McFarlin Hymn Blog

Welcome to our new McFarlin Music Ministries Hymn Blog! Each week we will discuss two hymns, one of which will be the upcoming hymn for that Sunday’s worship service. 

The”Tips for Studying Hymns” (found below) breaks down all the important information on each page of the hymn and (more important) how to understand it. Use it as a companion guide for studying the hymns!

Tips for Studying Hymns *click to expand*

A “Note” about Hymns and Tunes (…get it?)

Quick Tip:

On the sheet music for hymns, notice the bottom of the page. There’s a wealth of information crammed into the bottom of each page:

    • the authors of the text
    • the tune name for that hymn
    • often an alternate hymn with the same melody
    • related hymns on a similar topic

Organist geek-out time:

A tune name, as we’ll learn about later, was assigned a word related to the text of the hymn.

For example,

    • #369 “Blessed Assurance” has the simple tune name of “Assurance”
    • #157 “Jesus Shall Reign” has a tune name of “Duke Street,” the street on which the composer lived.

The letters or numbers underneath the tune name indicate all of the hymns with which that text can be sung, based on the poetic meter of the text.

An example would be the text of #117 “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” being sung to the tune of #378 “Amazing Grace,” as they both fall under the CM Index (Common Meter, 86.86, meaning eight syllables-six syllables followed by eight syllables-six syllables).

Who Knew?

Well, church musicians, for one. Maybe some of you, as well!

We rarely have a chance to talk about this kind of stuff – so, in-between forgetting what day it is and your next Netflix binge, why not learn a little about the music of our faith?


June 2, 2020

John Morrow, Associate Director of Music Ministries/Principal Organist

SHEET MUSIC: #140 “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” (UMC Hymnal)

21 This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope.

22 It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.

23 They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.

24 The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.

– Lamentations 3: 21-24, KJV

Do you ever sing or hum to yourself around the house or at work? Perhaps your music comes out in the form of half-scribbled poetry that you write to yourself on a piece of notebook paper. Though we don’t know for a fact that Thomas O. Chisholm was a musician, we know that he was a poet and writer. He was born in Franklin, Kentucky, and his family lived in an old-fashioned log cabin. He didn’t have the means or the connections to obtain a formal education – yet, Tom loved to write. Wise in thought and speech, he became a paid member of the Franklin Advocate newspaper staff after turning 21 years old.

By 1893, at the age of 27, Thomas had been reached by the evangelical teachings and revivals of Henry Clay Morrison, who had helped begin Kentucky’s Asbury College and Seminary. It was Morrison who helped Thomas move to Louisville, Kentucky, and land a job as editor of the Pentecostal Herald news. Yet, what we know of Thomas is that he remained drawn into the ministry further, and he graduated seminary in 1903 to be ordained as a pastor in the Methodist Church.

The storms of life, though, are unpredictable. We cannot prepare for tragedy, and we know it doesn’t come from God. After his first appointment in Scottsville, Kentucky, Thomas became deathly ill. While there is no exact description of his illness, we can imagine that it may have been something that was recurring and that continued to aggravate his immune system time and time again. Advised to take a different profession and spend some time recovering from his illnesses, he moved with his family to Winona Lake, Indiana, where he did nothing but rest and write poetry and essays. In 1916, Thomas was offered the opportunity to support his family as an insurance salesman in New Jersey, and he took that job for the rest of his life, all the while writing in his spare time.

It would seem then that Chisholm’s ministry was over. He had served briefly and that was all. His life reached no other consequence and affected no other change. So, now we’ve reached the end of the story. Thanks for tuning in and see you on Thursday!

That is never how the story ends, even if it’s all that we can see at the moment. God works, even in times of anguish, in mysterious ways that we could never fathom. God’s love is a wonderful mystery that we only just begin to behold in this life.

As it would turn out, Thomas Chisholm had a friend who was a musician and who lived in Chicago, Illinois, William Runyan. Runyan worked with both the Moody Bible Institute and Hope Publishing Company, one of the global publishers of Christian sacred music. Thomas sent him the text to one of his poems, which he called “Great is thy faithfulness.” Runyan wrote back to Chisholm that:

“This particular poem held such an appeal that I prayed most earnestly that my tune might carry over its message in a worthy way, and the subsequent history of its use indicates that God answered prayer. It was written in Baldwin, Kansas, in 1923, and was first published in my private song pamphlets.”

One of Runyan’s private song pamphlets, Songs of Salvation and Service (1923), was used in Chapel services at the Moody Bible Institute. “It went rather slowly for several years,” Thomas wrote of the hymn. He heard nothing of its usage, or of any other songs of his. Several years later, the president of the school, Dr. Willard H. Houghton, began to incorporate it more frequently into the Institute’s services, often saying, “Well, I think we shall have to sing ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness.’” That’s how hundreds of graduates would become acquainted with the song, and it would become the “unofficial school hymn” of the Institute.

Another young musician studying at the Houghton College in New York, George Beverly Shea, learned the song at school and incorporated it into his touring with Rev. Billy Graham and the Billy Graham Crusades of the 20th Century (We’ll cover a lot more about Graham, Shea, and their impact on Methodism in a future post on “How Great Thou Art.”). The hymn was first sung by Shea in 1954 in England and quickly became a hit of the crusades, which helped take the piece across the world.

Here is a recording of Shea crooning out the hymn:

The hymn remains a favorite in England to this day – here is a recording of it being presented in a cathedral service in 2010: 

Would Thomas Chisholm ever have imagined his hymn essentially “going viral” some 31 years after he sent it to Dr. Runyan? Several other hymns by Chisholm (O To Be Like Thee and Living For Jesus, both of which are in UMC musical publications) would go on to be incorporated into the hymns of our faith.

While the former Evangelical United Brethren Church had published it in their hymnals, the Methodists had not formally claimed the hymn in their official hymnal. As the United Methodist Hymnal committee revised and updated our hymnal at the end of the 20th Century, Great is Thy Faithfulness was the second-most requested hymn to be included in the updated hymnal, second only to In the Garden. A Discipleship Ministries survey in 2000 found that it “remains one of the favorite hymns among United Methodists,” and surely it has a word to offer to each of us.

As noted by author William J. Reynolds, a different translation of James 1:17c reads:

“Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation due to a shadow of turning.”

