Friday, December 31, 2010

William Orcutt Cushing

Song writer William Orcutt Cushing was born today in 1823 in Hingham, Massachusetts. His parents were Unitarians, but Cushing was eventually ordained in the Christian Church, which we know today as the Disciples of Christ. He served several different congregations all over New York state.

Following the death of his wife in 1870, he developed what nearly all sources call "creeping paralysis," which caused him to lose his voice. Now unable to preach, his pastoral career was at an end. Over the years he had written a few Sunday school songs for use in his churches, and he now turned his efforts more fully toward gospel song writing. His texts, which eventually numbered about 300, were set to music by several of the best-known composers of his time, including Robert Lowry, George Root, and Ira Sankey.

This song originally appeared in Welcome Tidings (1877) with a tune by Robert Lowry, who was also one of the editors of the songbook, but I like it better with this later tune by Daniel B. Towner.

Cheer, O cheer, ye heirs of Zion!
Weary days will soon be past;
Joy’s bright banner waving o’er us
Tells that heav’n is won at last.
On that fair, celestial morning,
Comes no cloud of grief or pain;
In your peaceful tents abiding,
Sorrow ne’er shall come again.

Cheer, O cheer, the morn is breaking!
Gloomy night will disappear;
Christ will come with sweet awaking;
Happier days will soon be here;
Long the pilgrim path we’ve wandered,
Long we’ve hoped ’mid doubt and fear,
Hard we’ve pressed thro’ many a trial --
Now the day of peace is here.

Cheer, O cheer, the morn is breaking!
Bright its beams of promise rise;
Sing, O sing, ye heirs of Zion!
Hear the welcome from the skies:
Come, ye blessèd of creation,
Dwell no more ’mid doubts and fears;
Join the throngs of saints and angels,
Crownèd with immortal years.

William O. Cushing, 1877; alt.
Daniel B. Towner, 1913

Two Years Ago: A year of precious blessings

One Year Ago: John Robson Sweney

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Gifts They Gave Emmanuel

Jesus, our Brother, strong and good,
Was humbly born in a stable rude,
And the friendly beasts around him stood,
Jesus, our Brother, strong and good.

I, said the donkey, shaggy and brown,
I carried his mother uphill and down,
I carried his mother to Bethlehem town;
I, said the donkey, shaggy and brown.

I, said the cow, all white and red,
I gave him my manger for his bed,
I gave him hay to pillow his head;
I, said the cow, all white and red.

I, said the sheep with curly horn,
I gave him my wool for his blanket warm,
He wore my coat on Christmas morn;
I, said the sheep with curly horn.

I, said the dove, from the rafters high,
I cooed him to sleep that he should not cry,
We cooed him to sleep, my mate and I;
I, said the dove, from the rafters high.

Thus all the beasts, by some good spell,
In the stable dark were glad to tell
Of the gifts they gave Emmanuel,
The gifts they gave Emmanuel.

French, 12th cent.
Medieval French melody

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Horatius Bonar

Horatius Bonar, whose birthday in 1808 we celebrate today, was one of a group of dissenting clergy who broke away from the Church of Scotland to form the Free Church in 1843. The worship tradition of both those Scottish churches was only to sing psalm paraphrases, so it seems unusual that Bonar became a prolific hymn writer whose texts were popular in many other denominations but not his own.

This text first appeared in his Hymns of Faith and Hope (1861), one of at least ten collections he pubished. I don't know if it has ever been sung as an Advent hymn but I think it could be, given its invitatory theme.

O Love that casts out fear,
O Love that casts out sin,
Tarry no more without,
But come and dwell within!

True sunlight of the soul,
Surround us as we go;
So shall our way be safe,
Our feet no wand'ring know.

Great Love of God, come in!
Wellspring of heav'nly peace;
O Living Water, come!
Spring up, and never cease.

Horatius Bonar, 1861
Henry T. Smart, 1881

Only last month the Free Church of Scotland voted to allow the singing of hymns and songs in addition to the psalms, and today, St. Peter's Church in Dundee held its first carol service, which is also the first in the denomination. This change is not without controversy, as at least one minister has chosen to leave over this decision, but many people undoubtedly think that it's about time this happened. At any rate, I expect that the hymns of Horatius Bonar will finally become more widely known in his own country.

