indicator, rather than a spot to elongate or pause. I will have much more to say about this when we get to hymn #68. I am rather robust with my registration for the duration of this hymn. I would definitely use principal chorus through mixture, and perhaps have on a nice softer chorus reed, bringing on the larger battery as the hymn progresses, playing the last verse with great majesty. This is also a marvelous hymn to alter the harmony, especially on the last verse. I shamelessly steal from Clay Christiansen (he has recorded his arrangement on his CD The Organ of the Mormon Tabernacle, and it is very nice)! It adds so much vitality and majesty to this hymn!

Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Mixture
Swell: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Mixture, Flute 8’ if needed, Viola 8’ if needed, possibly Hautbois 8’
Pedal: Principal 16’, 8’, 4’, Mixture, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’, Reed 16’
Sw/Gt, Sw/Ped

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