From Forward to History for Hymns and Song for Living Book

These are the history stories for a collection of 26 mostly traditional old favorite hymns, including a few religious songs. All but three (some might say four) are classic congregational hymns. Although the several exceptions may not be congregational hymns, they occupied important religious musical spaces in the lives of the editor’s parents.

These hymn history stories and the accompanying recording are dedicated with love, affection, and heartfelt gratitude to the editor’s parents, for their gifts via training/upbringing of their knowledge, insights, values and caring. They considered it a goal, to the best of their ability, to represent their values to their children, friends and associates. These hymns and songs provide insights into their beliefs, which brought joy and meaning to their lives, and the values that guided how they lived their lives.

How Were the Hymns and Songs Selected?

The editor’s mother in May 1998 expressed it would be wonderful for the editor to record an album of their (her husband and her) favorite hymns and songs dedicated to her husband, who had gone to join their Lord on Sept. 28, 1996

So together, in May 1998 the editor and his mother took the first step for creating a recording of her and her husband’s favorite hymns and related songs. The project planning began with a day of discussions about which hymns and songs to include. A major resource used was going through the hymnals his parents had accumulated over the years when the churches they attended purchased new hymnals and gave away the old. It also included discussions on which non-hymn religious songs were important enough to include, which is how several non-hymns were identified for inclusion.

That selection process means the hymns and related songs included in these hymn history stories, and on the accompanying recording, are dominantly from several different Protestant denominations the editor’s parents were associated with in different times and places they lived over their lifetimes. They accumulated hymnals from those churches as the churches bought new hymnals and discarded the old. The hymns provide a good insight into both shared history and divergences of different denominations, their theologies, and the emotions of their congregational members.

The editor’s mother subsequently participated in planning and reviewing all initial details for the project, including weekly previewing of draft recordings as they were preliminarily recorded. She expressed great happiness with the progress being made, and especially that there was a plan for achieving the goal. All too quickly after beginning the project, in the early hours of Saturday, Aug. 22, 1998, she too left this world to join her husband.

Special ’ Appreciation

Heartfelt, very special thanks to the initial recording producer and editor’s good friend, Ms. Heidi Leah Gerber-Salins, for:

To Ms. Shirley Bowers, who willingly gave a period of her life to care for her friends, the editor’s parents, and assisted in the discussions that lead to selection of the list of favorite hymns and songs. She also assisted in reviewing progress as the initial working tracks for the album Hymns and Songs for Living were created and shared with the editor’s mother.

To Jintzie Belcher, who assisted her friend Shirley Bowers in caring for the editor’s parents. Thus, she too was part of the reviewing progress as the initial working tracks for the album Hymns and Songs for Living were created and shared with the editor’s mother.

To Mr. William (Bill) McElroy, who was willing to pick up from where the recording process left off when Ms. Gerber-Salins’ went on to do other things in life. (As of 2021, she is on the faculty at Howard University.) Mr. McElroy has a previous history with the editor from before Ms. Gerber-Salins, so in a way it is a full circle return. He helped with a number of improvements in creating the final recording.

Other Influences on the Recording

In making the request to make the recording, the editor’s mother nurtured a seed planted in the editor’s life perhaps beginning in elementary school when he began singing in school choirs, and subsequently studied voice throughout and after college.

Another seed about beautiful recordings of hymns, was when a friend of the editor brought a wonderful recording of organ and brass hymn arrangements to the editor’s attention, titled For God and Country: Forty Great Hymns of Joy and Celebration by the New England group Chestnut Brass Company (with Timpani) and Anthony Newman, organist and arranger, with condensed notes about the hymns by Jackson Braider. It was distributed by Newport Classic, Ltd. © 1992.

That CD of organ and brass hymns was recorded (likely in 1991) at the Church of the Holy Trinity located at 316 East 88th Street in New York City using that church’s magnificent, then very recently installed in 1987, Rieger Pipe Organ.

The tonal design of the instrument was by Anthony Newman, who was organist at the time. The 55 ranks of pipes surround a large stained-glass window in the church without covering it for the three-manual and pedal Rieger organ. More information about the organ and its specifications are available online.(8)

Recollections of these types of magnificent pipe organ sounds from various churches, including the magnificent Æolian-Skinner Organ at National Presbyterian Church and Center, where the editor sang with the choir for a time. Those memories of beautiful pipe organs led in 2019 to selection of the 35 rank pipe organ in Ashland Virginia at Duncan Memorial United Methodist Church to add real pipe organ accompaniments for a number of the hymns in this collection.

History Stories

The concept of writing the history stories to accompany the Hymns and Songs for Living recordings was not an easy task to accomplish. However, bringing that concept to fruition was in itself a labor of love for finding and amalgamating the many, fragmented, disparate often conflicting pieces of information about the histories. 

It was particularly challenging for a few hymns, particularly the two plantation hymns. Researching and putting these histories together provided a journey for the editor into the incredibly varied, often interconnected history over the many centuries of civilization, from the beginnings of Christian music since Christ’s death. That journey revealed many interrelationships our current society seems to largely ignore. It was an incredibly valuable mental and educational journey.

The non-Congregational Hymn Religious Songs

On the companion recording several religious songs were selected with the editor’s mother on the list of their favorites. While not strictly considered congregational hymns, they were important to their religious experiences.

First is “Be Thou with Them”. The tune is from Anna Magdalena Bach’s Notebook. The words are by Lloyd Pfautsch, which he deliberately intended for weddings. The editor sang this song for his parent’s rededication on their 50th wedding anniversary and thus it became very important, especially to his mother.

Second is “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”. This is from a Bach cantata which would normally be sung by the church choir, rather than sung as a congregational hymn. It is often used as a wedding entrance song, instrumental and vocal. It is included in this collection as a representation of their varied favorite religious musical interests.

Third is “Welcome Home”. This is a tribute Kathy Brigman Haupt composed for her Grandmother’s memorial service. Thus, it became very special to her grandmother’s sister, the editor’s mother, and thus is included here. (Kathy later sang this song for the editor’s mother’s memorial service. Since then Ms. Haupt has sung it for a few personal memorial services where she modified the words as appropriate to fit the gender of the relative who died, e.g., for her uncle.)

Fourth is “The Lord Bless and Keep You”. This was included as an arrangement for church congregational singing in three of the hymnals used as references for selecting these favorites. Some may categorize this benediction more as a “service” song rather than a congregational hymn. The more elaborate Lunkin arrangement of this song, especially with the 7-fold Amens, would normally be sung by the church choir, rather than by the congregation.

 


 

(8) “Church of the Holy Trinity,” The New York City Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, http://www.nycago.org/Organs/NYC/html/HolyTrinityEpisUES.html, accessed 2018.