Friday, July 31, 2009

More Voices Found: Margaret J. Harris

Margaret Jenkins Harris, born in Illinois on this day in 1865, is another woman hymnwriter and composer who is largely unknown today. She and her husband were involved in the Wesleyan Holiness movement, where she would probably have been familiar with the writings of Phoebe Worrall Palmer, and perhaps even her hymns. The Harrises also embarked on their own evangelism campaigns, and I like the detail included in her CyberHymnal entry: that they played an instrument supplied by the Epworth Organ and Piano Company (no doubt in exchange for at least a line in the program, if not a full-page advertisement -- scroll down for examples).

I've come across a few of her gospel songs in nineteenth-century songbooks, but I'm not sure any of them have survived into denominational hymnals today. Apparently some of her songs have been
translated into other languages, so she is not altogether forgotten.

I long ago left Egypt for the promised land,
With trust in my Creator, in God's great guiding hand,
God led me out to vict’ry through the great Red Sea,
I sang a song of triumph, and shouted, "I am free!"

You need not look for me, down in Egypt’s sand,
For I have pitched my tent far up in Beulah land;
You need not look for me, down in Egypt’s sand,
For I have pitched my tent far up in Beulah land.

I started for the highlands where the fruits abound,
I pitched my tent near Hebron, and grapes in plenty found,
With milk and honey flowing, and new wine so free;
I have no love for Egypt, it has no charms for me.

My heart is so enraptured as I press along,
Each day I find new blessings which fill my heart with song;
I’m ever marching onward to that land on high,
Some day I’ll reach my mansion that’s builded in the sky.

Margaret J. Harris, 1908; alt.
TRIUMPH ( with refrain)

More information about Margaret Harris would be welcome indeed. (The illustration below is not she, but is from an advertisement for the Epworth Organ and Piano Company.)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hymns In the News

It's been a while since anything about hymns hit the news outside a denominational hymnal committee press release. But you may have heard that there's some trouble brewing in Fiji between the government there and the Methodist Church, which has led to a court order silencing two top Methodist officials. The Fijian government wants to keep the Methodists' annual conference from taking place in late August. They have also banned a huge hymn singing festival that is generally held in conjunction with the conference, but speculation is that the controversy will lead to a greater attendance at the choral event than ever before.

The Methodist Church in Fiji claims a reputation for "moderation, conservative social values and harmony," but the government believes that the church is "clearly pushing a political agenda ."

You can read the opposing accounts online.

Hymns become latest revolt trigger in Fiji
(Ecumenical News International)

Govt firm on Methodist Church
(Fiji Government Online Portal)

Government Actions Against Methodists in Fiji
(Global Ministries in the United Methodist Church)

Earlier today, the Methodists announced that they intend to defy the ban on their conference. Combined with the assumption that the hymn festival will also go on in spite of the ban, this situation appears to be headed in a dangerous direction.

While outside the usual scope of this blog, I believe that prayers for a peaceful solution are in order. I plan to follow this story to see where things lead. While some onlookers may be thinking "what harm could a hymn singing festival do?" the Fijian government apparently knows, just as we do, the power and strength of congregational singing. But we're probably looking at it from opposing sides.

One Year Ago: Mary and Martha

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Solace, Light and Grace

I have been somewhat remiss in not coming up with Sunday themes this summer for the Sundays after Pentecost. It's several months until Advent and the beginning of the church year, when we always have an appropriate theme for a hymn (unless there's a hymnic birthday to mark). Last summer I rotated between four different ones on Sundays:
  • hymns of social justice
  • communion hymns
  • hymns of the Holy Spirit
  • gospel songs
but I haven't come up wth four new ones yet. Let's try this one to start.
There's a certain subset of hymns that are often (not always) used as opening hymns, the first hymn of the service. Services across many denominations often open with a hymn of praise to God. This hymn may specifically mention morning, traditionally the time of Sunday worship (also not always). Sometimes there are specific references to the congregation's coming together for worship, with perhaps a prayer for blessing or for receiving the gifts of Word and sacrament.

