My Hymn-Journey from Dark to Light

My Hymn-Journey from Dark to Light

Hymn #107 — “Lord, Accept Our True Devotion”

Text: Richard Alldridge (1815-1896; LDS)
Music: Joseph J. Daynes (1851-1920; LDS)
Tune name: ELIZA

Any time a hymn can make a congregation feel unified, I’m a fan. Hymn #107 is an excellent example.

Our devotion” … “our hearts” … “our joy” … “never leave us" … “help us” … etc.

I love how the 2nd line begins the same as the first and goes up just a bit higher to add some extra feeling to the pleading congregational prayer.

The second half of the hymn increases that pleading with the repetition of the text and the melody which continues to ascend until “help us Lord.” And “Lord” gets the highest note, which seems very appropriate.

It feels as though we are a group of lost sheep, bleating from the lonely mountain side to be heard. We all come together on the common ground of our dependance on the Savior, His Atonement and His grace.

The harmony is very still and quite basic, which adds to the reverence of the hymn. There’s enough movement in the right places, especially the bass line, to keep things interesting and engaging.

The melody does most of the emotional work and sticks in the memory, which is almost always a good thing.

#107 is a beautiful hymn that I hope we get to keep. I don’t see why we wouldn’t.

Hymn #108; 316 — “The Lord Is My Shepherd”

Text: James Montgomery (1771-1854)
Music: Thomas Koschat (1845-1914)

The two possible tune names mean a lot to me.

As I’ve mentioned before, I lived in Poland for 9 months. I fell in love with the Polish people who were very often “forsaken.”

Now I have that Primary song in my head, but with different words…

I live in [Poland]
A long time ago
It is true…

Psalm 23 is a special text. Few texts depict the deep feelings of need I, and surely many others, have to be rescued by the Good Shepherd.

Hymn #108 is a lovely, reverent setting of this text.

It is without a doubt the alto’s FAVORITE hymn. And rightfully so. The tune they sing for the first half is poignant and effective. I really like the simple countermelody in the soprano too. Though, the 10 high Cs in line 2 would be a bit much if the colorful moving alto line wasn’t there to steal the show.

Have a look at the first 3 bars. Composers, and aspiring composers, here is a great example of how to keep the same chord interesting for 3 whole bars in a slow hymn. It’s the motion in the alto and the slower melodic motion in the soprano. They transform the droning bass into a soothing blanked of harmony, rather than a boring repetition. Very well written!

When it came time for me to set the text of Psalm 23 (for my cantata, The Good Shepherd), I decided to dig a little deeper.

My setting starts in the dark, deep in the “valley of the shadow of death” where I’m full fear. I wish I could say this of more of my compositions, but this one, this is something special. And I don’t say this to brag. I want to offer it to you as a piece of music that can heal a wounded heart, because that’s exactly what it did for me.

When I wrote it, I was going through some ridiculously difficult times. My mind was often dark and misty. I had a hard time hearing the Good Shepherd. I couldn’t see a thing, spiritually. And truthfully, though it sounds cliche, I was silently crying out like a wounded animal.

Miraculously, through the composition process, the mist began to clear. I could hear Him again, through the Spirit. I started to see the way ahead.

This piece is my personal journey from dark to light. And I believe the Lord helped me compose this piece not only to help me, but to share with others who feel lost.

If you feel like you’re stuck, in the dark, caught in the mist, give it a listen. Go somewhere quiet. Put on some headphones. Confront the dark. Let out your cries. And see the hand of the Good Shepherd reaching out to rescue you. He’s there, waiting for you.

Have a good one!


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 #107, “Lord, Accept Our True Devotion”

I have found that for whatever reason, I am familiar enough with every hymn in our book that it is difficult for me to determine or judge what hymns in our book are firmly entrenched in the sealed portion of the hymnal and which hymns are more generally known. I have a suspicion that this hymn might be one of the lesser-knowns, but it is such a good hymn that it ought to be more known and used.

