My Least Favorite Thanksgiving Hymn & An Announcement

My Least Favorite Thanksgiving Hymn & An Announcement

Hymn #95 — “Now Thank We All Our God”

Text: martin Rinkhart (1586-1649);
translated by Catherine Winkworth (1829-1878)
Music: Johann Cruger (1598-1662)
Tune name: NUN DANKET

Hymn #95 is a fine old hymn. But I’m not crazy about it.

When a tune begins on the 5th scale degree and hangs out there for a while (like #7), I’m often turned off.

What gets my goat the most is the way lines 1 and 2 end. G-F-G-F-G, twice in a row, and then line 3 starting off with 3 more Fs and a G, seems like way too much F and G to me.

I’d rather end the 2nd line like this:


I have a hypothesis about this tune. Melodies like this one, especial those written before 1700 are often based on some sort of chat or old church mode.

Take a look at lines 1 and 2. Play a g minor chord to get this tonality in your ear first. Then, play the first 2 lines of the tune by itself without any harmony. Do you hear that? It’s the Phrygian mode. In other words, rather than playing the E-flat major scale we would normally use for this key signature, apply the 3 flats of the key signature to a scale starting on G. You get G, A-flat, B-flat, C, D, E-flat, F, G. That’s a Phrygian scale. The most characteristic element of a Phrygian scale is the lowered 2nd scale degree. In this case, A-flat. And the way the tune ends the line with G-F-G-F-G is like ending a major key melody with Do, Ti, Do, Ti, Do.

The greatest example of a using an old Phrygian tune and applying traditional western harmony is Bach’s Passion Chorale, our Hymn #197. This is a fully Phrygian tune. Bach uses the slippery harmony of a Phrygian scale to toggle back and forth between relative major and minor keys (D major and B minor in the case of Hymn #197). The Phrygian aspect paints the soundscape of Hymn #197 with a melancholy tint which makes perfect sense for a Passion hymn. More about that in 102 days from today.

Hymn #95, though the first half seems in line with this Phrygian way of adapting an old tune, does not end this way. The 2nd half of the hymn is set much more in traditional harmony and ends firmly in E-flat major.

I like the 2nd half of the hymn better than the 1st. The tune has much more direction and gravitational use of tendency tones. I also like the cohesiveness of the first 3 notes of line 4. It quotes the opening phrase of lines 1 and 2 but in microcosm. What was 7 notes is smooshed into 3.

I’m pretty sure this hymn will stay in the book, which is fine by me. It has a lot of history and is a favorite of many.


Our Church has some amazing manuals and handbooks. We’re experts at training new teachers, new Bishops, new Mission Presidents, Primary teachers, Beehive Secretaries, Missionaries, and on and on.

But there’s so little material available for musicians.

I feel like I should do what I can to help. That’s the main reason I’ve been writing this daily hymn blog. But I can do more.

In that spirit, I’ve decided to write a book. A handbook offering training for those who have a desire to write hymns and primary songs.

It’s a sizable topic to cover. I’ll conquer it in 5 parts and I’ll publish them here on my website as downloadable eBooks. The will be called…

Writing the ‘Songs of Redeeming Love’:
A Latter-Day Guide for Composing Hymns and Primary Songs

The 5 parts will be about these topics (with clever titles to come later):

  1. Choosing and Setting Texts as well as Structure and Form

  2. Composing Melodies

  3. The Tools of Music Harmony and Applying the to Melody

  4. Writing Piano Parts of Primary Songs

  5. Writing Arrangements for Ward Choir and Others

If you’re interested in improving your hymn and primary songwriting with my assistance, click the big green button below. I’ll let you know how I’m progressing and when Volume 1 is available. It should be in the next couple weeks.

If the button’s not working, click the link here:

July 1st, the deadline for the new hymnal and primary songbook submissions is coming pretty soon. I’m going to pump these out as quickly as possible to give lots of time for you to use them and prepare you submissions.

Have a great weekend!


Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

This hymn, often called the “German Te Deum,” has become the classic thanksgiving hymn that transcends all national, language, and denominational boundaries. It was penned during the Thirty Years War and was sung to celebrate the Peace of Westphalia in December of 1648. The text was originally written by Martin Rinckart as a hymn for family table grace for his children to sing. The original text has three stanzas, and I wonder again the reasoning we left one out. The last verse does speak of the Triune God, but I think this text might be easily and elegantly modified to reflect our understanding of the nature of the Godhead.

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given,
the Son, and him who reigns with them in highest heaven,
eternal, Triune God, whom earth and heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be, evermore.

The tune is intrinsically linked to this text, as the tune name indicates, and first appeared in a collection in 1647 by the tune’s composer. It has been used by many composers through time as the basis for their compositions. One of the great organ postludes is by Sigfrid Karg-Elert on this tune and is worth learning! This hymn is a tremendous hymn and well-deserving of its renown.

A good tempo for this hymn is in the vicinity of quarter note equal to 108 beats per minute. The fermata at the end of the first two phrases is difficult to get right. It is notated in the Hymnal 1982 (which I think has a much better and more interesting harmonization than the one in our book) without a fermata, and only a tick-mark break between phrases, which is also confusing. We sang this hymn at the church I work at several weeks ago and there was much confusions when we practiced with the choir about the proper length of time between phrases. It would be easier if the editor of these hymnals just noted it as a dotted half note, as that seems to be the generally practiced treatment of the phrase endings. A strong registration similar to other strong hymns is called for with this hymn, perhaps even employing 16’ manual stops for all verses.

Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Mixture, Bourdon 16’
Swell: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Flute 8’, String 8’, Nazard 2 ⅔’, 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: Tierce 1 ⅗, Mixture, Bassoon 16’
Pedal: 32’ Flue and Reed,  Heavy Reed 16’