Fun Facts about Music and the Spoken Word ’s Closing Theme
You may not recognize the words, but those who have listened to Music and the Spoken Word broadcasts will immediately recognize the music of the closing theme: “As the Dew from Heaven Distilling.” In July 2019 Music and the Spoken Word will mark its 90th year of continuous weekly broadcasting.
Although the exact date isn’t known when the hymn “As the Dew from Heaven Distilling” became the closing theme for the program, records indicate it has served in that slot for most of the broadcast’s 90-year history.
Organists sometimes refer to the Tabernacle organ as having a “signature sound.” Tabernacle organist Andrew Unsworth once explained: “There are certain colors of the Tabernacle organ—such as the sounds we use for ‘As the Dew from Heaven Distilling’ at the end of the Choir’s weekly broadcast, the lush string choruses of the instrument, and the noble reed choruses—that are quintessentially the Tabernacle organ. When I hear them, I know right away what instrument I’m listening to.” (See the note for organ aficionados at the end of this story.)
Here are some interesting facts about this song that is so closely associated with Music and the Spoken Word:
- The hymn tune for “As the Dew from Heaven Distilling” was written by Joseph J. Daynes (1851–1920). This particular tune has been included in the hymnals of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 1889. The associated text was written by Thomas Kelly (1769–1854) and included in Hymns on Various Passages of Scripture, which was published in Dublin in 1806. Parley P. Pratt, an early Church leader and Apostle, later adapted the text for the 1840 Collection of Sacred Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is currently published as hymn 149 in the 1985 hymnbook.
- The hymn tune’s author, Joseph J. Daynes, was the first person to serve as a Tabernacle organist (1867–1900). He was only 16 years old when he began his 33-year service as a Tabernacle organist. Read more about Joseph J. Daynes here.
- The text of the hymn is an allusion to the passage in Deuteronomy 32:2, which reads, “My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass.”
- In recent years, the closing theme “As the Dew” segues into a recording of the Choir singing “God Be with You Till We Meet Again,” which is in the key of D major, so the organist must always play in that same key, which often requires modulating (shifting keys) from the key of the closing choral selection.
- Each organist plays his or her own version of the hymn with the exception of Richard Elliott, who plays a version written by Robert Cundick. Richard Elliott replaced Cundick on the Tabernacle organ bench in 1991, and he plays the setting as a tribute and memorial to his friend and mentor, who passed away in 2016.
- During the month of December, the organists often substitute a Christmas carol melody for “As the Dew from Heaven Distilling.” Occasionally, a patriotic hymn will be used in the slot if the broadcast is associated with a U.S. national holiday such as Independence Day or Memorial Day.
(Note to Organists: The registration, or combination of organ stops, used for the closing theme is one of the signature sounds of the Tabernacle organ. The melody is played on flutes at 16', 8', 4', and 2' pitches with a tremulant; the accompaniment is played on the softer 8' string and celeste stops of the instrument.)