This One Bugs Me, But I'm a Bit of a Snob

This One Bugs Me, But I'm a Bit of a Snob

Hymn #44 -- "Beautiful Zion, Built Above

Text: George Gill (1820-1880)
Music: Joseph G. Fones (1828-1906; LDS)
Tune name: BARROW

I spoke with Herr Profesor Kirchenbank about today's hymn. We both feel that the text and tune of this hymn are well written. Yet, we're not sure this hymn should be kept in the new hymnal in its current state.

Of course, this will sound snobbish to some, but there is a recurring error in the composition of this hymn that pushes it over the ledge for me and especially for Prof. Kirchenbank. I won't repeat his exact words here, but trust me, he was not impressed.


Notice in the 3rd bar of music the word "above." The first syllable of this word is accompanied by a chord that is missing its 3rd. I can understand this happening every once in a while as an anomaly of voice leading. But it doesn't just happen once. It happens 6 times. It's like making a pizza and forgetting to include the cheese or the toppings. All you get is crust and red sauce. At the beginning of the 2nd line, the composer even leaves out the root of the chord. That's like a pizza with no crust, only sauce and cheese. Hmm, sounds messy to me.

The errors are easily fixed. Why not sharpen this hymn up a bit if we're going to keep it in the book? Make it a whole pizza.


At the end of the 2nd line and the beginning of the 3rd line on the text "pearly white; Beautiful temple," there's a string of 7 chords in a row with missing 3rds. The bassline does hit the E briefly on the word "pearly" and we get a full chord. We need more of that.

Line 4 is fine, very nice in fact. Then we get tot he little chorus and it happens again on the word "lovely," no 3rd. Luckily we get a 3rd by the end of the bar.

The verdict? Unless we can bake a full pizza here, I'm not interested in keeping the hymn. But it's a shame. The text is lovely. Hopefully the committee will make some changes.

Have a good one!


P.S. Do you make these 15 mistakes in hymn writing? Click below to go through a checklist of items to look for as you work on your hymn writing.

P.P.S. Click below to download my complete harmonic analysis of hymn #44.

Commentary from "The Bench Warmer"

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

This Zion hymn isn’t triumphant or dignified like the previous hymns on Zion in this section of the hymnal. It is rather more like a lullaby in nature. It strikes me more as a song you would sing to yourself absentmindedly rather than as a congregational hymn.

We might have to make lists of hymns in three that should be felt in one. This is the latest in a line of recent hymns we have discussed that are so characterized. The pulse in one is happiest around dotted half note equal to 52 beats per minute (that’s quarter note around 156…). This gives this song a nice, gentle, flowing lilt. I would follow the advice of the suggested affect and be light with my registration. I would advocate that registering for hymns always needs at least a Principal 8’ in the registration, but this hymn might lead me to at least explore what a registration with flutes 8’, 4’, and maybe 2’, and maybe an 8’ string would be like…

Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, Flute 8’, (maybe 4’)
Swell: Principal 8’, Flute 8’, 4’, (maybe 2’)
Pedal: Subbas 16’, Principal 8’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’
Sw/Gt, Sw/Ped

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Swell: Flute 2’