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What Was Witnessed in the Heavens?

For my darling wife, Barbara, just because she loves it-- and because it’s her birthday.
Happy Birthday, dear!

The Song:

This song is harder than it looks, but a lot easier than it might be, so I’m calling it Intermediate level.  It does contain eight chords, and five are barre chords, but two are just barrred A-shapes, which can be played as a two-finger chord, using the middle finger to barre the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th strings in the second space, bending the second knuckle backwards a bit to clear the 1st string. This is a jazz technique pioneered by the great Django Rinehart, father of modern jazz guitar, who only had the use of two fingers on his left hand. (Really!)

Two more barre chords are a barred E-shape, probably the most common barre chord, and a barred Em7-shape, another two-finger chord, and one of the easiest. The other barre chord, EIV,  is a truncated version of a barred C-shape. The full version of this chord is generally conceded to be a difficult one, but since none of the notes used in the tab fall on the 5th string, I have left it out, making the chord MUCH easier to play. The other three chords are just A, E, and D.

I’ve left out several chords, in the interest of easier chord changes, substituting melody notes to carry the tune. So the chords alone make this an Intermediate level piece. But there’s more. Nearly every measure ends with a triplet-- three notes played in the time of a single beat. This constant slowing down and speeding up adds a lot to the appeal of the song. It also adds a bit to the difficulty level, since most of these triplets are achieved by using a double-ligado-- either a slide/pull-off, or a hammer-on/slide. One is even a mordant, achieved by sliding an entire chord down a fret and back up again, in the space of a single beat! In fact, this piece is just full of such combinations of techniques. Definitely not Beginner level. Sorry, all you beginners who would like to learn this song!


This is one of the few times where we know more about the composer of the song than we do about the writer of the words. The music was composed by Evan Stephens, an early Tabernacle Choir director and prolific composer. Nineteen of the songs in the current English language version of the hymnal were written or composed by him. Stephens was the first person to be employed as a  full-time Tabernacle Choir Director, and it was he who first took the Choir on touring concerts. He also more than doubled the size of the choir, from 125 members to over 300.

We know nothing of the circumstances surrounding the composition of this particular song, and even less about the writer of the lyrics, John S. Davis. The name is just too common, and without corroborating details, there is no way for me to sort out which one he is. If anyone knows, please contact me.

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