Monday, July 22, 2013

Saint Mary Magdalene

For the feast day of Mary Magdalene, we have a very familiar hymn that may seem out of place at first glance. 

As we have seen, older hymns for this day sometimes emphasize the story of the 'fallen woman,' which modern scholarship does not seem to support.  Contemporary hymns about Mary Magdalene are more likely to depict her as a follower of Jesus (almost but not quite one of the twelve disciples). and especially to recount her role as Apostle to the apostles on Easter morning, the first witness to the Resurrection (but see the Five Years Ago link below for Charles Wesley's eighteenth-century text on that very subject).

Hymnwriter Charles Austin Miles was fairly prolific, but this particular text and tune has been far and away his most popular.  He claimed that the inspiration for it came to him in a dream, after reading the resurrection account in John 20, 'the story of the greatest morning in history,' as he called it.  As we sing this text, we should remember that it is written in the voice of Mary Magdalene.

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The risen Christ discloses.

And he walks with me, and he talks with me,
And he tells me I am his own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

He speaks, and the sound of his voice,
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that he gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.


I’d stay in the garden with him
Though the night around me be falling,
But he bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.


C. Austin Miles, 1912; alt.
Tune: IN THE GARDEN ( with refrain)

Five Years Ago: Saint Mary Magdalene

Four Years Ago: Emily E. S. Elliott 

Three Years Ago: Saint Mary Magdalene

One Year Ago: Saint Mary Magdalene

Thursday, July 11, 2013

John Quincy Adams

Today is the birthday of John Quincy Adams, the only US President known to have written a number of hymns and psalm paraphrases. As described here before, Adams wrote metrical versions of all 150 Psalms, though unfortunately they were never collected and published in one edition.  Several appeared in The Christian Psalter (1841) and others were published in Poems of Religion and Society (1849).

Of course, this would include a version of the well-known Psalm 23, perhaps the most widelly adapted of all the Psalms.  Adams's version begins:

My Shepherd is the Lord on high,
His hand supplies me still;
In pastures green he makes me lie,
Beside the rippling rill.

His lifelong interest in religion and the Bible made him open to different interpretations of scripture.  He converted from Congregationalism to the Unitarian faith, but, as President, he habitually attended at least two Sunday services, one Unitarian (he had been a founding member of the First Unitarian Church of Washington - now All Souls Unitarian - in 1821) and another, either Episcopalian or Presbyterian.  He once wrote  "I can frequent without scruple the church of any other sect of Christians, and join with cheerfulness the social worship of all without subscribing implicitly to the doctrines of any . . . "  (He was, however, rather bored by his experience at a Quaker meeting, conducted in silence.)

Today's text is his paraphrase of Psalm 65, a song of thankfulness for the bounties of God.

For thee in Zion waiteth praise,
O God, O thou that hearest prayer;
To thee the suppliant voice we raise,
To thee shall humankind repair;
On thee the ends of earth rely,
In thee the distant seas confide;
By thee the mountains brave the sky,
And girded by they strength abide.

Thou speakest in the tempest peace,
The roaring wave obeys thy nod;
The tumults of the people cease,
Earth marvels at the voice of God;
The morning's dawn, the evening's shade
Alike thy pow'r with gladness see;
The fields from thee the rains receive,
And swell with fruitfulness from thee.

Thy river, gracious God, o'erflows,
Its streams for human wants provide;
At thy command the harvest grows,
By thy refreshing show'rs supplied.
Thy bounty clothes the plains with grass,
Thy path grows fruitful as it goes;
And wheresoe'er thy footsteps pass,
The desert blossoms like the rose.

Thy goodness crowns the circling year,
The wilderness repeats thy voice;
The mountains clad with flocks appear,
The hills on every side rejoice.
New harvests from the valleys spring,
The reaper's sickle they employ;
And hark! how hill and valley ring
With universal shouts of joy!

John Quincy Adams, 
George Coles, 1835

Four Years Ago: John Quincy Adams

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Philip P. Bliss

Today is the 175th birthday of the musical evangelist Philip Paul Bliss (July 9, 1838 - December 29, 1876).  Born in northern Pennsylvania, he made his first profession of faith at age 12 and joined the Cherry Flats Baptist Church. Around the same time he decided to pursue his interest in music, which would eventually lead to his becoming a traveling music teacher before he began composing tunes and writing texts both sacred and secular.