I think these traditions come partly from a section of the Catholic mass, the Gloria, which exists in several different textual versions and countless musical settings. Some churches use both an opening hymn of praise and a Gloria, but why not? Plenty of room for praise.

Here's one I remember, as a little Lutheran boy, that was always the opening hymn when we sang it. Other denominations use it now but the text at least is of Lutheran origin (Composer Neander, while German, was a Calvinist, and wrote many texts as well as tunes). In the original German it began Thut mir auf die schöne Pforte. Online translators can't provide a literal English version beyond "beautiful gate," but Catherine Winkworth knew how to phrase it.

Open now thy gates of beauty,
Zion, let me enter there,
Where my soul in joyful duty
Waits for God, who answers prayer.
Oh, how blessèd is this place,
Filled with solace, light and grace!

Gracious God, I come before thee,
Come thou also unto me;
Where we find thee and adore thee,
There a heav’n on earth must be.
To my heart, oh, enter thou,
Let it be thy temple now!

Here thy praise is gladly chanted,
Here thy seed is duly sown;
Let my soul, where it is planted,
Bring forth precious sheaves alone,
So that all I find may be
Fruitful unto life in me.

Thou my faith increase and quicken,
Let me keep thy gift divine,
Howsoe’er temptations thicken;
May thy Word still o’er me shine
As my guiding star through life,
As my comfort in all strife.

Speak, O God, and I will hear thee,
Let thy will be done indeed;
May I undisturbed draw near thee
While thou dost thy people feed.
Here of life the fountain flows,
Here is balm for all our woes.

Benjamin Schmolck, 1730
tr. Catherine Winkworth, 1863; alt.
Joachim Neander, 1680

Filled with solace, light and grace! I didn't even know what solace was but it had to be a good thing. This was one of my first "favorite hymns" and it's a good one for children because the first two lines of the melody are repeated, so it's easy to remember. In The Lutheran Hymnal (1941), which we used, this tune is matched with five different texts, but this is the one I remember singing. Also, it's the first hymn in that book, #1. Nowadays I like a little more melodic variety, which is probably why it's moved down my list, but I do still like the tune very much, and it goes well with some other texts too.

As we've seen, when I'm writing a new entry I often come across some odd connection to something that I've recently written about. Timothy Matthews, the composer of the tune MARGARET for Emily Elliott's Thou didst leave thy throne, also wrote a tune that can be used for this text called VILLAGE VESPERS. It's an interesting curiosity (note that his tune's first two lines also repeat) but I'm not surprised it never caught on. Neander's seventeenth-century tune UNSER HERRSCHER (sometimes called NEANDER) may well be sung for another three hundred years.

What are some opening hymns that are used regularly in your churches? I have several in mind, so we won't run out, and maybe we'll get to some of yours.

One Year Ago: Jessie Seymour Irvine

Friday, July 24, 2009

John Newton

John Newton, the writer of the most recorded hymn of all time, was born in London on this day in 1725. It may even be that Amazing grace is the most recorded vocal selection ever. There are multiple books about Newton and his famous hymn (I'd recommend the one by Steve Turner).

The story of Newton's conversion from participant in the slave trade to Anglican priest is probably known to most of you (though Turner's book makes it clear that it was no simple, clean-cut process). So I don't have a lot to add about Newton's life, or about his top-ten hymn. But he wrote a large number of other hymns during the years when he was the curate of the Anglican church in Olney. Every time I look thorough Olney Hymns (1779), the hymnal he compiled with his friend
William Cowper, I find an interesting text I haven't seen before.

As I've said before, I like hymns that recount stories from scripture, and I think Newton
liked them too. This one starts with the story of Elijah and the widow's cruse of oil, from I Kings 17:8-16.

By one poor widow’s oil and meal
Elijah was sustained;
Though small the stock it lasted well,
For God the store maintained.

