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Category Archives: Hymn History

Hymn History: We Gather Together

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens his will to make known.
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to his name; he forgets not his own.

The Pender UMC Traditional Service Middle Hymn “We Gather Together” on Thanksgiving Sunday November 20, 2022 was played by Liz Eunji Moon on piano, Teresa Rothschild on clarinet, Brian Stevenson on flute and sung the Pender Sanctuary Choir and congregation.

In many American hymnals, “We gather together” appears as a Thanksgiving hymn. Perhaps this is because of the opening line and the general idea that God is with us regardless of our circumstances. However, the hymn speaks more about God’s providence throughout the trials of life. The story behind this hymn clarifies its text.

This hymn is a late sixteenth-century expression of celebration of freedom by The Netherlands from Spanish oppression. Like many older hymns, it finds its way to us through a circuitous route. Although listed as an anonymous hymn, some sources indicate that Adrianus Valerious (c. 1575-1625), known for his poems on the Dutch War of Independence from the perspective of a peasant, authored the original text in Dutch. Since making a living as a poet was not possible, Valerious had a prosperous career as the Toll and Customs Controller for Veere, eventually being promoted to Tax Collections and finally appointed to the City Council.

The hymn was first published in Nederlandtsch Gedenckclanck (1626), a collection by Valerius in Haarlem, focusing on folk poems and melodies on the Dutch Wars (1555-1625). Valerius collected and arranged the songs for this publication for 30 years until his death in 1625. This collection is not as important for its poetry as it was for understanding the Protestant attitudes of the day. The work’s significance was exemplified by its adoption in Zeeland as part of the religious education curriculum in homes and the church.

Austrian Edward Kremser (1838-1914) included the hymn in Sechs Altniederländische Volkslieder (Six Old Netherlands Folksongs) in 1877 for his men’s chorus, all six anonymous songs taken from the Valerius collection 250 years earlier. According to UM Hymnal editor te Rev. Carlton Young, the performance of these tunes led to their popularity and inclusion in many hymnals.

The story extends to the United States through Theodore Baker (1851-1934), a New York-born musicologist who studied in Leipzig and authored the famous Biographical Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Baker translated the hymn from German for an anthem entitled “Prayer for Thanksgiving” published in 1894. Baker is the source of the hymn’s traditional Thanksgiving connection in the United States.

The Dutch, long a stronghold for the Reformed theology of John Calvin, were in a struggle against Spain for their political independence and against the Catholic Church for religious freedom. A twelve-year truce was established in 1609, giving young Prince Frederick Henry a chance to mature into an able politician and soldier.

During this time, the Dutch East India Company extended its trade beyond that of the English. The high period of Dutch art flourished with Hals, Vermeer, and Rembrandt. Under the guidance of the Prince Frederick Henry’s leadership, Spain’s efforts to regain supremacy on land and sea were finally overcome in 1648. There was indeed much for which to be thankful.

Some of the political overtones in this hymn faithfully translated by Baker are apparent. Hymnologist Albert Bailey suggests that the phrase, “The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing,” is an allusion to the persecution of the Catholic Church under the policies of Spain. Thousands had been massacred and hundreds of homes burned by the Spanish in 1576 during the Siege of Antwerp.

In stanza two, the writer states, “so from the beginning the fight we were winning,” stressing that Protestants had always been assured of winning the cause. The truce of 1609 proved that the Lord “wast at our side.”

The final stanza is a series of petitions . . .

” …pray that thou still our defender will be.
Let thy congregation escape tribulation;
thy name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!”

This is an eschatological stanza. The ultimate battle has not been won and will not be won until all battles cease.

The hymn gained recognition in the United States when it found its way into the hymnal of the Methodist-Episcopal Church in 1935. The popularity increased during World War II when singers connected “the wicked oppressing” to Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. More recently, the “We Gather Together” was featured at the Funeral Mass for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in 1994.

An interesting sidebar was that Baker’s anthem inspired another hymn. A young Julia Cady Cory (1882-1963) heard this text in 1902 at her church, Brick Presbyterian in New York City. Cory’s “We praise thee, O God, our Redeemer, Creator” is a more general hymn of praise and thanksgiving that also uses the Dutch tune KREMSER. Cory’s hymn did not include any reference to nationalism, making it a more general ecumenical hymn of thanksgiving.

