Sunday, April 27, 2008

Prophets, Psalmists, Seers, and Sages

For the last Sunday in the Easter season, a hymn that links the resurrection of Jesus to the resurrection of all:

Sing with all the saints in glory,
Sing the resurrection song!
Death and sorrow, earth’s old story,
To the former days belong.
All around the clouds are breaking,
Soon the storms of time shall cease;
In God’s likeness we awaken,
Knowing everlasting peace.

O what glory, far exceeding
All that eye has yet perceived!
Holiest hearts, for ages pleading,
Never that full joy conceived.
God has promised, Christ prepares it,
There on high our welcome waits.
Every humble spirit shares it;
Christ has passed th’eternal gates.

Life eternal! heaven rejoices;
Jesus lives, who once was dead.
Join we now the deathless voices;
Child of God, lift up your head!
Men and women from the ages,
Saints all longing for their heaven,
Prophets, psalmists, seers, and sages --
All await the glory given.

Life eternal! O what wonders
Crowd on faith; what joy unknown,
When, amidst earth’s closing thunders,
Saints shall stand before the throne!
O to enter that bright portal,
See that glowing firmament;
Know, with you, O God immortal,
Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

William J. Irons, 1873; alt.
Ludwig von Beethoven, 1824; adapt. Edward Hodges, 1846

Friday, April 25, 2008

Saint Mark the Evangelist

Mark is apparently the least-documented of the four Gospel writers, though his was the first completed. Here's a composite hymn for his feast, one of those that includes a specific verse for the day.

Come sing, ye choirs exultant,
Those messengers of God,
Through whom the living Gospels
Came sounding all abroad!
In one harmonious witness
The chosen four combine,
While each his own commission
Fulfills in ev'ry line.

As, in the prophet's vision,
From out the amber flame
In form of visage diverse
Four living creatures came;
Lo, these the fourfold river
Of paradise above,
Whence flow for all earth's people
New mysteries of love.

For Mark, O Christ, we praise thee,
The weak by grace made strong,
Whose labors and whose Gospel
Enrich our triumph-song;
May we in all our struggling
Find strength from thee supplied,
And all, as fruitful branches,
In thee, the Vine, abide.

Adam of St. Victor, c.1170;
tr. Jackson Mason, 1889; alt. (v 1 & 2)
Horatio Bolton Nelson, 1864; alt. (v.3)
Henry T. Smart, 1835

So why was Mark considered weak, then made strong? (this also turns up in other hymns for the day I found) Tradition holds that the youth who ran away when Jesus was arrested (leaving his clothes behind) was Mark, as the story is related only in his Gospel (14:51-2). Possibly a "weak" reaction to the situation, though all the others with Jesus ran also. In at least one source, Mark is also described as "stump-fingered" (one or all is unknown) which might have been considered a form of "weakness." In either (or both) case(s) I guess he was redeemed (thus made strong) by writing the Gospel.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Earth Day

Over here on the web they were looking for 12,008 churches, synagogues, and "other places of worship" to mark Earth Day in some fashion. There may well be that many but the trick would be to get them actually to sign up and be counted, which seems less likely.

All creatures of the earth and sky,
With gladness lift your voices high,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
Thou silver moon with softer gleam:
O sing praises, O sing praises,
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Thou rushing wind that art so strong,
Ye clouds that sail in heav'n along,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thou rising morn in praise rejoice,
Ye lights of evening, find a voice:
O sing praises, O sing praises,
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Thou flowing water, pure and clear,
Make music for thy God to hear,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thou fire so masterful and bright,
That givest us both warmth and light:
O sing praises, O sing praises,
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Dear mother earth, who day by day
Unfoldest blesings on our way,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
The flow'rs and fruits that in thee grow,
Let them thy glory also show:
O sing praises, O sing praises,
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

All ye of understanding heart,
Forgiving others, take your part,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Let all things their Creator bless,
Worshipping God in humbleness:
O sing praises, O sing praises,
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Francis of Assisi, 1225; paraphrase William H. Draper, 1919; alt.
Geistlische Kirchengesang, 1623

Monday, April 21, 2008

Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury

The Italian-born Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, died on this day in 1109, which is commemorated in both the Roman Catholic and Episcopal calendars of saints. He was considered one of the first scholarly philosophers of Christian theology, but he also wrote the Mariale, a series of poems about the Blessed Mother.