One (Calendar) Year Ago: Horatius Bonar

One (Liturgical) Year Ago: Away with loyal hearts and true
Two (Liturgical) Years Ago: Great Gabriel sped on wings of light

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Charles Wesley

Today is the birthday of Charles Wesley (December 18, 1707 - March 29, 1788), who helped his brother John in founding the movement that eventually became the United Methodist Church. Though John wrote much of the underlying theology, it was undoubtedly the hymns of Charles that spoke most directly to the people of that church over the last three three centuries. Most Methodist hymnals have been compiled around his texts, and though the current United Methodist Hymnal (1989) is down to only 41 by him, that's a good number for any one person to have in a modern denominational collection. Of course, Wesley is well-represented in the hymnals of many other churches as well.

Like Luther, Charles Wesley is one of those people who have been written about much more extensively than I could adequately cover here. Since I missed an Advent hymn for last Sunday, I thought I would present Wesley's most well-known Advent text on his birthday today (incidentally, the very first Advent hymn presented here more than two years ago was also by him).

This one, which probably still appears in the hymnals of most churches today, was first published in Wesley's Hymns for the Nativity of Our Lord (1745). There it was arranged in only two stanzas; though he is often cited for his long texts, such as the nineteen original stanzas of O for a thousand tongues to sing, he was also able to be brief at times.

Come, thou long-expected Jesus
Born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in thee.

Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now thy great dominion bring.

By thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By thine all-sufficient merit,
Raise us to thy glorious throne.

Charles Wesley, 1745; alt.
Christian F. Witt, 1715
adapt. Henry J, Gauntlett, 19th cent.

If you prefer this in two stanzas rather than four, you probably sing it to the ubiquitous HYFRYDOL, which of course is (for double). In the UK they frequently use the John Stainer tune CROSS OF JESUS (again in four stanzas) and several other tunes have been sung over the years with these words.

Charles Wesley wrote between 5500 and 6000 hymn texts, and as usual you can see and hear many of them (though still a small fraction) at the Cyber Hymnal site, and of course you can click on his name below for the ones I've written about here. I wondered, however, whether I could find them all online somewhere, so I started at the site of the Charles Wesley Society. Before long I was directed to the Duke Divinity School site, where they do indeed have searchable PDF files of both his published verse and that which remained in manuscript at the time of his death.

Friday, December 17, 2010

John Greenleaf Whittier

The Quaker poet and activist John Greenleaf Whittier, born today in 1807, did not consider himself a hymn writer.

I am really not a hymnwriter, for the good reason that I know nothing of music. Only a very few of my pieces were written for singing. A good hymn is the best use to which poetry can be devoted, but I do not claim that I have succeeded in composing one.

However, hymnal editors since his time have not shared his opinion, and even today most hymnals you will see contain his work. It's true that most of his hymns were not written as such, and are often taken from longer poems. Sometimes the same poem yields different hymns, or at least different arrangements of stanzas. John Julian, in his Dictionary of Hymnology (1907), lists 33 hymn texts by Whittier and traces their provenance from the original poems. Today, at, which has references from hundreds more hymnals since Julian's work was compiled, they list 165 texts, and the number may even be larger.

This hymn is derived from Whittier's 1859 poem My Psalm, which is seventeen stanzas long, and has birthed several different arrangements of stanzas.

All as God wills, who wisely heeds
To give or to withhold,
And knoweth more of all my needs
Than all my prayers have told.

That more and more God's Providence
Of love is understood,
Which makes the springs of time and sense
Bright with eternal good --

That care and trial seem at last,
Through memory's sunset air,
Like mountain-ranges overpast,
In purple distance fair;

That all the jarring notes of life
Seem blending in a psalm,
And all the angles of its strife
Slow rounding into calm.

No longer forward nor behind
I look in hope or fear;
But, grateful, take the good I find,
The best of now and here.

John Greenleaf Whittier, 1859; alt.
Henry J. Gauntlett, 1849

John Julian also wrote that Whittier's hymns were "characterized by rich poetic beauty, sweet tenderness, and deep sympathy with human kind."

A new book, Congregational Hymns from the Poetry of John Greenleaf Whittier (2009) by Samuel J. Rogal delves into this subject further, and you can see a preview of it online thanks to Google Books.

Two Years Ago: John Greenleaf Whittier

Monday, December 13, 2010

Edwin Othello Excell

Edwin Othello Excell, born today in 1851, was the son of a German Reformed minster in Uniontown, Ohio, though I might guess that the father was also a Shakespeare enthusiast.

Excell began leading singing schools as a young man which led him to leading music at Methodist Episcopal revival meetings. He was converted at one such meeting and decided to pursue his musical interests as well as his newfound religion as a career. In 1877 he enrolled in the music school of George Root where he learned about composition while also studying voice with Root's son Frederick.