The United Methodist Hymnal has placed this hymn in the “Providence” section rather with other traditional American Thanksgiving hymns, broadening its use from this national holiday to use during any difficult circumstances.

Dr. Hawn is distinguished professor of church music at Perkins School of Theology. He is also director of the seminary’s sacred music program.

From https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-we-gather-together1

 
 

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Hymn History: As The Deer

“As the Deer” by Martin Nystrom,
The Faith We Sing, No. 2025

The Pender UMC Traditional Service Middle Hymn “As the Deer” on Sunday September 18, 2022 was played by Liz Eunji Moon on piano, accompanied on guitar by Brian Stevenson and AJ Rios and sung the Pender Sanctuary Choir and congregation.

“As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So pants my soul for You, O God” (Psalm 42:1, NKJV)*

On his website, http://martynystrom.com/, the composer introduces himself in self-effacing terms:

“I am a married father of two sons and live in the Seattle area. My degree is in music education and I have taught music in a wide variety of settings. I have written over 120 songs that have been released by publishers of Christian praise and worship music. My best known song is the worship chorus, ‘As the Deer.’” He notes that, “I seem to write songs when I am not purposefully trying to write one.”

“As the deer,” written in 1981, is one of the most popular songs in the contemporary Christian musical (CCM) genre written in the latter twentieth century. Martin J. Nystrom (b. 1956) is a native of Seattle, Washington. After graduating from Oral Roberts University, Tulsa, Oklahoma (BME, 1979), he served as musical evangelist with Christ for the Nations, Dallas, Texas [www.cfni.org] and produced five praise and worship albums for Hosanna! Music, Mobile, Alabama.

Lindsay Terry, in his book The Sacrifice of Praise: The Stories Behind the Greatest Praise and Worship Songs of All Time(2002), describes the circumstances surrounding the creation of this song:

“Marty was a schoolteacher in Seattle, and since he had the summer off, he decided to go to the summer term of Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas, Texas. Little did he know what was about to happen to him, especially with all that he would be exposed to and the worship emphasis of the school. . .

He had graduated from Oral Roberts University and, frankly, was a little overwhelmed in ministry. He had been involved in many things at the school, not the least of which was the television ministry of ORU. All of his studies combined with many other activities had caused stress to take its toll on Marty’s spiritual life. . . .

Marty’s roommate at CFNI was a vibrant Christian who challenged Marty to go on a fast, thinking it would help him recover his joy. Marty took up the challenge, and on the nineteenth day of the fast, he found himself sitting at the piano in a room of the school, trying to write a song. He was simply playing chord progressions when he noticed a Bible on the music stand of the piano, open to Psalm 42. His eyes fell on the first verse of that chapter. After reading the verse he began to sing its message, right off the page. He wrote the first verse and the chorus of a song, practically straight through. The entire song was completed in a matter of minutes.”

Though Mr. Nystrom had not intended to perform the song publically, he shared it with a friend at Christ for the Nations before returning to Seattle. His friend introduced it to the others at the Institute, and it became a favorite. Contrary to his website, the composer appears to have written closer to 250 songs. He travels extensively in the United States and Asia, participating in conferences and retreats.

After paraphrasing the first verse of Psalm 42, the song reflects on this passage, continuing in the first person perspective of the psalm:

You alone are my heart’s desire
and I long to worship you.

The second section draws upon the familiar biblical images of “strength and shield,” concluding with the sentence cited above.

Most of Mr. Nystrom’s songs are composed as a single stanza. The compilers of the Canadian United Church hymnal Voices United (1995) asked Lydia Pederson to write two additional stanzas to paraphrase the remainder of the psalm. Pedersen is former music director at Royal York Road United Church in Toronto, and an active member of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada. An additional attempt at two stanzas appears in the Covenant Hymnal: A Worshipbook(1996).

The editors of the two hymnals that requested additional stanzas noted that the original song felt incomplete when viewed in the context of the entire psalm. Selections of Psalm 42 follow:
“My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God? (verses 2, 3, KJV) . . .

