Wholly Holy and Humble Handful of Hymns

Wholly Holy and Humble Handful of Hymns

Hymn #130 — “Be Thou Humble”

Text and music: Grietje Terburg Rowley (b. 1927; LDS)

How can a piece of music depict humility?

Wholly Holy and Humble Handful of Hymns.jpg

This is a challenging question to answer, but an important one if you’re the composer and your hymn is called “Be Thou Humble.”

If I was composing a hymn with this title, I would feel like I was being very presumptuous.

Hem, hem… let me now instruct you in the subtleties of humility with an instructive hymn I composed, with my master skills of musical persuasion…”

Hmm, that doesn’t sound like it came from a place of humility…

So that’s challenge #1. Get in the right head space. I think I would have to take this angle…

I really need to be more humble. Maybe if I write this as counsel to myself, that could work. I’ll pretend I’m my own little shoulder angel encouraging me on to a more humble approach to life.”

That might work…

Then, the tune needs something special in it that brings out the right kind of emotion. What Grietje Rowley does is use various types of suspensions to create his “humble” sounding music.

At the start of the hymn there are multiple suspensions right away. The down beat of bar 1 suspends the soprano, alto and tenor over from the pickup and then resolves down to the first 1 chord. The next down beat does it again in the soprano and alto.

Bar 3 does not have any normal suspensions, but the chord is a sort of suspended 1 chord. It’s really a 4 chord, but with C in the bass. So it’s like an entire suspended measure hovering over the 1 chord, rooted by the C in the bass, and then finally resolving to a 1 chord at the end of the line. It’s the same kind of sound as a regular suspension.


The 2nd bar of line 2 begins with something similar to a suspension, but this is an appoggiatura. The G in the soprano doesn’t fit the chord and resolves down on the next beat.

Line 3 begins with the same suspensions as line 1. Bar 3 of line 3 is similar to bar 3 of line 1. But this time the melody leaps all the way up past the high 1st scale degree and lands on the 2nd scale degree, a high D. But the harmony is the same kind of suspended 1 chord. This time it goes even further with the D# and F# on the down beat of the last bar, but it resolves to the 1 chord just like line 1.


Line 4 begins the same way line 2 does, but this time bar 2 has a real suspension, not an appoggiatura. The last part of the line finishes the warm sounding music with a low 4 chord (the low Fs in the bass) and another type of suspended 1 chord. This time the suspended 1 chord in the 2nd to last bar is not a 4 chord with C in the bass. This time it’s a C chord with G in the bass that goes to a G7 chord before resolving to the final 1 chord.

All these suspended kinds of sounds work well to depict the humble feel Rowley is going for.

My favorite bit is the 3rd to last bar when the C# in the also gets lowered to a C natural underneath that final soprano suspension. It’s a very warm downward slip of harmony that closes the harmony of the hymn with a special little gem moment.

This is a very effective hymn. It’s a MUST keep in our hymnal.

Hymn #131 — “More Holiness Give Me”

Text and music: Philip Paul Bliss (1838-1876)
Tune name: MY PRAYER

Similar to the question above, how can a hymn bring about the feeling of wanting more holiness in one’s life?

It’s another interesting challenge.

In this case there are 3 key elements in the success of Philip Paul Bliss’s writing.

The 3 elements are the use of “pedal” notes, the duet-like sounding use of 3rds and 6ths between voices and the consistent use of eighth-note triplets.

The rhythm is the same in every bar. Quarter note, 3 eighth-not triplets, then 2 quarters or a half note. 8 iterations of the same rhythm could get boring quickly. But by using it as only 1 of 3 consistent and interesting elements, the rhythm stays fresh throughout.

Take a look at line 1. The bass sings the first pedal point of the hymn carrying the D all the way through the first bar. The soprano and tenor sing in alternating 3rds and 6ths. Bar 2 has all the same elements. But this time the tenor and bass take the 3rds and the alto sings the pedal point.


Line 2 begins exactly the same as line 1. The 2nd half moves the pedal point again to the alto but continues the 3rds between soprano and tenor.

Line 3 moves the main pedal point to the soprano and the tenors join in the fun. They are singing a 7th apart which is a dissonance that desperately wants to be resolved, giving this phrase it’s particular strong sound. The alto and bass take up the ascending 3rds. In the 2nd bar the soprano and tenor continue the pedal point and the bass is the only moving voice.


Line 4 keeps the pedal point in the soprano with the climactic high C. The altos join in the pedal and the tenors and basses rise in steady 3rds. The last bar moves the pedal point back to the bass and the soprano and tenor return to the 3rds and 6ths.


The building blocks are incredibly simple. What keeps our interest is the variation of these 3 main elements. Bliss moves them around, juggles them and uses them to color the text beautifully.

This is a gem of a hymn and another MUST keep in our hymnal.

That’s all for today. I hope you have a great weekend!


Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

Hymn #130

This is the third hymn in a row that has the same spirit of affect, message, and tone, and my response to this hymn is the same as the previous two. I like this text, with the message of humility and its associated blessings. But I think like the previous hymns, it lends itself much more to a devotional application than perhaps a more general setting, unless the subject of a a talk is overtly about humility, in which case this hymn is a very good musical response.

I think the tune is good as well. I especially like the contrast in the second statement of the theme, where the high note goes to a D, rather than the expected C. It sets up the rest of the descending melody line quite nicely. I also like how the simpleness of the harmony in the first phrase and its restatement is simple, which provides greater contrast for the harmonic movement of the second and fourth phrases.

I don’t mean to sound too repetitive, if one can remember what my remarks are from day to day in these reviews, but I seem to repeat over and over that the suggested tempos in our hymnal are often much too slow and almost always too wide. Here, the upper range of the tempo is good, in fact, I think I play it always at 76 beats per minute, which is the upper limit of the range. But I would play it no slower, and perhaps only a titch faster if need be. 63 is far too slow, and with this hymn, would lead to much lethargy. I would use the same basic quiet registration as recommended in previous quiet hymns.

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:
Great: Flute 4’
Swell: Flute 2’

Hymn #131

Philip Paul Bliss is responsible for a couple of the more beloved hymns in our book. This is actually one of my more favorite hymns in our book, and I think a couple of arrangements are responsible for my affinity for this hymn. One is the arrangement by Ronald Staheli, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2V1s8SmtX7g, (oh my goodness, the BYU choirs at General Conference. How sublime!) and the other is an organ prelude for organ arranged by Darwin Wolford.

I love the poignant plea for the granting to us of more Christlike attributes. I think the text is very well matched with a plaintive and pleading tune. Perhaps a difficult property of this hymn in consideration of accompanying this hymn for congregational singing is determining whether it is in simple or compound meter.It is notated in simple meter, but one could successfully argue that since the moving notes are all triplets, that it is truly a compound meter. However you conceive it, it is important to keep a steady tempo. I find the suggested tempo for this hymn to be very good. And, dare I say it, I think that the high end of the suggestion might be slightly too fast. I probably play it around 44-46 beats per minute. But take care not to let the tempo drag and get slower as the hymn progresses.

Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, Flute 8’
Swell: Principal 8’, Flute 8’, 4’, String 8’ (maybe consider the string celeste as well)
Pedal: Subbass 16’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’
Sw/Gt, Sw/Ped

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Flute 4’
Swell: Flute 2’