We are creatures of habit. Many of us probably have a morning routine – isn’t it interesting how we often grow weary after a long day, and the next day may seem even longer? Or the days in which a small change in your routine seems to cause everything about the day to go downhill? This hymn, the scriptures upon which it is based, and the life of Thomas Chisholm, remind us of some consistent truths: God is with us, always, through every circumstance; God’s will never tires; and the hope and light that come from above will forever pour into our humanity — it is persistent, through every season of life, our one enduring peace.

Enjoy Cece Winans’ delicate and yet powerful rendition of today’s hymn, sung in this beautiful duet with her mother, Delores “Mom” Winans: 


Bibliography

Dawn, C. Michael. “History of Hymns: ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness.’” Discipleship Ministries, 23 August 2013, https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-great-is-thy-faithfulness. Accessed May 31, 2020.

“Great is Thy Faithfulness.” Then Sings My Soul, by Robert J. Morgan, Book 1, Thomas Nelson, 2003, pp. 285.

“Hymns, Canticles, & Acts of Worship.” Companion to the United Methodist Hymnal, by Carlton R. Young, Abingdon Press, 1993, pp. 379-380.

 


Precious Lord, Take My Hand | May 29

May 29, 2020

John Morrow, Associate Director of Music Ministries/Principal Organist

SHEET MUSIC: #474 “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” (UMC Hymnal)

There are hymns and songs that need to be sung often, whose histories remind us of moments and truths that should be exclaimed and often repeated. The “Father of Gospel Music,” Thomas Andrew Dorsey wrote “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” which became one of his most eloquent, important and heart-wrenching hymns. The history of this hymn reminds us of such moments and truths.

Thomas A. Dorsey was born in 1899 in rural Georgia into a family of strong faith and talent. His father served as a Baptist minister, and the family moved to Atlanta when Thomas was 11 years old. Dorsey’s mother, a piano teacher and church organist, had him learning music at a young age, and it was due to her influence and moving to Atlanta that he began to hear jazz music and the blues. It was also in Atlanta that Dorsey’s family changed dramatically.

To make ends meet, his parents were forced into terrible jobs outside of the church, his father as a day-laborer and his mother as a domestic servant. Thomas and his family moved to Chicago in 1915 as part of the “largest mass movement in American history,” known as the Great Upheaval. It involved more than 7 million African Americans leaving the South and moving North and West, and was fueled by the great employment opportunities available in bigger cities during World War I. Thomas became a student at the Chicago College of Composition and Arranging while working as a regular pianist in the Chicago nightclub scene, playing so-called “songs of the flesh” that were considered scandalous, often for the simple reason that they encouraged dancing.

In 1920, as he began to feel and notice an “unsteadiness” in his playing, he felt worse and less able to control his body and mind for performances or composing. This feeling would lead to not one, but two nervous breakdowns, leaving him almost unable to make music. We know from writings and conversations that he considered taking his own life during this time. He visited a “faith-healer,” an old practice of intense prayer and the laying on of hands that was believed to, when practiced authentically, provide healing for mental and physical health. In Dorsey’s words, the pastor said to him,“Brother Dorsey … there is no reason for you to be looking so poorly and feeling so badly. The Lord has too much work for you to let you die.”

Soon after his experience, Dorsey was brought back to his roots and made a public declaration of his Christian faith. He began to work as a musician for the Pilgrim Baptist Church of Chicago, serving as their choir director from 1932 to the late 1970s, and writing at least 200 gospel songs that premiered at the church, from the more than 1,000 compositions he produced over his lifetime. He spoke of the first attempt at creating gospel music during a radio interview, in which he recalled playing the introduction to the hymn “The Lily of the Valley” in a blues-style, and it “tore up the whole church.”

Dorsey’s ingenious melding of styles was a reflection of himself; singing songs of the church with music from outside either Western classical music styles or European folk music did not exist outside of the Southern Pentecostal Churches. His was music from both worlds and it could rejuvenate those who knew music of the faith at the same time that it made singing in church more accessible for those who were not as familiar with a faith tradition. It also evolved the music of the blues, from a style that was born of “themes of defiance in the face of despair” to music that could also inspire and heal the soul with “stories of hope and affirmation.” In Dorsey’s words, this new “gospel” sound was “good news on either side.”

The cruel evil of discrimination affected Dorsey not only in his daily life, but also in his professional life. To help sell their music in the early 20th Century, African Americans often had to self-organize new publishing companies to make their compositions widely available; Dorsey himself served as the president of the National Association of Gospel Choirs and Choruses. He often found himself working overtime, sometimes forced to borrow money so that he could send out copies of his hymns and music, traveling often to promote his work. By the end of the 1920s, Dorsey was married, and Chicago and the country were in the throes of the Great Depression. By 1932, he and his wife Nettie, who worked in wardrobing singers and performers, were expecting a child.

What follows is Thomas Dorsey’s tragic personal account of the birth of America’s gospel anthem, and one that has gone on to provide strength across the world:

“Back in 1932 I was 32 years old and a fairly new husband. My wife, Nettie and I were living in a little apartment on Chicago’s Southside. One hot August afternoon I had to go to St. Louis, where I was to be the featured soloist at a large revival meeting. I didn’t want to go. Nettie was in the last month of pregnancy with our first child. But a lot of people were expecting me in St. Louis … . In the steaming St. Louis heat, the crowd called on me to sing again and again. When I finally sat down, a messenger boy ran up with a Western Union telegram. I ripped open the envelope. Pasted on the yellow sheet were the words: Your wife just died …

“When I got back, I learned that Nettie had given birth to a boy. I swung between grief and joy. Yet that night, the baby died. I buried Nettie and our little boy together, in the same casket. Then I fell apart. For days I closeted myself. I felt that God had done me an injustice. I didn’t want to serve Him anymore or write gospel songs. I just wanted to go back to that jazz world I once knew so well …

“But still I was lost in grief. Everyone was kind to me, especially a friend, Professor [Theodore] Frye, who seemed to know what I needed. On the following Saturday evening he took me up to Malone’s Poro College, a neighborhood music school. It was quiet; the late evening sun crept through the curtained windows. I sat down at the piano, and my hands began to browse over the keys.”

Here, Dorsey stopped. He looked at the keys, and began to play and sing the hymn (sung to the hymn tune Maitland) extremely slowly:

“Must Jesus bear the cross alone,

And all the world go free?

