Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Saint Andrew

The Feast of Saint Andrew traditionally determines the beginning of the Advent season, as the First Sunday in Advent is the one closest to November 30 (etither before or after).  Andrew's name day was placed at the beginning of the church year because he was the first of the twelve disciples.  In John 1:35-42, we read how Andrew heard the call, then recruited his brother Simon, who was given the new name of Peter by Jesus.

Today's hymn for Andrew's feast, from Christopher Wordsworth's The Holy Year (1865), also includes Peter, tying their brotherly connection to a wider message of love. Originally written in ten stanzas, I've adapted it down to a more likely four.

How fair and pleasant is the sight
When kindred hearts agree 
In holy amity and love, 
United, Lord, by thee.

Bright pattern of fraternal love
Today with joy we see,
Saint Andrew, who a brother brought,
Saint Peter, Christ, to thee.

Brothers by nature and by grace, 
Thou loved'st them as thine own;
Brothers united in the cross
And brothers in the crown.

They usher in thine Advent, Lord,
Which saved the world from sin;
For all who would that Advent greet,
Must first with Love begin.

Christopher Wordsworth, 1865; alt.
Tune: EXETER (C.M.)
Lowell Mason, 1823

Wordsworth gives us a footnote in the third stanza of his text here, reminding us that both Andrew and Peter ("Brothers united in the cross") were martyred by crucifixion.

Eight Years Ago: Saint Andrew

One Year Ago: Saint Andrew

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott (November 29, 1832 - March 6, 1888), novelist, activist, and poet, is still famous enough today to be the subject of today's Google Doodle

She was born in Pennsylvania but the family moved to Massachusetts when she was two years old. Her father, Bronson Alcott, was a prominent intellectual of his day, associated with the Transcendentalist movement, but he was not particularly successful at supporting his family, and Louisa began writing to supplement the family income. Her first poem, Sunlight, was published in 1852, and her first book, Flower Fables, three years later.

Her earliest novels were published under a pseudonym because they were not written on "ladylike" subjects, and it was many years before her authorship was revealed. However, they had been financially successful, which was her goal.

Alcott supported several social causes such as abolition, womens' suffrage, and temperance. She knew several of the reformers of the time, including William Lloyd Garrison, Lucy Stone, and Theodore Parker. In 1875 she attended the Women's Congress in Syracuse, NY. She might have written more about these subjects, but following the great success of Little Women (1868) and its successor novels for children, she decided to continue writing what was most lucrative for her (and her family).

Alcott has been quoted in various places as saying that she only wrote one hymn, A little kingdom I possess, which first appeared in a songbook titled The Sunny Side (1875) and later in Alcott's novel Under the Lilacs. However, this quote is taken from a letter she wrote to Eva Munson Smith in 1883 when she gave permission for that text to be included in Smith's monumental Woman in Sacred Song (which was not actually published until 1888). One of the editors of The Sunny Side, Charles Wendte, later published another songbook titled The Carol (1886), in which today's hymn for children appeared. Alcott's name is prominently trumpeted on the book's title page and introduction, and this text appears to have been written at Wendte's request (also, its copyright date is the same as the book's). So, clearly, she did write more than one (and a few of her other poems were matched to tunes by later hymnal editors).

What shall little children bring
As a grateful offering
For the ever-watchful care
That surrounds us everywhere?

Gathered in this happy fold,
Safe from wintry want and cold,
Fed by hands that never tire;
Warmed at Love's unfailing fire.

Sheltered by protecting arms
From the great world's sins and harms,
While a Patience, wise and sweet,
Guides our little wand'ring feet.

Jesus! dearest name of all,
Bless your children great and small;
Faith and hope in God we bring,
These shall be our offering.

Louisa May Alcott, 1886; alt.
The Parish Choir, 1850;
harm. William Henry Monk, 1861

The postage stamp above was issued in 1940, representing Alcott as one of ten authors in the Famous Americans series of stamps.

