Sunday, March 28, 2010

To See the Approaching Sacrifice

Ride on! ride on in majesty!
Hark! all the tribes “Hosanna” cry;
O Savior meek, pursue thy road
With palms and scattered garments strowed.

Ride on! ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die;
O Christ, thy triumphs now begin
o'er captive death and conquered sin.

Ride on! ride on in majesty!
The angel armies of the sky
Look down with sad and wondering eyes
To see the approaching sacrifice.

Ride on! ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die;
Bow thy meek head to mortal pain,
Then take, O God, thy power, and reign.

Henry Hart Milman, 1820
John Bacchus Dykes, 1862

One Year Ago: The Victor Palm Branch Waving

Saturday, March 27, 2010

George Job Elvey

Composer and organist George Job Elvey was born today in 1816. He was a boy chorister at Canterbury Cathedral, going on to study at the Royal College of Music. At seventeen he took his first post as an organist, serving at a few parishes until 1835, when he was appointed to serve at St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle, where he remained for nearly fifty years as organist and choirmaster. Several other future organists and composers were his students at St. George's, including C.H.H. Parry.

As organist at St. George's he also held the official post of Organist to the Queen. In this capacity he came into contact with various members of the British royal family, even teaching composition to the Queen's consort, Prince Albert (who later wrote a few hymn tunes himself). Many of Elvey's sacred choral works were composed for royal occasions such as weddings or funerals, and he was knighted in 1871 following his Festival March for the wedding of Princess Louise. (As a letter-writer to the Musical Times noted some years later, his knighthood came at the age of fifty-five, coincidentally LV in Roman numerals)

He was a great admirer of Handel, even naming his youngest son (born after he was sixty) George Frederick Handel Elvey. His choirs often sang Handel's anthems and choruses, and he also conducted the oratorios at large festivals, his last being a performance of Messiah less than a year before his death in 1893.

Elvey's own works included nearly fifty anthems, two oratorios, numerous settings of service music and Anglican chant, and, of course, several hymn tunes. His oratorio Mount Carmel was followed very soon after by Mendelssohn's Elijah, dealing largely with the same Biblical story. Elvey acknowledged the superiority of the latter, and Mount Carmel was never published, though portions of it continued to be performed at St. George's and elsewhere. His other oratorio, The Resurrection and Ascension, was more popular in its day, though unknown in our time.

Elvey is remembered today primarily for some of his chant settings and two very popular hymn tunes which we have already seen: DIADEMATA (here and here) and ST. GEORGE'S WINDSOR. This tune also remains in a few hymnals, though far fewer than the other two.

Strong Son of God, Immortal Love,
Whom we, that have not seen thy face,
By faith, and faith alone, embrace,
Believing where we cannot prove.

Our little systems have their day;
They have their day and cease to be;
They are but broken lights of thee,
And thou, O Christ, art more than they.

We have but faith: we cannot know;
For knowledge is of things we see;
And yet we trust it comes from thee,
A beam in darkness: let it grow.

Let knowledge grow from more to more,
But more of reverence in us dwell;
That mind and soul, according well,
May make one music as before.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1850
George J. Elvey, 1863

Elvey wrote this tune for Charlotte Elliot's Just as I am, without one plea which we saw last week, in A Selection of Psalm and Hymn Tunes (1863) which was compiled by one of his former students, E.H. Thorne. It was sung at Elvey's funeral following his death on December 9, 1893.

Elvey's fourth wife, Mary, (he outlived the other three) wrote a memoir, Life and Reminiscences of George J. Elvey (1894). It's a little confusing because she referred to all the other wives (and herself) simply as "Mrs. Elvey," so you read more than once about Mrs. Elvey's death(s). Also, for some reason, she did not include his hymn tunes in the listing of his compositions, so it's hard to tell just how many there are, though I have definitely found more than are listed at the Cyber Hymnal site. Perhaps this excerpt from a letter he wrote, reproduced from the memoir, gives a little sense of Elvey's personality.

I have been asked to arrange my anthem "Praise the Lord" for instruments, for a choir festival at Brecon, and among the list of instruments I am to write for is the euphonium. I have not the least idea what sort of instrument it is, but it is, I believe, used in military bands. What I want to know is, whether it plays tenor or bass parts, and also, whether I must write for it in the proper key, or whether transposition is necessary, and, if so, what key I ought to put the instrument in? I do not intend to transpose the whole of my anthem for the convenience of Mr Euphonium; so, if he cannot play like a good Christian in D, I shall dispense with his services.