No, there’s a cross for everyone,

And there’s a cross for me.”

Listen carefully! Imagine it three times as slow:

Thomas focused on the first line of the hymn, adding some chromatic, jazz-infused rises and falls from the notes, still singing slowly and carefully. From his lips came divine imagery and personal anguish, echoing some of the written words he had received in letters of condolence and cards lamenting his recent losses:

“Blessed Lord, take my hand … lead me on … help me stand.

I’m tired, I’m weak, I’m worn … ”

His colleague and dear friend stopped him, and I can imagine him gently putting a hand on Thomas’ shoulder. “Not blessed – Precious.”

Out of the “darkest night of the soul” in Thomas Dorsey’s life came these words, this powerful anthem of strength that reconciles the music of traditional early Americana with the unbelievable power of jazz and blues music – it is the quintessential gospel chart.

As one writer puts it: the music and the text “capture the angst of someone suffering and reaching out to Jesus in the midst of their tragedy,”  with verse one portraying the stormy night, verse two speaking of the long and difficult path that proceeds from tragedy coupled with imagery of the end of life, and the third verse describing the arrival of the soul to the end of grief, which only comes in that “land beyond the river.”

The song was powerful, and took Pilgrim Baptist Church by storm:

Through Professor Frye and many other colleagues, the music made its way across the United States, and was published as a song of the civil rights movement. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. became associate pastor for his father at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1948, the church he had been born into and that his father had pastored since 1931. At some point, the choir at Ebenezer sang Dorsey’s “Precious Lord,” and it remained a part of Dr. King’s journey.

Thomas Dorsey had developed gospel music in Chicago, and the ranks of singers and musicians that he worked with to grow this music began to expand more than he could ever have imagined. As the genre became a commercial success, no other singer embodied these collaborations and successes more than Mahalia Jackson. The “Queen of Gospel Music,” Mahalia Jackson became a prominent part of the civil rights movement, leading music for the protests and opening them herself.

While the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 were tremendous strides in the right direction of justice, there was then – and still remains – a great amount yet to be achieved.

On April 4, 1968, having traveled to Memphis to speak to sanitation strikers, Dr. King told the musician for that night’s events to “ … make sure you play, ‘Take My Hand, Precious Lord’  in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty.” Those are believed to be his final words, and shortly after that conversation he was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. At Dr. King’s funeral service, Mahalia Jackson would sing the song again, speaking of Dr. King’s love for the song that had provided him so much strength and assurance during the lowest points of his life.

Here are three different looks at “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” each of which offers a truly unique perspective of the song.

Mahalia Jackson, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”: (click here to watch)

Beyoncé Knowles-Carter (Beyoncé) wrote an arrangement for the 2015 Grammys, incorporating everyday African American men into the performance:

 

The Aeolians Chorus of Oakwood University performs Arnold Sevier’s arrangement of the hymn:

As journalist Ann Powers has written, “In history told this way, the small gestures that unite people can build new artistic moments, new movements, new Americas.”

The church can provide that light in the darkness by taking action against injustice and forever following Christ’s example by standing up for and with the oppressed.

As Dr. King wrote, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

Originally, Dorsey had an extra verse that sometimes was added to his performances of Precious Lord.

“Precious Lord, I love your name.

When I look back from whence I came,

Sometimes stumbling,

Sometimes falling,

Sometimes alone;

Friends and loved ones I loved so dear,

Many are gone – but I’m still here.

Take my hand, precious Lord,

And lead me home.”

There is much work to be done, so let us join together proclaiming with one voice, hand in hand, that each person is a beloved child of God. Today, let us sing, mindful of Dorsey’s history, and in doing so, reflect on ways that we can stand for those who struggle based on race, color, or creed.


Bibliography

Chesnut, Ashley. “Precious Lord, Take My Hand: A Song for the Sorrowful.” Radical.net, 14 Sept. 2019, radical.net/precious-lord-take-my-hand-a-song-for-the-sorrowful/. Accessed May 28, 2020.

Dawn, C. Michael. “History of Hymns: ‘Precious Lord, Take My Hand.’” Discipleship Ministries, 31 July 2014, https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-precious-lord-take-my-hand. Accessed May 28, 2020.

Nast, Condé. “Dream Songs: The Music of the March on Washington.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 28 Aug. 2013, www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/dream-songs-the-music-of-the-march-on-washington. Accessed May 28, 2020.

Powers, Ann. “How One of Gospel’s Essential Songs Gave ‘Selma’ Its Soul.” NPR, NPR, 15 Jan. 2015, www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2015/01/15/377427650/how-one-of-gospels-essential-songs-gave-selma-its-soul. Accessed May 28, 2020.

Wertheimer, Linda. “’Take My Hand, Precious Lord’.” NPR, NPR, 17 Jan. 2000, www.npr.org/2000/01/17/1069272/take-my-hand-precious-lord. Accessed May 28, 2020.

“Hymns, Canticles, & Acts of Worship.” Companion to the United Methodist Hymnal, by Carlton R. Young, Abingdon Press, 1993, pp. 561.

“Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” Then Sings My Soul, by Robert J. Morgan, Thomas Nelson, 2003, pp. 289.

“This Far by Faith: Thomas Dorsey.” Edited by Sandra M Christie, PBS, Public Broadcasting Service and The Faith Project, 2003, www.pbs.org/thisfarbyfaith/people/thomas_dorsey.html. Accessed May 28, 2020.

He Lives | May 26

May 26, 2020

John Morrow, Associate Director of Music Ministries/Principal Organist

SHEET MUSIC: #310 He Lives (UMC Hymnal)

Ever get so upset at a colleague or news broadcast that you respond by writing a strongly-worded hymn about the Resurrection? Me neither … yet.

Alfred Henry Ackley, on the other hand, was familiar with this “hymn to the editor” method. After growing up in Pennsylvania, he left for London in 1887 to study keyboard and composition at the Royal Academy of Music. He returned to America and was ordained a Presbyterian minister, moving to California to pastor a church there.

In 1932, years into his ministry there, Ackley met a young student at a revival meeting who posed the question to him at the service’s close: “Why should I worship this deceased teacher? Why this one?” Almost exasperated, he looked back at the student and said “He lives! I tell you, He is not dead, but lives here and now! Jesus Christ is more alive today than ever before. I can prove it by my own experience, as well as the testimony of countless thousands.”

