Saturday, March 31, 2012

Thoro Harris

Gospel song writer and composer Thoro Harris (March 31, 1874 - March 27, 1955) was born in Washington DC. His father was black and his mother white, and some accounts claim that he "passed as white" in some situations, though it seems that he is generally considered to be an African-American Pentecostal songwriter.

After attending college in Battle Creek, Michigan, he lived in Boston and Chicago, compiling his first hymnbook in 1902 (containing several of his own songs). He wrote both texts and tunes, and sometimes arranged the tunes of other composers. We encountered Harris briefly as the arranger of a song based on Aloha Oe, the best-known melody by the Hawaiian Queen Liliuokalani. Several other books under his editorship followed and his songs were widely sung for many years across many denominations, including the hymnals of Bishop Alma White's Pillar of Fire Church. In 1925 he edited The New Hymnal, the first collection for Swedish-American Baptists published in English (and containing 39 of his songs), though he was not a Baptist. The Cyber Hymnal's listing of his works (see the link above) is quite small; you can get a better sense of his large output as listed at The Hymnary site.

In addition to his many gospel songs, Harris also wrote some more "standard" hymn tunes as well, including this one, which may have first appeared in the Free Methodist Hymnal (1910), set to a translated text by Martin Luther, All praise to thee, Eternal Lord, but I think it suits this text as well.

O God, in whom we live and move,
Thy love is law, thy law is love;
Thy present Spirit waits to fill
The soul which comes to do thy will.

Unto thy people’s spirits teach
Thy love, beyond the powers of speech;
And make them know, with joyful awe,
Th'encircling presence of thy law.

Its patient working doth fulfill
Our hopes, and God’s all-perfect will,
Nor suffers one true word or thought,
Or deed of love, to come to naught.

Such faith, O God, our spirits fill,
That we may work in patience still.
Who works for justice, works for thee;
Who works in love, thy child shall be.

Samuel Longfellow, 1864
Thoro Harris, c. 1910

There is a Perry Street in Chicago, in Boston, and in Battle Creek so we can't say which one he had in mind, assuming it was Harris who named this tune and not some editor somewhere.

Around 1930 Harris moved to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, where he played the organ at several churches. He also owned a boarding house for a time, which is still in operation today as a bed-and-breakfast.

Four Years Ago: Franz Joseph Haydn

Three Years Ago: Franz Joseph Haydn

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Like Comets Through the Sky

Today's well-known and well-loved hymn was sung today in my own church. It's appropriate for Lent based on its first stanza, though it is sung at many other times of year in different churches.

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To lay aside his crown for my soul, for my soul,
To lay aside his crown for my soul.

To God and to the Lamb, I will sing, I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb, I will sing.
To God and to the Lamb who is the great I AM;
While millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing;
While millions join the theme, I will sing.

And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be;
And through eternity, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And through eternity, I’ll sing on.

Then friends shall meet again, who have loved, who have loved,
Then friends shall meet again, who have loved;
Then friends shall meet again, in Jesus' presence, when
We'll meet to part no more, who have loved, who have loved,
We'll meet to part no more, who have loved.

Ye winged seraphs, fly! Bear the news, bear the news.
Ye winged seraphs fly! bear the news;
Ye winged seraphs fly! Like comets through the sky,
Fill vast eternity with the news, with the news,
Fill vast eternity with the news!

Anonymous; composite; 19th cent.
American folk tune; The Southern Harmony, 1840

The earliest appearances of this text were in two different hymnbooks published in 1811, A General Selection of the Newest and Most Admired Hymns and Spiritual Songs Now in Use, edited by the Reverend Stith Mead, published in Virginia, and Hymns and Spiritual Songs, Original and Selected, edited by the Reverend Starke Dupuy, published in Kentucky. A later edition of the latter book is downloadable here.

