I Really Hope We Don't Lose This One

I Really Hope We Don't Lose This One

Hymn #78 — “God of Our Fathers, Whose Almighty Hand”

Text: Daniel C. Roberts (1841-1907)
Music: George W. Warren (1828-1902)

This has been one of my favorites for a long time.

The trumpets, the big G-flat major chord, the powerful and imitative melody that climbs and climbs.

I fear that it will be put on the chopping block…

It was composed for the American Centennial in 1876 and refers to “the starry band” and “this free land.”

Given the announcement of the removal of all national hymns, this one, by definition, will no longer be in our hymnal.

That will be so sad! I really hope the committee with hold onto it, and if necessary, I’m sure the text could be changed a bit to remove any national specifics.

This hymn is too fun not to provide a complete harmonic analysis.


The tune begins with a solid “tonic” based declamation, starting and ending on the low E-flat.

After a second fanfare, the melody steps up to the third scale degree and repeats almost exactly the same shape, ending with a cadence on the 5 chord and a lovely 4-3 suspension in the soprano. In other words, the B-flat on the “star-” of “starry” doesn’t belong to the chord and steps down to the A-natural which does belong.

The third fanfare is built on octave B-flats. The congregation follows the trumpet’s cue and sings high unison B-flats. We’re not sure where the music is headed.

Yet it sets up the great common-tone shift to the power-house G-flat major chord on the downbeat of the second bar in the third line. The root of the B-flat chord at the end of line two become the third of the G-flat major chord. A wonderful chromatic mediant shift. (Chromatic = not in the same key. Mediant = a 3rd away. Chromatic Mediant = a chord that’s a 3rd away but built on tones not in the key.)

At the end of the second line, we’re not sure if the composer has modulated to the 5 chord, or if it’s just a half cadence, a pause on the 5 chord that will go right back to the 1 chord at the beginning of the next line.

The G-flat chord and the German augmented 6th chord on beat four of bar 2 in the third line confirms that we are definitely in the key of B-flat. An augmented sixth chord is build on “Le,” the lowered sixth scale degree of any key. G-flat is the lowered sixth scale degree of B-flat major.

This chord is Le-Do-Me-Fi. A dominant 7th chord built on G-flat, but the 7th, which should be an F-flat, is respelled as an E-natural. Now the G-flat and the E-natural both resolve to F, but in the opposite direction. The G-flat goes down to F and the E-natural goes up to F.

And as a German augmented sixth should do, this one resolves to a second inversion tonic chord. Since the German +6 usually exists in minor keys, the composer resolves this one to a B-flat minor chord instead of major and then ends the line on B-flat major, almost like a picardy 3rd.

But wait, we’re still in the wrong key. We started in E-flat major. So he turns this B-flat into a 5 chord by resolving it up to the cadence that’s been threatening to appear, the high E-flat on an E-flat major chord. But since it's in first inversion, we know he’s not quite done yet. He moves through the four chord to a root position 1 chord and then does a quick “fill-in-the-gap” fully diminished seventh chord on E-natural, stepping to a minor two chord on F. And now the harmony returns to conventional to end the piece back where it started, on the low E-flat.

What a fun harmonic journey! And did you notice how each line of music gradually leaps up the tonic triad? Low E-flat, first line. G, second line. B-flat, third line. High E-flat, top line. And then a steady stepwise motion back down to low E-flat. And the way bars 9 and 13 are almost exact copies of each other except for the D-flats in bar 13, which make the resolution at the end of the third line so fun, give the piece even more continuity.

And it’s such a blast to play on the organ with all those trumpets. Gosh, I really hope we get to keep this one! Oh please, oh please! Let the rain dance begin!

See you back here tomorrow!


P.S. Don’t forget to subscribe. Just click below and I’ll send you my free report, “9 Ingredients of a Great Hymn.”

Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

This is another hymn that finds a firm place in many hymnals and traditions within Christianity. This hymn was written for the centennial of the Declaration of Independence in 1876 and was used as the hymn for the centennial of the adoption of the United States Constitution. It is for the later event that the tune was written.

This is a wonderful hymn and is most deserving of its prominence and place as one of the beloved hymns in Christianity. It is one of the more stirring hymns that we use, and it is often used in funerals in addition to worship services.

I find the tempo suggestion for this hymn to be right in line with where it should be played. 92 is a wee bit slow for me, and 112 a wee bit fast for me. I find I play it somewhere in the 96-100 range. I would perhaps have used a different affectual word then “energetically,” perhaps “solemnly,” or “stately.” Something a little bit more fitting for this tune.

This hymn deserves use of the full resources of the organ. It is hard to navigate this hymn seeking to have the fullness of the divisions coupled together while negotiating the trumpet fanfares. O to have a third (or fourth!) division with a big solo tuba or state trumpet! Alas, we don’t have those (except in very rare cases), so I would bulk up the Swell as much as I could for the fanfares and have a plenum on the Great. I do find that on the last verse I would use the full resources of the organ and play the fanfare on the Great along with the rest of the tune. I also play the last verse up a half step. I am not much one for bridges and modulations, but just beginning the fanfare in E Major rather than E♭seems to infuse a jolt of energy and spirit to the congregation. A good hymn to practice this kind of thing!

Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Mixture, Flute 8’
Swell: Principal 8’, 4’, Trumpet 8’, Clairon 4’
Pedal: Principal 16’, 8’, 4’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Mixture, Trumpet 8’
Swell: Mixture, Bassoon 16’, Principal 2’, Tierce 1 ⅗, Mixture, Bassoon 16’, Hautbois 8’
Pedal: Bourdon 32’, Posaune 16’