Ackley could not stop thinking about the exchange. Had he said it well enough? Sure, he had quoted Matthew 28:6 to the young man (“He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay”), but how could Ackley really drive that point home?

Easter, as it happened, was just a few weeks away. Waking up early to prepare for Easter Sunday at his church, he turned on the radio while he was getting ready for the day, and tuned into an Easter message coming out of New York: “You know, folks, it really doesn’t make any difference to me if Christ be risen or not. As far as I am concerned, his body could be as dust in some Palestinian tomb. The main thing is, his truth goes marching on!”

According to his own writings, Ackley “wanted to fling the radio across the room … [shouting] It’s a lie!” Mrs. Ackley ran into the room asking him why he was yelling on Easter Sunday. Later that day, he gave lively and fiery sermons full of testimonials of faith and evidence of the Resurrection at work – but he was still pacing as the evening of Easter drew to a close.

“Listen here, Alfred Ackley,” his wise spouse said to him, after prolonged silence. “It’s time you did that which you can do best. Why don’t you write a song about it and then maybe you’ll feel better?”

Alfred marched into his study, turned to the Gospel of Mark, and began to excitingly say it again: “He lives – he lives!” After only a few minutes, he had run to the piano to put his poem into music. His response in the chorus is an echo of his unique encounter several weeks before that Easter:

“You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.”

Listen to this newer recording by David Phelps of the Gaither Vocal Band:

As is common in all styles of music, certain phrases in He Lives are borrowed from pre-existing texts and melodies (“He walks with me and talks with me” is a clear quote of #314 In the Garden, whose author C. Austin Miles was known to Ackley).

It is interesting to note, as Dr. Hawn of Perkins School of Theology has written, that gospel songs such as He Lives hold a “sheer unity of theme reinforced by the rhetorical device of repetition…there is no biblical narrative that retells the story of Christ’s rising from the dead.” Go through the text and notice the tenses; “I serve … I know … I see …  need … he lives.”  Everything is set in the present. Also – because what else are you doing? – go through and count how many instances of the phrase “he lives” you can find (I know, I just want to see if you do.) By the time you finish the hymn, it’s higher than the number of “alleluias” in #302 Christ the Lord is Risen Today!

Written in a dance-like style (a “lilting” 6/8), it is hard to not move in some way when singing this classic Easter hymn – and to embrace its core theme of “heart-felt faith” as part of John Wesley’s belief in “a faith uniting head and heart.”

Listen to Beverly Crawford lead this praise-filled, rousing arrangement of the hymn at the Azusa Street Revival in Ackley’s home state of California. I dare you to not move!

To quote the old hymn: “God be with you ‘till we meet again.”


Bibliography

Dawn, C. Michael. “History of Hymns: ‘He Lives.’” Discipleship Ministries, 11 May 2017, https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-he-lives. Accessed May 24, 2020.

Morgan, Robert J. “He Lives.” Then Sings My Soul, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2004, pp. 290-291.

Young, Carlton R. “Hymns, Canticles, & Acts of Worship.” Companion to the United Methodist Hymnal, Abingdon Press, 1993, pp. 391.

Blessed Assurance | May 21

May 21, 2020

John Morrow, Associate Director of Music Ministries/Principal Organist

SHEET MUSIC: #369 Blessed Assurance (UMC Hymnal)

As I continue to study and share the history of the hymns of our faith, I have witnessed the power of Christ to work through all people, at all times, no matter the circumstance. Today we ask the question: “What does that melody say to you?”

Left permanently blind from an infection when she was six weeks old, the poet and composer Frances J. Crosby, who went by the nickname “Fanny,” wrote over 8,000 hymns throughout her lifetime (1820 – 1915). 8,000 hymns?! How many sermons does an average preacher write over a lifetime, or anthems does a choir director teach?

One of her pen pals in England once wrote,“Oh, her heart can see, her heart can see! / And its sight is strong and swift and free … ”

Fanny lived in the slums of Manhattan and worked in feeding and clothing the poor in rescue missions, in whatever ways she could. She published music in revival hymnals, and would go on to write about her life, mission work, and compositional style. One of those writings revealed Fanny’s belief that melodies inherently

“tell their own tale, and it is the purpose of the poet to interpret this musical story into language.”

Not infrequently a composer asks, “What does that melody say to you?”  The correct combination of text and music lived on, when produced not for money or fame, but to bring hope, beauty, and light into the world for someone else.

On the other side of town from the Manhattan slums, her friend Phoebe Knapp lived in a mansion in Brooklyn, where she threw extravagant house parties. She bought and maintained “elaborate gowns and diamond tiaras … [her] music room contained one of the finest collections of instruments in the country.” She invited Fanny over often, to provide music, but also to enjoy her luxurious parties and to compose music together. Knapp was a composer as well, responsible for over 500 gospel hymns and melodies.

It was during one of those evenings in 1873 that Phoebe pulled her life-long friend into the music room, and sat down at the piano herself. Knapp played the tune that we know as the music for today’s hymn, which would be named Assurance, after the text. After asking her friend to play it once more, Fanny clapped her hands together and exclaimed, “Why, that says, ‘Blessed Assurance!'” She then sat down and immediately wrote out the rest of the words to the hymn. Blessed Assurance has lived in our hymnals since 1889, and is one of the top ten songs sung in the Methodist Church, according to a survey by the last UMC Hymnal Revision Committee.

The text that came to Crosby is prophetically based on her own life and living without physical sight, as echoed by Paul in Philippians 1:21, and in her own chorus, that “this is my story, this is my song.” In the words of Eugene Peterson’s translation:

“On the contrary, everything happening to me … only serves to make Christ more accurately known, regardless of whether I live or die. They didn’t shut me up; they gave me a pulpit! Alive, I’m Christ’s messenger; dead, I’m his bounty. Life versus even more life! I can’t lose.”

Fanny clearly drew from Wesleyan theology in the hymn, describing the scope of heaven’s beauty and the re-making of humans as they “[moved] toward Christian perfection.” The nineteenth-century rights of women in the church were extremely lacking, when they existed at all. Dr. Hawn, from the Perkins School of Theology, writes that,

“One of the only ways for a woman to claim the authority to be heard was by direct personal revelation from God.”