One Year Ago: George Matheson

Another Birthday Today: Emma Ashford

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Feast of the Annunciation

The Feast of the Annunciation is celebrated today in many churches, commemorating the appearance of the angel Gabriel to Mary to give her the surprising news of her impending pregnancy (as told in Luke 1:26-38). It's nine months to Christmas! Some churches have moved that particular lesson into the season of Advent, while some will mark it on both occasions.

The hymn chosen here is not well known today, though it was one of the office hymns of the church as far back as the sixth century. The Latin text by Venantius Fortunatus was originally sung to plainchant but was also set to music by various composers, such as William Byrd. It begins:

Quem terra, pontus, aethera
colunt, adorant, praedicant,
trinam regentem machinam
claustrum Mariae baiulat.

This comes to us in English from Edward Caswall, published in his Hymns and Poems Original and Translated (1873).

Our God, whom earth and air and sea
With one adoring voice resound;
Who rules them all in majesty;
In Mary's heart a cloister found.

Lo! in a humble virgin's womb,
O'ershadowed by Almighty power;
God whom the stars and sun and moon,
Each serve in their appointed hour.

O Mary blest, to whom was giv'n
Within thy compass to contain
The Architect of earth and heav'n,
Whose hands the universe contain;

To thee was sent an angel down;
In thee the Spirit was enshrined;
From thee came forth the Mighty One,
The long-desired of humankind.

O Jesus, born of Mary bright,
Unending praise we sing to thee,
To the Creator infinite,
And Holy Spirit: wondrous Three.

Venantius Fortunatus, 6th cent.
tr. Edward Caswall, 1873; alt.
Tune: SHARON (L.M.)
Frederick A. Gore Ouseley, 1875

John Mason Neale translated this Latin text in his Hymnal Noted (1854) as The God whom earth and sea and sky, and his version (somewhat altered) is still in the Episcopal Hymnal 1982 but I liked Caswall's version better. Neale already gets plenty of exposure.

P.S. The window above with Mary and Gabriel is from the Lady chapel of my own church, older than the ones seen here before.

One Year Ago: Godfrey Thring

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Fanny Crosby

We have come around again to the birthday of Fanny Crosby, the prolific gospel song writer whose works continue to be loved and sung around the world. I've already written a fair amount about her which you can revisit by clicking on her name in the tags below this entry.

In her autobiography, Memories of Eighty Years, Crosby writes of her hymnwriting career with typical modesty:

That some of my hymns have been dictated by the blessed Holy Spirit I have no doubt; and that others have been the result of deep meditation I know to be true; but that the poet has any right to claim special merit for himself is certainly presumptuous.

But she surely know how deeply her work had touched so many people, as she recounts many stories told to her in letters and personal meetings. The writings of her contemporaries in the field also refer to many similar anecdotes from Fanny's admirers who were comforted, inspired, and brought to a closer relationship with God through her songs.

She was contracted by the publishing firm of Biglow & Main to produce three song texts per week but by all accounts she exceeded that number over the more than forty years she was associated with them, and even wrote for other publishers as well. Often she was given a theme to write on, and sometimes the music was given to her first, to set words for. Some of her most enduring songs were written this way (even though more "sophisticated" writers will tell you that that method doesn't work well), such as Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine, Safe in the arms of Jesus, and even today's selection.

This song was first published in Bright Jewels for the Sunday School (1869) after composer William Howard Doane had played the music for her. A favorite of many, it's also well-suited for the season of Lent, I think.

Jesus, keep me near the cross,
There a precious fountain
Free to all, a healing stream
Flows from Calvary’s mountain.

In the cross, in the cross,
Be my glory ever;
Till my raptured soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.

Near the cross, a trembling soul,
Love and mercy found me;
There the bright and morning star
Shed its beams around me.

Near the cross! O Lamb of God,
Bring its scenes before me;
Help me walk from day to day,
With its shadow o’er me.

Near the cross I’ll watch and wait
Hoping, trusting ever,
Till I reach the heav'nly land,
Just beyond the river.

Fanny Crosby, 1869; alt.
NEAR THE CROSS ( with refrain)
William H. Doane, 1869

For many years it was a tradition of some of Fanny's friends and fellow writers and composers to write for her a poem on her birthday, and I've chosen some excerpted stanzas.

William J. Kirkpatrick, in 1887, began:

Dear Fanny, I would send a line
In warm congratulation;
And join the many friends that hail
Your birthday celebration.

Eliza Hewitt, in 1905, concluded with the stanza:

So we'll gather 'round our Fanny,
With smiles and greetings sincere,
May she have the sweetest birthday
She has had for many a year.

