Live, from the Sea of Galilee: Even the Winds and Waves Obey Him
Text: Edward Hopper (1818-1888)
Music: John Edgar Gould (1822-1875)
Tune name: PILOT
In July 1997, I traveled to Israel. I was 16 years old.
My younger brother Brian and I were members of a community choir led by our Stake President, Lynn Shurtleff, the Santa Clara Chorale.
Though the choir was a community organization attached to Santa Clara University, about two-thirds of the members were Latter-day Saints. My bishop and his wife, several members of our stake and their spouses, and my aunt and uncle came on the trip. But our parents did not. They entrusted us to the care of our aunt and uncle as well as our bishop.
We sang a concert version of Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" in the Tel Aviv Opera House. After our two days of rehearsal and performance, we toured the country. For 10 days we walked the streets of Jerusalem, saw the sites around the Sea of Galilee, and did hit all the other tourist spots. It was amazing!
And to visit all these important biblical sites with my Stake President and Bishop was really cool. They continually opened the scriptures with us and taught us as we went.
I have many wonderful memories from this trip. One of the most impressionable is the memory of a Sacrament meeting we had in a hotel conference room. Our small group of Latter-day Saints gathered in the hotel situated on the west side of the Sea of Galilee.
We had recently taken a midnight boat ride on the Sea. The boat was a modern version of the type of fishing boats the disciples would have used 2,000 years ago. As we reached the center of the Sea, the captain turned off the engine and the lights. We floated for a long while in the pitch black with only the start to light our way.
What a feeling. I'm getting the tingles now as I write this, just remembering. We didn't speak. We sat and looked out into the black, up into the heavens. I imagined seeing Jesus walk on the water towards us. Later we opened the New Testament and read about the winds and the waves, the calming of the sea. We read about the nets and fishing. About transforming fisherman into fishers of men. We learned about how a ship without a rutter is driven and tossed on the sea and how we each needed Jesus to pilot us through the choppy seas of life.
It was in that frame of mind that we held our Sacrament meeting. My bishop and I were assigned to bless the Sacrament. To this day I've never felt the Spirit as strongly while blessing the Sacrament as I did that day. We were both in tears. We realized the significance of preparing and blessing the emblems of His body and blood while being only a few miles from where He died for us.
They asked me to share my testimony, which, again, was a very potent experience. I'm sure my Stake President asked me to do all this so the experience would sink down deep into my heart. And it did.
We sang, without piano or organ, an a cappella Hymn #104, "Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me." I'd never heard this hymn before. After the intensity of this experience, Hymn #104 became fused to my testimony and all the experiences we'd had in the Holy Land.
Years later when I was the assistant conductor of the BYU-Idaho University Singers, my teacher encouraged me to write an arrangement for the choir. I'd never done that before. I had been a piano major and a choral conducting major. There was no composition degree at the time.
I gave it a try. And of course, the first hymn I thought of was "Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me." And who happened to be the organist? None other than Jason Gunnell, our very own "Bench Warmer." This was our first of many collaborations. The year must have been 2002, or maybe 2003.
This is my opus 1. The first piece I ever wrote (apart from exercises in theory class). It's not bad either. You can check it out here, www.douglaspew.com/jesus-savior-pilot-me-choir.
A few years ago I arranged another version of this hymn for violin and piano. I wanted a version to play with my wife, Janae, who's a violinist. I decided to marry this hymn with another favorite, my absolute favorite, #197, "Savior, Thou Who Wearest a Crown." Bach's Passion Chorale. It has a Brahmsian feel to it. I really like this one. If you're interested, you can check out the string version here (https://www.douglaspew.com/jesus-savior-pilot-me-and-and-o-savior-solo-string). The version for wind or brass instrument is available here (https://www.douglaspew.com/sacred-airs).
Obviously, I love this hymn. My only regret is that it's so short. Actually, I extended the melody in my instrumental arrangement, repeating the opening phrase twice for a longer phrase. So instead of an A-B-A structure, it becomes A-A-B-A. It works well.
The mix of dotted eighth-sixteenth against eighth note triplets has always been a favorite element. The first note, the high D on the word "Jesus" gets the hymn off to a strong start as far as the yearning goes. It cries out.
I love the F-sharp in the tenor. I think this is our first augmented chord so far in the hymnal... if I remember correctly. Augmented chords give off that sense of "harrowing" or some other kind of raised emotions brought on by a thorn in the side.
The 2nd line has two picturesque moments, on "roll" and "shoal." The soprano and bass hold a half note while the alto and tenor paint a picture of the scene, the rolling waves, the treacherous shoal. I find it very effective.
When I'm in need of some Spiritual fortification or direction or comfort, this is one of the 3 or 4 hymns I go to first. I think-sing it and remember the Sea of Galilee. It helps me recall the many times I've felt the Spirit turn my rutter and get me back on course. The many times I've been piloted through storms. The many times I've felt Him say to me, "fear not, I will pilot thee." I feel it now.