He decided to go into the songbook publishing business and compiled his first collection, Sacred Echoes in 1880. After completing his studies with the Roots he moved to Chicago in 1883, where he started his own publishing firm. Over the next forty years he was involved with the production of nearly ninety gospel song collections, many edited my him alone, such as the Triumphant Songs series (5 volumes), with others, such as Make Christ King (1912), and even some for other publishers, such as Joy to the World (1914) which was issued by Hope Publishing (and was not a Christmas collection as you might imagine). All of these books contained several of his own compositions; he not only wrote and arranged tunes, he also wrote texts as well. It's estimated that more than two thousand songs were credited in one way or another to Excell (only a small fraction can be seen and heard at the Cyber Hymnal site).

In his collection Make His Praise Glorious (1900) his most enduring composition was first published, a harmonization of the American folk tune NEW BRITAIN, paired with Amazing grace by John Newton. Excell's arrangement became the one most often used in American hymnals of the twentieth century, which means that most of you have sung it, played it, or heard it whether you realized it or not.

Today's song is not quite so well known, but it is certainly second on Excell's list. A catchy tune composed for a text by Johnson Oatman, Jr., it appeared in Excell's Songs for Young People (1897).

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what your God has done.

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your many blessings; see what God has done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.

When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you a wealth untold;
Count your many blessings; wealth can never buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.

So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be disheartened, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

Johnson Oatman, Jr., 1897; alt.
Edwin O. Excell, 1897

In addition to his writing, composing, editing and publishing career, Excell became involved with Sunday school music though a friendship with Methodist Episcopal minister (later Bishop) John Heyl Vincent. Vincent we have encountered before, as the founder of the Chautauqua Institution, where hymnwriter Mary Lathbury and composer William Fisk Sherwin were very involved (Excell also sang on occasion at Chautauqua). Many of the song collections published by Excell were aimed at Sunday schools, and he also worked with the International Sunday School Association for many years.

He continued to lead choirs and sing at revival services during all this time as well. In 1921 he became ill while serving as music director for British evangelist Rodney "Gipsy" Smith's revival tour and died shortly after. A tribute written after his death said that no one "was more capable than he in directing great audiences in singing. He was never known to lose his temper or his smile in his endeavor to make the people sing."

Two Years Ago: William Walsham How

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Promised Day of Israel

We continue the Advent theme of anticipation today with a text by John Bowring, constructed as a dialogue between two people looking for the coming reign of God. The first line is derived from Isaiah 21:11 (Sentinel, what of the night?), and the sentinel responds with good news of the coming morning.

Bowring's hymn has sometimes been sung antiphonally, with different groups taking the "role" of the watcher or the traveler and singing different halves of each stanza.

Watcher, tell us of the night,
What its signs of promise are.
Trav'ler, o’er yon mountain’s height,
See that glory-beaming star.
Watcher, does its beauteous ray
News of joy or hope foretell?
Trav'ler, yes -— it brings the day,
Promised day of Israel.

Watcher, tell us of the night;
Higher yet that star ascends.
Trav'ler, blessedness and light,
Peace and truth its course portends.
Watcher, will its beams alone
Gild the spot that gave them birth?
Trav'ler, ages are its own;
Lo, it bursts o’er all the earth.

Watcher, tell us of the night,
For the morning seems to dawn.
Trav'ler, shadows takes their flight,
Doubt and terror are withdrawn.
Watcher, let your wanderings cease;
Hasten to your quiet home.
Trav'ler, lo! the Source of Peace,
Lo! the Child of God is come!

John Bowring, 1825; alt.
Joseph Parry, 1875

The tune ABERYSTWYTH, by Joseph Parry, was named for the town in Wales where he was professor of music at the university at the time of its composing. It first appeared in the hymnal Ail LlyfyrTonau ac Emynau (1879) and later in Parry's cantata Ceridwyn.

Two (Liturgical) Years Ago: Comfort, comfort ye my people

Two (Calendar) Years Ago: Christina Georgina Rossetti

One (Liturgical) Year Ago: Hail to you, God's Anointed

One (Calendar) Year Ago: Walter Chalmers Smith

Friday, December 3, 2010

Clara Scott

Regrettably, I have not found any more information about the life of Clara Scott, whose birthday in 1841 we mark today, than the little I've written in the last two years. I remain interested in her because of the variety of material she produced, even though only one of her songs remains known today, Open my eyes, that I may see. Someday I hope to get a look at her Royal Anthem Book (1882), the first collection of choir anthems known to have been edited by a woman, which was well-reviewed in its day.