Some were more serious, such as Ira Sankey's 1893 offering:

A few more years to sing the song
Of our Redeemer's love,
Then by His grace both you and I
Will sing His praise above.

but Hubert P. Main was often more comic:

Still March the twenty-four comes 'round
In spite of earth or heaven,
And you keep coming also, too
For now you're seventy-seven.

It's in the tradition of these birthday tributes (particularly Mr. Main's) that we have another one today, which I first mentioned last year on William H. Doane's birthday when we heard another of his collaborations with Crosby, Pass me not, O gentle Savior. I hope you'll take it in the affectionate spirit in which it was intended.

Sing a song by Fanny Crosby
Ev’ry Sabbath day;
Pay no heed to those who claim that
She is déclassé.

Pastor, Pastor,
Hear my irate cry:
When you pick the hymns for Sunday,
Don’t pass Fanny by.

Gregory the Great is no saint
To good Protestants;
We’ve abandoned all his dogmas –
Why intone his chants?

Lutheran chorales are boring,
Lengthy and morose;
Fanny’s hymns are twice as peppy,
And half as verbose.

Calvinists transformed the Psalter
Into metric verse;
Though the texts may not be noble,
Yea, the tunes be worse.

Folk Mass music is atrocious,
Lacking tune and rhyme,
And they massacre the meter,
Cramming extra words in all the time.

J. Thomas Sopko, 1988
PASS ME NOT ( with refrain)
William H. Doane, 1870
Text © 1988 J. Thomas Sopko.
Used by permission

Thanks to Tom for his light-hearted tribute to Fanny Crosby and her songs.

One Year Ago: Fanny Crosby

Another Birthday Today: Jennette Threlfall

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Thomas Ken

Bishop Thomas Ken is commemorated today in some church calendars, two days after the anniversary of his death on March 19, 1711. Historically he is best known for his actions in the political and religious struggles of his day, but here we are more concerned with his important role in the development of English hymnody.

He was born in July of 1637 in Hertfordshire, and educated at Winchester College and at New College, Oxford. Following his ordination in 1662 he served in small parishes and also returned to Winchester first as a fellow, then as prebendary. During these early years he had written at least three hymns, which are among the earliest written in English (at the time, only psalm paraphrases or texts from Scripture were allowed to be sung in worship). His book A Manual of Prayers for the Use of the Scholars of Winchester College (1674) referred to the hymns but did not include them, so the students were apparently aware of them. The hymns were intended to be used in private devotion rather than public worship. They were not published until a later edition of the book, in 1695. Word about them spread, apparently causing great interest, and over the next several years there were various unauthorized versions published with many changes not made by Ken.

His Evening Hymn we have already seen here, and today we will have his Morning Hymn. Both originally contained many more stanzas than are sung today, and those stanzas have been rearranged and reassembled in many different combinations. Both of them originally ended with the following stanza which became familiar across many denominations and is sung by itself, with one particular tune, much more often than it ever was with Ken's two longer hymns (you may, of course, know it a bit differently).

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise God, all creatures here below;
Praise God above, ye heav'nly host;
Creator, Christ and Holy Ghost.

Louis Bourgeois, 1551

Ken and the students of Winchester might well have sung his hymns for morning, evening, and midnight to that tune from the Genevan Psalter of 1551, but today it is usually used only for that final verse, known universally as The Doxology (as opposed to the small-d doxologies that appear in many other hymns).

In his later years, having fallen out of favor in the religious upheavals of seventeenth-century England, no longer a bishop and living a quiet rural life, he wrote more hymns and poems which were published after his death as Hymns for all the Festivals of the Year (1721). The book contained poems (not many usable as hymns) for each Sunday of the church year and for various saints' days and other occasions. As we have seen, this sort of book was popular in the nineteenth century, with hymn writers such as Reginald Heber, John Keble, Christopher Wordsworth, and Henry Alford producing similar books.

I checked to see what Ken had included for today, the fifth Sunday in Lent, but it was a poem of several pages, in a meter not really amenable to a hymn tune. It closed with the following couplet:

Lord, I now love by faith, a loftier flight
My love will take, when I shall love by sight.

Here below is a version of Ken's Morning Hymn, which is perhaps not quite as well known as his Evening Hymn. Hymnal editors over the years have, in addition to rearranging the text, made various word changes as well, many just because of the distance between the language and syntax of Ken's time and their own. But, as the preface to an edition of his hymns and poems published in 1855 concluded: Occasional quaintness will be condoned for the sake of the holy thoughts and aspirations which abound in the poetry of Thomas Ken.

Awake, my soul, and with the sun
The daily stage of duty run;
Shake off dull sloth, and joyful rise,
To pay my morning sacrifice.

