Sunday, October 23, 2016

Hymns in the News

A few hymn-related articles have caught my eye in recent days that you might be interested to read.

On Friday, the website of the Baptist Press brought tidings of a new online resource for hymn researchers. The New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary is starting the process of scanning their 400 rare hymnals (in a library of 5000+) to make them available on the web. Though at present they seem to have scanned less than ten percent of their collection, they have started a Center for Hymnological Research where you (or I) can view or downlead them. It sounds like many of these have not previously been available online, and are older than the majority of hymnals you can see at Google Books or the Internet Archive (which are mostly nineteenth century or newer).  The article is also quite informative about the process of scanning books for online posting, if you've ever wondered about that.

From Wisconsin, the Wausau Daily Herald brought news of a concert held last Sunday in tribute to hymnwriter and composer Joy F. Patterson, who is celebrating her 85th birthday and her fortieth year of creating congregational song. Patterson's congregation (since the 1950s), the First Presbyterian Church of Wausau, filled their "Afternoon of Joy" with her hymns and choir anthems, which have been sung across several denominations and across the country.  According to their Facebook page, it was a "most festive event."

I know that many readers here are church musicians themselves, and understand the unique, powerful, and long-lived commitment that we often see in each other. For this reason, I always like to see those commitments recognized (personal shout-out to Merion F!).  Last month, the Mankato Free Press told the story of Iris Davis of Lewisville, MN, who was retiring as the organist of Zion Lutheran Church after 65 years and "thousands of hymns." She plans to continue teaching piano lessons and to write her autobiography -- I wish her the best.

Eight Years Ago: Saint James of Jerusalem

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

John White Chadwick

Today is the birthday of the poet, critic, and Unitarian minister John White Chadwick (1840-1904).  He graduated from Harvard Divinity School in 1864 (and wrote a hymn for the occasion) without having gone to college and was ordained later that year at the Second Unitarian Church of Brooklyn, where he served as pastor for the next forty years. Samuel Longfellow, a former minister of that congregation, participated in the ordination service and urged Chadwick to proclaim "the gospel of the immediateness of the Spirit" in his work there

Chadwick was eager to address the social and scientific advances of his day, and in his preaching, poetry, and other writing he often combined these "outside" concepts with his religious thought. He wrote of his desire "to reconceive the Bible, to reconceive the life and character of Jesus, to reconceive the universe and man and God, not with my own poor strength, but with the help of all the deepest, highest, noblest philosophical and critical and scientific thinking of the time." His sermon to the National Unitarian Conference in 1876 was titled The Essential Piety of Modern Science, and his book The Faith of Reason (1880) encapsulates much of his thought on these themes.

Several of his hymns also include these ideas, even this one for today,  written for an anniversary occasion, where he sets "truth" against the "bounds of sect and bonds of creed."

O God, whose perfect goodness crowns
With peace and joy each sacred day,
Our hearts are glad for all the years
Your love has kept us in your way.

For common tasks of help and cheer,
For quiet hours of thought and prayer,
For moments when we seemed to feel
The breath of a diviner air;

For truth that evermore makes free
From bounds of sect and bonds of creed;
For light that shines that we may see
Our own in every neighbor's need;

For this and more than words can say,
We praise and bless your holy name.
Come life or death, enough to know
That you are evermore the same.

John White Chadwick, 1889; alt.
Tune: WOOLMER'S (L.M.) 
Frederick Arthur Gore Ouseley, 1861

Eight Years Ago: Emily Swan Perkins

Seven Years Ago: Emily Swan Perkins

Seven Years Ago: John White Chadwick

Three Years Ago: Claudia Frances Hernaman

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Saint Luke

Today is the feast day of Saint Luke, author of the Gospel of Luke as well as the book of Acts.  At the end of Paul's Letter to the Colossians (4:7-18), Paul adds greetings to the church at Colossae, and includes "Luke, the beloved physician," the only direct reference to Luke's occupation.

Today's anonymous Latin hymn (Exultet coelum laudibus) comes from an eleventh century manuscript in the British Museum, translated by Richard Mant and published in his collection Ancient Hymns from the Roman Breviary (1837). Not specifically written for this day, it nevertheless refers to the healing graces of the followers of Jesus.