This video presents some of those poems juxtaposed with the stained glass windows from St. Mary's Cathedral in Sydney and choral accompaniment (which I can't identify).

Like most saints, he has a Victorian-era hymn tune named for him, presented here with a commemorative text useful for many saints' days.

Creator, by whose people
Our house was built of old,
Whose hand hath crowned thy children
With blessing manifold,
For thine unfailing mercies
Far-strewn along our way,
With all who passed before us,
We praise thy Name today.

The changeful years unresting
Their silent course have sped,
New comrades ever bringing
In comrades' steps to tread;
And some are long forgotten,
Long spent their hopes and fears;
Safe rest they in thy keeping,
Who changest not with years.

They reap not where they labored;
We reap what they have sown;
Our harvest may be garnered
By ages yet unknown.
The days of old have dowered us
With gifts beyond all praise;
Creator, make us faithful
To serve the coming days.

Before us and beside us,
Still held in thine own hand
A cloud unseen of witness,
Our elder comrades stand:
One family unbroken,
We join, with one acclaim,
One heart, one voice uplifting
To glorify thy Name.

George Wallace Briggs, 1920; alt.
Tune: ST. ANSELM (
Joseph Barnby, 1869

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Hymns of Glory, Songs of Praise

We're still in the liturgical season of Easter with yet another Sunday beyond today (Easter V) before Ascension, but I know that many churches have slipped into the "General Hymns" section of their hymnals. It's not as though there aren't enough Easter hymns to sing during the season, but somehow they lose interest. You don't still have to be singing about the stone being rolled away or Mary in the garden; the resurrection theme is a broad one.

At the Lamb’s high feast we sing,
Praise victorious echoing,
Who hath washed us in the tide
Flowing from his piercèd side;
Praise we Christ, whose love divine
Gives us sacred blood for wine,
Gives us manna for the meal,
Christ, whose presence here we feel.

Where the Paschal blood is poured,
Death’s bright angel sheathes the sword;
Israel’s hosts triumphant go
Through the wave that drowns the foe.
Praise we Christ, whose blood was shed,
Paschal Victor, Paschal Bread;
With sincerity and love
Eat we manna from above.

Mighty Victor from the sky,
Hell’s fierce powers beneath thee lie;
Thou hast conquered in the fight,
Thou hast brought us life and light;
Now no more can death appall,
Now no more the grave enthrall;
Thou hast opened paradise,
And in thee thy saints shall rise.

Easter triumph, Easter joy,
Nothing now can this destroy;
From sin’s pow'r do thou set free
Souls reborn, O Christ, in thee.
Hymns of glory, songs of praise,
Maker, unto thee we raise;
Risen One, all praise to thee,
With the Spirit ever be.

Latin, 1632; tr. Robert Campbell, 1849; alt.
Jakob Hintze, 1678; harm. J.S. Bach, 18th c.

(Yes, that J.S. Bach)

Back when we were working on the possibility of a denominational hymnal (see blog entry for February 5) I always knew that the title of today's entry up there was what I would like to call the finished volume. Apparently it's not even in the original text/translation of this hymn -- must be someone else's "alt." from generations past, but it was particularly appropriate for our collection which encompassed a (very) wide range of both hymns and songs. And you'll probably note that our "alt." in this hymn is quite extensive.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

More Voices Found: Anna Laetitia Waring

Welsh poet Anna Laetitia Waring was born on this day in 1823. Raised a Quaker, she converted to Anglicanism in 1842. Like most hymnwriters of her day, she was highly educated and learned Hebrew in order to read the daily psalter in that language. She published two popular collections of verse and many of the poems were later published in various hymnals. Her first book, Hymns and Meditations, was published in 1850, went through many editions, and is now available online through Google Books.