The two versions are similar but not identical. Later printings of the hymn over the next fifty years or so also reveal slight variations in the text and the number of stanzas. In this version, the fourth stanza above was added about twenty years ago when I was doing research for our hymnal project. We were always looking to restore "lost" stanzas, and this one had particular significance in our churches at the time (and still today). I still remember the slight shock I felt at finding it, and people at the time assumed that we, the editors, had written it ourselves. Google now tells me that this stanza is apparently adapted from one in a different hymn, Saints Bound for Heaven (Our bondage, it shall end, by and by).

The unusual meter is sometimes called the Captain Kidd meter, named for an English ballad about the pirate captain Robert Kidd, but used in dozens of folk songs, many with similarly repetitive lyrics.

The tune for this hymn, adapted from an earlier folk tune, was first printed in the second edition of William Walker's The Southern Harmony (1840), in three-part harmony (and with only one stanza of the text). There have been many different arrangements of the tune since then, not only in hymnals but also as choral anthems and instrumental pieces.

P.S. (March 2016) Welcome to all who followed a Facebook link to get here!  Please follow this blog on FB at 'Conjubilant W. Song' for more inclusive/expansive language hymnody (including most of the old MCC Hymnal Project material).

Four Years Ago: The Feast of the Annunciation

Three Years Ago: Godfrey Thring

Two Years Ago: The Feast of the Annunciation

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Fanny Crosby

Fanny Crosby, whose work has been often presented here, was born on this day in 1820. Six weeks later a doctor's mistake blinded her for life, yet she pursued her education and a career writing gospel songs that were (and still are) sung around the world, becoming one of the most famous people of her day.

In addition to her song lyrics she was a popular public speaker, giving lectures and speaking a revival meetings. This skill was probably developed in earlier years when she lobbied states and even the Federal government on behalf of education for the blind. In 1843 she became the first woman to speak before the United States Senate.

Fanny herself believed that her most important work was helping in rescue missions around New York City where she lived most of her adult life. In 1880 she decided that this would now be her primary calling (though she also continued to write gospel songs for the rest of her life). She worked at the Water Street Mission and the Bowery Mission for many years, and nearly all the money she made for her songs went to these and similar causes.

Of the thousands of gospel songs she is reputed to have written, hundreds were still unpublished at the time of her death in 1915 (and many remain unpublished to this day). Today's song was set to music by composer Bentley D. Ackley in 1920.

God. who brought the folk of Israel,
With a strong and mighty hand,
Out of all their cruel bondage
Into Canaan’s promised land

God has said, and we believe it,
’Tis a promise made of old,
From the trusting and the loving
No good thing will God withhold.

God is faithful to that promise,
God is mindful of God's own;
On our journey unto glory
We shall never walk alone.

We shall have that kind protection,
Wondrous love as in the past;
Though our days be few or many,
God will guide us to the last.

Fanny Crosby, 20th cent.?; alt.
Tune: GOD'S PROMISE ( with refrain)
B. D. Ackley, 1920

Though Crosby had received a strong musical education, and sang and played the guitar, she did not generally write the tunes for her texts. Only two tunes are known to have been composed by her, and one of those is finally available to hear at the Cyber Hymnal site: The Blood-Washed Throng.

Three Years Ago: Fanny Crosby

Two Years Ago: Fanny Crosby

One Year Ago: Fanny Crosby

Friday, March 9, 2012

Phoebe Palmer Knapp

We celebrate the birthday again of composer Phoebe Knapp, born in New York City in 1839. Her earliest hymn tunes were probably written for the texts of her mother, Phoebe Worrall Palmer, who sponsored a well-known series of Methodist prayer meetings in her home.

Phoebe's husband, Joseph Fairchild Knapp, was one of the founders of the Metropolitan Life insurance company, which put them in the top echelons of New York society in the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century. The photo here is from a May, 1899 newspaper article depicting Phoebe as president of the New York State division of the International Tribune Sunshine Society, apparently a social welfare organization of the day.

Today's tune by Knapp was written for an early text by
Fanny Crosby, her dear friend and frequent collaborator. Their gospel song, Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine remains one of the most well-known songs ever written for worship.

