Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Our Confidence and Joy Shall Be

Break forth, O beauteous heav'nly light,
And usher in the morning;
Ye shepherds, shrink not with affright,
but hear the angels' warning.
This child, now weak in infancy,
Our confidence and joy shall be,
The pow'rs of evil breaking,
Our peace eternal making.

Johann Rist, 1681;
tr. John Troutbeck, c.1887, alt.
Johann Schop, 1641;
harm. Johann Sebastian Bach (?), 1734

Ten Years Ago: Once in royal David's city

Nine Years Ago: Where is this stupendous stranger?

Six Years Ago: Hark! the herald angels sing

Four Years Ago: What child is this?

Three Years Ago: Angels we have heard on high

Two Years Ago: Good Christian friends, rejoice!

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Samuel Francis Smith

Baptist minister and hymnwriter Samuel Francis Smith (1808-1895) was born today in Newton, Massachusetts (where he is also buried). Ordained to the ministry in 1834, he was pastor for several churches in Massachusetts and Maine over his long career.

While still a student at Andover Theological Seminary, he began to write poetry and other literary work to support himself. In 1831, his friend, composer and editor Lowell Mason, gave him a songbook in German and asked him to either translate or rewrite some of the texts so that Mason could include them in his musical publications. Smith was supposedly interested a particular tune in the book, which accompanied a German national song and decided to write an American national song for it. This was to be his most lasting legacy: My country, 'tis of thee, first sung at the Park Street Church in Boston for a children's service on July 4, 1831. It's said that he was unaware that the tune had already been used for the English national anthem, God save the King.

Smith would go on to write many more hymns, which have not yet all been documented online at the usual sites. The most complete list probably appears in The Hymn, the journal of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada. Baptist hymnologist David W. Music's article The Hymns of Samuel Francis Smith in The Hymn volume 59 number 2 (Spring 2008) includes an extensive list of 193 hymns (and other texts which might have been sung as hymns) as well as a detailed bibliography. He also acknowledges that there may well be other hymns by Smith that have not been discovered yet.

Smith was also one of the editors of The Psalmist (1843), a hymnal which quickly became widely used in Baptist churches. At the end of the nineteenth century, the Dictionary of Hymnology by John Julian still described it as "the most creditable and influential of the American Baptist collections to the present day."

Today's hymn by Smith is far less known and does not seem to have appeared in any American hymnals.  Earlier this year I was working at the First Baptist Church in Needham, MA, and discovered this text in one of their written histories. It was sung there on June 5, 1872 at the dedication service for their new building (which they still occupy). At this time, Smith was the pastor of the Needham church, which was not far from his home in Newton. Somewhat surprisingly, the tune they sang in 1872 was documented, and so the congregation in 2018 sang this hymn on the first Sunday in June to commemorate their building's dedication, as it had been sung in 1872.

Come, O divine Shekinah, come,
With glory fill this new abode;
Come, in our waiting souls there's room!
Display thy pow'r, a present God.

Come to our shrine, a God of love,
Come as a God of love and pow'r;
Refresh thy people from above
As dews refresh the drooping flow'rs.

Come as a spring and fount of grace,
Our temple with thy light adorn,
As crimson rays thy glory trace
The gorgeous rising of the morn.

Come as a dove, with wings of peace,
The sad to cheer, the bruised to heal;
The wounds that sin has made, to ease,
The covenant of our life, to seal.

Dispolay thy pow'r, a present God,
Come, in our waiting souls there's room;
With glory fill this new abode,
Come, O divine Shekinah, come!

Samuel Francis Smith, 1865 (?)
Tune: HOLLEY (L.M.)
George Hews, 1835

Shekinah is not a word many hymn lovers have encountered before. I have seen it in a few contremporary texts, but not those of 150 years ago.

In the recorded history of the Needham church, they believe that Smith wrote this text specifically for their dedication service in 1872. However, it appears in David Music's list of Smith's hymns as having been used in a similar service in Taunton, MA, on October 10, 1865, because their dedication service was published that same year. Was that then the first time it was sung, or did Smith perhaps write it even earlier, for another dedication that hasn't yet been documented? There are probably hundreds of similar hymns still undiscovered, written by authors both famous and unknown for various local occasions around the country.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Thou Land of the Free

Perhaps we can avoid the debate over using patriotic hymns in worship since Independence Day falls on a Wednesday this year and not on a Sunday. Some churches sang one or more of these on Sunday, some did not. 

