Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Feast of Pentecost

O God, the Holy Ghost,
In this accepted hour,
As on the day of Pentecost,
Descend in all thy power.

Like mighty rushing wind
Upon the waves beneath,
Move with one impulse every mind;
One soul, one feeling breathe.

The young, the old inspire
With wisdom from above;
And give us hearts and tongues of fire,
To pray, and praise, and love.

Spirit of light, explore
And chase our gloom away,
With luster shining more and more
Unto the perfect day.

Spirit of truth, be thou
In life and death, our guide;
O Spirit of adoption, come!
May we be sanctified!

James Montgomery, 1819; alt.
William H. Monk, 1868

Four Years Ago: Joy! because the circling year

Three Years Ago: O prophet souls of all the years

Two Years Ago: Above the starry spheres

One Year Ago: Hail thee, festival day!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Feast of the Ascension

On Olivet a little band
Around their risen Savior stand:
And after charge and blessing giv’n,
He passes from them into heav’n.

Wistful their eyes, but angels twain
Cheer them with glorious words: “Again
One day shall Jesus even so
Return, as ye have seen Him go.”

Whom have we, Christ, in heav’n but thee?
Like ships safe moored on stormy sea
Our souls in peril, with thee there
Find anchorage of hope and prayer.

Set loose from earth, and evermore
Fast bound to that eternal shore,
So all our life and love shall be,
Ascended Savior, ris'n with thee!

Samuel J. Stone, 1866; alt.
Tune: MENDON (L.M.)
German melody; arr. Samuel Dyer, 1828

Four Years Ago: Alleluia! Sing to Jesus

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Samuel Webbe

The birthdate of composer Samuel Webbe is unknown, and the date of his death is apparently also uncertain, but several sources do list it as May 15.  He had a son by the same name who was also a composer, but not of any hymn tunes that survived to the present day.

The tunes of Webbe that we do know mostly appeared first in his Essay on the Church Plain Chant (1782), and thus were not harmonized as we know them.  Webbe was a Roman Catholic in England, writing for their liturgy and not for the Church of England.  

Today we have what is probably Webbe's best known tune, MELCOMBE, the melody of which came from that first book, and is still included in modern hymnals.  The tune gained popularity in a relatively short period of time; it next appeared in a 1791 collection called Sacred Harmony (where it received its name).  Webbe then included it in his later Collection of Motets (1792) with a rudimentary harmonixation.  Ir probably arrived in America through the efforts of Lowell Mason; it appeared in early as 1828 in one of his collections, where it was called NAZARETH.

Like so many other familiar text and tune combinations, this one comes from the first edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861), where music editor William H. Monk harmonized the tune as we now know it.  In addition to today's well-known text by John Keble, that hymnal also matched MELCOMBE to Lord, speak to me that I may speak by Frances Ridley Havergal, but that pairing did not prove popular.

New every morning is the love
Our wakening and uprising prove;
Through sleep and darkness safely brought,
Restored to life and power and thought.

New mercies, each returning day,
Hover around us while we pray;
New perils past, new sins forgiven,
New thoughts of God, new hopes of heaven.

If, on our daily course, our mind
Be set to hallow all we find,
New treasures still, of countless price,
God will provide for sacrifice.

The trivial round, the common task,
Will furnish all we ought to ask;
Old friends, old scenes, will lovelier be,
As more of heav'n in each we see.

Only, O God, in thy dear love,
Fit us for perfect rest above,
And help us, this and every day,
To live more nearly as we pray.

John Keble. 1827; alt.
Samuel Webbe, 1782
harm. Willliam H. Monk, 1861

This text is from John Keble's The Christian Year (1828), part of a sixteen-stanza poem entitled Morning. Of course, some modern hymnals cut it even further to four stanzas.  In The Christian Year, this poem was preceded by a quote from Lamentations 3:22-23: "God's compassions fail not. They are new every morning," which may also remind you of a more recent hymn, Great is thy faithfulness.

I've already admitted that MELCOMBE is not a favorite of mine but someone must like it if it continues to appear in hymnals today. Archibald Jacob, in Songs of Praise Discussed (1933), calls it "an extremely well-balanced tune, of great dignity," which just shows what I know.

Three Years Ago: Samuel Webbe

Two Years Ago: Austin C. Lovelace

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Phebe Hanaford

Universalist minister, activist, author and poet Phebe Hanaford was born on May 6, 1829 in Massachusetts.  I have already covered several aspects of her biography in previous entries (linked below), but she led a long and active life.

Her early concern with social justice issues led her to write an anti-slavery novel, Lucretia the Quakeress in 1853, the same year that Harriet Beecher Stowe's more well-known Uncle Tom's Cabin appeared.   After the assassination of Abraham Lincoln she wrote a popular biography of the president.  Her most popular book, however, was Daughters of America (1883), an encyclopedia of renowned and accomplished women from colonial times to her day.

Today's communion hymn by Hanaford is taken from a poem in one of her collectiions, From Shore to Shore (1871).

The feast of life is sweet;
I am a willing guest,
And joyful, at my Savior's feet
I heed his high behest.

I eat the living Bread,
I drink the Cup divine;
And love within my heart is shed
And light shall 'round me shine.

With what exultant joy
My Savior, I shall sing!
Thy praise shall be my soul's employ
Till heav'n's high arch shall ring,

My soul feeds on thy Word
And strength receives from thee
I weary not of thee, O Lord,
O weary not of me!

Still at the feast of life
For strength let me sit down
Till victor, through thee, in the strife
I wear the glorious crown.

Phebe Hanaford, 19th cent.; adapt.
William H. Walter, 1872

The tune FESTAL SONG is most often associated with the hymn Rise up, O men of God, by William Pierson Merrill, but that's not a text I would ever be writing about.  Contemporary hymn writer Ruth Duck has written a modern text for this tune as a sort of replacement: Arise, your light is come!, which appears in some newer hymnals.  I think you should seek it out if possible; it's quite good (and more grounded in scripture than Merrill's).

The picture below depicts Phebe Hanaford in the pulpit of the New Haven Universalist Church which she pastored in the 1870s.  Since I first wrote about her a few years ago, a biography of her (the first!) has been published, A Mighty Social Force.  One of the contributors, Sarah Barber-Braun, is a long-time scholar of Hanaford and her work, and successfully campaigned for a headstone to finally be placed at Hanaford's unmarked gravesite in 1998.

Three Years Ago: Phebe Hanaford

Two Years Ago: Phebe Hanaford

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Saint Philip and Saint James

Today is the double celebration of the feast day of Saint Philip and Saint James in some churches.  We know that Philip was one of the Twelve Apostles, but the identity of this James has shifted over the years.  For a long time he was believed have been the James who was called the brother of Jesus, which is how Christopher Wordsworth identified him in this hymn for the day, published in Wordsworth's hymnal The Holy Year (1865).

O Jesus, blest the grace of Love
Shed on our hearts by thee;
Which makes us to another's soul
Dear as our own to be.

"Follow thou me?" that question dear
Thou once to Philip said;
He followed thee, and on the way
To heav'n he others led.

Today with thine own brother, Lord,
Philip is linked in love;
As kindred, to each other joined
By graces from above.

O bring us to that holy place,
That heav'nly home above;
Where kindred shall as angels be,
And ev'ry word be Love.

Christopher Wordsworth, 1865; alt.
John Bacchus Dykes, 1875

P.S. - Last summer, a group of Italian archaeologists believe that they found the tomb of Philip the Apostle in Turkey.

Three Years Ago: Saint Philip and Saint James

Two Years Ago: Joseph Addison