Text: Mary Ann Baker (b. 1831)
Music: H. R. Palmer (1834-1907)
Tune name: PEACE, BE STILL
On that dark, quiet boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, the guide taught us about the unique geography of the Sea. It's not a very big sea. All around its circular edges are hills and mountains. It's as if the sea was a circular valley floor. Because of the circular nature of the rim of hills and mountains, funny things happen when the wind kicks up. It swirls within the circle and causes large waves on the Sea. A storm can turn a perfectly calm Sea into perilous waters in less than an hour.
The day we visited the Golan Heights on the Eastern side of the Sea, we witnessed this swirling wind. It didn't get super raucous, but we saw how suddenly the calm sea became full of large waves. It was easy to imagine the disciples caught in a storm.
Enter Hymn #105. This is another long-time favorite. What I love most is being thrust into the drama. From the start of the hymn, with the rolling 6/8 eighth notes, we feel the tossing of the boat to and fro. We can easily see ourselves sitting next to Peter of John or Andrew, terrified, trying to bail out oncoming water, afraid for our lives. Somehow Jesus sleeps through it all. Though, now that we have 5 children and I've witnessed many times how my wife can take a nap with pandemonium reigning all around here, I'm a little less amazed that Jesus slept through the storm.
Lines 6, 7 and 8 are the most fun. The composer really gives us the raging storm here, both in repetitive and ever-rising melody and in the chromatic harmony. Plus the propulsion of the rhythm. And then the hymn calms as the wind abates and the waves relax back to normal.
Recently we sang this in our ward Sacrament meeting. The conductor asked if we could really make it dramatic. So I prepared to make lots of registration changes to go along with the drama. She did a great job of speeding us up in the crazy storm sections as I continued to beef up the registration. Then we slowed and softened with the calming wind. It was SO effective! And SO much fun! We had a little Galilee opera in Sacrament meeting!
It's true that Hymn #105 falls more into the "song" category than the "hymn" category. But I love it. It's a definite keeper. 10 out of 10 in my book.
Well, that's all for our live report from the Sea of Galilee. I hope your seas will be calm. But if the winds start to rage, you know who your Pilot is. Go to the source. He will lead you to safer climates, calmer shores, greener pastures.
P.S. Click the buttons below to be notified when the 1st part of my Practical Guide to Hymn Composition is ready, and to subscribe to these posts.
Commentary form “The Bench Warmer”
by Jason Gunnell, Organist
Hymn #104, “Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me”
Another very popular hymn that appears in numerous hymnals, the text was penned by the pastor of a church in New York City that served as a spiritual home for many sailors for whom this text would be especially meaningful and relevant. The appeal of the text and tune have allowed it to stand through the test of time as a beloved hymn to many.
Adjectives such as prayerful, reverent, fervent, gentle, thoughtful, calm, etc. are danger words in our hymnal as describers for desired affect. These words are too often equated with slow and dull. Tempos drag, energy wanes, and boringness prevails. Such is the danger with this hymn as well. I would highly recommend not going any slower than 72 beats per minute, as the hymn played slower would became a dirge, not a prayerful plea for the Savior’s guidance. I would use a similar registration to previous hymns as well, perhaps with a small addition for each verse.
Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, Flute 8’
Swell: Principal 8’, Flute 8’, 4’, String 8’
Pedal: Principal 16’, 8’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’
Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: maybe a Bourdon 16’
Swell: Principal 4’, Flute 2’
Hymn #105, “Master, the Tempest Is Raging”
I think this is a tremendously powerful and effective song. I recall one extraordinary arrangement performed at conference several years ago… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bsQ4NHCYrmg. When I heard a particularly poor sermon preached on the scriptural text from which this work was paraphrased, I decided to improvise on this song during communion, and the Director of Music was particularly touched by my improvisation that day. It is a very good text and tune.
However, I think it is a tremendously good song, or better yet, an anthem, but not really a hymn. I think it requires a degree of precision, interpretation, expression, and execution that can really only be achieved through a choir, and not really through congregational singing. But oh, what an anthem!
I think the faster end of the suggested tempo is a good tempo to be at. I find that I would play it between 66-70 beats per minute, depending on the size of the congregation and the acoustic of the room (ha! What acoustics?!). I would explore again a fuller or darker registration for this hymn, utilizing a dark chorus reed and maybe some 16’s, lightening the registration for “peace, be still.”
Registration Starting Point:
Great: 16’ Bourdon (?), Principal 8’, Flute 8’
Swell: Principal 8’, Flute 8’, 4’, Hautbois 8’ (?)
Pedal: Subbass 16’ Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’, Soft 16’ Reed (?)
Change to Peace, be Still:
Great: Principal 8’, Flute 8’
Swell: Flute 8’, 4’, String 8’
Pedal: Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’