Hitting the high point in the first bar, does that work?

Hitting the high point in the first bar, does that work?

Hymn #7 -- Israel, Israel, God Is Calling

Text: Richard Smyth (1838-1914; LDS)
Music: Charles C. Converse (1832-1918)
Tune Name: ERIE

"Come to Zion!" was the constant refrain of Richard Smyth's life. He served 3 missions for the Church and was a big part of gathering early Church members to their new Zion, the Salt Lake Valley. 

In his hymn text, he compares the emigration of the early 19th century Church members to the Israelite gathering out of the land of Babylon where they had been captive for so long. The message can be carried down to the personal level too. Jesus will deliver us from our own private captivity in sin if we "come" to Him.

The tune ERIE was and is still one of the most popular tunes in Christianity. Most Christian Church's sing a text by Joseph Scriven. Here is the 1st verse (can you hear the Isaiah reference?):

What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear! 
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!

What about the music?

In the early days of the Mormon movement, the tune ERIE was often sung and with several different texts including "O My Father" (now Hymn #292) and "What Was Witnessed in the Heaven?" (now Hymn #11). Richard Smyth's words didn't appear in publication until 1861.

Like Hymn #6, this hymn is very basic harmonically, only 1 chords, 4 chords, and 5 chords with a couple of chromatic lower neighbors at the start of line 3.


The harmonic difference between this hymn and Hymn #6 is that "Redeemer of Israel" has a more active bass line. "Israel, Israel, God Is Calling" is very plain. F-F-F-F-F-F...B-flat, B-flat...F-F-F-F-F-F...C. And then more of the same with few variations. The only exciting moment in the bassline is at the end of line 3, and that bit is great. 


There's nothing 'wrong' with this type of bassline, but it gets a little old after 4 verses. I'm tired by the end of the 2nd verse.

Two question marks remain in my mind with regards to the music. 

First, the highest note of the piece happens in the first bar. That's awfully soon. It doesn't leave anywhere for the melody to go. 

I do like the higher register at the beginning, especially when accompanying Richard Smyth's text. It gives the sense of calling out, "come, come, come!" And the tune has many nice peaks and valleys that make it enjoyable to sing. 

The structure of the hymn is also quite simple, but I don't begrudge it. It's a fairly conventional setup. Line 2 is almost identical to line 1 with a cadence on the 1 chord instead of the 5 chord. Line 4 is identical to line 2 with the same strong cadence on the 1 chord. Line 3 is just a bit different. Different enough to keep the tune fresh and interesting, despite the repetition. 

But I have a hard time getting over the fact that the highest note is in bar 1. That seems to weaken it.

The second question mark has to do with the repetitive rhythm. Every 2 bars has the 'exact' same rhythm. The only difference is that half of the phrases pause mid-way with 2 half notes and the other half pause on dotted half notes.

Sure, many hymns are rhythmically repetitive. And they should be. It makes a cohesive texture. But maybe this one is too repetitive. I'm curious to hear what you think. For me, it's too much. I get tired of it quickly. All it needs is 1 moment of something different, like in Hymn #3, that straight eighth note we discussed a few days ago. The perfect place to do something different is in line 3 after the motives are firmly established in lines 1 and 2. 

When I play this at the organ, I find myself altering and tinkering with the harmony and fillers in the bassline during the 3rd verse. I only avoid starting to tinker during the 2nd verse out of self-restraint. 

Don't get me wrong. It's a fine hymn, especially the message. But it's not my favorite from a harmonic and rhythmic point of view. It's too bad because the melody is fun and moves around nicely.

This was kind of a short one today. That's all I've got.

Tomorrow we'll have a look at another hymn that uses the exact same rhythm, but takes it one step further. Every single bar has the same rhythm. Hmm. Can the composer do enough to keep our interest? We'll see.

Have a good one!


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Commentary from "The Bench Warmer"

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

It is very interesting to observe the difference that a text can have on the affect of the tune. The most common text setting for this tune is “What a friend we have in Jesus,”  which seems to have a more contemplative or subdued mood about it, at least the interpretations I have heard, certainly not the gusto or “with spirit” that we generally approach the hymn in our tradition. The composer William Bolcom included this tune in a set of gospel preludes that he wrote for the organ that offers a unique treatment of the tune that is worth finding and listening to! I join Doug in finding this tune a bit pedantic and rather tiresome. I also fine myself occasionally wandering in the harmonic wilderness trying to add interest to it.

I find this hymn most comfortable in the quarter note equals 96 range. For registration, I would use a principal chorus, but might forgo the mixture until perhaps the last verse, or add a softer chorus reed rather than a mixture.

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

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Mixture
Swell: Hautbois 8’
Pedal: Soft Reed 16’