Her little collection of hymns and songs (many by her), Truth in Song, for the Lovers of Truth Everywhere (1896) is quite interesting to explore. She writes in the preface to the book that it is:

"an attempt to meet the needs of a rapidly growing number of Christian people who read in Christ's teachings a design, broad enough to cover all conditions and races (...) To them, the religion of Jesus Christ is free, untrammeled by sect or creed; a religion of joy, of peace and harmony. The dearth of gospel songs bearing directly upon these vital themes has necessitated an unusually frequent appearance of the Editor's name..."

As writers and composers have always known, if you can't find the hymns and songs you want to sing, write them yourself.

This song, written and composed by Scott, from Truth in Song, is based on Jesus' familiar words from John 14:6 ("I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life").

Rejoice with me! I’ve found the Way
That Jesus made so clear,
Gone are the thorns of pain and sin,
Dispersed each doubt and fear;
I am the Way, the Truth, the Life.
Said Christ, the Word divine,
Then follow me, and perfect life
Shall be forever thine.

Rejoice with me! I’ve found the Truth,
Glad truth that sets me free,
God is my all; in God I’ve found
Health, peace and harmony.
O Christ, thou art the Way, the Truth,
Thou art the Life divine!
I’ll follow thee, and perfect life
Shall be forever mine.

Rejoice with me! I’ve found the Life
The Savior came to prove;
’Tis God in me and I in God,
Just resting in God's Love.
Oh, blest the Way, the Truth, the Life!
Blest immortality!
Sing now, my soul! Time’s but a breath;
We’re in eternity.

Clara Scott, 1896; alt.

You can see a listing of several of Scott's other songs at, though unfortunately not their texts or tunes.

Two Years Ago: Clara Scott

One Year Ago: Clara Scott

Another Birthday Today: Frank Mason North

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

They Sang a New Song

Using the tune BEECHER the other day reminded me of something I had intended to write about a few weeks ago. That tune was named for Henry Ward Beecher, pastor of the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn NY, and was composed by John Zundel, who was the organist there for many years.

I attended a service at the Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims (as it is now known) at the end of October. The church still looks similar to the nineteenth-century illustration here. The occasion of my visit was the dedication of the congregation's new hymnal, Hymns of Faith and Light. The service was constructed around the theme of congregational singing, an important part of that church's history. Beecher and Zundel produced the Plymouth Collection of Hymns and Tunes (1855) which was the first major hymnal anywhere to include the texts and the tunes of the hymns on the same page.

That book (acknowledged in the present-day service) was originally intended for use in their own church, but went on to be used in many other congregations over the next several years. Today, in a kind of reversal, they are singing from a new hymnal that was originally produced in another church for their own use (the First Congregational Church of Houston) and has also spread to many congregations.  The title of this post came from the title of the sermon preached by Senior Minister David C. Fisher recounting an overview of congregational song from its earliest days (alas, no longer available online).

One Year Ago: World AIDS Day

Monday, November 29, 2010

Louisa May Alcott

Popular novelist Louisa May Alcott was born on this day in 1832, in Pennsylvania, though she lived for most of her life in New England. Orchard House, in Concord, MA, was the Alcott family home for many years and is maintained today as a museum. Her father, Bronson Alcott, was a prominent intellectual of the day and other literary figures such as Henry David Thoreau. Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Margaret Fuller were friends of the family.

However, Bronson Alcott was not particularly good at providing for his family, and Louisa went to work at an early age to help, serving as a teacher, governess, and seamstress in addition to some early writing. She wrote articles, stories, and poetry for the Atlantic Monthly and other magazines, publishing her first book of childrens' stories, Flower Fables, in 1849. She briefly served as a nurse during the Civil War, and in 1863 revised some of her letters home during that time, publishing them as Hospital Sketches. This was her first book to receive critical notice.

Five years later came the well-known and well-loved Little Women, which has never been out of print since. Three sequels followed, establishing Alcott as the wholesome author of uplifting tales for children. However, in the 1940s, literary sleuths Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine B. Stern discovered several short stories and novels that Alcott had published under the pseudonym A. M. Barnard. These tales were sensationalistic and somewhat lurid, a long way from the March sisters of Little Women, but Alcott has written most of them in the years before the acclaim of her childrens' novels, and the Barnard material had sold well, which was, after all, its purpose. Later novels for adults included Work (1873), which was also semi-autobiographical, and A Modern Mephistopheles (1873), which was much closer in tone to the Barnard stories and published anonymously.

Alcott herself said that she had written only one hymn, A little kingdom I possess. However, this poem about the life of Christ was set to music in Charles Hutchins' Carols Old and Carols New (1916) and has appeared in a few other collections since. I've chosen a more accessible tune for its possible use today.

