Monday, June 30, 2008

Edward J. Hopkins

Edward John Hopkins (June 30, 1818 - February 4, 1901) was an acclaimed organist and composer of his time. As a boy, he was a chorister at the Chapel Royal, then, beginning at age 16, held a number of organist positions until he took the post at the Temple Church in London, a church dating back to medieval times with an acclaimed music program then and now. He remained in that post for more than fifty years, while composing anthems, chants and hymn tunes. Two of his anthems won the annual Gresham Prize, awarded by the Professors of Music of Oxford University and Gresham College for best original composition in sacred vocal music.

Like most of his Victorian church musician contemporaries, his music is little known today. This is his one remaining hymn tune that would still be recognized by many people.

Savior, again to thy dear Name we raise
With one accord our parting hymn of praise;
We thank and bless thee ere our worship cease;
And still our hearts to wait thy word of peace.

Grant us thy peace, throughout the coming night;
Stay with us till the morning brings its light;
From harm and danger keep thy people free,
For dark and light are both alike to thee.

Grant us thy peace — the peace thou didst bestow
On thine apostles in thine hour of woe;
The peace thou broughtest, when at eventide
They saw thy piercèd hands, thy wounded side.

Grant us thy peace throughout our earthly life;
Our balm in sorrow and our stay in strife;
Peace to our land, the fruit of truth and love;
Peace in each heart, thy Spirit from above.

Thy peace in life, the balm of every pain;
Thy peace in death, the hope to rise again;
Then, when thy voice shall bid our conflict cease,
Call us, O Christ, to thine eternal peace.

John Ellerton, 1866; alt.
Tune: ELLERS (
Edward J. Hopkins, 1869

I found no reference to any collection of Hopkins's complete hymn tunes, as were published for some of his colleagues. Hopkins did edit at least four hymnals for different denominations, where many of his tunes undoubtedly appeared. lists only 15 tunes, though I have found more than forty in various older hymnals, so there probably are several more than that. Previously on the blog I used his tune CULFORD, and there must be a few others that could still be sung today without amusement or feigned horror.

Two books on which Hopkins collaborated are still in print today: The Organ: Its History and Construction and The Temple Church Choral Service Book.

P.S. We will see John Ellerton (the author of today's hymn text) again, no doubt. He wrote many hymns, several of which we know today, such as this one. I restored the third verse here, which I had never seen before.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

To Fairer Worlds On High

It appears to be Gospel Song Weekend at Conjubilant With Song, perhaps to counter the opinions of some that I don't like gospel songs. Admittedly I do favor hymns; they are the music of the churches I grew up in (though recent examination has uncovered something interesting - a story for another time). It's true that I don't care for bad gospel songs -- some are the nineteenth century equivalent of today's praise choruses, and even Fanny Crosby wrote a number of "Jesus-is-my-boyfriend" songs long before that term was coined. And not all the tunes are particularly noteworthy. But there are uninteresting hymns too, and dull hymn tunes.

This is an early sort-of gospel song I like very much.

Come, we that love the Lord,
And let our joys be known;
Join in a song with sweet accord,
Join in a song with sweet accord
And thus surround the throne,
And thus surround the throne.

We're marching to Zion,
Beautiful, beautiful Zion;
We're marching upward to Zion,
The beautiful city of God

The heirs of grace have found,
Glory begun below.
Celestial fruits on earthly ground,
Celestial fruits on earthly ground,
From faith and hope may grow,
From faith and hope may grow.

The hill of Zion yields
A thousand sacred sweets
Before we reach the heav’nly fields,
Before we reach the heav’nly fields,
Or walk the golden streets,
Or walk the golden streets.

Then let our songs abound,
And every tear be dry;
We’re marching through Immanuel’s ground,
We’re marching through Immanuel’s ground,
To fairer worlds on high,
To fairer worlds on high.

Isaac Watts, 1707; Robert Lowry (refrain) 1867; alt.
Tune: MARCHING TO ZION ( with refrain)
Robert Lowry, 1867

A great tune that really does march (it kind of swings too). When we compiled a hymnal for local church use, I slotted this one in as the final selection, #600. The subject of the final group of hymns and songs was "The Life to Come," and it seemed appropriate to end the book with a song that talks about continuing onward and upward.

Now some will say that I'm cheating a bit because the main part of the text is by Isaac Watts, but when Robert Lowry composed a new tune and added a refrain he spread this hymn to a wider audience than would have ever known it otherwise. The original Watts text, without the refrain, is still sometimes seen in hymnals. Watts wrote ten verses, so different hymnals will choose different verses. One that never gets used:

The sorrows of the mind
Be banished from the place;
Religion never was designed
To make our pleasures less.