Eight Years Ago: John Haynes Holmes

Six Years Ago: Louisa May Alcott

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Watching for Thy Glad Returning

Another church year starts today on the First Sunday in Advent, four Sundays before Christmas Day. 

Liturgical churches have a wealth of hymnody new and old to get them through this season without resorting to the carols that are already creeping into our secular lives. Each year other churches decide to observe Advent, a quiet time of expectation, perhaps for the first time. Some worship planners find that it's hard to resist Christmas music in early December, but others stand firm.

That said, today isn't necessarily so quiet.  The prescribed scripture lessons for the day in some places talk about the second coming of Jesus rather than the first - triumphalism over the mystery of the Incarnation. Advent can encompass many themes.

O’er the distant mountains breaking
Comes the redd'ning dawn of day;
Rise, my soul, from sleep awaking,
Rise, and sing, and watch, and pray;
’Tis the Savior, Jesus Christ,
On thy bright returning way.

Nearer is my soul’s salvation,
Spent the night, the day at hand;
Here upon my earthly station,
Watching for thee, till I stand,
O my Savior, O my Hope,
In thy bright, thy promised land.

With my lamp well trimmed and burning,
Swift to hear and slow to roam,
Watching for thy glad returning
To restore me to my home.
Come, my Savior, come, my Joy,
Thou hast promised, quickly come!

John Samuel Bewley Monsell, 1863; alt.
Tune: STöRL (
Johann G. C. Störl, 1774

More Hymns for the First Sunday in Advent:

Eight (Liturgical) Years Ago: Lo! he comes with clouds descending

Seven (Liturgical) Years Ago: Jesus came, adored by angels

Six (Liturgical) Years Ago: Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates

Five (Liturgical) Years Ago: The King shall come when morning dawns

Four (Liturgical) Years Ago: Once he came in blessing

Two (Liturgical) Years Ago: Hosanna! now through Advent

One (Liturgical) Year Ago: O for a faith in boundless love

Saturday, November 26, 2016

John Ireland Tucker

Born on this day in 1819, the Reverend John Ireland Tucker is no longer well-known. He has no listing at the Cyber Hymnal site and barely a biographical listing at However, in his time, he was one of the most inflential people in the Episcopal Church for his devotion to and encouragement of music in worship.

His maternal grandparents, Joshua and Ann Sands, were among the founders of the first Episcopal congregation in Brooklyn, NY, in 1787, which held its first services in their home. That church would eventually become St. Ann's (named for Mrs. Sands) and lives on today as St. Ann and the Holy Trinity in Brooklyn Heights.

Tucker was born in Brooklyn and named for a former rector of St. Ann's, John Ireland. One relative later claimed that the child could sing before he could talk. He was educated in schools in the New York metropolitan area; one of his teachers was William Muhlenberg at the Flushing Institute on Long Island, who would also have a place in American hymnic history. From a letter sent to young John by his mother we find a reference to chanting at Muhlenberg's school (not a widespread Episcopalian practice at the time), an interest which would reappear in later years. He also learned to play the organ as a student and was offered the opportunity to play a piece or two at services at St. Ann's during his school vacations.

Tucker graduated from Columbia College in 1837 and spent the next two years traveling abroad. Returning to New York, he served as a church organist,  reportedly being admonished at least once for "elaborate and showy" musicianship. He entered General Theological Seminary in 1841, graduated in 1844 and was ordained a deacon shortly after.

At the same time, in upstate Troy, New York, there was a girls' school associated with St. Paul's Episcopal Church, where the children were taught music and sometimes sang at services. The professional quartet choir objected to this and eventually threatened to quit if the girls were allowed to sing with them. The head of the school, Mary Warren (a daughter-in-law of the church's founders) solved the confict by endowing a new mission, the Church of the Holy Cross, where the girls' choir would sing every week. By the end of 1844 the new church had opened across town from St. Paul's, and Dr. Tucker was called as its first rector. The first choral service was held on Christmas Day, though the congregation had to go back to St. Paul's for the Eucharist as Tucker was still only a deacon.