Let all on earth their voices raise,
Re-echoing heav’n’s triumphant praise
To thee, who gave thy loved ones grace
To run on earth their glorious race.

Thou, in whose might they spake the word
Which cured disease and health restored,
To us its healing power prolong,
Support the weak, confirm the strong.

To us thy heav’nly light impart,
To glad our eyes and cheer our heart.
Jesus, with them pronounce us blest,
And take us to thine endless rest.

Latin, 11th cent.; tr. Richard Mant, 1837; alt.
Catholische Geistliche Gesäsange, 1608

P.S. The window above is from the St. Luke Chapel at Norwich Cathedral, designed by J. Hardman & Co. In some traditions, Luke is also considered the patron saint of stained glass workers.

Eight Years Ago: Come sing, ye choirs exultant

Seven Years Ago: What thanks and praise to thee we owe

One Year Ago: By all your saints still striving

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Frederick Lucian Hosmer

The dean of Unitarian hymnwriters, Frederick Lucian Hosmer, was born on this day in 1840. Many details of his life and career have been shared here in previous years (see links below).

This year I discovered a nice article in the November, 1920 issue of The Pacific Unitarian, a church magazine published in San Francisco, marking Hosmer's eightieth birthday. A celebration of the occasion on the exact date was planned by the First Unitarian Church of Berkeley (CA), where Hosmer had been named pastor emeritus in 1915, upon his (second) retirement. However, it was not certain that he would be present, as he had left California three years earlier "to visit his friends in the East." He had been staying in the Boston neighborhood of Dorchester for much of that time, but when he learned of the planned celebration he cut his extended trip short and returned to Berkeley, to the evident delight of his former parishioners.  According to the article: "He was as glad to meet his old friends as they were to have him back, and his informal hand-grasping reception had nothing perfunctory about it." Various speeches of acclamation were also delivered that night.

The article also recounts a celebration held in Boston three days earlier at a board meeting of the American Unitarian Association. Unfortunately, Hosmer was not in attendance as he would have already been on his way to California, but it's not unlikely that the Board thought that he would be there as he had been staying nearby for many months.  A portrait of Hosmer was given to the Association by a committee of his friends, and Association President Samuel Atkins Eliot II spoke warmly of Hosmer and his accomplishments, and recalled his many hymn texts.

They bear witness to the unceasing revelation of truth and to the reality and perpetual influence of the life of God [...] They are prophetic utterances of the cheerful and confident faith that we associate with the animating and radiant personality of our friend.

The article also included the following hymn by Hosmer, which he had written to mark the 75th anniversary of the American Unitarian Association twenty years earlier.

From old to new, with broadening sweep,
The stream of life moves on;
And still its changing currents keep
A changeless undertone.

In prophet word and martyr faith,
Visions of saint and seer, 
The poet's song, the Spirit's breath --
That undertone we bear.

A sense we have of things unseen, 
Transcending things of time;
We catch, earth's broken chords between,
The everlasting chime!

And light breaks through the rifted haze
In shining vistas broad;
We stand amid th'eternal ways,
Held by the hand of God.

Frederick Lucian Hosmer, 1900; alt.
John Bacchus Dykes, 1868

It seems to me that there must be more references to Hosmer in The Pacific Unitarian, since he lived in California for most of the last thirty years of his life. He is one of the hymnwriters that most intrigues me, so I will have to investigate further.

Eight Years Ago: Frederick Lucian Hosmer

Seven Years Ago: Frederick Lucian Hosmer

Six Years Ago: Frederick Lucian Hosmer

Two Years Ago: Frederick Lucian Hosmer

One Year Ago: Frederick Lucian Hosmer

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Knowles Shaw

Today is the birthday of evangelist and gospel song writer Knowles Shaw, born near New London, Ohio.  He began to play the violin at the age of ten (the instrument was given to him by his dying father), and eventually played at public dances.  One story claims that his conversion to Christianity happened suddenly, in the middle of a dance, and he immediately stopped the song he was playing and left the building.

Shaw was baptized in the Churches of Christ in 1852, and over the next few years he married and started a family, initially supporting them by working as a farmhand. In 1858 he was first asked to speak in a worship service, and before long his gifts for speaking and music would lead to the career he would follow for the rest of his life.