We praise our Creator for moments so bright,
We hail their returning, we hallow their light;
And now with the standard of Jesus unfurled,
Thro’ grace we are ready to conquer the world.

The whole world for Jesus our watchword shall be,
An army with banners, Christ’s soldiers are we;
Now marching with music, with sunshine and flowers,
On! on! to the conquest that soon will be ours.

How freely the springtime its tribute has brought,
Which gave us the roses and lilies we sought;
Thus freely to Jesus our talents we give,
For Christ we will labor as long as we live.

We praise our Creator for blossoms that grow
By fountains of knowledge whose streams ever flow;
Love’s blossoms that fade not and these we would bring
To Jesus, our Savior, Redeemer, and King.

Dear Savior, go with us wherever we go,
Thy truth in its grandeur O help us to show;
And when we have conquered thro’ faith and thy love,
Receive us, we pray thee, to mansions above.

Fanny Crosby, 1833; alt.
Tune: FATIMA ( with refrain)
Phoebe Knapp, 19th cent.

I am not generally in favor of hymns with battle metaphors or talk of conquest, but in this case we're armed "with music, with sunshine and flowers," which makes a bit of a difference.

Knapp apparently did not really know how many tunes she had composed over the course of her career. though the estimate is around five hundred. In one anecdote, she was listening to a song and commented that the music sounded familiar, that she liked it but thought it could be improved upon. A friend with her reminded her that Knapp herself had written the tune ten years earlier.

Three Years Ago: Phoebe Palmer Knapp

Two Years Ago: Phoebe Palmer Knapp

Friday, March 2, 2012

John Samuel Bewley Monsell

Today is the 101st birthday of John Samuel Bewley Monsell, born in Londonderry in 1811, the son of an archdeacon. He attended Trinity College in Dublin and was ordained in 1834, serving several parishes in Ireland before coming to England in 1853.

From 1870-1875 he was the rector of
St. Nicolas' Church in Guildford and was also chaplain to Queen Victoria during that time. He became interested in the Oxford Movement (that influence can be seen in some of his hymn texts) but never converted to Roman Catholicism as some Anglicans did in his time.

He published eleven volumes of poetry, which included approximately 300 hymns (about a third of which are listed at the
Cyber Hymnal), some of which are still sung today. We have seen one here a while back: Christ is risen! Alleluia! One of his most well-known hymns is Fight the good fight with all thy might, and this is possibly the other, first published in Hymns of Love and Praise for the Church's Year (1863).

On our way rejoicing,
As we homeward move,
Hearken to our praises,
O thou God of love!
Is there grief or sadness?
Thou our joy shalt be;
Is our sky beclouded?
There is light in thee.

On our way rejoicing,
As we onward move,
Hearken to our praises,
O thou God of love!

If with honest hearted
Love for God and all,
Day by day thou find us
Answering thy call,
Thou who giv’st the seed time,
Wilt give large increase,
Crown the head with blessings,
Fill the heart with peace.


On our way rejoicing
Gladly let us go;
Conquered hath our Leader,
Vanquished is the foe!
Christ without, our safety,
Christ within, our joy;
Who, if we be faithful,
Can our hope destroy?


Unto God the Maker
Joyful songs we sing;
Unto God the Savior
Thankful hearts we bring;
Unto God the Spirit
Bow we and adore;
On our way rejoicing
Now and evermore.


John Samuel Bewley Monsell, 1863; alt.
Tune: HERMAS ( with refrain)
Frances Ridley Havergal, 1871

This is probably Havergal's most well-known tune, though I have found more than a dozen others composed by her that have not appeared in any hymnals in the last century.

Monsell died in 1875 durinig the construction of the current church building of his parish of St. Nicolas, though I have read at least three different accounts of exactly how it happened. He either fell from the roof, fell from a boulder at the site, or was struck by falling masonry, and died from a subsequent infection. And these accounts are all from pre-internet sources, so we can't blame Wikipedia!

Three Years Ago: All beautiful the march of days