Musical Notes ♫♬ (Archive)

In a way our hymns this week are a great kickoff to the official start of summer.  They are familiar, encouraging and easy to sing - much like summer songs from camp or VBS.  A few of them have had success 'crossing over' into popular culture as well.  A dear friend and I were conspiring a few weeks ago about starting a hymn revolution because in a matter of 30 minutes he had used the tune JERUSALEM to calm unruly 4th graders and I heard a construction worker singing the tune EVENTIDE.  I'm sure many Lutheran Churches across the country, including John Ogren's home church in South Dakota, are singing praising God with many of these same tunes and texts.  This is just further proof that we are all one in the body of Christ. 

Two hymns from this weeks service with crossover success are "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" and my personal favorite "My Life Flows On In Endless Song". 

"Take My Hand, Precious Lord" (aka "Precious Lord, Take My Hand") is a gospel song. The lyrics were written by Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey (1899–1993), and the melody by George Nelson Allen (1812–1877). The melody is credited to Dorsey, drawn from an 1844 hymn entitled "Maitland" by American composer George N. Allen (1812–1877).  Dorsey wrote "Precious Lord" in response to his inconsolable bereavement at the death of his wife, Nettie Harper, in childbirth, and his infant son in August 1932. (Mr. Dorsey can be seen telling this story in the 1981 gospel music documentary, ‘Say Amen, Somebody’.)  "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" is published in more than 40 languages.

It was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s favorite song, and he often invited gospel singer Mahalia Jackson to sing it at civil rights rallies to inspire the crowds; at his request she sang it at his funeral in April 1968. King's last words were, just before being shot, to play it at a mass he was attending the night of his assassination.  Opera singer Leontyne Price sang it at the state funeral of President Lyndon Baines Johnson in January 1973, and Aretha Franklin sang it at Mahalia Jackson's funeral in 1972. Aretha Franklin also recorded a live version of the song for her album Amazing Grace (1972) as a medley with "You've Got a Friend".  It was sung by Nina Simone at the Westbury Music Fair on April 7, 1968, three days after the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King. That evening was dedicated to him and recorded on the album 'Nuff Said!

"How Can I Keep From Singing?" (also known by "My Life Flows On in Endless Song") is a Christian hymn with music written by American Baptist minister Robert Wadsworth Lowry. The song is frequently, though erroneously, cited as a traditional Quaker hymn. The original composition has now entered into the public domain, and appears in several hymnals and song collections, both in its original form and with a revised text. 

During the 20th century, this hymn was not widely used in congregational worship. Diehl's index to a large number of hymnals from 1900 to 1966 indicates that only one hymnal included it: the 1940 edition of The Church Hymnal of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (hymn no. 265).  The United Methodist Church published it in its 2000 hymnal supplement, The Faith We Sing (hymn no. 2212), giving credit for the lyrics as well as the tune to Robert Lowry

Pete Seeger learned a version of this song from Doris Plenn, a family friend who had it from her North Carolina family. His version made this song fairly well known in the folk revival of the 1960s. Seeger's version omits or modifies much of the Christian wording of the original, and adds a verse by Plenn. The reference in the added verse by Seeger and by Plenn - both active in left-wing causes - is to 'witch hunts' of the House Un-American Activities Committee (Seeger himself was sentenced to a year in jail in 1955 as a result of his testimony before the Committee; he did not serve this year due to a technicality). Most folk singers, including Enya, have followed Seeger's version.

In the late 1970s and early 80s, How Can I Keep From Singing was recorded by Catholic Folk musician Ed Gutfreund (on an album called "From An Indirect Love"), and the music was published in a widely used Catholic Hymnal called "Glory and Praise," and was popular among Catholic liturgical music ministers, especially those who used guitar. In this, and in an 1993 recording by Marty Haugen, Jeanne Cotter, and David Haas, the quatrain beginning: "No storm can shake my inmost calm..." is used as a repeated refrain.  It is also sung by Dahlia Malloy (Minnie Driver) in the episode 'Virgin Territory' from Season One of FX's ‘The Riches’.  In his radio singing debut, actor Martin Sheen performed this song (using the Plenn-Seeger lyrics) on A Prairie Home Companion in September 2007.

Yours in Christ,

Gretchen Mundinger



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Daily Bible Verse

  • Malachi 4:1-6

    5Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. 6He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.

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