How to Make a Hymn Sounds as Sturdy as a Pioneer

How to Make a Hymn Sounds as Sturdy as a Pioneer

Hymn #36 -- "They, the Builders of the Nation"

Text: Ida R. Alldredge (1892-1943; LDS)
Music: Alfred M. Durham (1872-1957; LDS)
Tune name: BEAVER

I don't think I would have done very well as a pioneer. Just thinking about all they did makes me want to take a nap. I'm sure many of you, like me, have great, great grandparents who were among those who walked across the country and came to settle the barren Salt Lake Valley. And if not, then I'm sure you yourself, or a close family member have been a pioneer in your own family or community in joining the church. 

My Dad's side of the family came from the Mormon Pioneers. But my Mom is a convert and she brings that first-hand pioneer experience to our family. 

When I lived in Poland, I was a member of one of the 2 Warsaw branches. We were a small gathering of people from many different countries with a core of Polish pioneers. The number of inspirational stories these good people had about leaving their deep Catholic roots and joining the Church, accompanied by all the challenges of being disowned and disavowed, was overwhelmingly inspiring. 

All of these pioneers, both those that settled in the Salt Lake Valley and those freshly minted Pioneers all around the world have my greatest respect. This hymn honors each of them and deserves a firm place in our hymnal.

The text, though at first glance it seems to refer to the Utah Pioneers, can be applied to all Pioneers in our Church. 

The melody is a sturdy one with almost the exact same rhythmic pattern throughout. There's just enough variation to keep it interesting, especially at the end. The pattern of dotted-quarter, eighth, and two quarters followed by a bar of 4 quarters is flipped around backward in the last 2 bars. It's a very effective use of subtle rhythmic variation. We get 4 quarters, then the dotted-quarter, eighth, and a final half note instead of 2 quarters. 

The tune has a bit of the Pioneer spirit itself with a few choice non-chord tones trailblazing their way to cadences in a unique way. The first is at the end of the first line, the leap up to the B on "the way." It's not part of the A minor 7 chord and resolves itself on the D chord right after.


What gives this hymn that sturdy sound to my ears is the bassline. Almost every phrase in the hymn has a hearty downard stepping bass part. It's like the steady driving of pylons into the earth before the building of a skyscraper. 


The other element of sturdiness comes form the regular use of the 4 chord in this hymn. It's not overly done, but there are just enough to bring that pastoral air which gives the whole hymn that sense of "home," or of belonging. It's a very similar feeling to what happens when you attend church for the first time in a foreign country. You have some sort of radar up because you're out of your comfort zone. But then church begins, you start singing the opening hymn, and that warm sense of familiarity and belonging comes over you. 

The best 4-chord spot is right towards the end when we get the F-natural in the bass. That's a dominant 7th chord built on the 1 chord. It's the dominant 7th chord in the key of the 4 chord. So, of course, it has to resolve to the 4 chord. Because the 7th is in the bass, it has to resolve to a 1st inversion 4 chord, but then we his the climax spot on the next chord, the one with the fermata, which is the 4 chord in root position. The we bless the "honored Pioneer!" Lovely writing!


I can't see why the committee would take this hymn out of the book. It describes us as a people in such a great way. And the music matches the text beautifully. Very well done!

Tomorrow we'll take a look at the most "choral" of any of the hymns in the 1985 book. More soon.


P.S. This morning at 10 am mountain time is our weekly Live Critique. I host these live shows in a Facebook Group called "Dr. Pew's LDS Music Reviews." Today we'll discuss how to know if your hymn or primary song is finished and ready to submit. Join me in the Facebook group. Just click the button below to find the group.

P.P.S. Are you ready to have another pair of eyes on your hymn? Are you ready to take a few helpful, constructive comments that will sharpen up your hymn and prepare it for submission? If so, click below and apply for a hymn critique.

Commentary from "The Bench Warmer"

by Jason Gunnell

This is a wonderfully solid hymn that honors the heritage and early history of our church. I hope that the folks on the committees who will make determinations about what hymns are selected for the new hymnal will not be overzealous in removing hymns that might be viewed as anachronistic. I think Mack Wilberg’s arrangement of this is a fine treatment of this very nice hymn.

This hymn goes very well a bit faster than the indicated tempo, probably around quarter note equals 116 beats per minute. This tempo helps maintain a vigorous feel. I would only hold out the fermata in the last line for two beats as it is but a pause in the line and not a stopping place. I would seek for a full registration, so I would not use the high mixture, and probably use a chorus reed and 16’ reed in the pedal.

Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Mixture (or Swell Mixture, whichever is lower-pitched)
Swell: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Mixture, Flute 8’ if needed Hautbois 8’
Pedal: Principal 16’, 8’, 4’, Mixture, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’, Bassoon 16’
Sw/Gt, Sw/Ped

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Trumpet 8’
Swell: or this Trumpet 8’
Pedal: 16’ Reed, 32’ Reed and Flue