Too controversial! But the eighteenth century may not have been as conservative as we imagine it to have been.

So, gospel songs: another summer Sunday theme for the blog. And maybe I'll get around to telling that story.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

More Voices Found: Eliza Hewitt

Eliza Edmunds Hewitt, born on this day in Philadelphia in 1851, was bedridden with a spinal injury for many years, during which she began her hymnwriting career. Her writings were discovered by fellow Philadelphians John Sweney and William Kirkpatrick, composers of gospel songs who together edited and published their own collections, and included many of Hewitt's pieces in their books (and provided the tunes in many cases). One of her best-known songs was Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown.

Eliza Hewitt has already shown up here back on May 24, due to her collaboration with Emily Divine Wilson, When We All Get to Heaven. Hewitt was also a good friend of Fanny Crosby. Of her many songs, I chose this one for today.

Bear the good tidings all over the world,
Let the bright banner of love be unfurled,
Wherever sorrow and pain shall be found,
There let the news of salvation resound.

All over the world,
All over the world,
Let the bright banner of love be unfurled,
All over the world.

Plant in the wilderness Sharon’s sweet rose,
Blessing will follow wherever it goes;
Onward, led onward by God’s guiding hand,
Open fresh springs in the dry, thirsty land.

Oh, what a song shall in heaven be sung!
By every nation and kindred and tongue;
Saints reunited by grace shall be there,
Joy everlasting together we’ll share.

Eliza E. Hewitt, c. 1896; alt.
Tune: SHARON'S ROSE ( with refrain)
William J. Kirkpatrick, c. 1896

Hewitt was a prolific writer, and her publishers must have felt that she needed a pseudonym so she didn't appear to be crowding out other writers (a distinction she shared with Fanny Crosby), so some of her gospel songs were attributed to "Lidie Edmunds." She does have 73 listed at, which means that there may even be several more out there. She also wrote the music for at least three of her songs.

In later years, Eliza Hewitt partially recovered from her injury and was a Sunday School superintendent, both at the Northern Home for Friendless Children and the Calvin Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Philip Doddridge

Philip Doddridge was an English Nonconformist, meaning that he felt that church and state should be separate in England, which the Church of England was not. He opened his own academy for the training of Nonconformist clergy, teaching many of the classes himself. He was a friend of Isaac Watts and an admirer of Watts's hymns, as well as those of Charles Wesley. He wrote nearly 400 hymns himself, many of which were sung in his own congregation. They were based on specific Scripture passages and were intended to be sung following one of his sermons on that particular text, as reinforcement of the theme.

The hymns were not published until after his death, first collected by Job Orton in Hymns Founded on Various Texts in the Holy Scriptures in 1755 (374 hymns). His great-grandson, John Doddridge Humphreys, added 23 more in Scriptural Hymns by the Rev. Philip Doddridge in 1839. Several of them have survived into the present, including this one.

Great God, we sing that mighty hand
By which supported still we stand;
The opening year thy mercy shows,
That mercy crowns it ’til it close.

By day, by night, at home, abroad,
Still are we guarded by our God,
By thine incessant bounty fed,
By thine unerring counsel led.

With grateful hearts the past we own;
The future, all to us unknown,
We to thy guardian care commit,
And peaceful leave before thy feet.

In scenes exalted or depressed,
Thou art our joy, and thou our rest;
Thy goodness all our hopes shall raise,
Adored through all our changing days.

Philip Doddridge, published 1755; alt.
Tune: WAREHAM (L.M.)
William Knapp, 1738

Since there is a wide gulf between the language of the early eighteenth century and the common usage of today, I would guess that nearly any text you sing of Doddridge's will be rewritten in some way. This one, however, remains fairly intact.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Henry Ward Beecher

Henry Ward Beecher (born June 24, 1813) was the most famous clergyman of his time, a Civil War-era media star of a type we might recognize today. He'd get himself on television in this century, although unlike today's well-known television preachers his views were mostly liberal: favoring abolition, evolution, and women's suffrage.

He pastored the Plymouth Congregational Church in Brooklyn NY from its inception in 1847 until his death in 1887. Under his leadership the church was one of the largest in the country, with regular attendance in the thousands, and occasional guests such as Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain came to hear Beecher's acclaimed sermons.