It seemed as if from day to day,
They were to eat and die;
But still, though in a secret way,
God sent a fresh supply.

No barn or storehouse we possess
On which we can depend;
Yet have no cause to fear distress,
For Jesus is our Friend.

Then let not doubts your mind assail,
Remember, God has said,
“The cruse and barrel shall not fail;
My people shall be fed.”

And thus though faint it often seems,
Christ keeps our grace alive;
Supplied by rich, refreshing streams,
Our faltering hopes revive.

John Newton, 1779; alt,
Tune: EVAN (C.M.)
William Henry Havergal, 1846

It must have been shortly after the publication of Olney Hymns that Newton left that parish in 1779 to become rector of St. Mary Woolnoth in London, where he remained until his death in 1807. He and his wife were buried at that London church, but in 1893 were reinterred in Olney.

One Year Ago: John Newton

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Nathaniel Langdon Frothingham

Today is the birthday of Unitarian minister and poet Nathaniel Langdon Frothingham, born in Boston in 1793. After graduating from Harvard in 1811, he returned a year later as their first instructor in rhetoric and oratory. In 1815 he was ordained as pastor of the First Congregational Church of Boston (later Unitarian), a position he held for the next thirty-five years.

Approximately fifty of his sermons were published during his lifetime, and he also contributed articles, poems, and translations of verse to various magazines, particularly the Christian Examiner. a leading Unitarian weekly. Many of these translations and poems were collected in Metrical Pieces (1855), a volume which also included fifteen hymns by Frothingham. These were primarily written for various occasions, such as anniversaries and ordinations or installations of friends and colleagues; in one case, for the ordination of his son,
Octavius Brooks Frothingham (who also wrote some hymns himself).

This particular hymn is probably the one that was most often printed in other hymnals, still appearing in Hymns of the Spirit (1937). It was written for the ordination of William Parsons Lunt (June 19, 1828). Serendipitously, we recently encountered Lunt here as the editor of The Christian Psalmist (1841), the hymnal that first printed the hymns and psalm paraphrases of
John Quincy Adams.

O God, whose presence glows in all,
Within, around us, and above,
Thy Word we bless, thy Name we call,
Whose word is truth, whose name is love.

That truth be with the heart believed
Of all who seek this sacred place;
With pow'r proclaimed, in peace received,
Our spirits' light, thy Spirit's grace.

That love its holy influence pour
To keep us steadfast, make us free;
And throw its binding blessing more
Round each with all, and all with thee.

O send thine angel to our side,
With holy calm upon each breast;
For we would know no other guide,
And we can need no other rest.

Nathaniel Langdon Frothingham, 1828; alt.
William Leighton, c.1614

One of Frothingham's communion hymns appeared here on Maundy Thursday this year. I'm equally surprised and amused when some people dismiss hymns by Unitarian writers as somehow less legitimate, considering that some of the best-known and loved hymns sung across many denominations have come from those writers. We've already seen some of those, and there will surely be more to come.

A Memoir of Nathaniel Langdon Frothingham was published shortly after his death in 1870 by Frederic Henry Hedge. If that name seems vaguely familiar to you, Hedge is as the poet whose translation of Martin Luther's Ein feste burg remains most widely known here in the US: A mighty fortress is our God.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Emily E.S. Elliott

Emily Elizabeth Steele Elliott (July 22, 1836 - August 3, 1897), another daughter of the clergy, came from a hymn-loving family of the Evangelical branch of the Church of England. Her aunt was the more well-known hymnwriter Charlotte Elliott, and her uncle, Henry Venn Elliott, published Psalms and Hymns for Public, Private, and Social Worship (1835), which included some texts by him and by Charlotte, as well as by his wife, Julia Ann Elliott.

Emily's earliest hymns were written for the choir of
St. Mark's Church in Brighton, where her father was the rector. Later, she was for some years the editor of a magazine, The Church Missionary Juvenile Instructor, where some of her hymns were first published. They were later collected into three volumes, totalling one hundred forty-one by one account.