Through her music, Fanny could make her voice count and change the lives of others in the process. She befriended or played a role in the spiritual development of four U.S. Presidents, and even addressed Congress in a joint session over the public education of the blind.

Remember those Moody/Sankey revivals and services referenced in the post on “I Love to Tell the Story” earlier this week (see below)? All the while, Fanny J. Crosby had been publishing hymns that had traversed the world through their revivals and others like them. Her name was as common across the country as Tom Hanks’ would be today. She was often present at the worship services they held when coming through New York City at the 23rd Street Dutch Reformed Church; but each time, she was adamant that she not be recognized for her hymns. The glory, she told them, was to God alone – just as J.S. Bach wrote in many of his compositions (“Soli Deo Gloria – To God, alone, be the glory”).

During one such revival service, Crosby could not find a seat in the church. Rev. Moody’s son spotted her in the back of the church, trying to find a place. He quickly ran to the back of the church, leading her to the front platform as the crowd began singing Blessed Assurance. Rev. Moody stopped the hymn before its final verse and chorus, proclaiming “Praise to the Lord! Here comes the author!” What followed was a “thunderous standing ovation,” lasting for quite some time as Fanny was led to her seat and the hymn was completed.

Listen to the beloved gospel singer CeCe Winans’ rendition of Blessed Assurance:


Bibliography

Hawn, C. Michael. “History of Hymns: ‘Blessed Assurance.’” Discipleship Ministries, 18 Feb. 2014, www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-blessed-assurance.

“Hymns, Canticles, & Acts of Worship.” Companion to the United Methodist Hymnal, by Carlton R. Young, Abingdon Press, 1993, pp. 237-238.

Morgan, Robert J. “I Love to Tell the Story.” Then Sings My Soul, Thomas Nelson, 2004, pp. 183.

I Love To Tell the Story | May 19

May 19, 2020

John Morrow, Associate Director of Music Ministries/Principal Organist

SHEET MUSIC: #156 I Love To Tell The Story (UMC Hymnal)

During the early 19th century, the abolition of slavery was championed by the great William Wilberforce, member of the Church of England and famous advocate for the oppressed. A wealthy district in London named Clapham was home to many evangelicals who sought the eradication of slavery, prison reform, greater education for young children, and more financial aid to foreign mission efforts.

Wilberforce was encouraged by none other than John Wesley, who wrote:

“… unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you?”

Wilberforce’s group of friends became known as the “Clapham Sect.” This group not only achieved abolition of slavery in England, but also helped ignite the spark of change and reform across the globe; and their families would go on to change the world in ways they could not have dreamed.

Arabella Katherine Hankey, whose father was a member of the group, was born in 1834. Her family remained very involved in church – she taught Sunday school as a teenager, and actually “organized a Bible study for factory girls in London.” In her 20s, while traveling to South Africa to assist her very sick brother, she developed a passion for mission work. Her work was stopped due to an intense illness in the winter of 1865, when she was only 30. She was confined to a bed for an entire year and told by medical professionals to “abandon her Christian activities.”

Illness and time to recover will never stop the mysterious work of God – a reminder for us during a time of pandemic. While she was wisely resting and gaining her strength, Kate wrote hundreds of poems, including the one-hundred stanzas of “The Old, Old Story,” in two parts.

Read those words here: The Old, Old Story | By Kate Hankey

Notice how part one, written in January of 1866 and during the early stages of her recovery, is entitled “The Story Wanted.” It is full of intimate, longing language that finds rest only in Christ. Part two, written later that year, is how she shares that story with the world: “The Story Told.”

In 1877, Montreal, Canada hosted an international meeting of the Young Men’s Christian Association. The guest speaker was an English soldier, Major General Russell. The concluding words of his speech? Selected verses of Kate’s poem, told with “tears streaming down his bronzed cheeks as he read.” 

Songwriter William Doane attended the conference that day and was inspired to write a hymn based on Kate’s poem, which our Baptist brothers and sisters know as “Tell Me the Old, Old Story.” Doane wrote it on a trip via stagecoach (perhaps a new way of traveling in the era of social distancing?), and sang it with his family and other guests of the hotel he was staying in at the time of writing.

Also in attendance that day in Montreal was a Philadelphia musician and piano salesman, William G. Fischer. He set the words of Kate’s poem to the music that we sing today, and wrote the words for the refrain based on her poem:

“I love to tell the story,

‘Twill be my theme in glory,

To tell the old, old story,

Of Jesus and his love.”

Here’s a recording by the Norman Luboff Choir, taken from their album “The Hymnal.” Notice how much time they take between each verse to breathe. Nice, eh?

Again we return to the Great Awakening, sprawling across America during the 19th century. Oftentimes, worship teams consisting of a preacher and a couple of musicians set out in evangelical mission work – which we now remember as the famous tent revivals of the era. As part of this effort, musicians Philip Bliss and Ira Sankey assembled several hymnals that they used in their travels, which included many newly composed hymns. In their 1875 publication Gospel Hymns and Sacred Songs, Fischer’s hymn “I Love to Tell the Story” found a home.

An interesting note on the language of this hymn is pointed out by Perkins School of Theology professor Dr. C. Michael Hawn. Dr. Hawn writes:

“[The hymns of this period in England] all speak from the first person singular, making personal statements of faith in song … The characteristic of intimacy was not invented in 19th-century Romantic era hymns. One can find this language in Bernard of Clairvaux’s 12th-century Latin text, ‘Jesus, the very thought of thee with sweetness fills my breast’ (UM Hymnal, 175).

John Wesley translated Paul Gerhardt’s 17th-century pietistic text, ‘Jesu, thy boundless love to me no thought can reach, no tongue declare’ (UM Hymnal, 183). Of course, many of Charles Wesley’s 18th-century texts were full of personal and passionate language.”

Neither has the 19th century had the last word on passionate, first-person, intimate language. Note, for example, Australian Darlene Zchech’s signature contemporary praise song, “Shout to the Lord” (The Faith We Sing, 2074) that begins, “My Jesus, my Savior, Lord, there is none like you.”

ACTIVITY: Look up the words to your favorite hymn.

  • What kind of language does it use (I/me/they/their? More authoritative, intimate, classical, contemporary?)
  • What perspective(s) of faith does it give?

Dr. Hawn also points out that near the end of the hymn, notice the use of the word love twice: “I love to tell the story, of Jesus and his love.” What do we express through song with this hymn?