He's here today because he actively promoted congregational singing in worship. The first hymnal he compiled was Temple Melodies in 1851, which included about 500 hymns and 200 tunes. He soon decided that was inadequate, and in 1855 brought out the Plymouth Collection of Hymns and Tunes, with 1374 hymns and 367 tunes. Since he could get no publisher to bring out anything that extensive, the congregation raised the money themselves to have the
first edition privately printed for their use. Both these hymnals were among the first in this country to include both words and music on the same page. Beecher also deliberately chose the texts from several different traditions, from psalm paraphrases, from the Englishmen Wesley and Watts, and (shockingly to some) from Unitarian and Roman Catholic sources. Before long the Plymouth Collection was being used in many other churches, no longer considered a publishing risk.

The members of Beecher's extended family were among the intellectual elites of the country, most of them acclaimed in their own fields. Like other Beecher ventures, the Plymouth Collection was a bit of a family affair. Novelist sister Harriet Beecher Stowe, then particularly famous following the publication of mammoth bestseller Uncle Tom's Cabin, contributed three hymns, and younger brother Charles was one of the music editors. Charles and his fellow music editor, John Zundel (longtime organist at Plymouth Church) both contributed several tunes to the hymnal. Zundel later wrote the hymn tune BEECHER, named for Henry Ward, and still used today for a few different texts.

This hymn is by Mrs. Stowe, with a tune by Charles, from Henry Ward's Plymouth Collection:

When winds are raging o’er the upper ocean,
And billows wild contend with angry roar,
’Tis said, far down, below the wild commotion,
That peaceful stillness reigneth evermore.

Far, far beneath, the noise of tempests dieth,
And silver waves chime ever peacefully,
And no rude storm, how fierce so e’er it flieth,
Disturbs the Sabbath of that deeper sea.

So to the heart that knows Thy love, O Purest!
There is a temple, sacred evermore,
And all the babble of life’s angry voices
Dies in hushed stillness at its peaceful door.

Far, far away, the roar of passion dieth,
And loving thoughts rise calm and peacefully,
And no rude storm, how fierce so e’er it flieth,
Disturbs the soul that dwells, O Lord, in Thee.

O Rest of rests! O Peace, serene, eternal!
Thou ever livest, and Thou changest never.
And in the secret of Thy presence dwelleth
Fullness of joy, forever and forever.

Harriet Beecher Stowe, c.1855
Tune REST (Beecher) (
Charles Beecher, c.1855

Harriet's text is very much of its time and would probably not go over well today, though I think there's a lot to like in it (you may notice - no alt.). Charles's tune is pretty rangy (that second line!) and a bit hard to match up with the text, written in an American style that would be largely supplanted by the English Victorian tune writers and their more stately stepwise-moving tunes, meaning that Charles's several other tunes had little chance to migrate to other, later hymnals. And there's another, much better-known tune called REST by Frederick C. Maker.

P.S. The Plymouth Collection was the first American hymnal to include Abide with me. It was on the facing page to the above hymn, indicating that it could be sung to the same tune. Luckily, a few years later, W. H. Monk wrote the tune that we know today (EVENTIDE) and saved us from singing it to Charles Beecher's REST (not really -- with REST it would never have survived until today)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Hymns In the News

And how often does that happen?

From the Times of London:

"Should these or any other activists attempt to breach the security around the conference at the Renaissance Hotel in west Jerusalem the 1,100 delegates have been instructed to start singing the hymn All hail the power of Jesus' name."

But do they all know
which tune they should use if the emergency arises?

UPDATE: Naturally this news story has provoked some discussion on the internets -- see "What hymn (or other song) should be sung when YOU disrupt GAFCON?" (contains the usual online mix of thoughtful and irreverent answers)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Samuel Longfellow

Samuel Longfellow (born June 18, 1819) was the younger brother of famed American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Samuel's fame was and still is less broad than his brother's, but many of his hymns are as good as any that we sing today.

While still a student at Harvard Divinity School, he and his particular friend, classmate Samuel Johnson, compiled and published the Book of Hymns for Public and Private Devotion, which was used by many liberal churches of the era and went through several editions. Noted Unitarian minister Theodore Parker teasingly referred to it as the Book of Sams. Longfellow and Johnson had gone outside the usual scope of material considered for hymnals and included contemporary poets such as John Greenleaf Whittier and Oliver Wendell Holmes, adapting their verse into hymns.