This hymn still appears in some hymnals, generally in the Christmas section, though it traces all of Jesus's life.

Thou didst leave thy throne and thy royal crown,
When thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem's home was there found no room
For thy holy nativity.

O come to my heart, dear Jesus,
there is room in my heart for thee.

Heaven's arches rang when the angels sang,
Proclaiming thy high degree;
But of lowly birth didst thou come to earth,
And in great humility.

The foxes found rest, and the birds their nest
In the shade of the forest tree;
But thy couch was the sod, O thou Child of God,
In the deserts of Galilee.

Thou camest, O Lord, with the living word
That should set thy people free;
But with mocking scorn and with crown of thorn,
They bore thee to Calvary.

When the heavens shall ring, and the angels sing,
At thy coming to victory,
Let thy voice call me home, saying "Yet there is room,
There is room at my side for thee."
And my heart will rejoice, dear Jesus,
When thou comest and callest for me.

Emily E.S. Elliott, 1864; alt.
MARGARET (Irregular with refrain)
Timothy R. Matthews, 1876

Elliott wrote the first tune used for this hymn, as she did for some of her others, and it appeared in some nineteenth-century hymnals, but MARGARET has probably been consistently used for the last hundred years. Composer Timothy Matthews wrote other tunes, but this one has been the longest-lived, just as the text has been for Emily Elliott.

One Year Ago: Saint Mary Magdalene

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Theodore Edson Perkins

Composer Theodore Edson Perkins was born on July 21, 1831 in Poughkeepsie, NY, son of a Baptist minister. All ten children in the family received musical instruction from an early age, and Perkins went on to become a music teacher himself.

In 1855, he sought further training at the Normal Academy of Music in Massachusetts, under
Lowell Mason and George Root, and then became an assistant instructor there. He next partnered with William Bradbury at the summer Geneseo Institute, a competing enterprise that had earlier caused a rift between Mason and Bradbury, two of the most important figures in American church music at the time. Perkins's decision to work there was probably not popular with Mason and Root, but after a few years Perkins went on to lead a number of music education institutions of his own.

Perkins published his first book of sacred music, The Olive-Branch, in 1860. It sold more than 100,000 copies, which led him to bring out thirty-three more collections over the course of his life. He supplied tunes for many of the text writers of the day, many for
Fanny Crosby, with whom he also collaborated on a cantata, The Excursion. Though his most widely used tunes were gospel songs, he also wrote more conventional hymn tunes, such as this one.

Absent from flesh! O blissful thought!
What unknown joys this moment brings!
Freed from the mischiefs sin has brought,
From pains, and fears, and all their springs.

Absent from flesh! illustrious day!
Surprising scene! triumphant stroke
That rends the prison of my clay;
And I can feel my fetters broke.

Absent from flesh! then rise, my soul,
Where feet nor wings could never climb,
Beyond the heav’ns, where planets roll,
Measuring the cares and joys of time.

I go where God and glory shine,
Whose presence makes eternal day:
My all that’s mortal I resign,
For angels wait and point my way.

Isaac Watts, 1707; alt.

Theodore E. Perkins, 19th c.

I had not yet picked a Perkins tune for today but accidentally happened on this one while looking at Isaac Watts hymns for Friday's entry. "Absent from flesh" is no longer how we would refer to death (it comes from 2 Corinthians 5:8) but the verse did appear on Watts's gravestone: Absent fron the body, and present with the Lord.

Perkins continued a busy musical career throughout his life, directing church choirs in several congregations, teaching at various institutions, and writing and publishing his tunes. In 1873 he was the music director for the ten-day meeting of the
Evangelical Alliance in New York City, and was thereafter often called upon for similar large-scale events, such as the first meeting of the American Sunday Achool Association, or the golden anniversary of the American Female Guardian Society (where he led a childrens' chorus of more than four thousand). In spite of his many accomplishments, like so many of his contemporaries, his music is mostly unknown today.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Isaac Watts

We have come around again to the birthday of the "Father of English Hymnody," Isaac Watts. Writer of more than 700 hymns, Watts has inspired much scholarship and commentary beyond what I customarily summarize here.

