Another “May Memories” favorite. This tune from the Southern Harmony, and Musical Companion compiled by William Walker in 1835, is so romantic it’s hard to imagine it’s actually a hymn tune…but it is.
I admit, I’m having fun playing live in service again, but I don’t want to lose the pleasure of doing these videos either, so I’ll continue both. For the month of May, I’m repeating some of my past favorites. Come June, I’ll start adding new ones. If you have requests and I can do them, I will. Just let me know what you’d like to hear in the comments.
Rev. Wells, pastor of Lakewood UCC, where I’m music director, introduced me to this grand Congregational hymn with which I was not at all familiar. Now, it’s one of my favorites: My Faith, It Is an Oaken Staff.
Check out the representative text at https://hymnary.org/text/my_faith_it_is_an_oaken_staff and the author’s full bio at https://hymnary.org/person/Lynch_TT.
The tune’s name is THE STAFF OF FAITH and its composer is anonymous. It’s been variously described as traditional Swiss melody, or an English folksong. It’s in public domain.
After seeing his picture at the above links, the following account gave me a laugh: “he was a s student at the Highbury Independent College; but withdrew, partly on account of failing health, and partly because his spirit was too free to submit to the routine of College life.” He looks as if he and I both share an equally dissolute life! Nevertheless, he wrote an amazing amount of moving texts.
The composer of this famous old hymn is P. P. Bliss. Follow this link to know more about the hymn: https://hymnary.org/text/brightly_beams_our_fathers_mercy and this link to learn about the Bliss, himself: https://hymnary.org/person/Bliss_Philip. I remember, so clearly, as a small boy hearing my mother and father playing this in our front room (my father on piano, my mother on violin) as I fell asleep on the front room couch.
Repeating some of my favorites during May. If you want to sing along, it’s #438 in the New Century Hymnal; or, a representative text may be found at https://hymnary.org/text/when_peace_like_a_river_attendeth_my_way.
We’ve been doing in-person services for several Sundays following CDC guidelines. Among those restrictions, we don’t sing hymns or have choral music because those are such high risk behaviors during the pandemic. I did an instrumental version of a hymn this past Sunday and I noticed there was a soft, eerie, ghostly echo of the melody. The congregation with every so quietly, subvocally, humming the tune. Hopefully, that’s not a risky behavior, or at least it’s an acceptable risk behavior. It does give the people a chance to express themselves. I hope it’s safe. It was certainly touching.
Now that the primary musical vehicle for my work at Lakewood is no longer online, I”m trying to tidy up a list of everything I’ve posted online during the pandemic. I plan to repeat some of my own favorites, maybe one a week. Here’s one I really like a lot!
Easter Sunday was the first Sunday I returned to playing services in-person. It had been more than a year. The Easter videos for last year were among the very first in our effort to continue to provide spiritual community only via the internet. I’ve learned a lot during this year, especially about making videos, but also about music itself. At 76 you wouldn’t think I’d still be learning about music, but I am, mainly about how much better the music gets the simpler you make things!
This past Sunday was my third week of playing an in-person service. During these past two weeks, I’ve taken a “vacation” from making videos, except for an Earth Day compilation that will post this coming Thursday, Earth Day.
So, I’m resuming making a couple mid-week videos today with this beautiful tune from The Southern Harmony, and Musical Companion: Charlestown.
When I do these, I take the melodies directly from the Southern Harmony itself, deleting any of the harmony and counterpoint of the original, keeping only the melody. If it’s also published in various hymnals, I completely ignore those settings, so I’m interacting only with the original tune, devoid of even its own original harmony.
I didn’t know this tune, but I discovered and making the video, it does appear in some hymnals. I’m glad. It’s a beautiful melody.
If you’ve ever spent time in the desert, you’ll know that despite the thorns there are times–especially in the moonlight when you stand there alone, very still, listening–the dew sparkles and glistens and there’s a refreshing, peaceful, soul warming breeze.
The title of the tune, Pisgah,” from the tune from Southern Harmony, derives from the Hebrew word for summit and was the biblical mountain from which Moses first saw the promised land. It’s also the name for a mountain in North Carolina! For the complete story of how this part of American came to have a name from the ancient book of Deuteronomy see https://www.pisgahinn.com/history-of-pisgah-inn/.