Following his ordination in the Unitarian church, Longfellow served congregations in Fall River MA and Brooklyn NY (where he met Walt Whitman). He supported abolition, women's suffrage, and was an avowed pacifist. His sermons were described as "serene contemplations, not white and cold, but glowing with interior and suppressed radiance." In 1864, he and Johnson collaborated on another hymnal, Hymns of the Spirit, which contained many of their own hymns. This new book reflected their personal spiritual views as had the previous collection, but in the intervening years their positions had become even more liberal. They were theists and refused to include any texts regarding the divinity of Christ. The hymns under the heading "Christianity" in Hymns of the Spirit only numbered seventeen (out of 717) and there were no communion hymns. The new hymnal was not as successful as their first had been, and might be little more than a footnote today if its name had not been re-used for a combined Unitarian-Universalist hymnal in the 1930s.

But, as Louis Benson writes in Studies of Familiar Hymns (1903):

"There are, no doubt, hymns written by Dr. Holmes, Mr. Longfellow, and other "liberals" which contain their peculiar personal beliefs, some that even sound a note of protest against other peoples' beliefs; and those are passed by, as a matter of course, by churches which profess the Orthodox faith. But the fact of their writing such sectarian hymns does not spoil the quality of such of their hymns as are not sectarian, but are simply religious. Is it not properly a matter of rejoicing that there are so many hymns that religious people of all shades of belief can agree to love and to sing?"

As you may be able to tell, I like Longfellow's hymns. It was actually a challenge to pick just one to present today, so I settled on this one which was reportedly his own favorite, and one that I have known and sung for many years, long before I knew who Samuel Longfellow was.

I look to thee in every need,
And never look in vain;
I feel thy strong and tender love,
And all is well again.
The thought of thee is mightier far
Than sin and pain and sorrow are.

Discouraged in the work of life,
Disheartened by its load,
Shamed by its failures or its fears,
I sink beside the road.
But let me only think of thee
And then new heart springs up in me.

Thy calmness bends serene above,
My restlessness to still;
Around me flows thy quickening life,
To nerve my faltering will.
Thy presence fills my solitude,
Thy providence turns all to good.

Enfolded deep in thy dear love,
Held in thy law, I stand;
Thy hand in all things I behold,
And all things in thy hand.
Thou leadest me by unsought ways,
And turn'st my mourning into praise.

Samuel Longfellow, 1864
Tune: O JESU (
Evangelisches Gesangbuch, 1741

Now, though never stated, Longfellow was obviously addressing God in this hymn. But I have to wonder whether a later editor chose this particular tune to subtly suggest that Jesus was not altogether absent. Nowadays people don't pay much attention to tune names but I'm not sure that was always true. Longfellow and Johnson had not matched tunes to texts in Hymns of the Spirit - it was a text-only hymnal - and so someone else got to pick an "appropriate" tune when they included it in another hymnal some time later.

Longfellow left his Brooklyn church when he felt that his views were becoming too controversial. It was several years until he led another congregation, in Germantown PA. He continued to write hymns that were published in various places. Following Samuel Johnson's death in 1882, Longfellow edited a collected edition of Johnson's works and added his own biographical memoir of his lifelong friend.

You may guess that you'll be seeing more
hymns by Samuel Longfellow as time goes on. Correct. "Is it not properly a matter of rejoicing that there are so many hymns that religious people of all shades of belief can agree to love and to sing?"

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

More Voices Found: Helen Maria Williams

Today is the birthday of Helen Maria Williams, born in 1761. She was well-known in the literary circles of her time, particularly after the poet Wordsworth addressed a sonnet to her. She took up several causes, including abolition and feminism in her poetry and her published letters. In later years she lived in Paris, where she was briefly imprisoned during the French Revolution for her writing. Her popularity declined as literary England felt she had abandoned them for France, and her poetry was little published for many years after her death. This hymn, however, appeared in many hymnals in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

While thee I seek, protecting Power,
My earthly cares be stilled;
And may this consecrated hour
With better hopes be filled.

Thy love the power of thought bestowed;
To thee my thoughts would soar:
Thy mercy o’er my life has flowed;
That mercy I adore.

In each event of life, how clear
Thy guiding hand I see!
Each blessing to my soul more dear,
Because conferred by thee.

In every joy that crowns my days,
In every pain I bear,
My heart shall find delight in praise,
Or seek relief in prayer.

My lifted eye, without a tear,
The gathering storm shall see:
My steadfast heart shall know no fear;
That heart will rest on thee.