One aspect of his work that I find intriguing is his verse for teaching children. An important part of children's education at the time included lessons in correct behavior, and children would memorize verses to help in this training. One of Watts's most popular books, Divine and Moral Songs for Children (1715) contained a poem entitled "Against Idleness and Mischief" which began:

How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour
And gather honey all the day
From every opening flower!

How skilfully she builds her cell!
How neat she spreads the wax!
And labours hard to store it well
With the sweet food she makes.

This particular poem was so familiar to generations of schoolchildren that Lewis Carroll could satirize it in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland a hundred and fifty years later and know that his readers would understand the joke.

How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!

How cheerfully he seems to grin,
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in
With gently smiling jaws!

Another one hundred and fifty years later, and it's now Carroll's satire that's better remembered than the original by Isaac Watts. However, there is another poem from Divine and Moral Songs for Children that we do still know -- now considered one of Watts's greatest hymns. There it was titled "Praise for Creation and Providence."

I sing the mighty power of God,
That made the mountains rise,
That spread the flowing seas abroad,
And built the lofty skies.
I sing the wisdom that ordained
The sun to rule the day;
The moon shines full at God’s command,
And all the stars obey.

I sing the goodness of the Lord,
Who filled the earth with food,
Who formed the creatures with a word,
And then pronounced them good.
God, how thy wonders are displayed,
Where’er I turn my eye,
If I survey the ground I tread,
Or gaze upon the sky.

There’s not a plant or flower below,
But makes thy glories known,
And clouds arise, and tempests blow,
By order from thy throne;
While all that borrows life from thee
Is ever in thy care;
And everywhere that we can be,
Thou, God, art present there.

Isaac Watts, 1715; alt.
English traditional melody,
arr. Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1906

This hymn has endured some changes here and there over the last three hundred years, as have many of those of Watts and his contemporaries. Watts would still recognize his verse, though he might be surprised that the grownups have appropriated it from the children.

One of the speakers at this week's Hymn Society Conference included this text in his presentation and suggested that we sing it to the tune ELLACOMBE. You will not be surprised, perhaps, to hear that a roomful of three hundred people immediately broke into the four-part harmony without accompaniment or the printed music.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Edward Caswall

Sometimes it seems like all the Anglican hymnwriters followed the Oxford Movement in the 1840s, left the Church of England and became Roman Catholics. It wasn't quite that many, but a number of prominent ones did. Today we mark the birthday of yet another of these, Edward Caswall.

Caswall was born in 1815 in Hampshire, the son and grandson of Anglican chergymen. Educated at Oxford, where he would have become familiar with the writings and ideas of John Henry Newman, he was ordained a deacon after graduation and went on to become the
perpetual curate at Stratford-sub-Castle, near Salisbury.

However, in 1846 he converted to Roman Catholicism, and following the death of his wife a few years later, he became a priest at the Roman Oratory of St. Philip Neri, where Newman was the leader. He wrote several hymn texts of his own, some of which remain in use (primarily in Catholic hymnals) but it is his translations from Latin texts that are more widely known (some of which we have already seen here).

Jesus, the very thought of thee
With sweetness fills the breast;
But sweeter far thy face to see,
And in thy presence rest.

Nor voice can sing, nor heart can frame,
Nor can the memory find
A sweeter sound than thy blest Name,

Savior of humankind!

O hope of every contrite heart,
O joy of all the meek,
To those who fall, how kind thou art!
How good to those who seek!

But what to those who find? Ah, this
Nor tongue nor pen can show;
The love of Jesus, what it is,
All of Christ's loved ones know.

O Jesus, thou the beauty art
Of angel worlds above;
Thy Name is music to the heart,
Inflaming it with love.

Jesus, our only joy be thou,
As thou our prize will be;
Jesus, be thou our glory now,
And through eternity.

