Wednesday, December 3, 2008

More Voices Found: Clara Scott

Clara Scott (December 3, 1841 - June 21, 1897) was a hymnwriter and composer whose work has all but disappeared, except for one gospel song that remains fairly well known.

She was born in Elk Grove, Illinois. In 1856 she studied at Cady's Musical Institute in Chicago and went on to teach music at the Ladies' Seminary in Lyons, Iowa. She began to compose songs and anthems which were published in collections assembled by songwriters Luther O. Emerson and Horatio Palmer. In 1882 Scott herself produced the Royal Anthem Book, said to be the first book of anthems edited by a woman.

The Baptist Quarterly Review (vol. V, 1883) describes it:
It is claimed by the publisher that "no such combination of American and European authors has ever been presented in any one book of its kind." It embraces contributions from such well-known composers as Drs. H.R. Palmer, George F. Root, W.O. Perkins, W.F. Sherwin, and J.B. Herbert. Also from such foreign authors as Canthal, Gluck, Abt, Lichner, Lange, and Weber. It has many selections designed for special occasions, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Mission and Baptismal Service, Decoration-day, Praise Offerings, festival and funeral occasions.

A number of her own anthems were also included. Unfortunately, the Royal Anthem Book has not yet turned up on Google Books, though some of Scott's choral works can be seen (if not heard) online.

O be joyful in the Lord
Tarry with me, O my Savior
and a setting of the Te Deum

In 1896, Scott published a collection of 79 hymns titled Truth in Song: For the Lovers of Truth Everywhere (also not yet online). It's not clear whether they were all written or composed by her, but at least some of them were. And yet this is the only song by her that many people still know.

Open my eyes, that I may see
Glimpses of truth you have for me;
Place in my hands the wonderful key
That shall unlock and set me free.

Silently now I wait for you,

Ready, my God, your will to do,
Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine!

Open my ears, that I may hear
Voices of truth you're sending clear;
And while the wave notes fall on my ear,
Everything false will disappear.

Open my mouth, and let me bear,
Gladly the warm truth everywhere;
Open my heart and let me prepare
Love with your children thus to share.

Clara H. Scott, 1895; alt.
Tune: SCOTT ( with refrain)
Clara H. Scott, 1895

This gospel song first appeared in another hymnal in 1895 but seems likely to have also been in Truth in Song the following year. I've looked in dozens of other hymnals from the turn of the last century and nothing else by Scott ever turns up. Yet there are ten songs by her in Unity Song Selections (the 1975 (?) edition -- no date appears anywhere in the book). I'd like to trace them back to earlier publication but I have a feeling they may have appeared in Truth in Song and rarely, if ever, migrated to other hymnals until the Unity Church adopted them (and possibly rewrote them a bit). It's also possible that the Unity connection goes back to the beginning, though I've not yet found anything that specifically links Clara Scott to that movement.

I'd like to present some of those ten songs but the sound files do not yet exist and I never like to put up words without music. That's a goal for the next year of the blog: to showcase even more lesser-known music in the same way lesser-known texts are sometimes used here.

Almost forgot! In 1975, lesbian feminist songwriter Cris Williamson used the opening lines and a bit of the chorus of this song of Clara Scott's to open her own anthem of sorts, Song of the Soul, which of course you can hear sung by Williamson on YouTube. Song of the Soul was and is considered to be a hymn in the Metropolitan Community Church, and is sung right along with Scott's original.


Leland Bryant Ross said...

If you want to send me a couple of the tunes (scanned images) I'll be happy to work on MIDIs. I am not a great MIDI artist, but I can produce sound files similar to the typical Oremus file or the better-quality Cyberhymnal one.

Incidentally, the Quaker hymnal Worship in Song contains a four-stanza version of "Open my eyes" in both English and Spanish.

Leland aka Haruo

C.W.S. said...

Thanks for the offer -- you have definitely helped out a couple times in the past and I may take you up on it again

PFSchaffner said...

I found _Truth in Song_ online in Google books:

Paul Schaffner
University of Michigan Digital Library Production Service

C.W.S. said...

Thanks, Paul, I've found it too since writing this blog entry in 2009 - interesting stuff!

Sorry I didn't notice your comment earlier.