Helen Maria Williams, 1786; alt.
Tune: CRIMOND (C.M.)
Jessie Seymour Irvine, 1872; arr. David Grant

When I first found this hymn several years ago, I was looking for texts that referred to God in different ways, and was a little surprised to find this one all the way back in 1786. "Protecting Power" was not a standard name for God in Williams's time - note that it's the only name she uses in the text - it sounds much more modern.

CRIMOND, by Jessie Seymour Irvine, actually does appear in Voices Found, as well it should - it's the oldest known hymn tune by a woman that is still in use today in several hymnals.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

O Come, Great Spirit, Come

The Sundays after Pentecost go on for quite a while until we get back to Advent and the beginning of another church year. I've chosen a few favorite themes to fill in these Sundays if there is no other commemoration to be marked. Sometimes I think that hymns of the Holy Spirit get overlooked a bit, but all the ones I know I generally like, so that's going to be one of the possible themes this summer and fall.

Spirit divine, attend our prayers,
And make our hearts thy home;
Descend with all thy gracious powers;
O come, great Spirit, come!

Come as the light; to us reveal
Our emptiness and woe;
And lead us on those paths of life,
Whereon the righteous go.

Come as the fire, and purge our hearts
Like sacrificial flame;
Let our whole souls an offering be
In Love’s redeeming name.

Come as the dew, and sweetly bless
This consecrated hour;
Earth's barren places will rejoice
In thy renewing power.

Come as the dove, and spread thy wings,
The wings of peaceful love;
And let the church on earth become
Blest as thy Church above.

Come as the wind, with rushing sound,
And Pentecostal grace,
That all of humankind may see
The glory of thy face.

Spirit divine, attend our prayer,
Make all this world thy home;
Descend with all thy gracious powers,
O come, great Spirit, come!

Andrew Reed, 1829; alt.
Johann Crüger, 1647

You can't really cut any of the verses here because which of the attributes of the Spirit would you choose to leave out?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Praying Twice

I don't usually link to other people's blog posts, though it is a particularly bloggy thing to do. This one is kind of a book review, but ends up bigger than that, and on a subject you're probably interested in if you're here at all: congregational song.

Choral Reef: Music under the surface

She likes Brian Wren a bit more than I do, but otherwise she's pretty spot on. Of course, when you link to another blog, you take the chance that your readers will like the new one better.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Saint Barnabas

Barnabas was one of the earliest converts to Christianity, first appearing in the Book of Acts. Called "the Levite" and born Joseph, his name was changed at his conversion when he sold his belongings and gave the proceeds to the church; the new name means "son of encouragement" or, as frequently named in a number of hymns about him, the "Son of Consolation."

By some accounts, Barnabas was the cousin of Mark, the Gospel writer. After Paul's conversion, it was Barnabas who introduced him to the twelve disciples. Later, Paul and Barnabas traveled togather, converting many others to the church in Antioch and in Cyprus (where Barnabas is the patron saint). Eventually he was stoned to death for his beliefs (accounts differ as to where this happened).

O Jesus Christ, our Captain of salvation,
Thyself by suffering schooled to human grief,
We bless thee for thy heirs of consolation,
Who follow in the steps of thee their chief.

Those whose bright faith makes weary hearts grow stronger,
And those once silent sing in joyful strain,
Bids the lone convert feel estranged no longer,
And wins the sundered to be one again.

Such was thy Levite, strong in self oblation,
To cast his all at thine apostles’ feet;
He whose new name, new faith, and new vocation,
From age to age our thankful strains repeat.

Jesus, thy blessèd saints in memory keeping,
Still be thy church’s watchword, “Comfort ye,”
Till in our promised home shall end all weeping,
And every want be satisfied in thee.

John Ellerton, 1871, alt.
Henry J. Gauntlett, 1875

Gauntlett's tune is one of those high Victorian arrangements that's a little hard to follow without seeing the music, but as soon as I heard it I knew I wanted to use it today. He wrote the tune for this particular text after it had appeared in another hymnal with another tune.

P.S. The Barnabas window above is again by Edward Burne-Jones, traditionally depicting the saint with an olive branch and a book (by some accounts the Gospel of Matthew).

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Ephrem, Deacon and Hymnwriter

Ephrem of Edessa (also called the Syrian) is commemorated on this day for his hymns and other writings that are widely known in the Eastern church, where he is known as the Harp of the Holy Spirit. Over four hundred of his hymns are known to exist, and many are assumed to be lost.