I wasn't expecting to do two of these in a row, but it was a surprise to find that Waring's most familiar hymn, In heavenly love abiding, is not included in The Hymnal 1982 (it was in the earlier Episcopal hymnals of 1940 and 1916, as well as hymnals of many other denominations).

Here's one that may owe more to Waring's Quaker background, and would probably not be considered sufficiently doctrinal to appear in many hymnals. It's short, but I like it.

Tender mercies, on my way
Falling softly like the dew,
Sent me freshly every day,
I give thanks to God for you.

Though I have not all I would,

Though to greater bliss I go,
Every present gift of good
To Eternal Love I owe.

Source of all that comforts me,
Well of joy for which I long,
Let the song I sing to thee
Be an everlasting song.

Anna Laetitia Waring, 1850; alt.
Tune: VIENNA (
Justin Heinrich Knecht, 1797

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

More Voices Found: Ada Rose Gibbs

Back on January 30 (you can look it up) I wrote about Voices Found, a 2003 hymnal from Church Publishing. To quote from their description of the book, it is "a unique compilation of contemporary and historical materials that crosses boundaries of geography, time, and culture as it represents the diversity of the gifts of women and seeks to affirm and expand the spirituality of all women and men as they find new voices in the church's song." (whew!)

Particularly, I'm interested in the historical aspect, and in exploring things which were left out of that volume. It's a theme I intend to revisit, and I'm sorry to have been so long in getting back to it. Today's hymn is at the top of my list of things that should have been included.

Ada Rose, who died on April 16 in 1905, was a professional singer who studied at the Royal College of Music. She married William James Gibbs in 1898, after the end of her singing career and they were apparently involved in the Keswick Convention. She wrote the music, a tune called CHANNELS, for this hymn.

How I praise thee, precious Savior,
That thy love laid hold of me;
Thou hast saved and healed and filled me
That I might thy channel be.

Channels only, blessèd Savior,
But with all thy wondrous power
Flowing through us, thou canst use us
Every day and every hour.

Emptied that thou shouldest fill me,
A clean vessel in thy hand;
With no power but as thou givest
Graciously with each command.

Witnessing thy power to save me,
Setting free from self and sin;
Thou who bought me to release me,
In thy fullness, O come in.

Jesus, fill now with thy Spirit
Hearts that full surrender know;
That the streams of living water
From my inner self may flow.

Mary E. Maxwell, c. 1900; alt.
Tune: CHANNELS ( with refrain)
Ada Rose Gibbs, c. 1900

This is a very accessible tune, kind of midway between a "standard" hymn tune and a gospel song. A congregation will pick it up quickly. Obviously I don't know why it was left out of Voices Found, or even if it was considered, but its omission is unfortunate. Gibbs and Maxwell also collaborated on another hymn, The way of the cross means sacrifice.

I've seen the above photo any number of times at the Cyber Hymnal site and thought that Gibbs was dressed a bit oddly. I was pretty surprised to learn in researching this post that she was appearing as Katisha in The Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan. She sang with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company between 1885 and 1890, both on tour and occasionally at the Savoy Theater, also appearing in the principal contralto roles in The Pirates of Penzance, Ruddigore, Yeomen of the Guard, and The Gondoliers.

Mary E. Maxwell, who wrote the text of this hymn, is somewhat more mysterious. Not much appears to be known about her. I found one reference that speculates that she was actually Mary Elizabeth Braddon (who later married John Maxwell), a popular writer of dozens of sensational novels, and best known for Lady Audley's Secret. If Braddon was indeed the same Maxwell, she probably would have preferred to used her lesser-known married name for hymnwriting, but I've found nothing yet in reading about Braddon that indicates any hint of an interest in religion.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Beside the Living Stream

The Fourth Sunday of Easter is also known as Good Shepherd Sunday in some traditions. Readings include the Twenty-Third Psalm and other references to Christ as Shepherd. There are plenty of appropriate anthems and hymns that follow this theme. You could have all five (or four, or three?) of the hymns in your worship service be different paraphrases of Psalm 23, all in different musical styles. I'll choose just one for today, an English text from the eighteenth century joined with an American Southern Harmony tune from the nineteenth.

