Do I Dare Offer Suggestions to a Tabernacle Organist?

Do I Dare Offer Suggestions to a Tabernacle Organist?

Hymn #57 — “We’re Not Ashamed to Own Our Lord”

Text: William W. Phelps (1792-1872; LDS); altered
Music: John Longhurst (b. 1940; LDS)
Tune name: AUSTIN

My inner Molly Mormon voice says…

“Brother Pew! How could you?!

How dare you suggest that one of the Tabernacle Organists consider alternate versions of their hymn?!”

My arrogant composer voice says….”Sure! Why not? It’s just an idea. And they’re super nice guys!”

Sorry, Molly Mormon shoulder angel. I’m tuning you out.

Hymn #57 is a lovely work. I agree with Jason (see below), it doesn’t deserve to be part of the “sealed portion” of the hymnal.

The tune is clear, shapely, has multiple drama points, a satisfying climax and never feels stagnant. It’s always on route in the dramatic arc of the piece.

As the hymn in its entirety is really only one long musical sentence, at least musically, I almost want a chorus. When we get to the word “earth,” though the grammatical sentence has ended, the music is clearly only halfway done.

I think most composers would have elongated the word “earth” to complete an 8 bar phrase; “on earth...on earth…” But Longhurst moves right on to the 2nd half of the phrase, and emphatically so. The tune goes back down where it began on the low C and soars up an octave with a lovely yearning leap on “we love.”

Likewise, the 2nd phrase is 7 bars in length instead of the typical 8. A 14 bar hymn makes for a piece that does not rest at all until the final cadence has ended. I think that’s another reason I can hear a potential chorus coming around the corner. The short phrases propel my ear forward.

But it does not ‘need’ a chorus. It’s a great little gem of a hymn as it is.

And the harmony is also very nice. Of course, as an organist, he is an expert of harmony. So I am not surprised, but delighted at the several emotion tingling harmony moments.

Take the first line, for example. It starts off regularly enough in the key of F, but by the end of the bar we’ve cadenced on an A major chord with a G dominant 7 chord right before it. That’s a somewhat unusual but delightful turn of harmony. And it goes well with the text. We’re not ashamed of our Lord, nor of the use of harmony that’s a bit unorthodox but makes a strong statement.

In his commentary below, Jason wonders if there’s a way to get some more motion in bar 2. I like it as it is, but I did come up with an alternate version which would satisfy the urge for more motion. Perhaps it could be used in a later verse to keep things fresh?

Bars 1-4, alternate version. © Douglas Pew

Bars 1-4, alternate version. © Douglas Pew

The spot that I’d suggest needs a slight alteration is in bar 5, the beginning of line 2. I’m not thrilled with the doubled G on the 2nd beat of “worship.” There’s no error here, nothing harmonically illegal. But it doesn’t sound quite right to my year, especially considering the delicious “Faure” chord on the word “on” a few beats later. It’s a G minor chord with a 7th and a 9th. Mmm, makes my spine do a tingle up and down. More of that, please.

So, my suggested alteration is as follows. Have the alto go to a D on the “wor-” of “worship.” Then have the tenor leap down to an E as the soprano steps up to the G. This prepares the next chord, the D minor with a C in the bass, in a more satisfactory way to my ears.

Bar 5, alternate version. © Douglas Pew

Bar 5, alternate version. © Douglas Pew

The climax of the beginning of the 3rd line is very satisfying and is followed by very warm, pastoral harmony at the final cadence.

When Longhurst arrives at the 2nd to last bar, it sounds as if we will get a bar of the dominant 7th chord, which is very typical, and a final 1 chord.


He starts with a regular old 5 chord, though the 3rd is missing, and steps to a B-flat chord, a 4 chord which sits atop the pedal C. On beat 2 it sounds as if it’s just a set of passing tones. But then beat 3 assures us that this is a Plagal cadence over a pedal 5. That’s “theory nerd” speak for a 4 chord going to a 1 chord at the end of a piece instead of a 5 chord going to a 1 chord. But this 4 chord has the bass note of the 5 chord. It’s a hybrid. And what a warm and beautiful homecoming, like milk and cookies right out of the oven.

So you see, I was nice. I just had a couple thoughts about some potential alternate harmonies here and there. It’s a lovely hymn that we should sing more often. I hope we get to keep it in the new hymnal.

That’s all for today. See you tomorrow for a favorite Spanish Hymn!


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Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

I quite like this stately tune by Tabernacle Organist Emeritus John Longhurst and I don’t think it deserves the current relegation of the sealed portion. I think it pairs very well with the text. Especially notable is the middle line of music. I think this middle section is a very good example of great melodic and harmonic interest in hymn-writing. I do wish that there was some harmonic movement from the second to third measures. The bass staying on the D for two measures just doesn’t grip me to open the hymn, though I struggle to find a better alternative (though I haven’t tried too hard, and I don’t want to be too critical of Brother Longhurst’s work…).

I do like this anecdote from Karen Davidson: “Tabernacle organist John Longhurst was invited by the 1985 Hymnbook Committee to submit a new musical setting [to this text], one that congregations could sing and enjoy. A distinctive point concerning his hymn tune is that congregations must be prepared to move right on to the next phrase in the seventh measure, rather than dwelling on the word ‘earth’ (verse 1) as they might ordinarily expect to do. In the melody, the octave skip from the seventh to the eighth measure gives strong emotional emphasis to the words ‘We love.’ The tune name, AUSTIN, is the brand name of  one of the small pipe organs used by the Tabernacle organists in their preparation. John Longhurst said that he composed this hymn tune ‘seated one day at the Austin.’”

A nice, stately, bold tempo for this tune is quarter note equal to 128 beats per minute. That gives this hymn nice motion and also allows for the pulse to be felt in one. A strong registration, making use of chorus reeds with the principal chorus aids in the bold interpretation of this hymn tune.

Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Mixture
Swell: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Flute 8’, Nazard 2 ⅔’, Mixture (choose the lower pitched-mixture between this and the Great Mixture…, Hautbois 8’
Pedal: Principal 16’, 8’, 4’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’, 16’ Reed
Sw/Gt, Sw/Ped

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Mixture, Trumpet 8’
Swell: Mixture, Contra Trompette 16’
Pedal: 32’ Flue and Reed,  Posaune 16’