Music of the Month: Go to Dark Gethsemane

Mitchell Eithun provides a plaintive arrangement of the tune GETHSEMANE. Based on the first three stanzas of the hymn, Eithun’s portrayal of the hymn’s narrative includes phrases of the text throughout the score. This level II piece cleverly ends with an unfinished feel, adding to the anticipation of Easter dawn. 

Using handbells is a great option for congregations that aren’t able to arrange groups of singers or wind instrumentalists this Lent because of COVID-19 adaptations. Pieces such as Eithun’s “Go to Dark Gethsemane” require a number of ringers for 3-5 octaves of handbells and handchimes. Handbell pieces are fitting as pre-service music or as musical interludes during a service, and provide a texture and color appropriate for the contemplative season of Lent.

Stanza 1

Go to dark Gethsemane,
All who feel the tempter’s pow’r;
Your Redeemer’s conflict see,
Watch with Him one bitter hour;
Turn not from His griefs away;
Learn from Jesus Christ to pray.

The piece begins with an interpretation of stanza one of the hymn. The handchimes hint at phrases of the melody, and then the handbells take over with a clear statement of the entire melody in the treble octave. The harmonization and color is plaintive and peaceful, painting a serene picture that recalls the solemn scene of Maundy Thursday, where Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane before his betrayal.

Stanza 2

Follow to the judgment hall,
View the Lord of life arraigned;
Oh, the wormwood and the gall!
Oh, the pangs His soul sustained!
Shun not suff’ring, shame, or loss;
Learn from Him to bear the cross.

The second stanza features the melody in the bass clef and a cascading descant among the treble bells. The text of this stanza narrates Jesus’ journey from the “judgment hall” before Caiaphas and Pilate through the torture He endured and to the road He trod while carrying the cross up to Mount Calvary.

Stanza 3

Calv’ry’s mournful mountain climb;
There, adoring at His feet,
Mark that miracle of time,
God’s own sacrifice complete.
“It is finished!” hear Him cry;
Learn from Jesus Christ to die.

The final statement of the melody portrays stanza three of the hymn. The melody ascends back into the treble octave, mirroring the text “Calv’ry’s mournful mountain climb.” The piece ends with the handchimes again hinting at phrases of the melody and ultimately combining with the handbells for the unfinished finale, omitting the fourth stanza of the hymn.

Bring this beautiful handbell piece to your congregation this Lent. Click the button below to order the score. 

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Written by

Nathan Grime

Nathan Grime is from Fort Wayne, Indiana. He is a 2020 graduate of Hillsdale College, where he studied rhetoric, public address, and journalism. Currently, Nathan is the organist and Kantor at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Hillsdale, Michigan.

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