Bernard of Clairvaux, 12th c.;
tr. Edward Caswall, 1849; alt.
Herman A. Polack, 1910

There are several more verses, but most hymnals only use four or five. Bernard of Clairvaux we have encountered before. The ubiquitous tune ST. AGNES, by John Bacchus Dykes, is most often used with this text, but see how you like CLAIRVAUX, an American tune written specifically for these words.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Thomas Kelly

Thomas Kelly, born today in 1769, was ordained in the Church of Ireland following his educatuon at Trinity College in Dublin, but his controversial views on justification by faith led him to be inhibited (barred from practicing his priestly functions) by his bishop. Unwilling to compromise, Kelly eventually left that Church and became a Nonconformist.

He was also a verse writer, and wrote more than 700 hymns during his lifetime, also writing his own tunes for some of them. The tunes remain largely unknown today, but some of his hymn texts are still sung.

I only know this one from a recording I have, but it seems like it would be a fine hymn to sing.

Hark, ten thousand harps and voices
Sound the note of praise above!
Jesus reigns, and heav’n rejoices,
Jesus reigns, in endless love;
Sitting high on yonder throne;
Jesus rules the world alone.

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallelujah! Amen!

Jesus, hail! Whose glory brightens
All above, and gives it worth;
Spring of Life, thy smile enlightens,
Cheers, and charms thy saints on earth;
When we think of love like thine,
Christ, we know it, love divine.

Come, ye saints, unite your praises
With the angels round the throne;
Soon, we hope, our God will raise us
To the place where Christ is gone.
Jesus bore the cross below;
Jesus reigns in glory now!

Savior, hasten thine appearing;
Bring, O bring the glorious day,
When, the fateful summons bearing,
Heaven and earth shall pass away;
Happy objects of thy grace,
Destined to behold thy face.

Thomas Kelly, 1806; alt.
HARWELL ( with refrain)
Lowell Mason, 1840

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Join In a Song With Sweet Accord

I am near Minneapolis at the moment, here for my second time at the annual conference of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada, which begins this afternoon. As you can see, we'll be at St. Olaf's College, and I'm looking forward to another great week of singing and learning (you can the full schedule of workshops and other sessions).

One new aspect of the program this year is that most of the hymn festivals (big sings!) will be streamed online for anyone to watch and listen. You can go to the St. Olaf's multimedia page each day and the links will be there to access the program.

Sunday, July 12: We Sing Our Story: A Sing for Joy Hymn Festival
John Ferguson and Bruce Benson, Coordinators; 7:30 pm CDT

Monday, July 13: Into the Way of Peace
Carl P. Daw, Jr., Coordinator; Mark G. Meyer, Organist; 7:30 pm CDT

Wednesday, July 15: Giving Life to the Word: Hymns on Parables
Tina Schneider, Scott Foxwell, and Adam M. L. Tice, Coordinators; 7:30 pm CDT

Thursday, July 16: Youthful Hearts: Sing to the Lord!
Paul Westermeyer, Coordinator; David Cherwien, Organist; 10:30 am CDT

Remember -- all times are Central Daylight!

If I figure out where the camera is, maybe I'll wave...

Sunday Night UPDATE: Things are off to a good start, though I am trying not to take it as a bad omen that the first hymn we sang tonight was missing its final verse! The hymnal used (the one in the chapel pews here at St. Olaf's) is the newish Evangelical Lutheran Worship, and apparently its editors think author Henry Van Dyke went on too long -- they only wanted three verses. Here's the last, in case you were watching and missed it too.

Mortals, join the mighty chorus
Which the morning stars began;
All God's love is reigning o'er us,
Kindred love binds hand to hand.
Ever singing, march we onward,
Victors in the midst of strife;
Joyful music leads us sunward
In the triumph-song of life!

