Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Oliver Wendell Holmes

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (August 29, 1809 - October 7, 1894) was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts and lived there for most of his life. Educated as a physician, he was for many years a professor or anatomy at Dartmouth College and Harvard Medical School, his alma mater.

There is always a "however" when Holmes's life is recounted, because his legacy has little to do with his education and occupation.  He is much more known today in the field of American literature and as a founder of the Atlantic Monthly magazine, which published many of his poems and essays.

Several of his poems have been adapted as hymns over the last century. Holmes is generally associated with the Unitarian faith, though his views on theology were perhaps even more broad than that denomination's reputation might suggest.  He once claimed that he "believed more than some and less than others."  The Episcopal Hymnal 1940 Companion says that several of his poems (sung as hymns in many churches) were "written in revolt against the merciless dogmas of his Calvinistic forefathers."

Today's hymn (the closing stanzas of a much longer poem) is certainly one of those texts in revolt.  Holmes presented it for the first time at the Unitarian Festival on June 2, 1882. Its theme of universal salvation (that everyone, regardless of religious belief, will be reconciled to God) renders this hymn unsingable in many places, and finds it in only two hymnals published in the early twentieth century, but I think there are certainly churches where is could still be sung today.

Though scattered far the flock may stray,
Your own as Shepherd you shall claim -—
The saints who never learned to pray,
The friends who never spoke your name.

When shall the gathered church rejoice
Your word of promise to recall -—
One shelt'ring fold, one Shepherd's voice,
One great Creator over all?

Dear Savior, while we hear your voice
That says, "The truth shall make you free,"
Your people still by loving choice,
Help us sing praise eternally.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1882; alt.
Tune: WAREHAM (L.M.)
William Knapp, 1738

Four Years Ago: Oliver Wendell Holmes

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Because God Leads the Way

In many churches today one of the assigned readings was Psalm 34. Today's hymn by Presbyterian hymn writer and composer Calvin Laufer is not really a paraphrase of that psalm, but it takes some of its language as a starting point.

O magnify the Lord with me,
All ye that bear God's name;
Whose faithfulness and sovereignty
Forever are the same.

God is the soul’s unfailing spring,
Its full orbed summer noon;
The autumn of its harvesting,
Its winter’s restful boon.

All times and seasons of the soul,
Revolve God's will around;
The universe itself pays toll
To make its life abound.

So is its life secure and free
Because God leads the way;
At length it shares eternally
With God the perfect day.

O sing with me, both young and old,
Of God's unchanging ways;
And let God's goodness manifold
Forever be our praise.

Calvin W. Laufer, 20th cent.; alt.
Tune: MAGNIFY (C.M.)

Calvin Weiss Laufer (1874-1938) was for many years the editor of musical publications for the Presbyterian Board of Christian Education and worked on several hymnals and songbooks, including the denomination's Hymnal of 1933.   Unfortunately, his hymns are no longer much used; I believe that only his tune HALL is included in Glory to God, the new Presbyterian hymnal coming out next year.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

James M. Black

Gospel song writer and composer James Milton Black was born today in 1856 near Ithaca, New York. Not much of his early life is recorded, but near the start of his career he worked with song writer Daniel B. Towner, who was the music director at the Moody Bible Institute.

He began to write his own songs, both words and music, and later would write tunes for the texts of others.  He is reported to have written nearly 1,500 gospel songs, though, as we have seen with other prolific writers, the songs that were actually published may have been somewhat fewer.  Black also edited several collections of gospel songs.

Around 1881 he settled in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, where he would live until his death in 1938.  For several years he was active in the Pine Street Methodist Episcopal Church, where he served as a song leader and Sunday school teacher.

In spite of his great body of work, only one of his songs remains well-known today. has documented 332 hymnals and songbooks thus far that contain this song, and it is still appearing in new collections.

When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound, and time shall be no more,
And the morning breaks, eternal, bright and fair;
When the saints of earth shall gather over on the other shore,
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.

When the roll is called up yonder,
When the roll is called up yonder,
When the roll is called up yonder,
When the roll is called up yonder I’ll be there.

On that bright and cloudless morning when the dead in Christ shall rise,
And the glory of the Resurrection share;
When the faithful souls shall gather to their home beyond the skies,
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.

Let us labor for the Savior from the dawn till setting sun,
Let us talk of all his wondrous love and care;
Then when all of life is over, and our work on earth is done,
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.