By influence of the Light divine
Let my own light to others shine.
Reflect all heaven’s
propitious ways
In ardent love, and cheerful praise.

All praise to thee, who safe has kept
And hast refreshed me while I slept
Grant, that when I from death shall wake
I may of endless light partake.

Guard every spring of thought and will,
And with thyself my spirit fill.
That all my powers, with all their might,
In thy sole glory may unite.

Thomas Ken, 1674; alt.
Francois H. Barthelemon, 1785

It's true that we don't sing much about “dull sloth” anymore.

The French composer Francois Barthelemon (often called Francis in English-language hymnals) composed this tune for this text.

Note: In our time, hymnals sometimes include selections by English poets such as George Herbert and John Donne who predate Thomas Ken. However, those poems were never seen as hymns by their writers, who perhaps would be scandalized at their use in modern congregational worship. Ken was doing something that few had done before in writing metrical hymns not based on psalms or other Scripture. Others in his day or earlier may have done it also, in private, but it is the hymns of Ken that survived. Of course, he was followed before too long by Isaac Watts, Anne Steele, Philip Doddridge, and others who threw off the constraints of the psalm paraphrase, starting toward hymnody as we know it today.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Charlotte Elliott

Charlotte Elliott was born today in 1789, in Clapham, which at that time was still outside London. Her grandfather was the evangelical minister Henry Venn, who had worked closely with John and Charles Wesley and was the head of a small group within the Anglican Church called the Clapham Sect. Among its members was the reformer William Wilberforce, and the sect was instrumental in bringing about the abolition of slavery in Great Britain and its colonies.

Elliott was never strong, but a serious illness in 1821 left her with crippling fatigue for the rest of her life. She began writing verse, much of it devotional and much of it intended as hymns for others like herself, for personal rather than congregational use. She began a correspondence with a Miss Kiernan of Dublin, who was also an invalid, and the two began working together on The Christian Remembrancer Pocket Book, an annual journal, and the Invalid's Hymn Book (1834), to the first edition of which Elliott contributed thirty-two hymns. After Miss Kiernan's death Elliott took on the editorship of both the journal and future edtiions of the Invalid's Hymn Book, and by the sixth edition she had included 112 of her hymns (though, of course, in proper Victorian fashion her name did not actually appear anywhere in the book). Other hymns and poems by her appeared in Hours of Sorrow (1836), Hymns for a Week (1839), and Thoughts in Verse of Sacred Subjects (1869 - by which time she was credited as the author).

The oft-reported story of Elliott's most famous hymn has apparently been embellished heavily, if not made up completely. It is true that she met the Genevan evangelist (and hymnist) Cesar Malan in 1822 and that they carried on a correspondence for more than forty years, but it is not so clear that he was directly responsible for her conversion experience, nor that he ever told her that she must come to God “just as you are.”

Just as I am, without one plea,
But that thy blood was shed for me,
And that thou bidd'st me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, heal, relieve;
Because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, thy love unknown
Hath broken every barrier down;
Now, to be thine, yea, thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, of thy great love
The breadth, length, depth, and height to prove,
Here for a season, then above,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

Charlotte Elliott, 1835; alt.
William B. Bradbury, 1849

Her sister and brother certainly told the story of this hymn differently; that Charlotte was unhappy because her health made it impossible for her to work at a fundraising event that her brother was heading. This bazaar was to raise money to set up a secondary school for the daughters of clergymen, who were generally unable to afford such schooling. She wrote this hymn, which appeared in the Invalid's Hymn Book, but was also published in a separate pamphlet specifically to raise money for the school, St. Mary's Hall, which it continued to do for several years.

The tune WOODWORTH, by William B. Bradbury, was not written for this text, but was matched to it when it was first published here in the US in 1865, and the two have remained together in most American hymnals ever since. And that's most American hymnals that have been published since -- not just most of those which happen to have this hymn. In its native Great Britain the text is probably most often sung today to the tune SAFFRON WALDEN by Arthur H. Brown, which was written many years after the text, in 1890. Before that, there were various other tunes used, such as MISERICORDIA by Henry Smart (with both of these British tunes you end with only one “I come”). All three of those tunes appear with Elliott's text in Voices Found.

Though Charlotte Elliott wrote about 150 hymns (unfortunately, only a handful can be seen and heard at the Cyber Hymnal) and a few of them are still sung today, this is the one she is remembered for. Following her death in 1871 more than a thousand letters were found among her papers from people who wanted to thank her for writing Just as I am. It was ranked at #26 in The Best Church Hymns (1899) but would almost certainly rank higher today in a similar survey.