He became known as the "Singing Evangelist," traveling around the western and southern United States leading revival meetings.  During the day he would introduce himself around town, inviting people to the meeting that night, which he would begin by leading about a half hour of congregational singing, followed by delivering a sermon, and sometimes baptizing several people. Estimates of the number of persons he baptized range from 11,000 to 20,000, depending on which source you read.

He also turned his musical skills and scriptural knowledge to the writing and publishing of gospel songs (sometimes the words, sometimes the music, often both) which he then introduced in his meetings (much like his contemporary Ira Sankey).  Between 1868 and 1878 he brought out five songbooks, largely made up of his own songs, including Sparkling Jewels (1871), The Golden Gate (1874) and The Morning Star (1877).

In looking at the writers of hymns and songs from previous generations, it's always a bit remarkable to encounter someone who wrote dozens and dozens of songs, and yet only one of those remains known today. This song by Shaw soon became his most popular, while the dozens of others faded away. The online hymn sites only list a fraction of his work, apparently not having thoroughly mined his five collections.

Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness,
Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve;
Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves,
Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Sowing in the sunshine, sowing in the shadows,
Fearing neither clouds nor winter’s chilling breeze;
By and by the harvest, and the labor ended,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Going forth with weeping, sowing for the Savior,
Though the loss sustained our spirit often grieves;
When our weeping’s over, Christ will bid us welcome,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Knowles Shaw, 1874; alt.
Tune: BRINGING IN THE SHEAVES ( with refrain)
George Minor, 1880

When this song was first published in The Golden Gate (it was #9, if you want to check the link above) Shaw had written both text and tune, but that tune was replaced by another after Shaw's death. 

On June 7, 1878, Shaw was traveling by train to McKinney, Texas when the train derailed.  He died saving the life of another passenger. The Reverend William Baxter, also associated with the Churches of Christ, wrote The Life of Knowles Shaw, the Singing Evangelist (1879).

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Cecil Frances Alexander

Today is the anniversary of the death of Irish poet Cecil Frances Alexander, who died in 1895. The date of her birth in 1818 is still unknown. She was born in Dublin to Elizabeth and John Humphreys, and began writing verse at an early age. 

Two of her earliest collections contain poetry that was later taken up by hymnal editors: Verses for Holy Seasons (1848) and Hymns for Little Children (1848). The latter collection was edited by the esteemed hymn writer John Keble, and went through sixty-nine editions before the end of the nineteenth century.  

In 1856, her poem "The Burial of Moses" appeared in the Dublin University Magazine (anonymously, for some reason). Alfred, Lord Tennyson declared that it was the only poem that he had read by a living author that he wished he had written himself.

She married the Reverend William Alexander in 1850. She was six years older than he, which was said to cause "great family concern," so the year of her birth was "adjusted," and many older sources claimed that she was born in 1823.  William became Bishop of Derry and Raphoe in 1867, and Archbishop of All Ireland in 1896 (after his wife's death).

Alexander's hymns still appear in modern hymnals, though most of the ones we still know were originally written for children (All things bright and beautifulOnce in royal David's cityThere is a green hill far away). Today's hymn, for adults, originally appeared in Hymns (1852), published by the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge, an organization that was largely responsible for sending Church of England missionaries to the American colonies in the eighteenth century, and remains active today as a publishing house.

Spirit of God, that moved of old
Upon the waters' threat'ning face,
Come, when our weary hearts are cold,
And stir them with an inward grace.

For you are power and peace combined,
All highest strength, all purest love,
The rushing of the mighty wind,
The brooding of the gentle dove.

Come, give us still your pow'rful aid,
And urge us to that higher place;
Nor leave the hearts that once were made
Fit temples for your quick'ning grace. 

Nor let us quench your sev’nfold light;
But still with softest breathings stir
Our wand'ring souls, and lead us right,
O Holy Ghost, the Comforter.

Cecil Frances Alexander, 1852; alt.
English folk melody; arr. Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1919

The score for the folk tune TRUTH FROM ABOVE, can be seen here, which may help you to better match the text with the tune, which I believe is a good combination.

