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

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Catherine Winkworth.

Catherine Winkworth, born today in 1829 in London, remains one of the most prolific and most well-known translators of German hymns into English. Though contemporary hymnal editors (Lutheran and others) are always looking for modern translations, Winkworth's are still prominently included.

We have covered much of her biographical information in previous years, and included many of her translations at other times of the year (click on the tag below), but a few items caught my attention this year in reading about her again.

Catherine and her sister Susanna were mostly educated at home, but they also studied with the Reverend William Gaskell, the Unitarian minister of the Cross Street Chapel in Manchester. Gaskell and his wife, Elizabeth, the popular novelist (whose books are still read and adapted for television today) were family friends of the Winkworths.  Catherine was also acquainted with other literary women of her day, including Charlotte Bronte and Harriet Martineau.

Catherine's first book of translated German hymn texts, the first volume of Lyra Germanica, was published in August of 1855. Within weeks of its appearance, Catherine began receiving requests from hymnbook editors for permission to include her translations in the collections they were preparing. The book had fortuitously arrived during a period of great change in congregational singing; the long resistance to hymns in the worship of the Church of England was coming to a close and there was great demand for new hymns. Six of Winkworth's translations appeared in the first edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern (1860), which probably spread them even faster and farther, and before long she was included in the hymnals of many denominations in the English-speaking world.  Closer to our own time, she is mostly known in Lutheran hymnals, though some of her hymns still cross denominational lines.

Today's hymn is from the second volume of Lyra Germanica (1858).

All depends on our possessing
God’s abundant grace and blessing,
Though all earthly wealth depart.
They who trust with faith unshaken
In their God are not forsaken
And will keep a dauntless heart.

God, who to this day has fed me
And to many joys has led me
Is and ever shall be mine.
God who did so gently school me,
God who still doth guide and rule me,
Will remain my Help divine.

When with sorrow I am stricken,
Hope anew my heart will quicken,
All my longing shall be stilled.
To God's lovingkindness tender
Soul and body I surrender;
For on God alone I build.

Well God knows what best to grant me;
All the longing hopes that haunt me,
Joy and sorrow have their day.
I shall doubt God's wisdom never—
As God wills, so be it ever—
Freely I commit my way.

As on earth my days are lengthened,
God my weary soul has strengthened;
All my trust in God I place.
Earthly wealth is not abiding,
Like a stream away is gliding;
Safe I anchor in God's grace.

Anonymous, from Nurnburg Gesang-Buch, 1676;
tr. Catherine Winkworth, 1858; alt.
Johann Löhner, 1691; adapt. Johann B. König, 1737

Catherine died of heart trouble in France in 1878. She had traveled to Europe to help care for her invalid nephew Frank Shaen.  After her death, her sister Susanna (who was a noted translator of German prose) began to write a memorial volume drawn from family correspondence, but she died in 1884 before completing the work. Years later, their niece Margaret Shaen took up the project and finished it, and it was finally published in 1908, Memorials of Two Sisters: Susanna and Catherine Winkworth.

Eight Years Ago: Catherine Winkworth

Seven Years Ago: Catherine Winkworth

One Year Ago: Catherine Winkworth

Sunday, September 11, 2016

One Encircling Providence

In many churches, today marks a re-gathering of the community, returning from summer to a new program year for the church, even perhaps a rededication to the mission.  Seems like a good occasion for a "re-run," a hymn about our communities of faith and what we find in them.

O Light, from age to age the same,
Forever living Word,
Here have we felt thy kindling flame,
Thy voice within have heard.
Here holy thought and hymn and prayer
Have winged the Spirit’s powers,
And made these walls divinely fair,
Thy temple, God, and ours.

What visions rise above the years,
What tender memories throng
To fill the eye with happy tears,
The heart with grateful song!
Then vanish mists of time and sense,
They come, the loved of yore,
And one encircling Providence
Holds all forevermore.