My Shepherd, you supply my need,
Redeemer is your name;
In pastures fresh you make me feed
Beside the living stream.
You bring my wand'ring spirit back
When I forsake your ways;
And lead me, for your mercy's sake,
In paths of truth and grace.

When I walk through the shades of death
Your presence is my stay,
One word of your supporting breath
Drives all my fears away.
Your hand, in sight of all my foes,
Will still my table spread;
My cup with blessings overflows,
Your oil anoints my head.

The sure provisions of my God
Attend me all my days;
O may God's house be my abode,
And all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest,
While others go and come;
No more a stranger, nor a guest,
But like a child at home.

Isaac Watts, 1719; alt.
Southern Harmony, 1855

It's actually a little odd to use a psalm paraphrase by Isaac Watts, as Watts believed that hymns shouldn't be exclusively drawn from the psalms and from Scripture, as they had been in the Calvinist tradition. When he expressed this opinion to his father, he was challenged to write something better.

So he did.

Now, not all of his approximately 750 hymns (
697 listed at are better than the earlier psalm paraphrases, but just about any hymnal index you examine will still contain a good number of his texts, more than 200 years later. The good stuff endures.
As I said, there are plenty of other good hymns and anthems for today. A less appropriate musical selection would be Handel's All we like sheep from Messiah, which does not actually refer to Christ as Shepherd but concludes with "And the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all." Have not Lent's long shadows departed? But that's what we're singing today. Guess it seemed like a good idea last summer when the music for the year was being chosen.


Friday, April 11, 2008

Christopher Smart

Poor Christopher Smart. Probably the most widely-known fact about him is that he spent a good part of his adult life locked up in an asylum. Nowadays his doctor would have found the right dosage of mood-altering pharmaceu-ticals and he'd be just fine.

Smart, born on this day in 1722, wrote two epic poems which have kept his literary reputation alive to this day. Jubilate Agno, not published in full until 1939, was used as the basis for Benjamin Britten's cantata Rejoice in the Lamb. His most significant work,
A Song to David (eighty-five verses long) is described by one source as having "a poetic quality which eludes critical analysis." Some of the verses were adapted into a hymn which first appeared in the English hymnal Songs of Praise in 1925.

We sing of God, the mighty source
Of all things; the stupendous force
On which all strength depends;
From whose right arm, beneath whose eyes,
All period, power and enterprise
Commences, reigns and ends.

The world, the clust'ring spheres were made;
The glorious light, the soothing shade,
Dale, meadow, grove, and hill;
The multitudinous abyss,
Where secrecy remains in bliss,
And wisdom hides her skill.

Glorious the sun in mid career;
Glorious the assembled fires appear;
Glorious the comet's train:
Glorious the trumpet and alarm;
Glorious th' almighty stretched-out arm;
Glorious the enraptured main:

Glorious, most glorious, is the crown
Of Christ, that brought salvation down
As told, the Promised One;
Seers that stupendous truth believed,
And now the matchless deeds achieved,
Determined, dared and done.

Christopher Smart, 1763; alt.
William Hayes, 1774

One additional verse appears in some hymnals and online sources:

Tell them I AM, the Lord God said
To Moses, while earth heard in dread,
And, smitten to the heart,
At once, above, beneath, around,
All nature without voice or sound
Replied, O God, thou art.

I like this one, especially the second half, but I don't think it completely fits with the theme of creation in the other four verses.

Now, some might fantasize about a hymn of eighty-five verses, but some of them simply wouldn't work as congregational song. A few chosen at random:

Control thine eye, salute success,
Honor the wiser, happier bless,
And for thy neighbor feel;
Grutch not of Mammon and his leav'n,
Work emulation up to heav'n
By knowledge and by zeal.


With vinous syrup cedars spout;
From rocks pure honey gushing out,
For adoration springs;
All scenes of painting crowd the map
Of nature; to the mermaid's pap
The scaled infant clings.

(um, no)

For adoration, incense comes
From bezoar, and Arabian gums;
And from the civet's fur:
But as for prayer, or e'er it faints,
Far better is the breath of saints
Than galbanum and myrrh.