I love to tell the story of Jesus,

Whose life, teachings, and example are synonymous with that very same word:

Love – an Agape-style love,

Persistent, gentle, kind, all-encompassing, everlasting.

These deep truths exist in our verses and refrains – what a joy to reflect and meditate on them.

Listen to this recording by singer Tennessee Ernie Ford, used often to close his 1960s network television show: 

Our poet, Kate Hankey, continued to write poetry as well as Christian teaching, including Bible Class Teachings. Hymnologist Kenneth Osbeck writes:

“All of the royalties received from these publications were always directed to some foreign mission project.”

In this way, Kate supported mission projects throughout the entirety of her life, and her vision of telling that story lives on today for us to share in turn.

Questions or comments? Write to me at jmorrow@mcfarlinumc.org. Thanks for tuning in, and see you Thursday!


Bibliography

Adams, Richard W. “Tell Me the Old, Old Story.” The Cyber Hymnal, 1996, www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/t/e/l/l/tellmoos.htm. Accessed May 16, 2020.

Dawn, C. Michael. “History of Hymns: ‘I Love to Tell the Story.’” Discipleship Ministries, 27 June 2013, www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-i-love-to-tell-the-story. Accessed May 16, 2020.

Gathro, Richard. C.S. Lewis Institute Report. 2001, C.S. Lewis Institute Report.

“Hymns, Canticles, & Acts of Worship.” Companion to the United Methodist Hymnal, by Carlton R. Young, Abingdon Press, 1993, pp. 417 – 418.

“I Love to Tell the Story.” Then Sings My Soul, by Robert J. Morgan, Book 2, Thomas Nelson, 2004, pp. 109.

How Firm A Foundation | May 14

May 14, 2020

John Morrow, Associate Director of Music Ministries/ Principal Organist

SHEET MUSIC: #529 How Firm a Foundation (UMC Hymnal)

SHEET MUSIC: Bellvue Foundation Shape Note Version

If only there were a hymn that could somehow encapsulate shape-note singing (we’ll get to that), “fuging tunes,” (and that, as well), be beloved by people of all walks of life, and include the flailing of arms and a folk-dance rhythm…

AHA!

In the early 19th Century, during the period leading up to the American Great Awakening, a Philadelphia shopkeeper by the name of John Connelly assembled a system of singing for those who could not read music. This most likely came out of the growing popularity of country parish singing in New England Protestant communities. Instead of notes and scales in every key, he developed what is known as “shape note” singing (based on a similar system that existed in the English countryside):

The key to shape note singing is that the singer focuses on the intervals and pitches between notes and never worries about the key or time signature. The practice of singing means that before a tune is sung with the text, everyone joined together sings through the tune on the four-note system, to perfect the pitches. Uniquely based on egalitarian ideals, the four sections (treble, alto, tenor, and bass) form a hollow square around a song leader, and everyone in the room has the opportunity to lead the song. THIS is where the arm flailing comes in, basically a beating of time of the leader. Singers are also encouraged to wave their hand to keep the time. Watch the recording below of a fairly-recent gathering of Shape Note singers singing How Firm a Foundation:

Notice anything else about the style of singing? There’s really never a quiet or reflective verse! The purpose of this style of singing was fiercely and unapologetically singing in a community, thus the “bounce” like quality of the hymn. You can’t help but move in some way when you hear this kind of boisterous sound, especially in a setting of worship.

William Smith, an engineer in Philadelphia, and William Little created a shape note songbook in 1801 called The Easy Instructor. The famous Sacred Harp hymnbook arrived in 1844, with a thorough index of tunes and texts, and what words could fit well with what tunes. This singing is always performed a cappella (voices singing without instruments).

**Side note: Many of these hymn tunes have gone on to become quintessential Methodist hymns, such as How Firm a Foundation, but also hosted hundreds of other hymns that have since been left behind (many that were based on popular melodies of the time and had language based in an Early Modern English. A Wesleyan Shape Note Singing Hymnal was even assembled in 1857, and used in many Methodist revivals across America.

Speaking of Methodists…

Much of the 19th and 20th century spread of Methodism in America should be attributed to the Methodist “circuit riders” and “camp meetings” or “tent revivals.” As populations settled, preachers would ride on horseback from town to town and share the Wesleyan based concepts of worship:

Music was crucial to the success of these revivals, which were often in an “improvisational and spontaneous style.” Wesley strongly disliked the structured and somewhat formal style of Anglican music, and so the music of the revival meetings often came in the form of what is called a “fuging tune,” which gives the melody to the tenor voice and harmonizes it with the other voices, who are also singing the same imitative rhythm (loosely based on the classical idea of a fugue). Where did they find those rhythms and tune? You guessed it: shape note songs!

Interestingly, the great American music educator, composer, church musician, and hymnodist Lowell Mason, who wrote and edited hundreds of Methodist hymns (and who we will address in a future post), stood at the forefront of a movement that coincided with the Methodist revivals.

It led to:

1) Use the normal shape of notes (round)

2) Produce more four-part structured of movement, with parts that moved at the same time.

But HOW on earth does all of that tie into How Firm a Foundation?! I’M GLAD YOU ASKED!

The Rev. John Rippon served Carter Lane Baptist Church in London from 1775 – 1836. It was through his time serving that he created a new hymnal with his music minister, Robert Keene (the probable author of the text). Entitled A Selection of Hymns from the Best Authors, Intended to Be an Appendix to Dr. Watts’ Psalms and Hymns, the 1787 hymnal became incredibly popular among the English Baptist churches, and came to America in 1820. With it came How Firm a Foundation, under its original title, “Exceedingly Great and Precious Promises.”

The majority of the tune comes from Joseph Fund’s Genuine Church Music Hymnal, and was named Protection; the Methodists changed the tune name to Foundation upon incorporating simple changes from the other tune names; for example, sing the opening work “How” on two short notes instead of one.

**Side note, again: The tune was originally sung to Adeste Fideles, which is the tune we use for the Christmas hymn “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” Try it!

The hymn has been sung with great popularity across all parts of the country ever since, beloved by everyone from Theodore Roosevelt to Robert E. Lee. During the Civil War, it remained popular in the North and the South.