Many of these hymns are grouped by theme (some are linked here) . He is credited for showing the church that theology could be spread and reinforced through music and verse in congregational worship. He wrote a group called Hymns Against Heresies, sometimes taking popular melodies of the time to set his instructional verses against doctrines comsidered false at the time. (I agree that more people learn theology through hymns than through sermons.)

The hymns were chanted, and usually included refrains. Many are thought to have been used by nuns, accompanied on the lyre. Exact translations of his hymns into English do not produce "hymns" as we think of them, and much of the poetry and nuance is probably lost. For whatever reason, we are less familiar with his writings than with many hymns originally written in Greek or Latin, translated and adapted into verse over the last few hundred years. This one was translated and made into metrical verse in 1906, but the original would have been very different.

Receive, O Christ, in heav'n above
Our prayers and supplications pure;
Give us a heart all full of love
And steady courage to endure.

Thy holy Name our mouths confess,
Our tongues are harps to praise thy grace;
Forgive our sins and selfishness,
Who in this vigil seek thy face.

Let not our song become a sigh,
A wail of anguish and despair;
In lovingkindness, O most high,
Receive this day our joyful prayer.

O raise us in that day, that we
May sing, where all thy saints adore,
Praise to the Maker, and to thee,
And to thy Spirit, evermore.

Ephrem the Syrian, 4th century
(tr. Francis Crawford Burkitt, 1906; alt.)
Edward Miller, 1790

It took some time for me to settle a tune for this text. Oremus Hymnal uses ST. AMBROSE, which I don't think I have heard before. More chant-like tunes might include TALLIS' CANON and OLIVE'S BROW (played at more moderate speeds), but I also looked at BROMLEY, WAREHAM, and WINCHESTER NEW. They all seem to work in one way or another. Which one do you like for these words? (this would be an appropriate time for all (ha ha) my silent readers to say something - or not)

Sunday, June 8, 2008

No Night, Nor Need, Nor Pain

O holy city, seen of John,
Where Christ, the Lamb, doth reign,

Within whose foursquare walls shall come
No night, nor need, nor pain,
And where the tears are wiped from eyes
That shall not weep again.

Hark, how from men whose lives are held
More cheap than merchandise,
From women struggling sore for bread,
From little children’s cries,
There swells the sobbing human plaint
That bids thy walls arise.

O shame to us who rest content
While lust and greed for gain
In street and shop and tenement
Wring gold from human pain,
And bitter lips in deep despair
Cry “Christ hath died in vain!”

Give us, O God, the strength to build
The city that hath stood
Too long a dream, whose laws are love,
Whose crown is servanthood,
And where the sun that shineth is
God’s grace for human good.

Already in the mind of God
That city riseth fair:
Lo! how its splendor challenges
The souls that greatly dare --
Yea, bids us seize the whole of life
And build its glory there.

Walter Russell Bowie, 1909; alt.
The Union Harmony, 1848

The holy city of the first line is from Revelation 21:1-7. Beautiful, but far-off. In this hymn Walter Russell Bowie wants us to understand that existence here on earth requires us to bring some of the promise of that future into the present time and place: Give us, O God, the strength to build... This hymn was written around the time of Bowie's ordination as an Episcopal priest, shortly after his graduation from seminary, but in later years he went on to a long career in New York City as rector of Grace Church and professor at Union Seminary, where the words of this hymn must sometimes have come to mind.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Sir John Stainer

Composer John Stainer was born on this day in 1840. During his life he held many musical positions both in and out of the Church of England, though most of his works (many listed here) are sacred music. Today he is probably best known for his oratorio The Crucifixion, performed by countless church choirs on Good Friday since its first appearance in 1887.

You may not know that he was musical editor of Christmas Carols New and Old in 1871, a very popular collection whose arrangements are still widely used today. He was also the musical editor of The Church Hymnary (1898), a hymnal produced by a collection of denominations in Scotland, and several of his 158 hymn tunes appeared there for the first time.

The following Stainer tune comes from The Crucifixion. If you've ever sung it or attended a performance, you probably remember that the choral and solo parts of the Passion story are interspersed with six hymns which are supposed to be sung by the combined chorus and audience/congregation. Unfortunately, this practice seems to be dying out; last year when I sang the work for the first time, the audience was only invited to sing the final hymn (with possibly the most familiar tune, CROSS OF JESUS), and the conductor directed the chorus in overly-fussy renditions of the other hymns during the performance. But I like this tune also and hardly think it's beyond the capability of any congregation.

Joys are flowing like a river
Since the Comforter has come;
She abides with us forever,
Makes the trusting heart her home.