One Year Ago: Carl P. Daw, Jr.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

William Henry Monk

Composer William Henry Monk, born today in 1823 in Brompton, is actually one of the most influential people in the development of hymn tunes as we know them today.

At age 18 he was first employed as a church organist, and served at a few different locations until 1852, when he began playing at St. Matthias Church in Stoke Newington, where he established a daily choral service with only a volunteer choir, and remained there until his death in 1889. He also taught music at various times at Bedford College, the National Training School for Music, The School for the Indigent Blind, and was a professor of music at Kings College.

Monk was intrigued by the Oxford Movement and especially the particular music requirements of high church liturgy. With some friends, he established a musical journal, The Parish Choir, and served as its editor for a time. Though the magazine only lasted three years, it was very influential in Anglo-Catholic circles, and probably led to Monk's employment as the first music editor of Hymns Ancient and Modern, which would eventually sell more than sixty million copies.

In that position, Monk was, in a sense, continuing the work of William Henry Havergal and Henry J. Gauntlett, who in addition to composing their own tunes, often arranged and harmonized tunes from earlier composers into the sort of four-part arrangements we still use today. Monk's own tunes were popular in his time (less so today) but his arrangements of such tunes as ELLACOMBE, ST. MAGNUS, VICTORY, and DIX are still widely known and sung. Remember also that Hymns A&M was one of the earliest hymnals to print the texts and tunes together, which would eventually become the standard.

Monk remained with the Hymns A&M organization, at least in a consulting capacity, until his death, through the editions of 1861, 1868, 1875, and 1889 (his notes on that last edition were completed the day before he died). He also was the music editor of the following collections:

The Holy Year (by Christopher Wordsworth)
The Congregational Psalmist
Psalter, Hymnal, and Anthem Book of the Scottish Church
Book of Common Prayer, with Plainsong and Appropriate Music

This tune of Monk's, originally written for the text Soldiers of Christ, arise, is one that has survived (sometimes called ENERGY). In many Lutheran churches (and probably elsewhere) the first two stanzas were sung each week at the offering. I can still hear my great-grandmother singing this exuberantly.

We give thee but thine own,
Whate’er the gift may be;
All that we have is thine alone,
A trust, O God, from thee.

May we thy bounties thus
As stewards true receive,
And gladly, as thou blessest us,
To thee our first-fruits give.

To comfort and to bless,
To find a balm for woe,
To tend those lost in loneliness
Is angels’ work below.

The captive to release,
To God the lost to bring,
To teach the way of life and peace—
It is a Christ-like thing.

And we believe thy Word,
That strong our faith may be;
Whate’er we do for thine, O Lord,
We do it unto thee.

William Walsham How, 1864; alt.
William H. Monk, 1861

We have talked more than once about the hymn that is matched with Monk's most enduring tune: EVENTIDE. As he recalled the origin of the tune years later, it was realized at an 1861 committee meeting shortly before Hymns Ancient and Modern was going to the printer that they had no tune for Abide with me (writer Henry Francis Lyte's own tune was deemed unacceptable). Monk went out and wrote EVENTIDE in ten minutes. His wife, however, remembered it differently, telling the editor of The Music of the Methodist Hymn Book (1935) that he wrote it as they watched a beautiful sunset together. Perhaps she thought it was a better tale for posterity.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Henry J. Zelley

Today is the birthday of Henry Jeffreys Zelley, born in 1859 in Mount Holly, New Jersey. He was educated at the Methodist-founded Pennington Seminary and later Taylor University, and was ordained a Methodist minister in 1882.

Zelley was very active in the New Jersey Conference of the Methodist church, and served at different times as its statistical secretary, treasurer and as a trustee. He also became a trustee of the Pennington Seminary. The Companion to the Baptist Hymnal (1976) notes that his career was "marked with evangelistic fervor."

This fervor is probably related to his writing of gospel songs, reportedly more than 1500 (though only 95 of those
are listed here. He is most known for Heavenly Sunlight, which I wrote about last summer. That song is found in 142 American hymnbooks, according to, but this one is found in 49, not a bad number. As you may recall, I like hymns and songs about the Exodus, and this one references the story of the miraculous parting of the Red Sea from Exodus 14.

When Israel out of bondage came,
A sea before them lay;
But God reached down a mighty hand,
And rolled the sea away.

Then forward still, with determined will,
Though the billows dash and spray.
With a steady tread we will push ahead;
God rolls the sea away.

Before me was a sea of doubt,
So great I feared to pray;
My heart’s desire my Maker read,
And rolled the sea away.

When sorrows deep, like stormy waves,
Were dashing o’er my way,
God once again in mercy came,
And rolled the sea away.