O, the beautiful old story!
Of the little child that lay
In a manger on that morning,
When the stars sang in the day;
When the happy shepherds kneeling,
As before a holy shrine,
Bless’d God and the tender mother
For this life that was divine.

O, the pleasant, peaceful story!
Of the youth who grew so fair,
In his parents’ humble dwelling
Poverty and toil to share,
Till around him in the temple,
Marveling, the old men stood,
As through his wise innocency
Shone the meek boy’s angelhood.

O, the wonderful, true story!
Of the messenger from God,
Who among the poor and lowly,
Bravely and devoutly trod,
Working miracles of mercy,
Preaching peace, rebuking strife,
Blessing all the little children,
Lifting up the dead to life.

O, the sad and solemn story!
Of the cross, the crown, the spear,
Of the pardon, pain, and glory
That have made his Name so dear.
Christ's example let us follow,
Fearless, faithful to the end,
Walking in the sacred footsteps
Of our Brother, Savior, Friend.

Louisa May Alcott, 19th cent.; alt.
John Zundel, 1870 lists a few other Alcott texts that have appeared in hymnals, in spite of her own claim of a single hymn. As we have often seen, later generations choose their own hymns from the verse of the past.

Two Years Ago: John Haynes Holmes

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Let New and Nobler Life Begin

A new year for the church begins today with the First Sunday in Advent as we prepare for the Incarnation later this month. The theme of the day in many churches is often not specifically about the birth of a baby, but closer to last week's Christ the King commemoration, talking about the coming of Jesus as the ruler of the world.

For our third Advent here at the blog we begin with a German Lutheran hymn from the seventeenth century,based in part on Psalm 24:7-10, translated by Catherine Winkworth in 1861 and appearing in many different versions across different denominations.

Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates;
Behold, the King of glory waits;
The Word of Life is drawing near;
The Savior of the world is here!

O blest the land, the city blest,
Where Christ the Ruler is confessed!
O happy hearts and happy homes
To whom this Fount of Justice comes!

Fling wide the portals of your heart;
Make it a temple, set apart
From earthly use for heaven’s employ,
Adorned with prayer and love and joy.

Redeemer, come, with us abide;
Our hearts to Thee we open wide;
Let us thy inner presence feel;
Thy grace and love in us reveal.

So come, my Sovereign, enter in!
Let new and nobler life begin;
Thy Holy Spirit guide us on,
Until the glotious crown is won.

Georg Weissel, 1642;
tr. Catherine Winkworth, 1861; alt.
Tune: TRURO (L.M.)
Psalmodia Evangelica, Part II, 1789;
harm. Lowell Mason, 19th cent.

The longer version of this text, in Weissel's original meter, with eight-line stanzas, can be seen here. A modern translation by Gracia Grindal, Fling wide the door, which first appeared in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), uses the original German tune, MACHT HOCH DIE TUR, named for the first line of Weissel's text).

The annual Advent debate in undoubtedly underway in many places: Can we sing Christmas carols in worship during Advent? The answer here is still "No."

Thursday, November 25, 2010

With Countless Gifts of Love

Now thank we all our God,
With hearts and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done,
In whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms
Has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love,
And still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God
Through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts
And blessèd peace to cheer us;
The one eternal God,
Whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now,
And shall be evermore.

Martin Rinkart, 1636;
tr. Catherine Winkworth, 1856
Johann Crüger, 1647

Monday, November 22, 2010

Successive Cecilias

I have mentioned before my ongoing interest in the women composers of worship music, including hymn tunes, gospel songs, and service music. It seems that today, the feast day of Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of music, might be an appropriate time to share some of what I've learned over the last few years.

Over the last century there has been a good deal of interest in women who wrote hymn texts. There are a number of books on that topic, from Lady Hymn Writers (1897) and Songs from the Heart of Women (1903) up to Sing the Wondrous Love of Jesus (2005). But the women who wrote the music for hymn texts are not so often studied or written about. While there has been increased interest in women composers in general over the last thirty years or so, most often they are women who wrote in larger forms, like symphonies or operas (such as Amy Beach), and the general books about them take no notice of the many women writing tunes for congregational singing.

Using the internet you can probably access more hymnals and songbooks than you'd find in most university or seminary libraries. I've downloaded hundreds of them and looked through many more that I didn't need cluttering up my hard drive. I also have a collection of hymnals in the dozens. Thus far I have unearthed over a thousand pieces composed by more than three hundred and fifty women, from standard four-part hymn tunes, gospel songs and children's songs to service music and Anglican chants. I'm focusing primarily on works in the public domain, published in this country before 1923, but most of these women are unknown to the singers of today. Most of their tunes appeared only in one book and never made it into the next generation of books.