To sum up: 

  • Shape note singing is developed in America around the time an English Baptist minister is inspired to create a new hymnal.
  • The words and part of the melodic tune from one of these hymns makes its way to America in 1820, and is brought into the shape note singing circles.
  • This kind of music finds its way to the Methodist circuit riders.
  • From there, it is developed into a more strophic harmonic structure (like the hymns we know and love today).

Listen to this version by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Though an arrangement of the tune in the UMC Hymnal, it is an upbeat arrangement that stays true to the original intent of this hymn and the style from which it came:

The text, inspired from Isaiah, Deuteronomy, 2nd Corinthians, and Hebrews, is a strong reminder of the promises of our faith during this time of quarantine and global instability. When we are at our most weary, feeling depressed and lost – we can be comforted by the strength of God’s promise:

Stanza two reads:

“Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,

For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;

I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand,

Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.”

Put another way:

Fear not – I am with you. Don’t be saddened or scared.

Am I not your God? Why would you worry today about tomorrow?

I will give you the strength and courage to be;

If it seems like you are about to fall, and there will be those times,

Come to me for refuge. I am here always, to hold you and to raise you up.

Questions or comments? Write to me at jmorrow@mcfarlinumc.org. Thanks for tuning in, and see you next week!

This Little Light Of Mine | May 12

May 12, 2020

John Morrow, Associate Director of Music Ministries/ Principal Organist

“This little light of mine, I’m goin’a let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine”

SHEET MUSIC: #585 This Little Light of Mine (UMC HYMNAL)

SHEET MUSIC: #549 This Little Light of Mine (African American Heritage Hymnal)

From the youngest child who has learned to hum a melody to the oldest, wisest member of a congregation, many of us have heard and been taught the song “This Little Light of Mine.” If you pick up a UMC Hymnal, though, and try to sing the melody, it would actually be an unfamiliar melody. Why is that?!

Well…we don’t really know. The text and melody are credited in most hymnals as an African-American spiritual, and the first popularized arrangement of the song was by Harry Dixon Loes, whose arrangement appeared in 1940, though the song existed as early as 1920 as a children’s folk song, and audio has surfaced of it being sung in a Texas prison in 1939.

In the UMC Hymnal, William Farley Smith composed an arrangement in 1987; the tune is fittingly named Lattimer, after the African-American inventor Louis Lattimer, who was responsible for working with Thomas Edison to develop the incandescent light bulb. Interestingly, we never really sing the melody or the notes that are actually in our hymnal– it is one of many that has been left behind for a slightly different, more sing-able arrangement. Have you ever stopped to ponder – what will our favorite hymns look like in 50 years?

The tune that we know the best through the aural tradition, and that is taught to most children, is called Light of Mine, and was arranged by Nolan Williams, Jr., in 1969. In the African-American Heritage Hymnal, the song is described as a Spiritual, and the Smithsonian Folkways Institution writes that it probably came about in the time of slavery as one of the many songs that spoke of a better life and world, one in which all of God’s children were treated with kindness and respect.

Writer John Lovell, Jr., said of this hymn:

“The [poet’s] determination to borrow a creative function of stars, and just shine … . One reason for shining is that you worship a Deity who created light and who deals in it … . [In this spiritual] the poet is fully aware that his is a modest talent … .Though it is just a little light, any bit of light can penetrate a mighty lot of darkness.”

This “gift of shining” forms the basis for the recurring “Let it shine” chorus, which ends each verse.

The words were probably inspired – and have forever been tied to – the words of Jesus from Matthew 5: 14-16 (NRSV):

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

During the 1960s Civil Rights movement in the United States, the song became a powerful anthem of affirmation and strength together in non-violent protests. The Freedom Singers, founded at Albany State College in 1962, became a prominent vocal quartet of the movement. One of their most powerful songs? You guessed it. They even introduced the song, along with the power of congregational singing, to folk singer Pete Seeger, who helped take the song across the nation and world.

Freedom Singer Rutha Mae Harris wrote:

“Music was an anchor. It kept us from being afraid.”

Listen to the Smithsonian Folkways Institution’s recording of the Freedom Singers original rendition:

Protesters were not singing just any old versions of this hymn. Blues singer Bettie Mae Fikes recorded a quintessential example of why this song was so powerful: it used vocal improvisation, somewhat long-abandoned in the American singing and choral traditions, and merged it with singing together in a call and response style. She said:

“How [was] the light [going to] shine, when they’re trying to put our lights out? … I just started adding our oppressors in the song: ‘Tell Jim Clark, I’m gonna let it shine.’ ” (This was the former sheriff of Selma, Alabama.)

She said that people in the audience would then start shouting out new verses.

“It was like being free.”

It has aged into the American and global folklore, and exists as an anthem speaking to all people. It speaks to the feeling that each person carries the potential to shine the light into the darkness of the world.

In singing it as a hymn, we speak to carrying that light of Christ into the world, sharing God’s goodness and mercy in the way that we live a life for others – every single other.

Listen to this version, which is part of a medley of songs by the Soweto Gospel Choir, founded in 2002 to celebrate the “unique and inspirational power of African Gospel music.” It is made up of people from many churches and faiths within South Africa:

Today, we have to adjust: 

Even from our homes we say – I’m gonna let it shine,

Over Zoom or from the car – I’m gonna let it shine,

Keep the faith, we’ll be okay – I’m gonna let it shine,

Let it shine, let it shine, let shine.

Questions or comments? Write to me at jmorrow@mcfarlinumc.org. Thanks for tuning in, and see you Thursday!


Bibliography

Deggans, Eric, and Daoud Tyler-Ameen. “’This Little Light Of Mine’ Shines On, A Timeless Tool Of Resistance.”NPR, 6 Aug. 2018, accessed 11 May 2020. www.npr.org/2018/08/06/630051651/american-anthem-this-little-light-of-mine-resistance.

“Hymns, Canticles, & Acts of Worship.” Companion to the United Methodist Hymnal, by Carlton R. Young, Abingdon Press, 1993, pp. 657–658.


 

Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee | May 7

May 7, 2020

John Morrow, Associate Director of Music Ministries/ Principal Organist

“Joyful music leads us sunward, in the triumph song of life.” – Henry Van Dyke

SHEET MUSIC: Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee

We’ve all been exposed to classical music, whether in school, a commercial, or listening for leisure. If someone asked you “Do you know anything by that Beethoven guy?” you would probably respond in one of a few ways:

1) “Yeah, he wrote that one piano song…dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-DAH….DAH DAH” (Tries to sing the famous first movement of Piano Sonata No. 14 in C# Minor, the famous Moonlight Sonata).