(You can't have to look up three or more words in a single verse. And could anyone possibly sing about the breath of saints?)

A Song to David was not included in a 1791 edition of Smart's collected poems because it was thought to provide evidence of his insanity. Twentieth century composer
William Albright wrote an oratorio based on the work. (I have a recording of it somewhere, but don't remember much about it.)

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

William Augustus Muhlenberg

Muhlenberg, whose feast-day we mark today, was an Episcopal priest born in 1796. His grandfather was the first Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. His strong interest in congregational song led to an 1821 pamphlet, A Plea for Christian Hymns. After compiling a collection of hymns for use in his own parish, he was appointed by General Conference to the committee which produced the Protestant Episcopal Hymnal of 1826.

Later in his career he founded one of the first Episcopal Church Schools in the country. In 1846 he became the rector of the Church of the Holy Communion in New York, where he founded the first American order of Protestant Episcopal deaconesses, the Sisterhood of the Church of the Holy Communion. The Sisterhood and the parish were instrumental in the founding of St. Luke's Hospital, where Muhlenberg became the first pastor and superintendent.

Muhlenberg wrote several hymns and sacred poems, some published in the Hymnal of 1826 and others produced later. A collection was published in 1860 for the benefit of St. Luke's Hospital. In the foreword, he wrote:

"What kind of poetical merit these compositions possess I perfectly understand. [...] Would that they had the inspiration of Watts's or Wesley's lyre!"

I have to agree that his hymns, now little-known, are perhaps not of the first order. His own version of Jerusalem, my happy home begins with these verses:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
Name ever dear to me;
O may at last my home be found,
Jerusalem, in thee!

O may these eyes thy crystal walls
And gates of pearl behold.
Thy jasper and thy sapphire stones,
Thy streets of purest gold.

The alleluias of thy hymns
Before the great I AM;
The harpers harping with their harps
The new song of the Lamb.

Not an improvement on the version we know today, though undoubtedly earnest (couldn't the harpers sound on their harps, or even play on them?). Much of his verse tends toward the flowery. I find one interesting hymn, Shout the glad tidings, that looks toward the gospel songs of the later nineteenth century - with the right accompanist it would probably rock the house.

Regardless of the merit of his own verse, Muhlenberg is rightfully honored today for his work in education and hospital building.

P.S. In 1976 the Church of the Holy Communion was deconsecrated after the parish merged with two other NYC congregations. In 1983
the building, at 20th Street and 6th Avenue, became the Limelight discotheque. The original altar is now in a church of the same name in Lake View, NY (outside Buffalo).

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Calvin W. Laufer

Calvin Weiss Laufer was born on this day in 1874. After graduating from Union Seminary in 1900, he became a Presbyterian minister and later worked as the associate editor of the Presbyterian Hymnal of 1933. He wrote several hymns (both texts and tunes, sometimes together and sometimes separate), but this is the one I like best.

We thank thee, God, thy paths of service lead
To blazoned heights and down the slopes of need;
They reach thy throne, encompass land and sea,
And we who journey in them walk with thee.

We’ve sought and found thee in the secret place
And marveled at the radiance of thy face;
But often in some far off Galilee
Beheld thee fairer yet while serving thee.

We’ve felt thy touch in sorrow’s lonely way
Abound with love and solace for the day;
And, ’neath the burdens there, thy constancy
Has held our hearts enthralled while serving thee.

We’ve seen thy glory like a mantle spread
O’er hill and dale in saffron flame and red;
But in the eyes of all, redeemed and free,
A splendor greater yet while serving thee.

Calvin W. Laufer (text and tune), 1919; alt.
Tune: FIELD (

Friday, April 4, 2008

Martin Luther King Jr.

Today of the commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Episcopal calendar of saints. It is also the fortieth anniversary of his assassination.

Dr. King's favorite hymn was reported to be Precious Lord, take my hand by Thomas Dorsey, written in 1932. I did not know until today that the tune was actually adapted by Dorsey from an earlier tune by George N. Allen called MAITLAND, first published in 1844.

Another appropriate hymn for today was written by the Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier, an activist for abolition.

