AMERICAN UNITARIAN AND UNIVERSALIST HYMNODY: CAPSULES AND HIGHLIGHTS

The First American Hymn Singing - Psalmody

When the pilgrims came to Plymouth they brought with them a psalter by Henry Ainsworth (1570-1623). It contained 150 rhythmically arranged psalms in fifteen different meters along with thirty-nine tunes. The tunes were from French, English and German sources. A few of the tunes are used today, the tune "Old Hundredth," dating originally from the Genevan Psalter of 1551, being the most famous. As its name indicates, it was used with Psalm 100. Other tunes of this era are now being rediscovered and used again.

A comparison of Psalm 100 as it appears in the King James Version of the Bible and the William Kethe psalmody version of 1561, as printed in Hymns for the Celebration of Life, (No. 18) shows how the irregular poetry of the psalms was rearranged into even verses that could be set to tunes of standard meters.

King James Version

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.
Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.1

William Kethe text

All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice;
Him serve with mirth, his praise forth tell;
Come ye before him and rejoice.2

The first book published in English North America was the Bay Psalm Book. It was printed in 1640 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was widely used and it influenced hymn singing in New England for a hundred years. On the title page was a quotation from James V of Scotland: "If any be afflicted, let him pray, and if any be merry let him sing psalms." 3 "Old Hundredth" as it appears in Hymns for the Celebration of Life, (No. 18) and sung at a brisk tempo, approximates what James V had in mind. Psalm-singing was ordinarily unaccompanied. Most congregations were familiar with a set of tunes and these were matched with the text by the song leader; the musical line was seldom printed. If the congregation did not know the tune and text by rote they were taught them by a method called "lining-out." An elder or deacon would pitch the tune and sing the psalm a line at a time with the congregation repeating what the leader had just sung. Only psalms were used as subjects of congregational singing since they were thought to be the only proper means of praising God. Attributed to the Biblical David, they had the authority of Scripture and ancient tradition.

Twenty-seven editions of the Bay Psalm Book were printed before 1762. In England, in the meantime, a desire for more poetic and freer translations resulted in several notable psalmbooks, one by Nahum Tate (1652-1715) and Nicholas Brady (1659-1726) and another by Isaac Watts (1674-1748). Tate is represented in Hymns for the Celebration of Life by his metrical setting of the Christmas story "While Shepherds Watched," (No. 295); and Watts by three hymns including "O God, Our Help in Ages Past," (No. 51) which paraphrases Psalm 90, and "Joy to the World," (No. 299). Many eighteenthand nineteenth-century hymnals had a Scriptural index to indicate related scriptural passages.

The use of Biblical texts other than the psalms, as well as non-Biblical texts, for singing was referred to as hymnody. It was accepted by some and rejected by many. Unitarian hymnologist Henry Wilder Foote quotes a maid in the household of Tate's brother who refused to sing the new hymns, saying, "If you must know the plain truth, sir, as long as you sung Jesus Christ's psalms I sung along with ye; but now that you sing psalms of your own invention, ye may sing by yourselves."4 The history of psalmody and hymnody may be described as a conflict between the attempt of authors and musicians to write texts and tunes of greater beauty, relevance and style and the desire of congregations to cling to the established versions they know. Interestingly enough, Tate and Brady's New Version of the Psalms (1696), is supposed to have been adopted first in America by King's Chapel in Boston, the first church in America to declare itself Unitarian (see page 22).

Singing Schools

The singing of psalms gradually deteriorated. Few congregations knew more than a handful of tunes. Printed music was almost nonexistent. There were very few professional musicians and no opportunities for music education. Reform came from leading ministers such as the Reverend John Tufts of Newbury port, Massachusetts, and the Reverend Thomas Walter of Roxbury, Massachusetts, who wrote musical instruction books which were the first of their kind in America. John Tufts' An Introduction to the Singing of Psalm Tunes, published in 1721, included a system of musical notation that helped "people even of the meanest capacities and children" to sing a tune on sight. Thomas Walter's The Grounds and Rules of Musick Explained, published in Boston in 1721, had a "Recommendatory Preface" signed by such influential ministers as Increase and Cotton Mather.

The need for such instructional books similar to those by Tufts and Walters resulted in the publication of a wave of them during the subsequent one hundred years. The need for instruction also led to the establishment of singing schools providing the first organized musical education in America. Conducted by a rising number of resident or itinerant singingschool masters, European educated or self-taught, and held in churches or homes, they flourished in cities, hamlets and in the open country.