2) “Hmmm…didn’t he write the “BUM-BUM-BUM-BUUUUUUM” (the famous short-short-short-long motif from the 5th Symphony)?

3)”Isn’t Beethoven that big fluffy dog…?”

4) “I know Beethoven! We sing part of the 9th Symphony in church!”

Wait – what? We sing it in church? Yes! You heard it here first (probably): #89 Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee in the UMC hymnal is based on the 4th Movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, premiered on May 7th, 1824.

Appropriately, its tune name is “Hymn to Joy.” The theme for the 9th Symphony first appeared as an instrumental motif used by W.A. Mozart in his 1775 Misericordias Domine motet (K. 222, if you’re counting).

Beethoven further expanded upon the theme in several early works for solo voice and in his 1808 Choral Fantasy for piano, orchestra, and chorus; but the full fruition of this music came to be in the final movement of his 9th Symphony. As so often is the case, the music found its rightful home when the words that most suited it brought it to life.

The original text for this inimitable masterpiece comes from German poet and historian J.C. Friedrich von Schiller, in his work “Ode to Joy (An die Freude).” Summarized, the ode is a dedication to the gift of Joy, sent to us from an all-loving God, found in nature and in all living things of every ethnicity and all places, and perpetuated by that which tries to bring more joy and peace to the world.

Hoping to take even one “spark” of that joy and bring it into worship, professor Henry Van Dyke was teaching at Williams College in Massachusetts in 1907. So inspired by the beauty of nature and the nearby Berkshire Mountains, he created the poetry today that we know as “Joyful, Joyful, we Adore thee, God of glory, Lord of love,” adapted from Schiller’s text. He wrote that it should be sung to the famous chorale of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.

Van Dyke said:

“these verses are simple expressions of common Christian feelings and desires in this present time – hymns of today that may be sung together by people who know the thought of the age, and are not afraid that any truth of science will destroy religion, or any revolution on earth overthrow the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, this is a hymn of trust and joy and hope.”

Fortunately, our world is completely calm and normal these days – how will we ever relate? (Just kidding, 2020. Please, don’t add any more for this year. We are good.)

Dr. Fred Gealy of Southern Methodist University has commented that this hymn:

“countered the doom prior to World War II…his [visible manifestation of God to humankind] unlike those of the Psalms, does not take place in the might of God’s terrible acts, earthquakes, and storms, but in the gentle face of nature.”

First appearing in the 1933 Presbyterian Hymnal, the piece was adopted by Methodists in 1935 with a few simple text changes. “Father love” become “love divine”; and “brother love binds man to man” became “binding all within its span.”

The fourth line of Joyful, Joyful keeps the syncopation that Beethoven incorporated into part of the 9th Movement (syncopation = accenting a note that wouldn’t usually be accented).

Beethoven was completely deaf by this point in his life, and we can surmise that he purposely incorporated this rhythm, as the German text begins with an exclamatory “Ja” or “Yes!” It is almost as if Beethoven wanted his singers to be so excited about this idea of joy and being true to one’s self that they could hardly contain their excitement. Remember that  the next time we sing this hymn – and accent that fourth line with great gusto!

Here’s a clip of the hymn being sung at Royal Albert Hall in a massive hymn-sing:

For something completely different, check out this arrangement of Joyful, Joyful that served as the Postlude to the 2015 Swedish Royal Wedding. It was first premiered in the film Sister Act 2:

There is a reason the piece was sung during demonstrations in Chile during the Pinochet dictatorship, at the Brandenburg Gate in 1989 to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall, and even the recent Occupy Protests concerning closing the wealth gap in Spain. It speaks deep into the human psyche – that joy exists in all of us, across all borders and cultures, and unites us on a deeply spiritual level.

Coincidentally, TODAY (Thursday, May 7th, 2020) marks the 196th Anniversary of the 9th Symphony. [Shameless plug: Check out a special presentation by our city’s own Norman Philharmonic and friends that premieres this evening at 7PM on the Norman Phil Facebook and the Norman Phil website!] Questions or comments? Write to me (jmorrow@mcfarlinumc.org). Thanks for tuning in, and see you next week!

Crown Him With Many Crowns | May 5

May 5, 2020

By John Morrow, Assistant Director of Music Ministries/Principal Organist

“His glories now we sing, who died and rose on high; who died eternal life to bring, and lives that death may die.” – Godfrey Thring

SHEET MUSIC: Crown Him With Many Crowns

There are fewer more recognizable symbols of royalty than the crown of a king. The original words of English poet Matthew Bridges in his 1851 writing Hymns of the Heart began with language more reminiscent of the book of Revelations, specifically 19:12.

Poetically put, “His eyes [the rider of the white horse] are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed that no one knows but himself.” This rider of the white horse goes by many names: the Virgin’s Son, the Lord of Love, the Prince of Peace, the King of Kings. Bridges referred to his poetry as the “Song of Seraphs,” who are the highest ranking of angelic beings, full of light and purity.

It is no wonder, then, that George Elvey constructed the tune “Diademata,” the Greek word for “crowns,” to be the triumphant arrival of a king.

Listen to the march-like quality, the brass fanfares, and booming timpani in this recording, used for a commemoration of Queen Elizabeth’s reign in 2010 in England in Westminster Abbey. You even see the official flags processing on the final verse, with descants of higher voices soaring to the heavens:

Displeased with several of Bridges’ verses after his conversion to Catholicism, Anglican clergyman Godfrey Thring (that’s a real name) wrote six new verses. 

In a beautiful twist of ecumenical fate, the version that exists in many of today’s hymnals, including the UMC Hymnal, is a blend of the two writers’ words. God is always at work, somehow – even in the midst of human foibles in worshiping Him.

The “many crowns” remind us of the original crown of thorns that Jesus wore for us, in order to become that Lord of “life, peace, and love.” The hymn is commonly sung during the weeks between Easter and Pentecost (Eastertide) and on the Sunday after Pentecost (Trinity Sunday) for its imagery of the triumphant King of all who “triumphed o’er the grave.”

Questions or comments? Write to me (jmorrow@mcfarlinumc.org) and I’ll answer you as best as I can (or just make something up). Thanks for tuning in, and see you Thursday for our next blog post!