“I will say unto God my rock, Why hast thou forgotten me? Why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? As with a sword in my bones, mine enemies reproach me; while they say daily unto me, Where is thy God? Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God” (verses 9, 10, 11, KJV).

On the one hand, the effectiveness of the original song is found in its simplicity; the singer can internalize and memorize the song, offering this sung prayer directly to God. On the other hand, the poignant questions of the remainder of the psalm echo the questions of many worshipers in their lives. Singing additional stanzas, however, changes the experience from a simple prayer to God to the experience similar to singing a multi-stanza hymn. One solution is to retain Mr. Nystrom’s original stanza and insert it between spoken sections of the psalm as a refrain.

Regardless of the approach to incorporating the song into worship, one cannot deny the effectiveness of “As the deer” as sung prayer in myriad settings around the world. Mr. Nystrom attended a conference in Korea in the 1990s that began with 100,000 Korean Christians singing his song – a dramatic witness of its power.

*Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

C. Michael Hawn is University Distinguished Professor of Church Music, Perkins School of Theology, SMU.

Adapted from https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-as-the-deer

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2022 in Hymn History, hymns, Posts of Interest, Videos

 

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Hymn History: All Saints Day

November 1 is All Saints Day, a sometimes-overlooked holy day in United Methodist congregations. It is not nearly as well known as the day before, All Hallows’ (Saints’) Eve, better known as Halloween, but is far more important in the life of the church.

John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, enjoyed and celebrated All Saints Day. In a journal entry from November 1, 1767, Wesley calls it “a festival I truly love.” On the same day in 1788, he writes, “I always find this a comfortable day.” The following year he calls it “a day that I peculiarly love.”

This may sound odd. United Methodists don’t believe in saints. Right?

Well, yes… and no.

Wesley cautioned against holding saints in too high regard.The Articles of Religion that he sent to the Methodists in America in 1784, include a statement against “invocation of saints” (Article XIV—Of Purgatory, Book of Discipline ¶104). Wesley did not see biblical evidence for the practice and discouraged Methodists from participating.

However, he also advised against disregarding the saints altogether.

In an All Saints Day journal entry dated Monday, November 1, 1756, Wesley writes, “How superstitious are they who scruple giving God solemn thanks for the lives and deaths of his saints!” If your 18th century English is as rusty as mine, it might help to know that the word scruple means, “to be unwilling to do something because you think it is improper, morally wrong, etc.” (Merriam-Webster.com).

All Saints Day is an opportunity to give thanks for all those who have gone before us in the faith. It is a time to celebrate our history, what United Methodists call the tradition of the church.

From the early days of Christianity, there is a sense that the Church consists of not only all living believers, but also all who have gone before us. For example, in Hebrews 12 the author encourages Christians to remember that a “great cloud of witnesses” surrounds us encouraging us, cheering us on.

Charles Wesley, John’s brother, picks up on this theme in his hymn that appears in our United Methodist Hymnal as “Come, Let Us Join our Friends Above,” #709. In the first verse, he offers a wonderful image of the Church through the ages:

Let saints on earth unite to sing, with those to glory gone,
for all the servants of our King in earth and heaven, are one.

On All Saints Day we remember all those—famous or obscure—who are part of the “communion of saints” we confess whenever we recite The Apostles’ Creed. We tell the stories of the saints “to glory gone.”

Alongside the likes of Paul from the New Testament, Augustine, Martin Luther, and John and Charles Wesley, we tell stories of the grandmother who took us to church every Sunday. We remember the pastor who prayed with us in the hospital, and the neighbor who changed the oil in the family car. We give thanks for the youth leader who told us Jesus loved us, the kindergarten Sunday school teacher who showered us with that love, and the woman in the church who bought us groceries when we were out of work.

Retelling these stories grounds us in our history. These memories teach us how God has provided for us through the generosity and sacrifice of those who have come before us. The stories of the saints encourage us to be all God has created us to be.

Charles Wesley’s hymn tells us those “to glory gone” are joined by the “saints on earth,” whom we also celebrate on All Saints Day. We think of the inspirational people with whom we worship on Sunday, and those across the world we will never meet. We celebrate fellow United Methodists who inspire us, and those of other denominations whose lives encourage us. We give thanks for those with whom we agree, as well as those whose views we do not share.

