Sunday, August 30, 2009

George Frederick Root

George Frederick Root (August 30, 1820 - August 6, 1895) was named for the composer Handel, so his parents must have had some interest in music, perhaps even an interest in the musical education of their son. He left home at 18 with the intention of a career in music which was certainly fulfilled. While he later was primarily known as a successful composer, his earlier years also were spent in teaching music and a few church organist positions. With William B. Bradbury he opened a music school in New York City in 1853 that operated until it was destroyed in an 1871 fire.

Root's early songs were mostly secular in nature, and his patriotic songs during the Civil War were especially popular. Though later he certainly wrote plenty of
hymn tunes and gospel songs (sometimes words as well as music), some of his secular tunes had new sacred texts written to them. Last year hymn blogger Leland reminded us of Jesus loves the little children, whose tune was originally the Civil War song Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! The tune of another Root song, The Little Octoroon, was later used for Ring the bells of heaven.

This is another of Root's gospel songs that I like, though I don't believe it lasted much longer than his lifetime, like many of the others he wrote.

Thou art my Rock in the wide desert land,
Sheltered by thee here in safety I stand;
What though the storms and the tempests may beat,
What though the sun pour its fierce noontide heat:

Sheltered by thee, sheltered by thee,
Here in the shadow from danger I’m free.

Once I was wand’ring exposed to the storm,
Refuge there was none to shield me from harm;
One day I found, in the broad desert way,
Christ as my Rock, and with gladness could say:

Come to the Rock so majestic and grand;
Here in its shelter a million may stand;
Now we may feel that our hope here is sure,
Here we may say in our safety secure:

George F. Root, 1885; alt.
ROCK OF SHELTER ( with refrain)

In his later years, George Root was looked upon as one of the elder statesmen of the gospel song, mentioned with affection in the writings of his younger comrades in the field, though many of their songs would far outlive his.

One Year Ago: George Frederick Root

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