O not in vain their toil who wrought
To build faith’s freer shrine;
Nor theirs whose steadfast love and thought
Have watched the fire divine.
Burn, holy Fire, and shine more wide!
While systems rise and fall,
Faith, hope, and charity abide,
The heart and soul of all.

Frederick Lucian Hosmer, 1890; alt.
Tune: ST. MATTHEW (C.M.D.)
William Croft, 1708

You can read more about this hymn and its author from October 16, 2008

Today is also the fifteenth anniversary of the largest terrorist attack on the United States, known simply by the date: September 11.  Many hymn texts have been written in response, and several have been gathered by the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada, which you can request through the Hymns in Time of Crisis page of their website (scroll down to Violence: Acts of Terrorism, Overcoming Despair).  More readily available online are three hymn texts on the topic (linked here) written by Presbyterian pastor Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, whose ministry in providing comforting hymns for difficult times we have covered before.

Seven Years Ago: Harry Thacker Burleigh

Monday, September 5, 2016

Hymns in the News

Last week an article appeared in Salt Lake City's Deseret News about the opening of the 1000 Songs of Zion Museum in Enoch, Utah, dedicated to Mormon Elder Joel Hills Johnson (1802-1882). As indicated in the museum's name, Johnson wrote more than a thousand poems, many of which have been sung as hymns in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in the last 150 years.  He was also the founder of the city of Enoch

His best-loved hymn is still sung in LDS circles, though, like many of their hymns, is not known in other denomination. Some of its theology would seem out-of-place in other settings.  The mountain imagery is taken from passages in the Book of Isaiah, and also would have referred to the mountains of Utah where many of the followers of Joseph Smith ended up (more on that below).

High on the mountain top
A banner is unfurled.
Ye nations, now look up;
It waves to all the world.
In Deseret's sweet, peaceful land,
On Zion's mount behold it stand!

For God remembers still
His promise made of old
That he on Zion's hill
Truth's standard would unfold!
Her light should there attract the gaze
Of all the world in latter days.

His house shall there be reared,
His glory to display,
And people shall be heard
In distant lands to say:
We'll now go up and serve the Lord,
Obey his truth, and learn his word.

For there we shall be taught
The law that will go forth,
With truth and wisdom fraught,
To govern all the earth.
Forever there his ways we'll tread,
And save ourselves with all our dead.

Joel H. Johnson, c.1853
Ebenezer Beesley, 19th cent.

You can read more about Johnson and this particular hymn at the blog of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and also view the Choir singing it. Unfortunately, the largest online hymn sites do not have much to say about Johnson: has no biographical information and only lists four of his hymns, and he does not appear at all on the Cyber Hymnal site. For those interested in further exploring LDS hymnody, the denomination has put their latest hymnal online, Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (1985).

Two additional stanzas of Johnson's text do not appear in that book, or on the choir's video, but were included in earlier Mormon hymnals:

Then hail to Deseret!
A refuge for the good,
And safety for the great, If they but understood
That God with plagues will shake the world
Till all its thrones shall down be hurled.

In Deseret doth truth
Rear up its royal head;
Though nations may oppose,
Still wider doth it spread;
Yes, truth and justice, love and grace,
In Deseret find ample place.

In this hymn, those of us not familiar with LDS doctrine might assume that "Deseret" is used in the sense that other hymnwriters might use "Jerusalem" or "Zion," but its meaning is far more concrete. The State of Deseret was established by Mormon settlers in 1849 (Johnson was an elected member of its legislature) and proposed to the United States as an official territory, but the federal government named it Utah instead, based on a Native American name. Further efforts to establish a territory named "Deseret" continued until 1872.  Johnson was writing of the hoped-for Deseret, an actual place on this continent where his people would be safe and prosperous. The name persists to our day as an old name for Utah, such as in the Deseret News, which brings us back to where we began. 

Eight Years Ago: Amy Beach

Seven Years Ago: Amy Beach

Four Years Ago: Hymns in the News (coincidentally, about another LDS hymn!)