Additionally, we remember and pray for our sisters and brothers in Christ who faithfully follow Jesus in places where being labeled a Christian puts them in harm’s way.

On All Saints Day, we recognize that we are part of a giant choir singing the same song. It is the song Jesus taught his disciples; a tune that has resonated for more than 2,000 years; a melody sung in glory and on the earth. Our great privilege is to add our voices to this chorus.

The last verse of “Come, Let Us Join our Friends Above” encourages us to sing faithfully while on earth, so we might join the heavenly chorus one day.

Our spirits too shall quickly join, like theirs with glory crowned,
and shout to see our Captain’s sign, to hear His trumpet sound.

O that we now might grasp our Guide! O that the word were given!
Come, Lord of Hosts, the waves divide, and land us all in heaven.

On All Saints Day, let us give thanks for both the saints in glory and those on earth, who have led us to Jesus. As they have shared the gospel with us, may we add our voices so someone else may hear about the grace and love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Thanks be to God for the lives of his saints.

Adapted from https://www.umc.org/en/content/all-saints-day-a-holy-day-john-wesley-loved

 

 
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Posted by on November 1, 2022 in Holidays, Hymn History, Posts of Interest

 

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Hymn History: When in Our Music God Is Glorified

“When in Our Music God Is Glorified”
Fred Pratt Green
UM Hymnal, No. 68

 

“When in Our Music God Is Glorified” was played by Pender’s pianist-organist, Liz Eunji Moon at the Traditional Service Postlude on September 11, 2022

Sometimes a great tune can keep a hymn text alive. Sometimes a great text can revive a neglected tune. The latter is true in this case.

Noted British hymnologist John Wilson (1905-1992) suggested that the Methodist poet and hymn writer Fred Pratt Green write a text to the tune ENGELBERG, composed in 1904 by the famous British composer Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924).

Stanford’s tune had been well-known in the earlier 20th century until Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) composed the immensely popular SINE NOMINE in the same metre (sung to “For All the Saints”) for the English Hymnal (1906).

Hymnologist J.R. Watson records that “Wilson urged Pratt Green to write a text for a Festival of Praise . . . which could be sung to Stanford’s neglected tune.” Pratt Green based his text on Psalm 150 but alluded to Mark 14:26 in stanza four of the hymn, a stanza recalling the hymn sung by the disciples at the Last Supper.

The hymn, composed in 1972, first appeared in New Church Praise (1975) and in the single-author collection The Hymns and Ballads of Fred Pratt Green (1982) with the title, “Let the People Sing!”

The opening line (called the incipit) originally read, “When in man’s music, God is glorified. . . .” Pratt Green reluctantly altered this to the current title for the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and this change has universally been accepted in North American hymnals.

The Rev. Carlton Young, editor of the UM Hymnal, notes that the change in text, though an important “social witness” in the area of inclusive language, weakens the theological and aesthetic qualities of the hymn: 1) Theologically, “the change tends to weaken the affirmation that mere mortal musicians and their music may and often do glorify God”; 2) aesthetically, the wonderful alliteration between “man’s” and “music” paralleled by “God’s” and “glorified” is lost.

Dr. Young speculates that this “text has probably been set in anthem form more than any other of the late twentieth century.”

Ministry of music

This hymn is groundbreaking in many ways.

There are numerous examples in the history of hymnody where music is a metaphor for some theological theme or experience. In Babcock’s “This Is My Father’s World,” for example, “all nature sings and round me rings the music of the spheres.” Charles Wesley speaks of “the music of the heart” in his paraphrase of Psalm 150, “Praise the Lord Who Reigns Above.”

However, Pratt Green uses music not just as a metaphor that points us to another idea, but explores music-making as a phenomenon in the Christian’s experience in its own right. The second stanza concludes with the marvelous thought that “making music . . . move[s] us to a more profound Alleluia!”

In this way, Pratt Green seems to agree with Martin Luther who said, “Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.” Luther and Pratt Green seem to ascribe a quasi-sacramental quality to music—music as a means of revelation and grace.

Pratt Green (1903-2000) was born in Roby just outside of Liverpool, England. Following his education, he was ordained in 1924 as a Methodist minister and served in various parishes throughout England well into the 1940s. Although he had a long interest in poetry, he did not focus on hymn writing until his retirement from active ministry.