After achieving some success as a songwriter, he and his wife Lucy moved to Chicago where he worked in a music publishing company owned by George Root, the company that had bought Bliss's first song earlier.  While he conducted singing schools and musical conventions for the company, his songs were published in their books.

He met Dwight Moody in 1869, and was encouraged to join the Moody-Sankey evangelical organization, which he finally did in 1874.  He was returning to join the revival tour after Christmas in 1876 when he and his wife Lucy were killed in a train wreck in Ohio.  This song, which tells part of the story of Paul and Silas in prison from Acts 16:20-26, appeared after his death with music by his friend Daniel B. Towner.

Night had fallen on the city,
And the streets at last were still,
Where the noisy throng the day long,
Did the air with shoutings fill.
And the weary wayworn travelers
Preaching Jesus thro’ the land,
Paul and Silas, thrown in prison
At the magistrates’ command.

Many stripes to them were given
Many curses on them cast;
Many bolts and bars surround them,
In the stocks their feet were fast.
While the trusty Roman jailers,
All securely slumbering on,
Little dreamed the mighty wonder
Of the morrow’s early dawn.

Hark the sighing of the prisoners,
Hear their moanings loud and long;
No, again, and louder, clearer,
’Tis the voice of prayer and song.
See, the prison walls are shaking,
And the door wide open stands;
Lo, the earth, the earth is quaking,
Loosed are every prisoner’s bands.

Oh, there’s not a cell so lonely,
But a song may echo there;
Oh, there’s not a night so cheerless,
But there’s potency in prayer! 
Sing, oh sing, thou weary pilgrim,
Song will bring thee heav’nly peace,
Pray, oh pray, thou burdened prisoner,
God will give thee sweet release.

Philip P. Bliss, 1877; alt.
Daniel B. Towner, 1877

After Bliss's death, Towner also wrote the Memoirs of P.P. Bliss (1877) which can be read online.

Philip Bliss is sometimes credited as the person who coined the term 'gospel song' to describe this kind of music that was becoming popular in the 1870s, developing out of the earlier Sunday School songs of people like William B. Bradbury and William Howard Doane. This attribution may be only because a collection he edited in 1874 happened to be titled Gospel Songs.  This book also contained a tune written by Lucy Bliss; now I shall have to see if I can find any more music written by her.

Five Years Ago: Henry J. Gauntlett

Four Tears Ago: Henry J. Gauntlett

Two Years Ago: Philip P. Bliss

Sunday, July 7, 2013

An Arch of Promise Bright

Summer Sundays are always a good opportunity for a gospel song. Today's song, while no longer familiar to many, was produced by two very prolific writers, Emily Hewitt and Charles Gabriel.

Charles Gabriel spent most of his career in Chicago, where he worked in music publishing, eventually editing or compiling nearly a hundred songbooks, which generally contained some of his own compositions.   In 1912 he became associated with Homer Rodeheaver, who had a gospel music publishing firm, and was also the music director for Billy Sunday, a phenomenally popular touring revival preacher.  Rodeheaver used many of Gabriel's songs in Billy Sunday's services, which spread them to a wide audience.

Emily Hewitt was active in the Methodist Church in Philadelphia, superintendent of her congregation's large Sunday School.  Many of her songs, possibly including this one, were written for that assembly.

Be not weary or cast down,
When the heavens seem to frown,
There’s a rainbow on the cloud for you!
’Tis an arch of promise bright,
Earnest of unfading light
Pouring from a sky of radiant blue.

There’s a rainbow on the cloud for you,
There’s a promise that is sure and true;
Yes, the storm will pass away;
There will dawn a brighter day—
There’s a rainbow on the cloud for you.

Christ whose word rebuked the storm
Now is able to perform
Every word he whispers to your heart;
Wholly lean upon him, then,
For the sun will shine again,
And the shadows evermore depart.

There’s a rainbow on the cloud!
Tho’ your soul is sorrow-bowed,
Lift your voice to praise the Lord today;
There’s a rainbow ’round the throne;
In its glory we will own
That he led us in the perfect way.