In the choral services, rarely done at the time, many part of the liturgy were sung, including psalms, canticles and prayers. They sang psalms both to Gregorian chant tones and to composed Anglican chants. The choir usually performed one or two anthems, and the congregation joined them for the hymns.  The church was also one of the earliest Episcopal congregations to observe saints' days, and may have been the first to hold services on the Feast of the Ascension.

In 1848 Tucker was ordained to the priesthood, one day after the consecration of the Church of the Holy Cross. Choral services continued to be offered, and before long, Episcopal priests and musicians were traveling to Troy to experience them and to decide whether to start them in their own churches (many did). The Holy Cross choir also sang from time to time at other churches in the area on special occasions. Over the next several years, Tucker declined offers to pastor other congregations (he was even a nominee to become Bishop of Minnesota) and was to remain at Holy Cross until the end of his life.

Congregational singing at Tucker's church was considered equally as important as the choir's contributions. He took great interest in both the texts and tunes that were sung, and compiled his first collection, The Parish Hymnal, in 1870, for use in schools or confirmation classes. The texts in the Parish Hymnal were interlined with the music. Printed music in hymnals and the institution of musical education in public schools, both relatively new innovations at the time, allowed a greater variety of tunes to be used. Tucker chose tunes in several styles from both American and English composers.

At the time, the Episcopal church was still singing from their hymnal of 1826 (212 hymns, 150 psalm paraphrases), which was generally bound into the back of the Book of Common Prayer, and contained no music. When a new hymnal was finally approved in 1871 (only the texts were considered 'official'), the denomination licensed the book out to various musical editors, who chose their own tunes to be matched with the 520 texts contained therein. Tucker's edition, titled The Hymnal with Tunes Old and New, appeared the following year, and was taken up by many churches who thought they might emulate the hymn singing at Holy Cross. This musical edition of the 1871 hymnal is said to be the most popular of the four versions that were published.

Tucker compiled two hymnbooks for Sunday schools: The Children's Hymnal with Tunes (1874) and The New Children's Hymnal (1892). When the Episcopal church approved another new hymnal in 1892, he produced another musical edition (one of six this time) in 1894, The Hymnal Revised and Enlarged.

Across these hymnbooks, Tucker composed and published a handful of his own tunes, but most of them were not taken up by other editors, and none of his tunes are currently available to hear online.

John Ireland Tucker died on August 17, 1895, in the rectory which adjoins the Church of the Holy Cross. In December of the previous year the church and its rector had celebrated their fiftieth anniversaries with a joyful jubilee service. Sadly, the Church of the Holy Cross closed in December of 2009, before I was able to visit. It was purchased by a neighboring university but was not being used for anything the last time I saw it.

Most of the information here comes from a book by Christopher W. Knauff: Doctor Tucker, Priest-Musician (1897). The book is interesting for the wealth of information on his life and the history of his pastorate, his musical and liturgical contributions, and the Church of the Holy Cross itself. Many readers would probably be interested in the correspondence included from prominent hymn tune writers during the time Tucker was compiling his hymnals. 

Tucker's legacy lives on in the musical and liturgical life of the Episcopal church, though few people remember his name.

Seven Years Ago: William Cowper

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Let Every Tongue Sing Thanks And Praise

Going back to the origins of congregational song, we know that there are a number of psalms on the theme of thanksgiving.  This paraphrase by Isaac Watts encompasses Psalm 107:1-22. As I've said before, I like hymns which reference the book of Exodus, and here Watts makes the reference even more explicit than the original psalmist.

Give thanks to God who reigns above;
Whose thoughts are kind, whose name is Love;
Whose mercy ages past have known,
And ages long to come shall own.
When God’s almighty arm had broke
From Israel the Egyptian yoke,
They traced the desert, wandering round
A wild and solitary ground.