These are the women thus far with more than a dozen tunes I've seen. I've written about some of them (the ones that are linked) but not others for various reasons (little or no information available about them, including birth or death dates, no sound files available, etc). Even most of these women rarely appear in the hymnals of today.

Mary Shaw Attwood
Pluma Brown
Grace Weiser Davis
Mari R. Hofer
Lucy Rider Meyer
Emma T. Mitchell
Emma Mundella

Having looked through many many nineteenth-century hymnals I've also compiled a list of the dozen or so women who had at least one tune that appeared in multiple hymnals before 1900.

Elizabeth Barker -- ST. JOHN DAMASCENE
Charlotte Barnard -- BROCKLESBURY
Mary Ann Browne -- PLYMOUTH ROCK
Elizabeth Cuthbert -- HOWARD
Frances Ridley Havergal -- HERMAS, EIRENE
Phoebe Knapp -- ASSURANCE
Mary Palmer -- CLARE MARKET
Ann Baird Spratt -- KEDRON
Sarah Stock -- MOEL LLYS (not named at that page, but that's it)
Charlotte Streatfield -- LANGTON
Maria Tiddeman -- IBSTONE
Lizzie Tourjée -- WELLESLEY

I would guess that only four of these tunes remain in somewhat common use today: BROCKLESBURY, HERMAS, ASSURANCE, and WELLESLEY. Some are simply not in a style that we would find melodic or interesting today, and some were written for a particular text in an unusual meter that is no longer sung.

Much of this music is perhaps not worthy of reconsideration. Much of it may never be sung again. But I believe that there are definitely things among these thousand-plus compositions that could be brought out in the open again. When we consider the whole vast body of musical composition for our hymns and songs, a certain percentage survives over time because it's good and singable. Another (far larger) percentage is discarded and forgotten, and deservedly so in many cases. But there are always things that were left behind because they never received a wide distribution. Tunes that appeared in one book with a minimal print run may deserve a second look, and we may find singable and serviceable music that can still be used in our worship.

I'm still looking, and the more I look, the more I suspect that I may have just scratched the surface of what is out there. The women of specific denominations and smaller groups wrote music that was seen and preserved by even fewer people, such as the Shakers or the Salvation Army. Religious communities of women have produced their own books for worship, such as the Holy Face Hymnal (1891), which was published by the Sisters of Mercy in Providence, RI. Most tunes in that book bear only the attribution "Music by S. of M." - we will probably never know the names of the women who wrote them.

If you have an obscure hymnal or two and think you may have something by a woman I haven't found, I'd be happy to hear about it. I think there are some further aspects to the subject that I'll write more about from time to time.

P.S. The illustration above is from Saint Cecilia at the Organ (1671), by Carlo Dolci

One Year Ago: Saint Cecilia

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Feast of Christ the King

We have come around again to the last Sunday in the church year, celebrated in many churches as the Feast of Christ the King. This is a relatively recent celebration, introduced in the Roman Catholic Church by Pope Pius XI in 1925. He decreed it in response to what he saw as growing nationalism and secularism in the early twentieth century, to be marked on the last Sunday in October. In 1969 Pope Paul VI moved the feast to its present date, and over the years a number of other denominations have come to observe it.

Given its relative newness, there isn't the same hymnic tradition that stretches back for a few centuries as with older celebrations such as Epiphany or Pentecost, but it was not an unexplored theme either. "King" as another name or attribute of Jesus is scriptural, and there are plenty of appropriate hymns to use. Sometimes, some of the hymns sung at Ascension are sung again today.

Hail, thou once-despised Jesus!
Hail, thou Galilean King!
Thou didst suffer to release us;
Thou didst free salvation bring.
Hail, thou universal Savior,
Bearer of our sin and shame,
By thy merit we find favor:
Life is given through thy Name.

Jesus, hail! enthroned in glory,
There for ever to abide;
All the heavenly hosts adore thee,
Seated at thy Father's side.
Worship, honor, power, and blessing
Thou art worthy to receive;
Highest praises, without ceasing,
Right it is for us to give.

Help, ye bright angelic spirits,
Bring your sweetest, noblest lays;
Help to sing our Savior's merits,
Help to chant Emmanuel's praise!
In that blessed contemplation,
We for evermore shall dwell;
Crown'd with bliss and consolation,
Such as none below can tell.