And when I reach the sea of death,
For saving grace I’ll pray;
I know that God will quickly come,
And roll the sea away.

Henry J. Zelley, 1896; alt.
Tune: EXODUS (C.M. with refrain)
Henry Lake Gilmour, 1896

Sunday, March 14, 2010

William Fisk Sherwin

William Fisk Sherwin was born today in 1826, in Buckland, Massachusetts. He is primarily known today for only two tunes which were written for two long-lasting hymns by Mary Lathbury: Break thou the bread of life and Day is dying in the west. Like so many of his contemporaries, however, he produced many other songs and hymns that are forgotten.

He studied music with Lowell Mason and later became an instructor at the New England Conservatory of Music. He was active in Sunday school work, teaching and leading special assemblies throughout New York and New England. In later years he was remembered by George C. Stebbins in Reminiscences and Gospel Song Stories (1924):

I remember well his singing very effectively and artistically the old classic among sacred songs Flee as a bird to your mountain. His manner of rendering and his well trained and sympathetic voice made a lasting impression upon me.

Sherwin was a friend of the Methodist Bishop John Heyl Vincent, who founded a camp in 1874 for Sunday school teachers on the shores of Lake Chautauqua in western New York and asked Sherwin to serve as the camp's music director. This camp soon developed into the prestigious Chautauqua Institution, and Sherwin maintained his connection to it for many years. Many of his compositions, not just those with Lathbury, were popularized here first.

Sherwin was also a musical editor at the Century Company and at Biglow & Main, who published many of his songs. One of his collections there, co-edited with Robert Lowry and William H. Doane, was titled Chautauqua Carols (1878) and was used both at the Institute and thoughout the country where numerous "tent chautauquas" sprang up in connection with the original. Though mostly known today as a composer, Sherwin did write many of his own texts for his tunes as well, such as this one.

Grander than ocean’s story,
Or songs of forest trees;
Purer than breath of morning,
Or evening’s gentle breeze;
Clearer than mountain echoes
Ring out from peaks above,
Rolls on the glorious anthem
Of God’s eternal love.

Dearer than any friendship
Our truest comrades show;
Stronger than all the yearning
A mother’s heart may know;
Deeper than earth’s foundations,
And far above all thought;
Broader than heav’n’s high arches—
The love that Christ has brought.

Richer than all earth’s treasures,
The wealth my soul receives;
Brighter than royal jewels,
The crown that Jesus gives;
Wondrous the condescension,
And grace beyond degree!
I would be ever singing
The love of Christ to me.

William F. Sherwin, 19th c.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

William Channing Gannett

The poet and minister William Channing Gannett (March 13, 1840 - July 25, 1923) was named for William Ellery Channing, one of the foremost Unitarian theologians of the day, who was Gannett's godfather and also conducted the christening. His father, Ezra Stiles Gannett, was also a prominent Unitarian minister in Boston, one of the founders of the American Unitarian Association and later its president.
The younger Gannett followed his father by graduating from Harvard in 1860. He was not sure that he was suited for the ministry, but he entered Harvard Divinity School. He left during his first year to go to South Carolina to work with a group of freed slaves. He spent the years of the Civil War there in the south, where he organized a school and helped that community gain a measure of self-sufficiency, something that many people in South Carolina had little interest in supporting.

When he returned to Boston he eventually finished his studies at the Divinity School and was ordained in 1868. In 1875 he published a biography of his father, who had died four years earlier. He also began a long collaboration with Frederick Lucian Hosmer, and together they compiled Unity Hymns and Chorals (1880) and The Thought of God in Hymns and Poems (1885). Both books went through several editions and were very influential in Unitarian hymnody.

Samuel Atkins Elliot, a later president of the American Unitarian Association, wrote in Heralds of a Liberal Faith (1901) regarding their first hymnal: which, after the manner of Samuel Longfellow (and Samuel Johnson - CWS), they adapted and rewrote orthodox hymns and lay poems for the liberal churches, thereby offending some who believed in sticking to the original texts.

Gannett and Hosmer wrote their own texts to their specifications, of course, so they did not have to be altered (though later generations have followed in their footsteps and done so). Gannett showed a particular affinity for the transcendentalist ideas of Ralph Waldo Emerson, especially in the concept that God's presence can be seen and felt in the wonders of nature. You can see this in the two hymns of his that I've already written about: Bring, O morn, thy music and Praise to the Living God, as well as in this hymn for today.

You hide within the lily,
A strong and tender Care
That wins the earthborn atoms
To glory of the air;
You weave their shining garments
Unceasingly and still,
Along the quiet waters,
In grasses down each hill.