James M. Black, 1893; alt.
Tune: THE ROLL ( refrain)

Black was extremely proud of this song, perhaps to a fault. He is said to have requested a large copyright fee to reprint it, claiming that it was "the greatest gospel song that has ever been written for the last twenty-five years."  Years later, he served on the committee that produced the Methodist Hymnal of 1905 (which did not include his famous song).

More recently,  Black has been erroneously credited in a number of books as the composer of a song made famous by Louis Armstrong, When the saints go marching in.  However, Black's song is actually When the saints are marching in, which bears no real resemblance to the other.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Saint Mary the Virgin

Let today above all other
Brightly shine; of Jesu's Mother
Now we celebrate her fame;
For, the Virgin Mary praising,
We today our songs are raising,
Bringing honor to her name.

All Earth's daughters she excelleth;
In the heav'ns where now she dwelleth
Christ her loveliness doth own;
Virgin, yet her Maker bearing,
In a mystery past comparing,
Maid and matchless Mother shown.

Unto our Creator glory,
Unto Christ, whose earthly story
With our Lady's is entwined;
Glory to the Spirit ever
Sing we with our best endeavor
All our strength of heart and mind.

Latin, 12th cent.; tr. T .I. Ball; alt.
Tune: COBB (
Gerard F.Cobb, 19th cent.

Four Years Ago: Ye who claim the faith of Jesus

Three Years Ago: Hail, holy Queen

Two Years Ago:  Sing, sing, ye angel bands

One Year Ago: Virgin-born, we bow before thee

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sir Frederick A. Gore Ouseley

His full title was actually The Reverend Canon Sir Frederick Arthur Gore Ouseley, Bart., and his birthday is today (born in 1825).  As I've written before, he was a musically precocious child who composed an opera at age eight.  Even earlier, at age five he reportedly observed that "Papa blows his nose in G!".

In spite of this early ability in music, he did not initially pursue formal training in composition.  Following his college education he was ordained in the Church of England in 1849 and only after that did he study for a Doctor of Music degree at Oxford, graduating in 1854.  Probably due to his first calling to the priesthood, his music was limited to sacred themes: anthems, two oratorios, service music and Anglican chants, and, of course, hymn tunes.  In his day, hymn tunes arranged from secular melodies were much more popular than they are today, and he wrote of them with disapproval:

"How can they result in aught but the disgust and discouragement of all musical churchmen, the misleading of the unlearned, the abasement of sacred song, the falsification of public taste, and (last, but not least) the dishonour of our God and his worship?"

Today's tune by Ouseley is perhaps in a style that is not always popular today (some musicians really dislike so-called "waltz tunes" but that can have more to do with how you play them than any deficiency in the tune itself).

There’s not a tint that paints the rose,
Or decks the lily fair,
Or streaks the humblest flow'r that blows,
But God has placed it there.

There’s not of grass a single blade,
Or leaf of loveliest green,
Where heav’nly skill is not displayed,
And heav’nly wisdom seen.

There’s not a star whose twinkling light
Shines on the distant earth
And cheers the silent gloom of night,
But God has giv'n it birth.

There’s not a place on earth’s vast round
In ocean deep, or air,
Where skill and wisdom are not found,
For God is everywhere.

Around, beneath, below, above,
As far as space extends,
Is God, the source of boundless love,
Whose pow'r with mercy blends.

James Cowden Wallace, 1825; alt.
Frederick A. Gore Ouseley, 19th cent.

I have used a few other tunes by Ouseley (click on his name in the tags below), but he is not well-loved by modern hymnal editors.  A new feature at charts the prevalence of hymnal appearances for authors and composers, and you can see his decline (but, to be fair, most of his contemporaries chart similarly).

His more lasting legacy has been in the area of Anglican cathedral music standards.  Ouseley single-handedly founded a choir school , the College of St. Michael and All Angels in 1856 in Tenbury.  He intended for the school to set high standards and to serve as an example for others, and the effort was highly regarded over the next century.  When the school was finally forced to close in 1985 for financial reasons, the assets from the sale of the property were preserved as the Ouseley Trust, which still awards grants each year to support church music programs in England, Wales, and Ireland.

Four Years Ago: Joseph Barnby

Three Years Ago: Frederick A. Gore Ouseley

Two Years Ago: Joseph Barnby

Another Birthday Today: Katharine Lee Bates