John Bakewell, 1757;
st. 3 Martin Madan, 1760; adapt.
Dutch traditional melody;
arr. Julius Rontgen, 1906

John Bakewell was a follower of John and Charles Wesley, but his authorship of this text is tenuous and appears to be based more on tradition than on any actual evidence. At any rate, if he did write it, he probably only wrote the first and second stanzas, which appeared in a 1757 "pamphlet" of 71 pages titled A Collection of Hymns addressed to The Holy, Holy, Holy, triune God, in the Person of Christ Jesus, our Mediator and Advocate. Various other alterations were made by Martin Madan in a few different books which followed; in some nineteenth century hymnals this appears as a five-stanza text. The hymn has appeared in American Methodist hymnals "virtually from the beginning," according to the Companion to the (Methodist) Hymnal (1970), and in Episcopal hymnals since 1874.

The familiar tune IN BABILONE comes from Oude en Nieuwe Hollantse Boerenlities en Contradanseu (Old and New Dutch Peasant Songs and Country Dances), published in the Netherlands in 1710. The arrangement by Julius Röntgen first appeared in Ralph Vaughan Williams's English Hymnal (1906), though it has been reharmonized several times since by composers such as T. Tertius Noble and Ellen Jane Lorenz.

Two (Liturgical) Years Ago: The Feast of Christ the King

One (Calendar) Year Ago: Ada Cambridge

Thursday, November 18, 2010

R. Kelso Carter

Russell Kelso Carter, born today in Baltimore in 1849, was a man of several careers, including military cadet, professor of chemistry, civil engineering, and advanced mathematics, sheep rancher, Methodist deacon and evangelist, and finally physician. Somewhere in there he also wrote and composed several gospel songs and helped compile two hymnbooks.

Carter graduated from the Pennsylvania Military Academy (now Widener University) in 1867. He returned to the Academy shortly thereafter to begin his teaching career, but health problems interrupted it and he moved to California for three years to work an a sheep ranch, returning to the Academy again in 1879. Around this time he started to become involved with the Methodist Episcopal Church, attending camp meetings and starting to write gospel songs. He collaborated with John R. Sweney on Hymns of Perfect Love (1886) and with A.B. Simpson on Hymns of the Christian Life (1891).

The introduction to that second collection (which includes our previously-seen Carter song as #1) begins with a discussion that remains as topical today as it was then:

The musical taste of our day is in a state of transition. Beyond controversy, the people will have new tunes and hymns that move in a more spirited time than those which our fathers (and mothers! CWS) sang. But this fact should not send us to an extreme, and cause us to relegate all the old hymns to the dusty past. (...) Between the Scotch Psalter and the Salvation Army Song Book there is a wide stretch of territory in which the careful explorer will find much that is good, and possessing that rare quality, endurance.

How many hymnals and songbooks before and after Carter's time, right up to the present, contain a similar paragraph!

This is Carter's most well-known song, for which he wrote both words and music, and which first appeared in his earlier collection of 1886. It has been said that it evokes a martial mood similar to songs he might have known from his military school days.

Standing on the promises of Christ, my King,
Through eternal ages let the praises ring,
Glory in the highest, I will shout and sing,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing, standing,
Standing on the promises of God my Savior;
Standing, standing,
I’m standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
By the living Word of God I shall prevail,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises I cannot fall,
List'ning every moment to the Spirit’s call
Resting in my Savior as my all in all,
Standing on the promises of God.

R. Kelso Carter, 1886
PROMISES ( with refrain)

Throughout his life Carter faced several serious health challenges, which led him to explore different theories and means of faith healing, which you can read more about here. It appears that a serious dispute developed in the 1890s which may have caused his moving away from his evangelistic work. He studied medicine and became a doctor sometime before 1900, practicing until his death in 1928. He came to believe that both medicine and prayer were necessary for healing, and that God provided both to us for that purpose.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Eliza Scudder

Hymnwriter Eliza Scudder was born today in Massachusetts in 1821. In childhood she was very close to her older sister Rebecca; this closeness lasted throughout their lives, and the sisters actually died on the same day in 1896.

Scudder was greatly influenced by the abolotionist movement and two of its leaders in particular: the philanthropist Gerrit Smith and the author Lydia Maria Child. It is believed that her association with Child led her away from the Congregational faith of her family and into an interest in the Unitarian Church (though it's not clear she ever formally joined it), which caused a break with many of her friends. Some years later she was drawn to the Episcopal Church through the preaching and then the friendship of Phillips Brooks, the popular rector of Trinity Church in Boston.