We linger there in vigil
With Christ, who bent the knee
To watch the ancient lilies
In distant Galilee;
And still our worship deepens
And quickens into new,
And bright'ning down the ages
Your secret thrills us through.

Creator of the lily,
With you the heart e'er sings;
No leaf that dawns to petal
But hints of angel wings.
The flower horizons open,
The blossom vaster shows;
We hear your wide worlds echo,
“See how the lily grows.”

The yearnings of the nations,
Unfolding, thought by thought,
To holier lives are lifted,
To futures clear are wrought:
May all advance in justice,
While evils fade and fall,
Till chaos blooms to beauty,
Your purpose crowning all.

William Channing Gannett, 1873; alt.
William F. Lloyd, 1840

This text is taken largely from a website called Hymns of the Spirit Three, which modernizes and inclusifies the public domain texts from Hymns of the Spirit (1937), a popular Unitarian hymnal of the last century, which in turn was named for the 1864 hymnal compiled by Longfellow and Johnson. I admit that I've done a bit of further revision (it's hard to resist once you've been doing this for a while).

Friday, March 12, 2010

Robert Lowry

The Reverend Robert Lowry was born today in Philadelphia in 1826. His parents were Presbyterians, but at age eighteen he joined a Baptist church, and following his 1854 graduation from the University at Lewisburg (now Bucknell University) he was ordained as a Baptist minister, going on to lead churches in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York over the rest of his life.

He was interested in music from an early age, but as a pastor he became interested in the use of music in the church, especially the Sunday school music that was becoming popular in the mid-nineteenth century (the precursor to gospel songs as we know them). He began to write and compose his own songs, which soon became quite successful. Often he wrote both words and music, such as Shall we gather at the river, probably his most popular song, but sometimes he wrote the tune only, or in the case of Marching to Zion, adapted an older text (by Isaac Watts, in this case) into a gospel song by adding a refrain and a compelling melody.

Following the 1868 death of William B. Bradbury, who had been the leading proponent of Sunday school music development, his publishing company hired Lowry to replace him as editor. At first, Lowry was not sure he was qualified, but he undertook more musical study and eventually edited or co-edited (often with William Howard Doane) more than twenty song collections. His own body of work expanded greatly; he continued to write songs of his own and tunes in collaboration with most of the well-known text writers of the day. The company, now known as Biglow & Main, solidified its position as the most successful publisher of Sunday school music and gospel songs for the rest of the nineteenth century.

Looking though his songs for something to present today I came upon this one, for which he originally wrote both words and music for the collection Royal Diadem for the Sunday School (1873). Since Lowry's tune is not available as a sound file, I've matched the text to this older hymn tune which suits it well.

My soul shall rest in hope
Rejoicing in your love
Who, in my sorrow, gives me joy
And lifts my soul above.

My soul shall rest in hope
And live in faith divine,
Supremely blessed, which I can feel,
Your saving love is mine.

My soul shall rest in hope,
Though mortal strength may fail,
Your gentle hand that leads me now
Will guide me through the vale.

My soul shall rest in hope
Until you bid me rise
To see your face and sing your praise
Beyond the earthly skies.

My soul shall rest in hope
Rejoicing in your love
Who, in my sorrow, gives me joy
And lifts my soul above.

Robert Lowry, 1873; alt.
Ralph Harrison, 1784
arr. Samuel Sebastian Wesley, 1872

In researching Lowry for this entry, I came upon the following, which I hope you will enjoy. Apparently Shall we gather by the river so impressed Canadian Dr. D. Morrison of Ontario that he translated it into Latin (for what purpose I can only imagine). The first stanza, all that I could unearth, goes like this:

Fluvione colligemus
Qua'sint seraphim sancti,
Fluvio amœna cujus
Fons est throno Domini?

Two Years Ago: Gregory the Great

One Year Ago: Paul Gerhardt

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Phoebe Palmer Knapp

I've written about composer Phoebe Palmer Knapp (March 9. 1838 - July 10, 1908) before, and her most famous tune, matched to Fanny Crosby's Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. She probably wrote her first tunes to accompany the hymns written by her mother, Phoebe Worrall Palmer, but she went on to write tunes for texts by many other gospel song writers, in addition to her long friendship and collaboration with Crosby.

She and her husband Joseph (one of the founders of the Metropolitan Life insurance company) were very active in the Sunday School of their Methodist church, St. John's in Brooklyn, where Phoebe also played the organ. In 1869, she compiled and published a collection of Sunday School music titled Notes of Joy, and the music to 94 of the 172 selections was composed by her. The introduction was written by Methodist
Bishop Matthew Simpson, who wrote of Knapp's efforts:

These "Notes of Joy" were prompted partly by a mother's love as she sang to her own dear children, partly for her class in the Sunday School which she loved to instruct, and partly for the circle of friends who gathered around the mercy-seat for prayer (probably a reference to the elder Phoebe's prayer meetings). They have been listened to and admired, and having been repeatedly urged by many friends, she has at length committed them to the Press.