Eliza E. Hewitt, 1914; alt.
Tune: RAINBOW ON THE CLOUD (7.7.8.D. with refrain)
Charles H. Gabriel, 1914

Both Hewitt and Gabriel were proficient at writing either the words or the music, or both.  They each produced so many songs, that, like Fanny Crosby, their publishers would bring out some of their material under pseudonyms so their songbooks would not appear to be overly full of any one person's contributions.

Three Years Ago: Charles A. Tindley

Thursday, July 4, 2013

New Mercies Shall New Songs Demand

Independence Day is not observed in all churches, and probably most often there is some acknowledgment of the occasion on the nearest Sunday, even if it's only an elaborate organ postlude of some patriotic song or other.

The Revised Common Lectionary does include scripture readings for the day itself for churches who have such services, so that means we can have a hymn based on a psalm for the day.  In this case, it's a partial paraphrase of Psalm 145, set to an appropriately muscular and majestic tune called NIAGARA (a great Native American name, no?).

Our helper, God, we bless your name,
Whose love forever is the same;
The tokens of whose gracious care
Begin and crown and close the year.

Amid ten thousand snares we stand,
Supported by your guardian hand;
And see, when we review our ways,
Ten thousand monuments of praise.

Thus far your arm has led us on;
Thus far we make your mercy known;
And while we tread this earthly land,
New mercies shall new songs demand.

Our grateful souls on Jordan’s shore
Shall raise one sacred pillar more,
Then bear, in your bright courts above,
Inscriptions of immortal love.

Philip Doddridge, 1755
Tune: NIAGARA (L.M.)
Robert Jackson, 19th cent.

Philip Doddridge, whose June 26 birthday I missed last week, wrote a number of psalm paraphrases among his many hymn texts, as they were much more widely used among the churches of the eighteenth century.  I think it suits this day quite well, a hymn of praise without the patriotic overtones that many people question, though the theme is clearly there in the third stanza.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Charlotte Perkins Gilman (July 3, 1860 - August 17, 1935) was not exactly a writer of hymns, but her life and work do intersect in a minor way with hymns and congregational singing of a sort.

In her autobiography, published in 1935, Gilman describes how, as an adult, she taught herself to read music.

I was not in the least musical, hardly able to distinguish 'Yankee Doodle' from 'Old Hundred,' or to sing either.  But I was fond of good hymn-tunes, such as I had been familiar with in church-going days in Providence.  Mrs. Campbell had a Unitarian Hymnbook, and there was the piano.  I did not know the notes, or the keys, and had no ear, but I had eyes, fingers, and brains.  Pointing to the opening note in some well-loved tune, I asked her to show me where it was on the keyboard. (...) In a few months I was not only able to sing some simple tunes correctly, with the piano, but even to carry some of them without it.  'Antioch' is my favorite.  When preaching, if allowed to select a hymn, I always ask for that one, it is so creditable to Christianity.

ANTIOCH is better known to most people as Joy to the world, which was not always confined to Christmastime as it is today.

In 1911, she published Suffrage Songs and Verses, a short collection of feminist poetry, the source of Gilman's previous text seen here (see link below), Day of hope and day of glory.  Some of the poetry has suggested tunes indicated, and it was probably her hope that they would be sung at women's suffrage meetings or other gatherings.  This particular one did not have a suggested tune, but it just happens to fit one of the tunes that Gilman claims she couldn't identify before her musical self-education.  So today's text (with her own distinctive capitalization retained) isn't really a hymn, but Charlotte Perkins Gilman (like Luther, Calvin, and hundreds of others before her) certainly knew the power of words and music sung together for influencing people's beliefs. 

With God Above–Beneath–Beside–
Without–Within–and Everywhere;
Rising with the resistless tide
Of life, and Sure of Getting There.

Patient with Nature's long delay,
Proud of our conscious upward swing;
Not sorry for a single day,
And Not Afraid of Anything! 

With Motherhood at last awake–
With Power to Do and Light to See–
Women may now begin to Make
The People we are Meant to Be!

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, 1911
 Louis Bourgeois, 1551 (attrib.)

 Five Years Ago: Charlotte Perkins Gilman