Friday, September 18, 2009

Oliver Holden

Oliver Holden, born today in 1765 in eastern Massachusetts, was involved in many fields in addition to music. He served a year in the military, which provided him with an annual pension. He learned carpentry after his town was burnt by the British in the Revolutionary War, and helped to rebuild it. He also became a real estate broker, later opened a music store and a singing school, and served in the state legislature.

He gave land to a Baptist congregation for them to build a church, and worshipped with them for some years, but eventually left and became the pastor of his own Puritan congregation.

We know him best today as a composer; he authored books of hymn and tunes and songs beginning with American Harmony (1792) and Union Harmony (1793). One tune from the latter book,
CORONATION, appears in nearly every American hymnal to the present day with All hail the power of Jesus' name. It's the oldest American tune still in regular use.

Holden wrote several hymn texts as well, and since we have had a larger number of composers lately we should look at one of those.

All who seek the throne of grace,
Find that throne in every place;
When we live a life of prayer,
God is present everywhere.

In our sickness or our health,
In our want or in our wealth,
When we look to God in prayer,
God is present everywhere.

When our earthly comforts fail,
When the foes of life prevail,
Then we look to God in prayer;
God is present everywhere.

Then, my soul, in every care,
Supplicating words prepare;
God will answer every prayer;
God is present everywhere.

Oliver Holden, 1835; alt.
John D. Farrer, 19th cent.

In 1789, on the occasion of a visit by George Washington to Boston, Holden wrote the words and music to a celebratory ode which contained the lines

Now in full chorus burst the song
And shout the deeds of Washington.

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