There they could find no leading road,
Nor city for a fixed abode;
Nor food, nor fountain to assuage
Their burning thirst or hunger’s rage.
In their distress, to God they cried;
God was their Savior and their guide,
Who led their march far wandering round:
It was the path to Canaan's ground.

God feeds and clothes us all the way,
And guides our footsteps lest we stray.
God guards us with a powerful hand,
And brings us to the heav’nly land.
O let the saints with joy record
The truth and goodness of the Lord!
How great those works! How kind those ways!
Let every tongue sing thanks and praise!

Isaac Watts, 1719; alt.
Tune: CANDLER (L.M.D.)
Traditional Scottish melody

Six Years Ago: Now thank we all our God

The 'Mother' of Thanksgiving: Sarah Josepha Hale

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Saint Cecilia

Named the patron saint of music and musicians (alas, under somewhat dubious conditions), Saint Cecilia is celebrated on this date.  On YouTube, you can hear a lecture by the celebrated conductor Christopher Hogwood about Cecilia, which takes on the veracity of the legend (early in the video, so you don't have to watch the whole thing).  As the website at the first link above states: Never was so much made of such a tiny bit of pseudo-biographical information.

Cecilia has been the subject of much sacred poetry, and much of that poetry has been set to music over the last several centuries.  Hogwood also recounts the English tradition of musical commemoration of Cecilia with concerts on this day, a tradition which dates back at least to the sixteenth century. This history is recounted in William Henry Husk's An Account of the Musical Celebrations on St. Cecilia's Day in the Sixteenth, Seventeenth, and Eighteenth Centuries (1857).

One of the pieces written for these celebrations which is still popular today is Hail, Bright Cecilia (1692) composed by Henry Purcell.  The poem itself was written by Nicholas Brady, best known for his psalm paraphrases with his collaborator Nahum Tate. Their New Version of the Psalms of David (1696) provided the texts for congregational singing for the next few centuries (and we have seen two of their texts here and here).

This video is the final movement of Purcell's and Brady's ode (text below). Hogwood's lecture also talks more about the piece, among others written for the day.

Hail! Bright Cecilia, Hail to thee!
Great Patroness of Us and Harmony!
Who, whilst among the Choir above
Thou dost thy former Skill improve,
With Rapture of Delight dost see
Thy Favourite Art
Make up a Part
Of infinite Felicity.
Hail! Bright Cecilia, Hail to thee!
Great Patroness of Us and Harmony!

Even though Cecilia's original connection to music may have been the result of misinterpretation, the centuries since have inspired such a wealth of musical tributes to her (including the hymns we have also seen here in previous years) that she has gained a sort of reverse legitimacy.

Seven Years Ago: Saint Cecilia

Six Years Ago: Successive Cecilias  (female composers of hymn tunes)

One Year Ago: Saint Cecilia

Friday, November 11, 2016

Anne Steele

November 11 marks the anniversary of the death of Baptist hymnwriter Anne Steele (1716-1778), the first prolific female writer of hymns in English. Following the cultural practice of the eighteenth century, her hymns, psalm paraphrases, and poetry were originally published under the pseudonym of "Theodosia." The books above are well-preserved first editions of her Poems on Subjects Chiefly Devotional (1760), acquired last year by the Boyce Centennial Library Archives at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.

New research on Steele's life over the last decade has cast doubt on some long-reported incidents in her biography, which you can read about here.  Also apparent from that site is that her hymns, no longer as numerous in hymnals of today as they were a century ago, have been taken up by the retuned hymns movement in several instances.

Today's hymn is Steele's version of Psalm 119, which is a long psalm of 178 verses, boiled down into fourteen stanzas by her, and further reduced and rearranged here into five stanzas (a bit more likely for modern congregations, who still might cut a stanza or two).

Blessed be God, our Strength, our Shield,
Amid the dangers of the field;
God's constant love and saving pow'r,
Is our defense, a sacred tow'r.

O let your mighty arm control
These threat'ning waves that round us roll,
Then shall our children, 'neath thy care,
Grow up like plants erect and fair.