I feel better now. We also sang The Canticle of the Turning, a modern version of the Magnificat that commenter Leland mentioned to us back on May 31, 2008. And there were some other new, interesting texts as well as old favorites. Toward the end, the climax of the evening came with Shall we gather at the river. The weather here is quite hot, and I was thinking about author Robert Lowry's uncomfortable Brooklyn summer that prompted the writing of that hymn, and also about singing it on hot summer nights in New York myself many years ago.

Early to bed; it's going to be a busy week.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

John Quincy Adams

The favorite hymns of US presidents have often been identified over the years, sometimes because they were sung at the funeral services, and sometimes recounted in biographies or other accounts. I did not know until recently that our sixth president, John Quincy Adams, born today in 1767, was a hymnwriter himself.

John Quincy, son of second president
John Adams and wife Abigail, served in the government from the time of George Washington's administration, first as ambassador to several countries, and later as secretary of state, before serving one term as president (1825 - 1829). He took the oath of office with his hand on a book of laws because he wished to observe the separation of church and state.

When editor William Parsons Lunt (a friend of Adams who later delivered an address at his funeral), was preparing a hymnal, The Christian Psalter (1841). Adams gave him some verses he had written for consideration -- a complete version of the Psalms in meter as well as several other hymn texts! Of those more than 150 texts, Lunt chose twenty-two for his hymnal.

This is Adams's paraphrase of Psalm 139. Since The Christian Psalter didn't include tunes, we don't really know to what tune it might have been sung, but this was the kind of tune they were singing then, which may sound a bit unusual to us today.

O God, thy all-discerning eyes
My inmost purpose see;
My deeds, my words, my thoughts arise
Alike disclosed to thee;
My sitting down, my rising up,
Broad noon and deepest night,
My path, my pillow, and my cup
Are open to thy sight.

Before, behind, I meet thine eye,
And feel thy guiding hand;
Such knowledge is for me too high
To reach or understand:
What of thy wonders can I know?
What of thy purpose see?
Where from thy spirit shall I go?
Where from thy presence flee?

If I ascend to heav'n on high.
Or make my bed in hell;
Or take the morning's wings, and fly
O'er ocean's bounds to dwell;
Or seek, from thee, a hiding place
Amid the gloom of night,
Alike to thee are time and space,
The darkness and the light.

John Quincy Adams, 1841
A Compilation of Genuine Church Music, 1847

I haven't yet determined if the entire Adams psalter was ever published in one collection, but it would be interesting to see.

Denied a second presidential term in the election of 1828, John Quincy Adams returned home to Massachusetts, assuming that he was entering retirement. However, he was elected in 1830 to serve in the US House of Representatives, where he spent the next seventeen years, something no president has done since. He suffered a stroke on the floor of the House in 1848 and died two days later, never getting to enjoy that retirement.

P.S. The bust of John Quincy Adams was sculpted by John Henri Isaac Browere, an artist who captured the likenesses of many of the statesmen of the Revolutionary period.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Henry J. Gauntlett

I don't think that I have very much more to say about composer Henry John Gauntlett than I said last year. After another year of digging through nineteenth-century hymnals, I am now more convinced that he did not write ten thousand hymn tunes, a number often ascribed to him. It appears to be one of those situations where a remarkable fact is stated in one source, and other sources repeat it without any independent verification.

It could have even been a typographical error -- maybe one thousand somehow became ten. Even one thousand would probably be more than anyone else has written, but if you count the many older tunes that Gauntlett arranged and harmonized over his long hymnic career it seems barely possible that he reached that smaller number. If there were truly ten thousand, practically every hymnal published in England during his lifetime (and perhaps beyond) would have had to include dozens of tunes not seen in any of the other hymnals, and this does not appear to be the case.

Here is another of his tunes, not much used today but still worthwhile, I think.

O for a closer walk with God,
A calm and heavenly frame,
A light to shine upon the road
That leads me to the Lamb!

Return, O holy Dove, return,
Sweet messenger of rest!
I hate the sins that made thee mourn
And drove thee from my breast.

