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