The choice of which to sing (if any at all) has narrowed considerably over the last century.  I would venture a guess that America the beautiful may be the most-often sung, though a few others certainly appear as well: My country 'tis of thee by Samuel Francis Smith, Mine eyes have seen the glory by Julia Ward Howe, and of course, the national anthem, written by Francis Scott Key, who among his many accomplishments was also a member of the committee that produced the Episcopal hymnal of 1826 (and wrote a few other hymns as well). One other possibility, which was written to mark the 1876 centennial, might not even be recognized as a patriotic hymn as it is probably sung at other times of the year.

Like Christmas songs and hymns, there were many other patriotic hymns written that are included in the hymnals of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including several specifically for children. Also like those written for Christmas, relatively few have survived to the present day.

Not surprisingly, among her thousands of song texts, Fanny Crosby also contributed a patriotic song of her own (and this is probably not the only one).

Our country, our beautiful country,
Thy rock-girded mountains sublime
Look over the wide spreading forests
That stand like the pillars of time.
Thy rivers majestic roll onward
To meet the glad waves of the sea;
Columbia, the home of our forebears,
God bless thee, thou land of the free.

Thy valleys are smiling with verdure,
Thy hilltops with plenty are crowned,
And sweetly the songs of thy children
From ocean to ocean resound;
God grant that our nation forever
United and happy may be,
And Peace, with its white-crested pinions,
Abide in the land of the free.

Fanny Crosby, 1873; alt.
Tune: DOWNEY (
Daniel B. Towner, 1899
Fanny's text appeared in Songs of the Bible for the Sunday School (1873) with a different tune by Alonzo J. Abbey, one of the editors of the collection who was a prolific composer of Sunday School music (only a fraction is listed at his Cyber Hymnal entry - and not the original tune for this text). Since there is no sound file for the original, I have matched it to a later tune by Daniel B. Towner. The original included one more stanza (even more unlikely to be sung today than the rest), as well as the following refrain:

Our country, our country, our beautiful country,
The fairest and dearest of earth,
God keep the old flag of the Union,
And prosper the land of our birth.

Of course, the Civil War was less than a decade before Crosby wrote this.

The reference to "Columbia" as a name for the United States is also rather obscure today. Columbia also referred to a female personification of the country (as in the picture above) until the early twentieth century when she came to be replaced by the Statue of Liberty.

P.S. The picture above is from the cover of The Theatre magazine for January 1917 (during World War I), depicting actress Hazel Dawn as Columbia with doves of peace.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Feast of Pentecost

Come, Holy Ghost, my spirit fill,
Till every trembling chord
With love’s ecstatic music thrill,
In full and sweet accord!

Open the beautiful windows of heav’n,
The best of thy bountiful blessings send down;
Come, let the Spirit’s anointing be giv’n,
The faith of thy people crown.

Thy will, O God, be done in me;
Attune my will to thine,
That so my life a song may be
Of harmony divine.

Then shall my life make melody,
And testify to thee,
Till other hearts enraptured be,
And thy salvation see.

Come, Holy Ghost, come in! come in!
Inflame my waiting soul!
Forever dwell and reign within,
With love’s supreme control.

Henry B Hartzler, 1891; alt.
Tune: BOUNTIFUL BLESSINGS (C.M. with refrain)
Ira O. Hoffman, 1891

Ten (Liturgical) Years Ago: Joy! because the circling year

Nine (Liturgical) Years Ago:  O prophet souls of all the years

Eight (Liturgical) Years Ago: Above the starry spheres 

Seven (Liturgical) Years Ago: Hail thee, festival day

Six (Liturgical) Years Ago: Hail festal day! through every age

Five (Liturgical) Years Ago: O God, the Holy Ghost

Four (Liturgical) Years Ago: Spirit of grace and health and pow'r

Three (Liturgical) Years Ago: Come, O come, thou quick'ning Spirit

Two (Liturgical) Years Ago: Our blest Redeemer, ere he breathed

One (Liturgical) Year Ago: Come, Holy Ghost