This flexibilty in her religious thought probably means that it's difficult to assign her hymn texts to any particular set of beliefs, and her hymns were indeed sung in several different denominations. Her short 1880 collection, Hymns and Sonnets, contained this text.

Grant us your peace, down from your presence falling
As on the thirsty earth cool night-dews sweet,
Grant us your peace, to your own paths recalling,
From distant ways, our worn and wand'ring feet.

Grant us your peace, through winning and through losing,
Through gloom and gladness of our pilgrim way,
Grant us your peace, safe in your love's enclosing,
Who o'er all things in heav'n and earth hold sway.

Grant us your peace, that like a deep'ning river
Swells ever onward to a sea of praise;
Jesus, of peace the only Source and Giver,
Grant us your peace, O Savior, all our days!

Eliza Scudder, 1880; alt.
Frances Ridley Havergal, 1871

Two Years Ago: Eliza Scudder

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Anne Steele

Today we mark the anniversary of the death of Anne Steele in 1778 (born sometime in May of 1716 in Hampshire), the first widely-known and sung woman hymnwriter. During her lifetime she wrote under the pen name of Theodosia (meaning "gift of God"), publishing her first collection, Poems on Subjects Chiefly Devotional in 1760.

Her hymns received wider recognition in 1769 when the fourth edition of A Collection of Hymns Adapted to Public Worship appeared with sixty-two of her hymns, quite a large number for a "newcomer." This Baptist hymnal was compiled by Caleb Evans, a minister and hymnologist who later wrote a memoir of Steele and greatly admired her verse.

Today's hymn was perhaps not intended by Steele for congregational singing, as she originally wrote it in thirty-nine stanzas. John Julian's Dictionary of Hymnology (1892) lists five different arrangements of stanzas which had appeared in hymnals up to that time; this is a sixth.

Come, heav'nly Love, inspire my song
With thy immortal flame,
And teach my heart, and teach my tongue
The Savior's lovely name.

The Savior! oh, what endless charms
Dwell in that blissful sound!
Its influence ev'ry fear disarms,
And spreads sweet comfort 'round.

Oh, the rich depths of love divine!
Of grace, a boundless store!
Dear Savior, let me call thee mine;
I cannot wish for more.

On thee alone my hope relies;
Beneath thy cross I fall
My Love, my Life, my Sacrifice,
My Savior, and my All!

Anne Steele, 1760; alt.
Phyllis Skene, c. 1902

Julian noted that the different versions of Steele's hymn sometimes had different opening lines; the original (as seen here) was altered in these ways:

Come, heav'nly Dove, inspire my song

Come, Holy Ghost, inspire our songs

Come, Holy Spirit, guide my song

Anne Steele's hymns remained popular through the nineteenth century but mostly have not survived into our time. Her complete works, finally collected and published in 1863, were republished by the Gospel Standard Baptist Trust of London in 1967, but did not, apparently, inspire a new generation of hymnal editors to reexamine her work.

Two Years Ago: Anne Steele

Sunday, November 7, 2010

And All Its Flocks Unite

The theme of unity can be an awkward one to discuss among Christians. given our multiplicity of denominations and doctrinal differences. The number of things we all agree on seems to grow smaller all the time when compared to the number of things we don't.

This text by Presbyterian minister Henry Van Dyke seems to me to come out of the early twentieth century's conception of the social gospel, from which we have received several of the great hymns of the church. That concept is under attack today by churches who believe that concern for others is far less important than the purity of their own beliefs. Van Dyke says that while our churches may never attain unity here on earth, our actions may at least come to some accord.

No form of human framing,
No bond of outward might,
Can bind thy church together, Lord,
And all its flocks unite;
But, Jesus, thou hast told us
How unity must be:
Thou art with God and Spirit one,
And we are one in thee.

The mind that is in Jesus
Will guide us into truth,
The humble, open, joyful mind
Of ever-learning youth;
The heart that is in Jesus
Will lead us out of strife,
The giving and forgiving heart
That follows love in life.

Where people do thy service,
Though knowing not thy sign,
Our hand is with them in good work,
For they are also thine.
Forgive us, Christ, the folly
That quarrels with thy friends,
And draw us nearer to thy heart,
Where every discord ends.

Henry J. Van Dyke, 1922; alt.
Henry J. Storer, 1891

This text first appeared in a short collection by Van Dyke, Thy Sea is Great, Our Boats are Small, and Other Hymns of Today (1922), prefacing the text with a verse from John 10:16: Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold. Van Dyke's most familiar hymn came several years earlier, Joyful, joyful we adore thee.

One Year Ago: Will L. Thompson