I find that I appreciate the text as a communal prayer rather than a personal one as we saw in a few of the previous recent hymns. I find this approach much more appropriate for congregational singing than the personal pleas of the devotional songs focused “me” and “I.” I much more appreciate this text of joining together and unifying our thoughts and prayers through hymn singing than a focus on singular or personal pleas. I find it much more effective in bringing many together as one.

The second half of the tune is much more effective to me than the more swiftly moving first half for this prayer. I find the movement of the eighth notes (including the dotted eighth-sixteenth rhythm) and the range of that movement to not be quite as effect a tune setting for a devotional hymn. That being said, I do very much like this hymn, and think the text and tune very good, I guess the more swiftly moving first half of the tune is just a bit of an observation.

This is an interesting aside as reported by Karen Davidson. “Anyone who wishes to compare the 1950 hymnal will note that the 1985 hymnal made a significant change in the Joseph J. Daynes musical setting. Previously, the musical arrangement called for the women’s voices alone to sing ‘Never leave us’ in the chorus, to be answered each time by the men’s voices singing the same words in antiphonal style. The new arrangement is simpler and more dignified, with men and women singing the words of the chorus at the same time rather than in response-fashion. It also lends itself more readily to unison singing.” So not having women or men sing alone lends itself more readily to unison (congregational) singing. Got it. I wish the editors would have applied that philosophy throughout the hymnal!

So this is why I made the observation about the halves of the tune. The appropriate tempo for the first half is too slow for the second half and the appropriate tempo for the second half is too fast for the first. Hmm… I would try to find the happy medium where the first half doesn’t race too much and where the second half doesn’t drag too much. Maybe around 84 beats per minute? I would also use a more plain, softer registration, perhaps strengthening it a bit on the last verse.

Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, Flute 8’
Swell: Principal 8’, Flute 8’, 4’, String 8’
Pedal: Subbass 16’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’
Sw/Gt, Sw/Ped

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Swell: String 4’ (ha! If you have one. I don’t…), Principal 4’ (?), Flute 2’
Pedal: Contra Bourdon 32’

Hymn #108, “The Lord Is My Shepherd”

One of the most commonly set verses of scriptures is the 23rd Psalm. This paraphrase by James Montgomery is a wonderful example of paraphrasing scripture to fit into metrical verse. It is paired excellently with Thomas Koschat’s tune. This tune is of particular interest in that the melody for the first half of the hymn is carried by the altos, at least that is how I hear it. So I will often solo out the alto line while I accompany this hymn, moving to the soprano at “Restores me when wand’ring.” This is an excellent hymn, with a very inviting and interesting melody, harmonized well, and with a marvelous paraphrase of scripture.

I will mention two settings of Psalm 23 that I think are some of the more fantastic anthems written. The first is The Lord Is My Shepherd by Thomas Matthews. I first became familiar with it at a very young age when I discovered in my parent’s music listening library an old cassette (or LP, I don’t quite remember) of the Tabernacle Choir singing this anthem, and it is glorious. I have done it numerous times in various settings. (here is a representative recording: I know that Doug likes to promote his music on this site (and it is his site, so who would expect less!) but he has written what I think may be the finest setting of this psalm that I know and is deserving of promotion, by him or anyone else. It is tremendous! (I highly encourage you to listen to it!

The top of the suggested range is a good tempo, though I might take it just a few clicks faster, probably around 78 beats per minute. I would be again gentle in my registration, possible exploring the organ to see how broad it can be quietly, and perhaps using the string celeste…

Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, Flute 8’ (This combination would make a good solo registration as well)
Swell: Principal 8’, Flute 8’, 4’, String 8’ (Viola Celeste 8’ ?); if you are soloing, the Hautbois 8’ might be a nice solo stop
Pedal: Subbass 16’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’
Sw/Gt, Sw/Ped

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Swell: String 4’, Principal 4’ if it is broad and not too present