English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872 - 1957), the arranger of this tune, was also born today, which also makes the match appropriate (to my mind, at least).  Originally sung with the carol of the same name, Vaughan Williams published his version in his Eight Traditional Christmas Carols (1919) and he had previously used the melody in his Fantasia on Christmas Carols (1912).

The memorial window to Mrs. Alexander below, at St. Columb's Cathedral in Derry, was dedicated in 1913. The left window represents Once in royal David's city, the center window, There is a green hill far away, and the right window, The golden gates are lifted up

(Photograph of the window is attributed to Andreas Franz Borchert)

Eight Years Ago: Ralph Vaughan Williams

Eight Years Ago: Cecil Frances Alexander

Eight Years Ago: Healey Willan

Seven Years Ago: Ralph Vaughan Williams

Six Years Ago: Cecil Frances Alexander

Four Years Ago: Ralph Vaughan Williams

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Elizabeth Gaskell

The celebrated English novelist Elizabeth Gaskell is not generally known as a hymnwriter, but there are a few to her credit.  She was born today in London in 1810. Her father had been a Unitarian minister, but resigned that occupation some years before Elizabeth's birth.

She married another Unitarian minister, William Gaskell, in 1832. She helped him in his work, teaching reading and writing as well as Scripture to Sunday School students at his church in Manchester. She also published a few short stories during the early years of her marriage. The Gaskells had four daughters. and it was following the death of an infant son in 1845 that William suggested that Elizabeth write a novel to distract from her grief. That novel, Mary Barton, was published anonymously in 1848.

Gaskell came to be primarily known for her novels, which often dealt with issues of social concern. Charles Dickens took an interest in her work, and published some of her later writing in his magazine Household Words. While supportive of her career, he was often frustrated by her refusal to agree to his editorial suggestions. Gaskell's reputation has survived to our own day, and you can probably find her books at your local bookstore. Some have also been adapted for film and television.

There are a number of ministers' wives who wrote hymns, such as Cecil Frances Alexander, Julia Anne Elliott, and Jane Lundie Bonar, so it is not surprising that Gaskell also tried her hand at it.  This wedding hymn was published in a number of nineteenth-century hymnals but is hardly known today. One unusual thing about it is that it makes no reference to gender, as most wedding hymns written before the last ten years or so usually do.

We join to pray, with wishes kind,
A blessing, God, from thee,
On those who now the bands have twined
Which ne'er may broken be.

We know that scenes not always bright
Must unto them be given;
But over all give thou the light
Of love, and truth, and heav'n.

Still hand in hand, their journey through,
Joint pilgrims may they go;
Mingling their joys as helpers true,
And sharing every woe.

May each in each still feed the flame
Of pure and holy love;
In faith and trust and heart the same,
The same their home above.

Elizabeth Gaskell, 19th cent.
Tune: HOWARD (C.M.)
Elizabeth Cuthbert, 1814

P.S. - In previous years, we have observed the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels on this date.

Eight Years Ago: Around the throne of God a band

Seven Years Ago: Stars of the morning, so gloriously bright

Six Years Ago: They are evermore around us

Four Years Ago: O Captain of God's host

Two Years Ago: High on a hill of dazzling light

One Year Ago: Praise to God who reigns above

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Francis Turner Palgrave

English educator, critic, and poet Francis Turner Palgrave was born today in 1824 in Great Yarmouth. He attended Balliol College at Oxford University, but temporarily interrupted his studies to serve as private secretary to William Gladstone, then a member of Parliament (and later Prime Minster). Later, upon finishing graduate studies in 1856, he served in a number of positions in the field of education before becoming a Professor of Poetry at Oxford in 1884.

As a critic, Palgrave wrote for various publications, and also published his own poetry.  He compiled and edited The Golden Treasury of English Songs and Lyrics (1861), considered to be one of the finest anthologies of English poetry. It is still published today under his name, though others have revised and updated it over the years.

He published a collection of his own sacred texts, titled simply Hymns (1867), which was updated twice with some additional material. According to Gwenllian Palgrave, who assembled Francis Turner Palgrave: His Journals and Memories of his Life (1899), her father considered hymnwriting "a most difficult task, even for the greatest poets." 