Like the rain that falls from heaven,
Like the sunlight from the sky,
So the Holy Spirit's given,
Coming to us from on high.

See, a fruitful field is growing,
Blessed fruit of righteousness;
And the streams of life are flowing
In the lonely wilderness.

Bringing life and health and gladness
All around, this heav'nly Guest
Banished unbelief and sadness,
Changed our weariness to rest.

What a wonderful salvation,
Where we'll always see God's face!
What a perfect habitation,
What a quiet resting place!

Manie P. Ferguson, c.1897; alt.
Tune: ALL FOR JESUS ( - sometimes called OXFORD
John Stainer, 1887

A brief digression from Stainer: some may recognize this hymn from somewhere else - it was originally the gospel song Blessed Quietness. I like the words but find the usual tune less than inspiring. Leaving out the refrain, the words fit nicely into this tune. Since the Holy Spirit is sometimes depicted as female in modern theology I also changed a few pronouns. Manie Ferguson, who founded with her husband a mission project in California (later expanded elsewhere) dedicated to ministry to single women, could be another entry in my More Voices Found series (click on the tag below to bring up the previous entries). There's a contemporary hymn of the Spirit that also goes well with this tune and is worth seeking out: Spirit, working in creation (1978) by John Richards.

Back to Stainer: I've been poking around in nineteenth century hymnals and trying to see an many of his tunes as possible but I'm sure I haven't found 158 yet. I'm also curious to know more about the other two oratorios, The Daughter of Jairus and St. Mary Magdalen.

Stainer had five children. A descendant of Sir John has posted several
family photographs online. His daughter-in-law Rosalind Stainer (married to his youngest son Edward) wrote one hymn tune (BETHSAIDA - no sound file online, alas) that appeared in the English Methodist Hymn-Book of 1904 and others. Rosalind was the daughter of Sir Frederick Bridge, another English composer. Another Voice Found.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Orlando Gibbons

Today we mark the anniversary of the death of Orlando Gibbons in 1625. I usually prefer birthdays (except all those saints who are commemorated for their deaths) but Gibbons's birthday is unrecorded. His christening date was December 25, 1583, but I think I'll be busy on that anniversary.

Gibbons remains one of the most acclaimed of all English composers, even outside the realm of church music. During his time as organist at the Chapel Royal, and later at Westminster Abbey, he composed for keyboard and stringed instruments in addition to his well-known church anthems. A hymnbook first published in 1623, The Hymnes and Songs of the Church, contains several tunes by Gibbons, some of which are still sung today.

Peace, perfect peace, above the whole world's din?
The voice of Jesus whispers peace within.

Peace, perfect peace, by thronging duties pressed?
To do the will of Jesus, this is rest.

Peace, perfect peace, with sorrows surging round?
On Jesus' bosom naught but calm is found.

Peace, perfect peace, with loved ones far away?
In Jesus' keeping we are safe and they.

Peace, perfect peace, our future all unknown?
Jesus we know, who sits upon the throne.

Peace, perfect peace, death foll'wing us and ours?
Jesus has vanquished death and all its powers.

Edward Henry Bickersteth, 1875; alt.
SONG 46 (10.10)
Orlando Gibbons, 1623

SONG 46 was originally matched to the hymn Drop, drop slow tears but has been used for others since then. The hymn tunes of Gibbons have been known by various names over the years, thanks to fanciful hymnal editors, but today they are generally titled as written, with a number such as SONG 46.

You can go to You Tube for a recent performance of Gibbons's setting of the Te Deum in English.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Woman at the Well

I like hymns that tell stories from the Bible. Even though, in churches that follow the liturgical year, like most I've ever attended, they're only sung on the Sundays when that particular scripture passage is read (so sometimes, only once every three years).

The story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well is told in John 4:4-42. There are some contemporary hymns that draw from this story, such as Edith Sinclair Downing's When, like the woman at the well (1992) which appears in some newer hymnals. The broader theme of living water is used even more widely in other hymns, even without the accompanying story.

So a few months ago, in a nineteenth-century hymnal, I happened on a hymn which told this story that I had not seen before. The language was quite dated and negative in places, and I knew it would not likely be sung anywhere in its original form. The text doesn't appear in any of the usual online hymn sites, either. So why not make some changes and adapt it for contemporary use? I haven't done this kind of adaptation in quite a while (any changes made so far on my blog hymns were either very minor or were done several years ago with input from others) so I was a little rusty, but I think it's now ready for public display.