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Tell Forth the Wondrous Story

With happy voices ringing, thy people, God, appear;
Their joyous praises bringing in anthems sweet and clear.
For skies of golden splendor, for azure rolling sea,
For blossoms sweet and tender, O God, we worship thee.

What though no eye beholds thee, no hand thy hand may feel,
Thy universe unfolds thee, thy starry heav’ns reveal;
The earth and all its glory, our homes and all we love,
Tell forth the wondrous story of One who reigns above.

And shall we not adore thee, with more than joyous song,
And live in truth before thee, all beautiful and strong?
God, bless our souls’ endeavor thy people true to be,
And through all life, forever, to live our praise to thee.

William G. Tarrant, 1888; alt.
William H. Ferguson, c.1910

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Lydia Sigourney

One of the most widely-read poets in her time, Lydia Howard Huntley Sigourney (September 1, 1791 - June 10, 1865) published fifty-nine books of poetry and prose. She was born in Norwich, Connecticut. the daughter of a gardener, and one of his wealthy employers paid for her education at a private school.  She opened a school for girls in Norwich (sources date its founding to either 1809 or 1811) and she taught there and in Hartford until her marriage in 1819 to Charles Sigourney. She had already published her first book, Moral Pieces in Prose and Verse (1815), but her husband requested that she now publish anonymously.

Lydia agreed to this stipulation and continued to submit to magazines and publish books of her prose and poetry. She initally donated the proceeds from her writing to organizations advancing such social causes as temperance, peace, and abolition, but by the 1830s her husband was no longer entirely able to support their family and she became the primary breadwinner. At that time, she also began to publish under her own name. Her writing was so well known that the publisher of the popular magazine Godey's Lady's Book paid her an honorarium for the use of her name in the masthead beside its other editors (including Sarah Josepha Hale), though Sigourney had no editorial duties. The social concerns that she supported continued to appear in her writing, and she was an early advocate for Native American causes.

A number of hymns later identified as hers first appeared in Village Hymns (1824), a Congregationalist collection assembled by Asahel Nettleton for the General Association of Connecticut, and over the years Sigourney's hymns appeared in several other hymnbooks, including Maria Weston Chapman's abolitionist collection, Songs of the Free (1836).

I found today's hymn in a collection titled Lyra Sacra Americana: or, Gems from American Sacred Poetry (1868), and though it probably appeared earlier I do not know whether Sigourney considered it a poem or a hymn.  As you know, hymnal editors have often believed such authors' intentions to be relatively unimportant.

Prayer is the dew of faith,
Its raindrop, night and day,
That guards its vital power from death
When cherished hopes decay.
And keeps it 'mid this changeful scene
A bright, perennial evergreen.

Our works, of faith the fruit,
May ripen year by year,
Of health and soundness at the root
An evidence sincere;
Dear Savior! grant your blessing free,
And make our faith no barren tree.

Lydia H. Sigourney, 19th cent.; alt.
Tune: BATH (
William Henry Cooke, 19th. cent.

(Apparently this meter is rather unusual, as I could only find one tune with a sound file available online. BATH by William Cooke is somewhat acceptable, but probably not the best match.)

Sigourney's autobiography, Letters of Life (1866) was published after her death. Fortunately, she did live to see the end of slavery and the Civil War. Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier wrote a memorial poem, including these lines:

She sang alone, ere womanhood had known
The gift of song which fills the air to-day:
Tender and sweet, a music all her own
May fitly linger where she knelt to pray.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

George Frederick Root

Composer and lyricist George Frederick Root (1820-1895), born today in Sheffield, Massachusetts, made his mark in secular songs as much as in songs for Sunday Schools and churches. In Biography of Gospel Song and Hymn Writers (1914), author J. H. Hall writes that by age thirteen, Root could play as many instruments as he was years old.

