How many wonderful potential mottos for a place of learning the folks at Whittier College could have found in this one poem of their namesake, if a little divorced from context? "Reclothe us in our rightful mind," "interpreted by love," "till all our strivings cease." All wonderful and poignant words!

Most of our slogans these days are hardly better than the grunts of cavemen. "Hur dur. Be you. Dream big." I wonder how the students at Whittier College feel, knowing that for all the money they likely spend to go there, the people in charge have so little originality when it comes to inspiring them...?

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Nov 15, 2022·edited Nov 15, 2022

This might be more appropriate for a different discussion elsewhere (and sorry if I veer too far), but I wonder if you have any thoughts about one of the "qualities" of "modern hymns" that may be my most despised aspect (out of many of course) of why they are so bad. It is the quality of -- I don't even know the proper word, I'll say "drifting" -- mid-word to the next note before getting on to the next word in lyrics (where that next word may very well also be sung to that ending previous drifted note, but not necessarily.) It's a quality that just says "laziness" in writing melody -- as well as in singing melody, but that's a different issue -- to me (as well as being pretty boring to listen to -- icky).

And I mention that because when it is done correctly and well, it is an admirable thing. And it is something I notice in this hymn you linked to (and I realize it was composed by someone other than the poet you were primarily talking about, but since you mention it in passing above, I'm gonna run with it just a tad *gulp*) -- and, I hope, even relate it to your comments at the end, we'll see.

It's not a "big" thing about the melody, but almost notable for that very reason. The first line has the two stepwise notes in a couple words (I won't refer to it here as "drifting" because it is done with purpose and not the lazy modern "I can't think how else to get there, so I'll just drift over, don't ya know..." method of what is called "composition" these days -- ugh). And the third line from the end has it too, and I could go on about those instances, but I want to get to the last occurrence that appears in the penultimate line of each verse.

Maybe I'm just focusing too much on such things, but its occurrence in that penultimate line of each verse seems so deliberately done (and yet stays "in the background" so as not to disrupt the flow too much). And (this is why I even mention it at all) its effect is distinctly "amplified" (again, to me, at least) by the fact that the last line (ie, that repeats the previous line) distinctly DOES NOT have two notes for one word -- and that "progression" happens in every single verse.

So it seems, oh, I don't even know exactly why or how to explain it best, but it seems meaningful. It is as though the effect of repeating the line is to emphasize not only the line itself, but also, well (and here's the tie-in to your commentary) to emphasize the very quality you describe in the last paragraph. In other words, it is sort of "backing off," in a deliberate but very gentle and soothing manner, of the emphasis initiated by the poet's repetition of the line. It is as though it is, in effect, a kind of "compositional" manifestation of the line you quote from Jesus that in the world we will know trouble, “but be not afraid, for I have overcome the world.”

I've gone on about a very particular example here in this hymn, but my opening sentence was of course about a more general idea of wondering what it is that makes a compositional melodic quality of hymns (but music in general I suppose) seem deliberate and wonderful in some few cases (which was far more prominent in the older hymns,) and utterly dreary and sloppy in 99% of the rest of modern hymns.

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Someone should post this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfOs6Mw-tmA

I wonder if our host has ever seen of the Stillman films. I think it is at least possible that he might like them. A high bar to clear, I know. 😊

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