Then plenty shall our stores increase,
Plenty, the lovely child of peace;
No more shall cruel plunder reign,
Nor want nor misery complain.

Your Name shall then new songs inspire,
And wake to joy the sounding lyre,
And ev'ry tuneful string shall raise
In various notes, our grateful praise.

O happy people! favored state!
Whom such peculiar blessings wait;
Happy! who on God's pow'r depend,
Our God, our Guardian, and our Friend.

Anne Steele, 1760; alt.
Tune: SHARON (L.M.)
Frederick Arthur Gore Ouseley, 1875

In the final stanza we find the word "peculiar," which may remind you of Jesus shall reign by Isaac Watts (unless your modern hymnal has altered that line). Of course, in the eighteenth century, people understood the word to mean "unique," but you can also read a discussion of how it might still mean "strange" in a Christian context.

Eight Years Ago:  Anne Steele

Six Years Ago:  Anne Steele

Four Years Ago: Anne Steele

One Year Ago: Anne Steele

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Martin Luther

From the great reformer Martin Luther (November 10, 1483 - February 18, 1546), a hymn asking for the intervention of the Holy Spirit to bring us clarity and strength that we may persevere in the right:

Come, Holy Spirit, God and Lord!
Let all your graces be outpoured
On each believer’s mind and heart;
Your fervent love to us impart;

And by the brightness of your light,
In holy faith all folk unite
Of every land and every tongue;
This to your praise, O God, be sung.

From every error keep us free;
Let none but Christ our Teacher be,
That we in living faith abide,
In Christ with all our might confide.

O holy Fire, our Comfort true,
Grant us the will your work to do
And in your service to abide,
Let trials turn us not aside.

And by your power prepare each heart,
Unto our weakness strength impart,
That bravely here we may contend,
Through life and death to you ascend.

Martin Luther, 1524;
tr. Catherine Winkworth, 1855, and others
Melchior Vulpius, 1609;
harm. Johann Sebastian Bach, 1724

Eight Years Ago: Martin Luther

Seven Years Ago: Martin Luther

Sunday, November 6, 2016

William Tansu'ur

English composer William Tansu'ur was baptized on this day in 1706, entered into the parish records at Dunchurch as the son of laborer Edward Tanzer, when he was approximately six years old (his birthdate is unrecorded).

Since he was not born into the upper classes, or educated at famous schools, and did not compose music for public events or large urban churches, most of his life is fairly unrecorded also.  Apparently self-taught, he primarily wrote music for country churches, including an estimated two hundred hymn tunes, and some anthems and other choral music. He published several collections of hymn tunes, and his style became the predominant one in the eighteenth century, eventually replaced by the more "refined" church composers of the Victorian age.

His tunes are said to be very influential on early American church music, apparently known to composers such as William Billings and Daniel Read. However, only a fraction of them seem to have survived the nineteenth century, and practically the only one that still appears in modern hymnals is BANGOR.

We are not so limited here on the blog, and I like today's tune quite well, matched here with an Isaac Watts adaptation (not exactly a paraphrase) of Psalm 98, one of the psalms appointed for today in some lectionaries. It's entirely possible that this text and tune were actually sung together in the lifetimes of Tansu'ur and Watts, before particular hymn texts and tunes were firmly wedded to each other in printed hymnals.

To our almighty Maker, God,
New honors be addressed,
Whose great salvation shines abroad,
And makes the nations blessed.

God spake the word to Abraham first,
God's truth fulfills the grace;
And Sarah made God's name her trust,
And learned God's righteousness.

Let the whole earth God's love proclaim,
With all its different tongues,
And spread the honors of God's name
In melody and songs.