O Jesus, once along the road,
At Jacob's lonely well,
An outcast woman heard thee there
Thy great salvation tell.

Samaria's unnamed daughter found
Those streams unknown before,
The water-brooks of life that make
The weary thirst no more.

Today, to us, assembled here,
Thy gracious words have told
That mystery of love, revealed
Beside that well of old.

She told the tale to all she knew,
As we declare it now --
Our deep, divine, unfailing spring
Of grace and glory thou.

In spirit, Christ, we've sat with thee
Around the springing well
Of joy and life, and heard thee there
Its healing virtues tell.

That living water may we drink,
From fear and strife set free,
And like that faithful woman, seek
And find our peace in thee.

Edward Denny, c. 1848; adapt. C.W.S.
Tune: ST. BOTOLPH (C.M.)
Gordon Slater, c. 1930

So what was changed? Two of the original verses are gone (six is probably enough) and one is moved. Several lines are completely new (one replaced was "And Lord, to us, as vile as she"). I wanted to acknowledge that the names of many women in the Bible, unlike those of most men, are not recorded (verse 2). You may still find some of the language outdated, though I don't have a problem with "thee" and "thou" -- the poetic language of hymns is a great part of their history and their appeal.

Going back to read the original passage, I also found an aspect of the story that the original hymnwriter did not include. This woman did not just listen to Jesus talk about salvation -- she went home and told others what she had heard. Nowadays, we (well, many of us) don't even think twice about women preaching. We'll never know, but was that why Edward Denny left out that part of the story? I wanted to get that in, and also that we here today should also go out and tell the story ourselves (verse 4).

Well, the best lines are still Denny's, which is why I wanted to polish up this hymn and maybe bring it back for a few people who wouldn't have seen it otherwise. I think the many, many hymn singers that have gone before us would still recognize this text and I hope that Edward Denny would agree.

P.S. - the drawing above is by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, (roughly) a contemporary of Sir Edward Denny

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Henry Francis Lyte

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; God, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O thou who changest not, abide with me.

Come not in terrors, as the King of kings,
But kind and good, with healing in thy wings,
Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea—
Come, Friend of pilgrims, thus abide with me.

I need thy presence every passing hour.
What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who, like thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.

I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if thou abide with me.

Henry Francis Lyte, 1847, alt.
William Henry Monk, 1861

Henry Francis Lyte was the author of dozens of hymns that appeared in the hymnals of the nineteenth century, but his two most enduring are this one and Praise, my soul, the King of heaven. Since Abide with me was previously voted a favorite among readers of this blog (a small group, admittedly) it had to be featured today for Lyte's birthday (215 years ago). This hymn has probably also been near the top on just about any poll on hymns taken in more than a hundred years. I do admit to shuffling the original eight verses a bit in order to choose a final five, using one that has rarely been sung since the nineteenth century.

Lyte wrote his own tune for the hymn which was probably sung at All Saints, the church in Brixham where he was pastor for more than twenty years. But in 1861 the hymn was published in Hymns Ancient and Modern (the influential English hymnal that sold more than 60 million copies) with a new tune by the prolific composer W.H. Monk (one of the editors of the collection), the tune by which everyone knows it today. Others have tried to write new tunes for it, including Frederick Atkinson's MORECAMBE, but none have stuck, as this page from the Oremus Hymnal shows, listing the tunes matched with this text in hymnals spanning nearly 150 years. As mentioned before, tunes are often just as important as texts in establishing a hymn's popularity (for better or worse, some would say).

I know that many people associate this hymn mostly with funerals, but I never have. We used to sing it at the close of evening worship, and (very) occasionally it's used at Evensong in my present church. Heck, we even used to sing it in the subway or at airports. The four-part harmony is irresistible

Here's another verse by Lyte that I particularly like, the final verse of Jesus, I my cross have taken (1824). Sometimes you just find one verse especially meaningful, without liking the whole hymn. Like Abide with me, and like many hymns of the Victorian era, the last verse of the hymn ends up in heaven (that theme again). We used to sing about heaven a lot, so maybe that's why this jumped out to me when I first read it some months ago

Haste then, on from grace to glory,
Armed by faith and winged by prayer;
Heav'ns eternal day before thee,
God's own hand shall guide thee there.
Soon shall close the earthly mission,
Swift shall pass thy pilgrim days,
Hope soon change to glad fruition,
Faith to sight, and prayer to praise.

Now there's a verse that deserves to close with an "Amen."