Presto, allegro, andante, lento, grave… HYMNAL

I can’t take credit for the joke in the title (tempo markings in order of decreasing speed) (shout out to LSD, who first shared this with me in the kitchen of her Heritage Halls apartment in 1995), but I can, most unfortunately, bear solemn witness of its veracity.


So I’ve known many Sacrament Meeting organists who seem to believe that singing hymns slowly helps one feel them more. Our current organist, a very kind and giving sister, is one. I want to say right here that she is a WONDERFUL person. But…

Feel them I do. Excruciatingly.

You try singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at 68 peats per minute (recommended speed in the hymnal: 88-104), or “There Is a Green Hill Far Away” at 50 (recommended: 72-88), or “Carry On” at 81 (recommended: 96-116). (No, really. Download a metronome app and try it. I’ll wait.) The first and third of these should inspire, if not ebullience (which is necessary should one try for the high G at the end of “Carry On”), at least a degree of adventurousness; the second allows ample time for reflection when sung at the recommended speed. Sung too slowly, hymns are interminable.

Thus I was excited yesterday morning when the Relief Society opening hymn was “I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go”—I’m the pianist,* so I can not only play the hymn at the listed speed (48-58 bpm [and it should surprise NOBODY to learn that I skew fast]), but I can also say something about why it needs to be sung at that speed. (Going where the Lord wants one to go should be an occasion for joy, not martyred resignation.) So I did. And we sang the song joyously. I looked around to see if <Organist> appreciated the suggestion I was kind enough to make for her benefit.

And she wasn’t there.

She came in halfway through the lesson, so she missed what in my humble opinion was the most important part of the meeting (for her, anyway). I sat, rankled, elbows on knees and head in hands.

And then, in Sacrament Meeting, the closing hymn was—wait for it—

“I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go.”


I’ll go where you’ve forced me to go, dear Lord, but only if under duress / With weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeeeeeeeeth… and cursing, and most sorely vexed.**

Now, I’m fully aware that, had the backhanded Relief Society lesson I so desperately wanted to teach been of vital importance for <Organist>, God could have made sure that she arrived on time. She always does.

That she didn’t this one time, AND that the very song I took such pains about was then the Sacrament Meeting closing hymn, would seem to imply that the lesson to be learned here is not for <Organist> at all, but for someone else.




*I firmly believe this is God’s (or at least a leader’s) way of getting me to church on time. When church begins at 9:00 AM, with Relief Society first, ‘tis tempting for those of us with nocturnal dispositions to skip the first hour or two.

**If “heaven” and “given” can be forced to rhyme, so can “duress” and “vexed,” which (in addition to capturing my feelings perfectly) are awesome words.

4 thoughts on “Presto, allegro, andante, lento, grave… HYMNAL

  1. Bwaa ha ha ha! We were visiting my folks last summer and my sister in law exclaimed, “I’ve never sung The Star Spangled Banner as a dirge before!” I know their poor organist and she would LOVE to play the hymns at normal speed, but her aging grandmother in law is the chorister and is highly offended if the hymns are not played and sung very very slowly. I feel your pain and want you to know you are not alone. And I am so sorry she missed your teaching moment! (Sadly, the very people who most need certain lessons seem to be the ones who never learn them.)

  2. LOL, you should try leading music in a priesthood meeting. It’s almost always a cappella, so no accompanist to take the blame. I swear it’s like pulling a train with your teeth.

  3. Okay, I’m blogstalking you now, because this was hilarious. We had an organist in my home ward for all my years growing up, and he played every song like a funeral march. It was awful! Then when I was a kid, I was the pianist in young womens, with one of his daughters as the choristor. Once, I played the Spirit of God at the recommended tempo. Then, after we sat down, she leaned over and nastily whispered to me, “You need to slow down. It was inappropriate how fast you played that song.”
    It still makes me facepalm.

  4. *snickering*

    So kuddos for getting that the lesson was for you. I probably wouldn’t have gotten that far! 😉

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