Sunday, July 29, 2012

My Least Favorite Hymn

My family has my specific request not to play a certain hymn at my funeral. They probably will just to annoy me, but maybe I can find a spare lightning bolt or something to hit the organ mid-stanza. My preference is for something more like Siegfried's Todesmarsch from Götterdammerung. I almost have enough musical kids to fill the orchestra.

The hymn I don't like has become quite popular in Mormon circles. The Tabernacle Choir has their version. And when it comes up as it does fairly regularly at church, I just sit silently and wait it out. It's a very long wait. That is one of my principal complaints about the song. It seems to be musically dishonest, if there even is such a thing. It is definitely too long. And it usually drags. At least the Mo-Tab version keeps up the pace a bit.

I don't mind the tune. I certainly don't disagree with the sentiment. It is just too long and uses too many big words, maybe just too many words. The manipulated long length comes from the fact that its four verses spread across nearly two pages in the hymnal are actually eight verses. The tune repeats itself almost exactly in each verse so you end up singing almost exactly the same tune eight times.

In the LDS Hymnal, it's usually hard to get a chorister to lead the congregation past the three or four verses within the lines of musical notes. And even when you do go beyond to the stanzas below the music, they usually only go to seven verses at most.

Lest you think I'm overly negative, maybe even a little sacrilegious, let me propose a positive alternative. Right after my least favorite hymn is one of my favorites. The exact same sentiment is expressed in significantly less words and a very nice tune that doesn't tend to drag in forced over-repetition. And the verses were composed by a President of the Church.

My positive alternative preference:

I know that my Redeemer lives, 
Triumphant Savior, Son of God, 
Victorious over pain and death, 
My King, my Leader, and my Lord. 

He lives, my one sure rock of faith, 
The one bright hope of men on earth, 
The beacon to a better way, 
The light beyond the veil of death. 

Oh, give me thy sweet Spirit still, 
The peace that comes alone from thee, 
The faith to walk the lonely road 
That leads to thine eternity.

Verses by Gordon B. Hinckley
Music by G. Homer Durham



  1. Exactly. I dread that hymn and can't bear to sing it, with its twisted, tortured, inside-out grammar and its verb that means nothing ("obtain" is a transitive verb; it means nothing as an intransitive). The only reason made it into the book, I'm 99.9% positive, was to flatter its author.

  2. Oh, dear, I shouldn't have gotten warmed up.

    If you were to cut that hymn into its constituent lines, then dropped the strips into a hat and scrambled them, I don't think there's a soul alive who could reconstruct them. The hymn doesn't build, doesn't go anywhere -- you'd have only the help of its weak rhymes to link any strip to any other strip. It's a hymn made up of disconnected platitudes, and it could be sung as well by taking a line at random from the first verse, followed by a line at random from the third verse, followed by a line at random from the second verse ... Its literary quality really is abysmal, and only the tune saves it at all -- the music does build toward a strong finish at the end of each stanza, which camouflages the fact that the words don't go anywhere.

    1. It's OK, Ardis. I'm glad I found a friend with the same annoyances. And I should have said something about the convoluted syntax. It's not "big words" so much as oddly aligned verbiage. (not unlike that last line of mine.)

      And yes, "obtain" always left me hanging.

      I do get some satisfaction from the way the hymn crawls into some kind of death spiral the way it's sung in most wards.

  3. I’ve had my problems with, shall we call it "The Hymn that must not be named" over the years as well. I don’t dwell on it much past the few minutes in which we actually sing it. I actually have hymns that are much lower on my list, ranking from favorable to least favorable. My least favorite is “How Great Thou Art”. Pretentious over-drawn lyrics, plus there is that terrible Elvis recording I would hear as a child…..Shiver! Slim Whitman recorded it too and I think he yodeled! Every time we sing that song in my head I hear Elvis singing and Slim Whitman yodeling…disturbing. There should be a policy in the church handbook stating that we don’t sing an Elvis cover or a hymn someone has yodeled.

    I’m not too concerned about the hymns we sing."How Great thou Art" bothers me, but for distinctly personal reasons, Elvis and Slim Whitman, not to mention its distinctive Evangelical Protestant feel. Again that’s just me. Having served my mission among a distinctive variety of venomous Evangelicals I am, to say the least, wary of them.

    But since Hymn singing is about worshipping the Father and not the writers of the hymn, or who performed them, or even their quality, I try to sing them all, even “How Great Thou Art”. Although sometimes when I finish I do say, “Thank you, thank you very much.” I don’t however, yodel.

    Anonymous D

    1. I kind of like "How Great Thou Art." Maybe that's because I referenced it once when a fundamentalist Christian friend of mine asked me what we had in our hymnbook that he would recognize. Now, I will think about Elvis and yodeling.

  4. As soon as I read your opening line, I was hoping - *hoping* - it would be *that particular hymn. I have disliked it for quite some time and I find all of the criticisms of it here to be apt and thoughtful. I echo all of the musical challenges to the hymn, and bear some personal problems with it as well, particularly the blind veneration of its author by so many. I recognize that I am probably in a minority, so I will leave it at that.

    However, I must agree that this hymn within a hymn must go.

    On a related note (only related because the two hymns appear on the same MOTAB cd in my possession), I have noticed that a lot of choirs perform the first line of the final verse of "Come, Come, Ye Saints" in a very dark, somber tone, usually switching to a minor chord for those few measures. This really bothers me because I don't think you should sing the lines, "Happy day, All is well" in a dark and somber tone. The entire point of the verse is that we should be glad for the dead because they have passed into the rest of the Lord and are no longer burdened by the troubles afflicting the remaining pioneers.

    1. Now I'm starting to get scared that my blog friends connect not just on a lot of other ideas, but on that one hymn. There's got to be a research project in there somewhere.

  5. But you have to admit, that gospel sod sure makes for a nice looking yard.

    1. lol. I reluctantly admit that is the one line of the song I actually like even if the syntax is still a bit skewed.

  6. I am the primary chorister in my ward. When I was called in January, I told the kids that we weren't going to sing "I Am A Child of God" for at least one year because, while I certainly agree with the sentiments expressed, the fact that we sing it all the time makes it so much less than special.

    And because karma is often hilarious, when I am asked to play the piano at baptisms, guess which song is always on the program? Yeah.


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