Isaac Watts, 1719; alt.
Tune: ST. ANDREW (C.M.)
William Tansu'ur, 1735

Six Years Ago: William Tansu'ur

Friday, November 4, 2016

Augustus Montague Toplady

Today is the birthday of Augustus Montague Toplady (1740-1778), author of one very well-known hymn (Rock of ages, cleft for me - found in more than two thousand American hymnbooks alone, as enumerated at and several others which have lapsed into obscurity. He has been described as an "Anglican Calvinist," ordained in the Church of England but firmly believing in many of the tenets of the Reformed tradition, founded by John Calvin in the sixteenth century. Years later, he compiled and published Historic Proof of the Doctrinal Calvinism of the Church of England (1774).

Toplady became a Christian while attending Trinity College in Dublin, after a sermon by a Methodist lay preacher named James Morris. There were various theological disputes in Methodism at this time, and eventually these were to put Toplady in direct conflict with John Wesley, one of Methodism's founders. During one published exchange, he wrote:

"I do not expect to be treated by Mr. John Wesley with the candour of a gentleman or the meekness of a Christian, but I wish him, for his reputation's sake, to write and act with the honesty of a heathen."

Most, if not all, of Toplady's hymns were eventually gathered into a collection he published, Psalms and Hymns for Public and Private Worship (1776). The opinion of them in his day (which persists to our time) was decidedly mixed, which probably explains why he is only remembered for one hymn today. One contemporaneous critic dismissed his hymn texts, summing up his work with the statement: "He is a fervent preacher, not a bard." Perhaps his protracted dispute with John Wesley also had something to do with this reputation.

He contributed to the Gospel Magazine and served for a time as its editor. Today's hymn was published there in December 1774. More than twenty years ago we included this in the hymnal project which I participated in because we liked the fact that it called God by several different names.

Inspirer and Hearer of prayer,
Redeemer and Guardian divine,
My all to your covenant care,
Forever I freely resign.

If you are my Shield and my Sun,
The way brings no terror to me;
When enemies seem to have won,
My Comforter true you will be.

A mighty Protector I have,
Unseen, yet forever at hand;
Unchangeably faithful to save,
Almighty to rule and command.

You smile, and your comforts abound,
Your grace, as the dew, shall descend;
And walls of salvation surround
The soul you delight to defend.

Augustus Montague Toplady, 1774; alt.
Tune: TIMNA (
Lowell Mason, 1841

Toplady died of tuberculosis on August 14, 1778, at the relatively young age of 37.

Something that interests me (but perhaps not many others) is that while this text is written in stanzas of four lines of eight syllables, it isn't really a Long Meter text because the emphasis in each line is on the second syllable rather than the first, so most LM tunes do not fit it. Years ago we matched it to a tune called DONCASTER OLD, but I couldn't find that one online and had to pick a substitute (which took a long time!).

Eight Years Ago: James Montgomery

Six Years Ago: James Montgomery

Two Years Ago: James Montgomery

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Feast of All Souls

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Author of life, where’er they be,
Safe in thine own eternity,
Our loved are living unto thee:

All souls are thine, and here or there
They rest within thy sheltering care;
One providence alike they share:

Thy Word is true, thy ways are just;
Above the requiem, "Dust to dust,"
Shall rise our psalm of grateful trust:

O happy they in God who rest,
No more by fear and doubt oppressed,
Living or dying, they are blest:

Frederick Lucian Hosmer, 1888; alt.
Tune: VICTORY (8.8.8. with Alleluia)
Giovanni da Palestrina, 1591
adapt. William H. Monk, 1861

Five Years Ago: The Feast of All Souls

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Feast of All Saints

Immortal by their deed and word,
Like light around them shed,
Still speak the prophets of the Lord,
Still live the sainted dead.

The voice of old by Jordan's flood
Yet floats upon the air;
We hear it in beatitude,
In parable and prayer.

And still the beauty of that life
Shines star-like on our way,
And breathes its calm amid the strife
And burden of today.

Spirit of Jesus, still speed on!
Speed on your glorious way,
Till every heart God's message own,
And all God's will obey.

Frederick Lucian Hosmer, 1880; alt.
Tune: SONG 67 (C.M.)
Orlando Gibbons, 1623;
arr. Henry T. Smart, 19th cent.