His early career was as a teacher of music in several schools, and he did not compose much before 1850. Over the next ten years, however, he wrote songs (sometimes both texts and tunes but more often tunes only) which became very popular and by 1860 he went into the music publishing business with his brother and a friend as Root & Cady.  The successful firm lost thousands of dollars when their building and inventory burned in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

The text of today's hymn (which was apparently originally sung to a melody known as Lord Ellin's Daughter) was shown to Root by his wife, who suggested he write a tune for it. He was not entirely pleased with the result, thinking it too simplistic, and though it was not immediately published, it eventually appeared in many hymnals (at least 552 according to  As told in Ira Sankey's Story of the Gospel Hymns, Root said "In after years I examined it in an endeavor to account for its great popularity - but in vain." Many writers of congregational song have been similarly baffled when texts or tunes they thought ephemeral became widely sung.

My days are gliding swiftly by;
And I, a pilgrim stranger,
Would not detain them as they fly,
Those hours of toil and labor.

For, oh! we stand on Jordan’s strand;
Our friends are passing over;
And, just before, the shining shore
We may almost discover.

We’ll gird our loins, my kindred dear,
Our distant home discerning:
Our waiting Lord has left us word,
Let ev’ry lamp be burning.

Should coming days be cold and dark,
We need not cease our singing:
That perfect rest naught can molest,
Where golden harps are ringing.

Let sorrow’s rudest tempest blow,
Each cord on earth to sever:
Jesus says, Come, and there’s our home,
Forever, oh! forever.

David D. Nelson, 1835; alt.
Tune: SHINING CITY ( with refrain)
George F. Root, 1855

David D. Nelson (1793-1844) was born in Tennessee and lived for many years in the South, serving as a surgeon in the War of 1812 and later pastoring Presbyterian congregations in Kentucky and Missouri before moving to Illinois (due at least in part to his anti-slavery views: "I will live on roast potatoes and salt before I will hold slaves," he once declared).

This hymn was reportedly a favorite of Henry Ward Beecher and later appeared in the Plymouth Sabbath School Collection of Hymns and Tunes (1865) which was published by William B. Bradbury but compiled from songs used at Beecher's Brooklyn church. Today, I am told this remains a well-loved hymn still sung at the Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims, where they proudly celebrate Beecher's legacy (including his immense contribution to congregational singing in this country).

Eight Years Ago: George Frederick Root

Seven Years Ago: George Frederick Root

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Ira David Sankey

Evangelist and composer Ira David Sankey was born today in Edinburg, Pennsylvania (near the Ohio border) in 1840.  In his autobiography, he recounts how singing was a part of his life from his earliest memories:

"... it was one of my chief joys to meet with other members of our family around the great log fire in the old homestead, and spend the long winter evenings singing with them the good old hymns and tunes of the church, which was the only music we had in those days."                                                                                                        
Church attendance provided him with another place to sing, and by the time he was in high school he was leading the choir at a Methodist church in New Castle.  He campaigned for the installation of an organ, which had been considered "wicked and worldly" and eventually succeeded ("Only one or two of the old members left the church during the singing."). After he traveled to Ohio for a musical convention where he met composer William B. Bradbury, his father was unsure about his chosen occupation:

"I am afraid that boy will never amount to anything; all he does is run about the country with a hymn-book under his arm."

Following military service in the Civil War, Sankey returned home, married Fanny Edwards, a member of his choir, and joined his father working for the newly-established Internal Revenue Service, which may have temporarily assuaged his father's misgivings.  But Ira met evangelist Dwight Moody in 1870 at a YMCA convention in Indianapolis, and when he joined Moody's organization a few years later his subsequent career could have been characterized as "running about the world with a hymn-book under his arm!"  Sankey became the song leader for the internationally-acclaimed revivals that Moody led. Moody had recognized Sankey's talents immediately and knew that the power of congregational singing would be key to the success of his work.

They introduced gospel songs to millions over the course of their careers, believing that style was most conducive to their message. Sankey compiled the songs that they used into a popular series of hymn-books titled Gospel Hymns, and these volumes were later combined into one.  The profits from these books enabled Sankey to build a new YMCA building and to buy a lot for his church in his home town, among many other contributions.