In addition to songs and service music by Knapp, Notes of Joy also contains the work of Phoebe Palmer, Fanny Crosby and her husband Alexander Van Alstyne (they wrote the opening song, from which the collection took its name) as well as prominent writers and composers such as
Robert Lowry, Josephine Pollard, Hubert P. Main, and Theodore Perkins. In her own foreword to the book, Phoebe wrote:

It is hoped that a proper regard for the eighth commandment may restrain all book makers from appropiating, without permission, any of the Copyright property of which the book is so largely composed.

Following this foreword, the notice of copyright for Notes of Joy is included -- in the name of her husband, Joseph F. Knapp.

This tune was written after Notes of Joy, but is sung here with this Lenten text by John Ellerton.

Giver of the perfect gift,
Whom we hallow in this place,
Hear the prayer our hearts uplift
Here before thy throne of grace.

Who can save us, Christ, but thou?
Let thy mercy show thy power;
Lo, we plead thy promise now,
Here in this accepted hour.

So may these, our Lenten days,
Blessed by thee, with thee be passed,
That with purer, nobler praise
We may keep thy feast at last.

God the Holy Trinity,
Grant the mercy we implore;
God the One, all praise to thee
Through the ages evermore.

John Ellerton, 1871; alt.
Phoebe Knapp, 1872 ?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

If Your Line Is Grounded

On this date in 1876, the United States Patent Office issued Patent #174,465 to Alexander Graham Bell for “the method of, and apparatus for, transmitting vocal or other sounds telegraphically ... by causing electrical undulations, similar in form to the vibrations of the air accompanying the said vocal or other sound,” or, as we know it now, the telephone. Three days later Bell finally achieved his initial goal when his famous quote “Mr. Watson, come here -- I want to see you” was transmitted between rooms of his workshop to his waiting assistant.

Over the next century the telephone developed from that primitive “apparatus” into a device that was, for better or for worse, present in most American households. In the last twenty years, advances in telephone technology have spread its use even farther, so that every individual person in that household can now carry one around in one's pocket.

We were nowhere near that point in 1919; the telephone was still a rather new invention, but it was at least known to most people. I suppose it may have seemed slightly miraculous to many, which brings us to this gospel song published in that year by
Nazarene pastor Frederick M. Lehman, likening the process of prayer to talking on the telephone.

Central’s never “busy,” always on the line;
You may hear from Heaven almost any time;
’Tis a royal service, free for one and all;
When you get in trouble, give this royal line a call.

Telephone to glory, O what joy divine!
I can feel the current moving on the line,
Built by God the Father for His loved and own,
We may talk to Jesus thru this royal telephone.

There will be no charges, telephone is free,
It was built for service, just for you and me;
There will be no waiting on this royal line,
Telephone to glory always answers just in time.

Fail to get the answer, Satan’s crossed your wire,
By some strong delusion, or some base desire;
Take away obstructions, God is on the throne,
And you’ll get your answer through this royal telephone.

If your line is “grounded,” and connection true
Has been lost with Jesus, tell you what to do;
Prayer and faith and promise, mend the broken wire,
’Till your soul is burning with the Pentecostal fire.

Carnal combinations cannot get control
Of this line to glory, anchored in the soul;
Storm and trial cannot disconnect the line,
Held in constant keeping by the Father’s hand divine.

Frederick Lehman, 1919
Tune: THE ROYAL TELEPHONE ( with refrain)
arr. Claudia Lehman Mays, 1919

This seems somewhat amusing to us today, but the idea of writing a song of praise to God with a technological theme is not altogether unknown. Offhand, I'm thinking of Life in the Loom by Mary Lathbury, and there are probably others. And I guess you could include Earth and all stars, a 1968 (copyrighted) hymn by Herbert Brokering which includes the lines:

Classrooms and labs, loud boiling test-tubes,
Sing to the Lord a new song!

but I don't know of any hymns yet about iPods or laptop computers.

Frederick Lehman published five volumes for congregational singing called Songs That Are Different, which included some other unusual numbers, such as one called John Barleycorn Is Dead, King Nicotine Must Die (we haven't talked much here about temperance hymns and hymnals, but they were big business too). Lehman wrote more conventional hymns and songs as well. including The Love of God, which seems to be enjoying a resurgence in recent years.