The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be
Help me to tear it from thy throne,
And worship only thee.

So shall my walk be close with God,
Calm and serene my frame;
So purer light shall mark the road
That leads me to the Lamb.

William Cowper, 1772
Tune: ST. FULBERT (C.M.)
Henry J. Gauntlett, 1849

Saint Fulbert of Chartres wrote the Latin hymn Chorus novae Jerusalem, translated as Ye choirs of new Jerusalem, for which this tune was written, but it has been used for several others over the years.

For some unfathomable reason, it seems that I have not presented any of the numerous hymns of William Cowper in the last year and a half. I do remember having him on my calendar last November, but not what came up to prevent my writing about him. He was a close friend of John Newton; the two of them collaborated on Olney Hymns (1779), named for the parish where they both lived for a time, and where Newton was the curate. Cowper suffered from mental illness for much of his life, so this hymn was perhaps a prayer for the "calm and serene."

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Now One Bread United

My countdown here is finished today with the final revelation -- my favorite hymn. I'm a bit sad that, due to the peculiarity of US copyright law**, I don't think I should reproduce it here. But here's a link to the original.

As the disciples, when thy Son had left them

Percy Dearmer, 1931
Bayeux Antiphoner, 1739

I've thought it was practically perfect since the first time I sang it many years ago, as it links the earliest followers of Jesus with us in the present day in a truly beautiful succession of poetic images. Unfortunately it is not widely known, especially in this country. My preferred tune (AD TUUM NOMEN, another French church melody) is also unavailable, the arrangement, if not the melody, also under copyright -- it appeared in the Reformed hymnal Rejoice in the Lord (1985).

Percy Dearmer was an Anglican priest (later Canon of Westminster Abbey) who worked with Ralph Vaughan Williams on both Songs of Praise (1931) and the earlier English Hymnal (1906). He translated hymns from Latin and also wrote several hymns of his own, in addition to writing several other books on religious and social justice topics.

I think that this hymn is probably considered insufficiently doctrinal (no "body and blood," for example) for some denominations. The sacrament of Holy Communion, or the Lord's Supper, or Eucharist, or whatever it may be called, is more than a "commemoration" to many. Also, it may be that the word "rehearsing" at the end of the first verse is problematic for some. Rehearsal implies "not ready for prime time" -- we don't "rehearse" the sacraments - we perform them! I don't think that's what Dearmer had in mind -- the first definition in some dictionaries is simply "to repeat." That's what the disciples did then and what we still do today. There may be another sense to it though; there are other communion hymns that talk about our rite being only a pale reflection of the heavenly Feast we will one day share (the "foretaste of the festal joy"). In this sense too, we are only "rehearsing" for that day.
At any rate, I am fairly sure that this hymn will not appear on the top 100 list at Semicolon. Of the rest of my own list below. we know that Number Three came in at Number Ninety-Nine, and Number Six came in at Number Eighty-Three. I also don't think that Numbers Four, Five, and Ten will appear at all, while Number Eight has a pretty remote chance. Numbers Two, Seven, and Nine should come up somewhere in the remaining sixty-seven, but I'll have to wait and see. This is not a great batting average (as if I knew anything about those!).

10. Jerusalem the golden

9. Abide with me, fast falls the eventide

8. Spirit of God, descend upon my heart

7. Crown thee with many crowns

6. O worship our God

5. The spacious firmament on high

4. Who are these like stars appearing

3. Glorious things of thee are spoken

2. Love divine, all loves excelling

1. As the disciples. when thy Son had left them

**It's by a British hymnwriter and editor, first appeared in a UK hymnal (Songs of Praise - 1931), and appears to be out of copyright in the UK (75 years after the author's death), but since the hymnal's publisher simultaneously published in the US, it seems that it won't be in the US public domain until 2026.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Nourish Us In Peace

Sometimes you can't do better than what you've done before.

One Year Ago

Hope everyone has a great weekend, whether you're celebrating the holiday in the US or whether you're somewhere else in the world.