Today's hymn comes from that collection, originally beginning "O thou not made with hands," and it appears that way in several places. The Primitive Methodist Hymnal (1887) altered the line to "City not made with hands" (which I and several subsequent hymnal editors prefer), perhaps because hymns which begin "O thou..." are generally addressed directly to some aspect of the Divine, which this is not. In Palgrave's Hymns this is made clear by the descriptive title accompanying the hymn, "Kingdom of God within."

City not made with hands,
Not throned above the skies,
Nor walled with shining walls,
Nor framed with stones of price,
More bright than gold or gem,
God’s own Jerusalem.

Where’er the gentle heart
Finds courage from above;
Where’er the heart forsook
Warms with the breath of love;
Where faith bids fear depart,
City of God, thou art.

Where in life’s common ways
With cheerful feet we go,
In Jesus' steps we tread,
Who trod the way of woe;
Where Christ is in the heart,
City of God, thou art.

Not throned above the skies,
Nor golden-walled afar,
But where Christ’s two or three
In his name gathered are,
Be in the midst of them,
God’s own Jerusalem.

Francis Turner Palgrave, 1867; alt.
Francis Henry Champneys, 1889

In 1862 Palgrave became embroiled in a scandal when he wrote the catalogue for the Great London Exhibition. In it, he praised the sculptor Thomas Woolner, to the detriment of some of Woolner's rivals. When it was revealed that Palgrave and Woolner lived together, he was forced to withdraw the catalogue.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Emma Ashford

In recent years and months, composer Emma Ashford (who died today in 1930) has received some additional attention online from others who are interested in her background and career.

This article from the Vanderbilt University magazine, discusses several songs that have been written for the university.  The section on Ashford's musical contributions (as well as her association with Vanderbilt) is just a few paragraphs down, beginning with her 1900 composition of the music for a song commemorating the 25th anniversary of the university.

More recently, at the end of August this year, an extensive article on Emma Ashford's life and career was published on a blog devoted to reed organs, from where I obtained today's photograph (taken about 1901). This piece contains the most information I have seen on her in one place. Ashford did write several pieces for reed organ, one of which was featured here in 2012.

The video below is a performance of Ashford's anthem Lift up your heads, O ye gates, perhaps her most popular piece which is still sung today.  You can find several versions on YouTube but I chose this one by the Washington Performing Arts Society's Children of the Gospel Choir from 2009.  Some of the tempos might be peppier than those that Ashford heard in her day but performance practice does change over time and this rendition certainly makes a good case for Ashford's anthem.

As you can hear, the anthem ends with the hymn All hail the power of Jesus' name, to the tune CORONATION (1793), composed by Oliver Holden (whose birthday was just this past Sunday), incorporating the oldest American hymn tune in popular use today.

P.S. - I was pleased to include Ashford's tune EVELYN in the hymn festival I wrote and led last year, matched with a text by Phebe Hanaford on Miriam from the book of Exodus. EVELYN first appeared in the Methodist Hymnal of 1905, but not in any subsequent editions, so who knows when it was sung last?

Eight Years Ago: Emma Ashford

Six Years Ago: Emma Ashford

Four Years Ago: Emma Ashford

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Saint Matthew

From earthly toils lift up thine eye;
Behold, thy Savior passeth by!
With pleasing voice he calleth thee,
"Leave cares behind, and follow me."

One heard him calling long ago,
And straightway left all things below,
Counting his earthly gain as loss
For Jesus and his blessèd cross.

That "follow me" his faithful ear
Seemed every day afresh to hear;
Its echoes stirred his spirit still,
And fired his hope, and nerved his will.

Praise, Lord, to thee, for Matthew's call,
At which he rose and left his all:
Thou gently call'st us every day:
Why should we then our bliss delay?

William Walsham How, 1871; alt.
Tune: ABENDS (L.M.)
Herbert S. Oakeley, 1874

Eight Years Ago: Come sing, ye choirs exultant

Seven Years Ago: He sat to watch o'er customs paid

Six Years Ago: Arise and follow me

One Year Ago: By all your saints still striving

Also, for the UN Int'l Day of Peace: Years are coming, speed them onward