Eminent British hymnologist Erik Routley (1917-1982) suggested that in Fred Pratt Green, Methodists finally had a successor to Charles Wesley.

* Words by Fred Pratt Green © 1972 Hope Publishing Company; Carol Stream, IL 60188. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Dr. Hawn is professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology, SMU.

Adapted from https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-when-in-our-music-god-is-glorified

 
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Posted by on October 27, 2022 in Hymn History, hymns, Posts of Interest, Videos

 

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Hymn History: Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling

“Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling”
Will Thompson UM Hymnal, No. 348

The Pender UMC Traditional Service Final Hymn “Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling” on Sunday September 11, 2022 was played by Liz Eunji Moon on piano, accompanied on guitar by Brian Stevenson and sung the Pender Sanctuary Choir and congregation.

Undoubtedly, many readers of this column grew up in a revival tradition that included an extended invitation hymn—a congregational hymn at the conclusion of the service that focused on those attending who may be called by the Holy Spirit to make either a profession of faith or a recommitment of one’s life. In services of this nature, the direction of the entire liturgy points to the sermon and this time of commitment. Our hymn is a classic invitation hymn from the 19th-century revival tradition.

Will Lamartine Thompson (1847-1909) was born in Pennsylvania and died in New York City. He attended Mount Union College in Alliance, Ohio, and the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, before continuing his musical studies in Leipzig, Germany.

In addition to being a composer of secular, patriotic and gospel songs, Thompson was a music publisher. When his songs were rejected by publishers of his day, he formed his own enterprise, Will L. Thompson & Company, with offices in Chicago and East Liverpool, Ohio. By the 1880s the company expanded beyond publishing music and sold pianos, organs and other instruments and supplies.

The words and music for “Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling” first appeared in Sparkling Gems, Nos. 1 and 2, a collection compiled for Thompson’s company in 1880 by singing-school teacher J. Calvin Bushey.

Other well-known gospel songs by Thompson include “Jesus Is All the World to Me” (UM Hymnal, No. 469), and two with strong eschatological leanings, Lead Me Gently Home, Father” and “There’s a Great Day Coming.”

UM Hymnal editor, the Rev. Carlton R. Young, notes: “This is a typical lullaby in the gospel hymn tradition that characterizes Jesus as a mother, gently rocking and comforting a child. This attribute contributes to the continuing popularity of this genre of religious song that presents Jesus as waiting, caring, and forgiving in intimate—and for many, compelling—metaphors.”

Perhaps Revelation 3:20 captures the spirit of the hymn: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” (KJV) This patient Jesus stands “on the portals . . . waiting and watching . . . for you and for me.”

The second stanza takes a different approach: How can we reject the “pleading” one who offers “pardon”? The third stanza increases in urgency: “Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing . . . shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming. . . .” The final stanza returns to the theme of Jesus who offers “mercy and pardon” for the sinner.

The genius of a gospel song is usually found in the refrain and this one is no exception. The refrain extends the invitation to “come home” four times in the melody, and an additional two times in the accompanying lower voices.

Interestingly, though “Softly and Tenderly” is the quintessential invitation hymn in the revival tradition, the invitation to “come home” may also be seen as the invitation to join Jesus in heaven. Indeed, two examples attest to this: The hymn was used during the memorial service for assassinated civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on April 8, 1968. It was also a recurring song in The Trip to Bountiful (1985), an Oscar-winning movie about an older woman in the 1940s who wants to return one last time to her girlhood hometown of Bountiful.

Hymnologist Ernest Emurian told a story associated with this hymn: “When the world-renowned lay preacher, Dwight Lyman Moody, lay on his deathbed in his Northfield, Massachusetts, home, Will Thompson made a special visit to inquire as to his condition. The attending physician refused to admit him to the sickroom, and Moody heard them talking just outside the bedroom door. Recognizing Thompson’s voice, he called for him to come to his bedside. Taking the Ohio poet-composer by the hand, the dying evangelist said, ‘Will, I would rather have written “Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling” than anything I have been able to do in my whole life.’”

Adapted from https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-softly-and-tenderly-jesus-is-calling

 

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