Our Mountain Home, In Flames

Our Mountain Home, In Flames

Hymn #33 -- Our Mountain Home So Dear

Text: Emmeline B. Wells (1828-1921; LDS)
Music: Evan Stephens (1854-1930; LDS)
Tune name: UTAH

The collaborative powers of Emmeline Wells and Evan Stephens are remarkable. The text of Hymn #33 is elegant and picturesque, while the music soothes and gives the peaceful morning air of the Rocky Mountains musical life. Say farewell to this hymn as it's about to go up in smoke. It will surely be cut from the new hymnal.

I hope the piece will not be completely forgotten and relegated to the ash heap of history. It seems like the kind of song that should be taught to school children in Utah. But I'm not sure there's room for that in the new education systems today, they're too busy preparing for standardized testing. A topic for another forum.

It makes sense that the church will remove "music of local interest" in their goal to unify a worldwide church with "one [hymnal] to rule them all." (Sorry, couldn't help the Tolkien reference.) How could this hymn mean much of anything to a newly baptized convert in Zimbabwe? 

But, before we say "goodbye," let's see if we can learn anything from this hymn and apply it to our hymn writing. That is, after all, the point of all these posts. To offer helpful suggestions to those writing hymns and primary songs now and pulling lessons from what's already published. And there's always something to learn from Evan Stephens, whether his hymn will be cut or not. Side note: I wonder if there's a collection of Evan Stephens's music? He's one that I'd like to study more. I bet Janet Bradford, the Music Collections boss at the BYU Library has collected his full works. Does anyone know?

Ok, what about the music?

It starts out very simply. A couple bars of 1 chord, a couple bars of 5 chord, both with some lilting dotted quarter and eighth note figures. Then we walk right up the mountain to the high Dand pause on C#. The first half of the text is done, but Stephens adds 2 bars and repeats the text "Flow ever free." Why would he do this?

The text follows the meter, 6 6 4 | 6 6 6 4. So the 2nd half of the text has an extra line. It's not symmetrical with the first half. To balance things out, Stephens repeats the final 4-syllable line of text so that the first half and the 2nd half can each have 4 even half-phrases of music. And if you're going to repeat something, why make it exactly the same?


The 2nd iteration so "Flow ever free" takes advice from the text and provides music that opens up the somewhat un-interesting music up to this point. The 2 eighth notes, the big leap down from high D to F#, and the secondary dominant chord, the one with the G# in it certainly frees up the slightly rigid music that's come before.

In an excellent move, Stephens takes the 1st unique bit of this phrase, the 2 eighths, and repeats them later in the final line. This keeps the "free" feel going and gives the tune a cohesiveness. 

That big leap down to the F# starts another thing Stephens uses again. He accents a non-chord tone. The F# doesn't belong to the chord. Well, it sort of does as it's a 9th of the chord. But you could also say it's an appoggiatura, a leap to a note that doesn't fit the basic chord, then a step to a chord tone. He accents 3 other non-chord tones which give the melody a uniqueness.


1st, on the word "While" in the middle line. That's a neighbor tone to A, but he uses it right on the downbeat. Usually, neighbor tones come between beets or on unimportant beats. 2nd, on the word "in" on a high B stepping down from the word "Blooming." This is a passing tone. These happen pretty frequently, but more often than not, they occur between beats as eighth notes in a hymn texture, rather than on a beat. Though, this is the least interesting of the examples. 3rd, the final example is an appoggiatura on the word "Are" in the 2nd to last bar. The A does not fit the chord. The soprano lept up to the A and it was given extra emphasis because it's placed on a downbeat. Furthermore, it is the 3rd example of the 2 eighth notes, so it combines 2 of the unique elements into 1 right before the final cadence. Beautifully done.


One last lesson from Evan Stephens before I sign off. Have a look at the last bar of line 2. The measure begins with a weak word on the downbeat. And it happens in more than 1 verse. This normally sounds awful. But Stephens covers it up quite nicely. How so? With that big leap up to high E. He de-emphasizes the downbeat by leaping up to the highest note of the piece on beat 2. This, in turn, de-emphasizes the word "The" and gives the melodic emphasis to "flow'rs," even though it's on the weakest beat of the bar in a 3/4 structure. Let this be a lesson to you. When you're backed into a corner by the text, there are clever ways out. This is one of them.

Apart from the missing bassline in Phrase 3, I think this is a lovely hymn. But it will most likely be shelved and moved to the "historical hymns" category due to it's heavy "Utah only" references. 

More tomorrow. Have a good one!


P.S. To download my complete harmonic analysis of this hymn, click the button below.

P.P.S. Need some help with your hymn or primary songwriting? Or just another pair of eyes? Sometimes we get too close to our creations to notice some things that could be polished a bit. Apply for a hymn critique by clicking below and I'll help you sharpen up your hymn and get it ready for submission to the Church's new hymnal.

Commentary From "The Bench Warmer"

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

Another hymn seldom used, but probably owing to its strong Utah theme, with the first two verses describing the mountains and valleys of Utah, and the last two verses being more general in celebration Heavenly Father’s creation, will be a tough sell for retention in future hymnals. It does cause me to wonder how some of the lesser-known songs of our heritage will be preserved and also ponder on how much we have already be lost to history. Based on some of the comments about these postings, it already causes me to think about what I don’t know of our earlier musical heritage.

The tune to this text is fitting for the suggested affect of “tenderly,” but I do kind of find it somewhat unmemorable. It has many hallmarks of a well-crafted hymn, though, so perhaps it might be worth having a new text written for it. I think this might be the first hymn in my consideration of all of the hymns where I would be very comfortable playing this hymn for congregational singing at the low end of the suggested tempo. In keeping with the spirit of “tenderly,” I might even take it a tad slower, but not too slow. A good registration for this hymn would be the use of lots of 8’ tone, perhaps adding a 4’ flute if a bit of height is needed. Soloing the melody is a good option for this hymn as well. Even though this is a repeat of past postings I have done, since I don’t see that Doug has posted them yet, I will repost some of my soloing registration ideas. The indicated registration starting point is a good option if you are uncomfortable soloing the soprano line.

Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, Flute 8’
Swell: Principal 8’, Flute 8’, 4’, Viola 8’
Pedal: Principal 16’, 8’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’
Sw/Gt, Sw/Ped

Possible Registrations for soloing on the Swell:
Great: Principal 8’ (Flute 8’ ?) -or- Flute 8’ 4’,Viola 8’ -or- Viola 8’, Flute 8’
Swell: Flute (16’ ?) 8’, 4’, 2’ -or- Flute 8’, Hautbois 8’ -or- Bourdon 16’, Bassoon 16’, Flute 8’ (played up the octave) -or- Flute 8’, 4’, 2 ⅔’, (2’, 1 ⅗’ ? adding these makes a ‘cornet’)
Pedal: Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’

Possible Registrations for soloing on the Great:
Great: Principal 8’ (Flute 8’ ?) -or- Flute 8’, Clarinet 8’ (Krummhorn 8’) -or- Flute 16’, 8’, 4’, 2’
Swell: Flute 8’ 4’, Viola 8’ -or- Flute 8’, Viola 8’ Celeste 8’ (only in some cases, perhaps this particular song isn’t the best place for use of the celeste in congregational singing?) -or- Principal 8’, Flute 8’
Pedal: Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Flute 4’
Swell: Flute 2’