Most of the songs used by Sankey and Moody were contemporary works, written and composed by popular names of the day such as Fanny Crosby, Philip P. Bliss, William Howard Doane, Lucy Rider Meyer, Robert Lowry, George C. Stebbins, and many others.  However, they also used older texts that would have been known to their audiences, often adding new tunes that were more in keeping with the music of their revival events (as the retuned hymns movement does today).  This eighteenth century text by Philip Doddridge (with additional stanzas added some years later by Augustus Montague Toplady) was sung to a new gospel tune (and with an added refrain) by Sankey.

Grace, ’tis a charming sound,
Harmonious to my ear;
Heaven with the echo shall resound,
And all the earth shall hear.

Saved by grace alone!
This is all my plea;
Jesus died for humankind,
And Jesus died for me!

Grace first inscribed my name
In God’s eternal book;
’Twas grace that brought me to the Lamb,
Who all my sorrows took.

Grace led my roving feet
To tread the heavenly road,
And new supplies each hour I meet,
While pressing on to God.

Grace taught my soul to pray
And made my eyes o’erflow;
’Twas grace which kept me to this day,
And will not let me go.

O let thy grace inspire
My soul with strength divine
May all my powers to thee aspire,
And all my days be thine.

Philip Doddridge, 1740 (st. 1, 3, 5); alt.
Augustus Montague Toplady, 1776 (st. 2, 4); alt.
Tune: CHARMING GRACE (S. M. with refrain)
Ira David Sankey, 19th cent.

On YouTube you can see a video by a singer named Dave Willetts who portrays Sankey (alongside an unidentified actor as Moody) and leads a choir in some of his songs.

Seven Years Ago: Ira David Sankey

Five Years Ago: William Hiley Bathurst

Three Years Ago: William Hiley Bathurst

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) is commemorated today, the anniversary of his death, on various calendars of saints.  He entered monastic life in France at the age of twenty-two and rose in the ranks to head two different communities during his life, and founded many others.  His spiritual influence was said to be exceptionally strong, as four of his brothers, his uncle, and his father all eventually became monks, as well as the son of the King of France and many other men that he encountered. He refused to see his married sister when she tried to visit him, and after the death of her husband she too joined a convent. In Romance of Psalter and Hymnal (1889), author Robert Ethol Welsh writes: "Mothers hid their sons, wives their husbands, companions their friends, lest they should fall under his fascinating influence."

The sacred poetry attributed to him has been translated into several languages and adapted into hymns that appear across many denominations. Usually, the hymns are shorter sections of longer poems.  We have seen some of his familiar hymns here before, notably O sacred head and Jesus, the very thought of thee.

His devotion to the Passion of Christ (seen explicitly in the poem from which O sacred head was derived) is sometimes expressed in images of himself holding either a cross or a sponge on a pole (representing one of Jesus' seven last words, "I thirst"). I believe that the stained glass above might include a stylized sort of sponge, as well as a book representing his writings.

Today's hymn, no doubt also taken from a longer poem of Bernard's, is only documented as appearing in The College Hymnal (1876), which was prepared and published for use at Yale University, but it probably appeared in other hymnbooks. Unfortunately, the translator is not identified in the Yale collection.

O Christ, in whom our love shall find
Its rest and perfect end,
O Jesus, Joy of humankind,
And our eternal Friend:

May every soul your love return
And strive to do your will;
And, keeping your commandments, learn
To love you better still.

Grant us, while here on earth we stay,
Your love to feel and know;
And when from here we pass away,
To us your glory show.

Bernard of Clairvaux, 12th cent.; tr. unknown; alt.
Tune: ST. BERNARD (C.M.)
Tochter Sion, 1741; arr. John Richardson, 19th cent.

John Richardson (1816-1879) was a Roman Catholic organist in England who arranged or harmonized this German tune, and probably named it to accompany a translated text of St. Bernard (not necessarily this one).

Eight Years Ago: Bernard of Clairvaux

Six Years Ago: Bernard of Clairvaux