O pure reformers! not in vain
Your trust in humankind;
The good which bloodshed could not gain,
Your peaceful zeal shall find.

The truths you urge are borne abroad
By every wind and tide;
The voice of nature and of God
Speaks out upon your side.

The weapons which your hands have found
Are those which heav'n has wrought:
Light, truth, and love -- your battleground,
The free, broad field of thought.

Press on! and if we may not share
The glory of your fight,
We'll ask at least, in earnest prayer,
That God will bless the right.

John Greenleaf Whittier, 1843; alt.
Tune: AZMON (C.M.)
Carl G. Glaser, 1828; arr. Lowell Mason, 1839

I chose AZMON for its vigor, but an alternate tune might be MARTYRDOM. A different mood, but still appropriate.

I know people will be singing today in honor of Dr. King and his work.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Loud Your Anthems Raise!

Now here's a press release for an event that I would love to attend.

The Sir Arthur Sullivan Society and the English Music Festival present a morning of Sullivan's church music in Keble College, Oxford, on Saturday 24 May 2008 as part of the second English Music Festival.

The centrepiece will be a service of Matins using (almost) exclusively Sullivan's music. The Sullivan Singers, directed by David Owen Norris, will sing the Te Deum and Jubilate in D (1866) and Lead, kindly light (1871). Singers are invited to form a "come and sing" choir to sing two anthems under the direction of David Owen Norris: The strain upraise (1868) and Sing, O heavens (1869). In addition, Sullivan's psalm chant will be used and the following hymns will be sung: Alleluia! alleluia! (LUX EOI), Onward, Christian soldiers (ST. GERTRUDE), To Thee, O Lord, our hearts we raise (GOLDEN SHEAVES), Breathe on me, breath of God (IN MEMORIAM). The officiant and preacher will be the Revd. Dr. Ian Bradley.

Matins is at 1100 in Keble College chapel, then at 1215 in the Pusey Room of Keble College, Ian Bradley will give a talk entitled "Stage or Sanctuary? Assessing Sullivan's hymn tunes and sacred music" which will finish at or shortly after 1300.

Singers of all voices are welcome to join the "come and sing" choir. There is no charge and music will be provided. The only stipulation is that you must must attend a rehearsal, which begins in Keble chapel at 0930. If you want to sing, please if at all possible give advance notice so that we have an idea of numbers and can ensure that sufficient copies of the music are made.

Non-singers are of course just as welcome as singers - just come and listen if you prefer!

Stephen Turnbull
Secretary, Sir Arthur Sullivan Society

I did sing in the choir for a similar (though less ambitious) service in 1995 when attending the International Gilbert & Sulllivan Festival in Buxton, England. This year's anthems seem more interesting and appropriate overall; we did the Io paean section from The Martyr of Antioch which was distinctly odd, and God sent his messenger, the rain from The Golden Legend, which was beyond the capability of the group, though we also did In Rama was there a voice heard from The Light of the World which was surprisingly unique. But they were all oratorio choruses; this year's set are perhaps a better fit for a worship service.

Even the Rev'd Dr. Bradley concurs that Sullivan's hymn tunes are a decidedly mixed bag.

"It is certainly true that Sullivan's hymn tunes are extraordinarily variable in quality -- when they are bad, they are very, very bad."

from Bradley's Abide With Me: The World of Victorian Hymns

They will at least be singing Sullivan's two best tunes: ST. GERTRUDE and LUX EOI. GOLDEN SHEAVES seems just a tad 'busy' and I don't really know IN MEMORIAM, which doesn't seem to turn up in any online searches, though I found it last night in a British Methodist hymnal.

Well, I can't be there in person, but there will undoubtedly be 'reviews' posted on Savoynet, the talkative e-mailing list for Gilbert & Sullivan enthusiasts.

P.S. Pictures! yay!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


Last night I attended a local performance by Chanticleer, the renowned professional male chorus. It was an evening of truly stunning vocalism; the group sounds even better than I remember from the last time I saw them several years ago.

Check out their
tour schedule and don't hesitate to see them if they are performing nearby.