Thursday, July 1, 2010

Focus on a Hymn: “In Our Lovely Deseret”

(I think I’m on some kind of music kick here..)

The hymn “In Our Lovely Deseret” is a great piece of music because of its vigor and energy, but its lyrics seem to leave something to be desired to make it of greater use to the church. As the lyrics are now, they alternate between a proud parent’s bragfest about their children (i.e., “They are generous and brave” and the entirety of verse 2) and an impersonal finger-wagging parental lecture (i.e., “They must not forget to pray” and verses 3 and 4).

What makes it seem impersonal is the phrasing “They should be instructed young” and “They must not forget to pray” and “They must listen and obey,” which makes it seem as if the children are not actually in the room and the speaker is moralizing in a detached way. Yet, changing it to “you should be instructed young” creates a very overbearing effect. As most teachers know, top-down teaching can’t hold a candle to bottom-up interest and desire to learn, which is why “Teach Me to Walk in the Light” and “I Am a Child of God” with its chorus of “Lead me, guide me, walk beside me…” are so much more effective as hymns in comparison.

In the current lyrics’ favor, it may be the only hymn that directly mentions the Word of Wisdom and the promised blessings that come of keeping it. It also directly mentions teaching children social skills and self-control.

The hymn’s chorus amounts to an ecstatic exclamation of how nice it is to hear children singing “in innocence and love.” I must note that about the only time this phenomenon actually occurs is at church when walking past the primary room during singing time or sitting through the primary presentation program, or Mother’s Day Sunday, or Father’s Day Sunday primary musical numbers. This narrows down to a sliver the applicable and fitting situations when the chorus can be sung and feel right.

It could be argued that “In Our Lovely Deseret” is highly applicable in Relief Society lessons and priesthood lessons when the theme is “teaching families,” but the chorus implies that the singers can hear the children singing somewhere. Yet singers really can’t hear primary children singing elsewhere when they are singing themselves. Moreover, Relief Societies and priesthood quorums can’t see the children’s “cheerful faces” when the children are elsewhere, so there would be a fundamental logical contradiction between the verses and the chorus in this type of situation.

Perhaps these are all minor quibbles, but when these kinds of problems add up, they add unwanted absurdity to the hymn’s effect. This is why I felt that the lyrics needed to be redone.

But how?

In studying the hymn, I felt that the first line “In our lovely Deseret, Where the Saints of God have met” seemed to suggest the beginning of a broad picture of the established kingdom of God and its workings, like a whirlwind tour of the church for visitors. Church leaders give visiting dignitaries tours of church facilities and explain the doctrine behind church programs. I felt “In Our Lovely Deseret” could function the same way for those who don’t get the privilege of such a personal tour. I felt that the song could then effectively invite all to come unto Christ to become part of God’s kingdom.

After a two-day obsessive stretch of composition and revision, the following is my attempt at writing alternate lyrics:

In our lovely Deseret
Where the Saints of God have met
Here the prophets and apostles truly guide.
All the Saints have callings too;
Service isn’t for the few.
We are diligently lengthening our stride.

Chorus:
Up, up, upward we are striving,
Building Zion in our day!
We invite you: come to Christ,
Gain the pearl of great price,
And with us win exaltation in His way.

We give freely to the poor
As the Lord gave us before
We know God would want all human needs supplied.
We accept each godly gift,
For each Saint provides a lift,
As on eagle wings through thund’ring clouds we fly.

All the weak hands are upheld
And anointed sick are healed
As the Lord Himself would do if He were here.
And the ignorant are taught:
Look to God in every thought
For the Holy Ghost will make direction clear.

We invite all to repent
To escape from hell’s torment,
And be born again; in water be baptized.
Then receive the Holy Ghost
And with faith stand at your post
To endure with courage, though the world despise.

In the temple God unites
Man and woman dressed in white
In eternal marriage, ne’er to separate.
For it’s true that only then
Can they gain the highest heav’n
And become like God with power to create.

Every member thus will teach
Everyone within their reach
So that every ear may hear the gospel sound.
Then will Justice have its day
While sweet Mercy holds its sway
Once all meek and humble sheep are gathered ‘round.

Advantages of this version:
  • It can quickly acquaint visitors with the church and also remind members of their responsibility.
  • The variety of topics covered in the lyrics makes it highly flexible for use in church meetings. The lyrics cover the following: guidance through prophets and apostles, the charitable duty of the saints, spiritual gifts, the need for every person, personal revelation, the first principles of the gospel, eternal marriage and the hope of becoming like God, missionary work, final judgment, and the gathering of Israel.
  • The chorus contains a direct appeal to come to Christ and a direct invitation to join the church by obeying the gospel’s first ordinances. (This combination is found in very few other hymns.) Repetition of the chorus will allow the Spirit to work on the singer and listeners multiple times throughout the song to follow the principles laid out in the verses. Also, its meaning is augmented by the different topics treated in each verse.
  • The verses communicate the church’s ideals, which give us goals to aim for and which inspire us.
  • It is directed at all ages, not just children as in the previous version.

I am not blind to the possible weaknesses of this alternate version. I can think of three right off:
  • The wide-ranging subjects in the verses might make it seem fragmented. (This is also what makes it flexible.) In particular, verse five about marriage feels like it doesn’t belong, yet it gives an overview of what happens in temples and why marriage is so important. (What do you think? Should it stay or should it go? And why? Give your best literary reasoning to support your answer.)
  • The above version has six verses, which could be excessive. (However, this may help directors choose verses applicable to the theme of the meeting.)
  • Its diction is much more pedestrian than the Eliza R. Snow’s. (However, sometimes simplicity is more effective than complexity.)
How would YOU rewrite the hymn lyrics of “In Our Lovely Deseret”?

3 comments:

Matthew said...

Well, since I really don't like the tune, I would probably jettison the song entirely. :)

I think your lyrics are a definite upgrade from the current ones, however. :D

Also, on a side note, I found your post on the Nephite money system to be quite intriguing. I haven't had a chance to do more than skim it yet, but it is on my summer todo list.

Michaela Stephens said...

I've messed around with the tune too, and I could play you a distinctly lydian mode version that would have you thinking it was the most stirring thing ever.. maybe a possibility for a choir number if I could work out a number of tasteful musical stunts to add appropriate variations to it.

Sam Butler said...

I tend to lean toward this, thinking the change wasn't good in the first place...

Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world!
Red and yellow, black and white,
they are precious in His sight;
Jesus loves the little children of the world!

My children also prefer that as well.

I fail to see what was wrong with that message, and why it had to be changed.