Music of the Moravians and the Ephrata Community

Following the period of psalmody in early New England, important contributions to church music in America were made by religious groups from central Europe who sought a haven in the new world. Music was extremely important to the Moravians and to German Baptist groups called Dunkers. The Moravians, the descendents of John Hus, settled in Nazareth and Bethlehem (Pennsylvania). The Dunkers became divided over the question of the day of the Sabbath, and the semimonastic Seventh Day Baptists who took Saturday as the day of worship, established the Ephrata Cloister in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

The Moravians brought with them a knowledge of the German music of the period and established a Collegium Musicum in 1744 which introduced great choral, symphonic and chamber music into America. Moravians were pioneers in the writing of sacred music in America, in using instrumental accompaniment and in the construction of organs. Hymns for the Celebration of Life includes Moravian hymn tunes such as "Hope," (No. 129), by John Antes. The Dunker groups and many of the Moravians held to the Universalist belief in the universal restoration of all souls. Punishment in hell was temporary, and even if lengthy, not eternal. They did not, however, accept the name "Universalist," although most of them welcomed Universalists George de Benneville and Elhanan Winchester to their pulpits.

Beissel, the leader of the Seventh Day Baptists' Ephrata Cloister, was a talented and self-taught musician. He rejected the use of European music, composed over one thousand tunes, and wrote music for whole chapters of the Old Testament. Since his hymns reflected the beliefs of the Ephrata Community, he is credited with writing the first hymns in America expressing Universalist beliefs.

John Wesley discovered Moravian hymns when he and his brother Charles were on shipboard from England on their way to "missionize" Oglethorpe's Georgia colony. Moravian colonists were also on board, and Wesley was so entranced by the beauty and power of the hymns they sang that he began to study German. His subsequent translations of the Moravian hymns could be counted as the first hymns written in America. They helped open the way for the use of hymns, in contradistinction to psalms, and for German music in English-speaking America. Wesley became important as a translator, an author of hymns and an advocate of hymn singing. In 1784 he sent a small collection of hymns and psalms to America which became a standard for classical hymnody in comparison with the camp-meeting and revival songs that were to become so popular among the Methodists.

Native American Hymns and Fuguing Tunes

William Billings (1748-1800) was born and died in Boston. He was a self-schooled musician with a stentorian voice and a great love for music. He firmly believed that America should develop its own music. Unschooled musically and only vaguely aware that there were rules of composition, Billings nevertheless wrote music of considerable appeal and had the teaching skill that enabled him to help others sing it.

He rejected the musical conventions of psalmody and among other musical forms, wrote "fuguing tunes" with melodies imitated in turn by the different voices. "O Come All Ye Faithful" is the hymn in current use that comes closest to the fuguing style. It starts with the melody in the soprano and the other parts in harmony. During the chorus the soprano begins the melody with the words "O come let us adore him," and the tenor repeats the melody almost exactly on the next repeat of the words. The words are repeated again by the soprano with a melodic variation and all the voices conclude with the singing of the last phrase, "Christ the Lord."

In 1770 Billings published The New England Psalm-Singer containing a number of psalm tunes, anthems and canons in four and five parts. The frontispiece was engraved by Paul Revere. Billings also wrote choral music for entertainment and in support of the American Revolution. His tune "Chester" and the accompanying text beginning with "Let tyrants shake their iron rod" is said to have been the most popular hymn of the Revolution. Elhanan Winchester, initially a Baptist who eventually became a Universalist, also wrote hymn texts in support of the Revolution. (See pages 14-17.) Even though Billings was neither a Unitarian nor a Universalist, his "Let Tyrants Shake Their Iron Rod" to the tune of "Chester" is included here because of interest in the American Revolution in this Bicentennial year. Billings's text, "Let the High Heavens Your Songs Invite," which can be sung to the tune of "Chester," is also included. The tune "Chester" is reprinted here from The Singing Master's Assistant. Such arrangements were pitched extremely high by our standards, so I have also included my own arrangement for today's congregational singing. In arranging it, I have tried to keep the harmonies true to Billings's original. Musicians will note that Billings violated technical rules of harmony but that notwithstanding, the tune has a vigor and an appeal that fits either "Let Tyrants Shake Their Iron Rod" or "Let the High Heavens Your Songs Invite."

Billings furthered musical education in America by starting a singing school in Stoughton, Massachusetts, in 1774 and by publishing his influential book, The Singing Master's Assistant, in 1778. He advocated the use of a pitch pipe to set the tune and a bass viol to accompany the singing. Since most stringed instruments were imported from Europe and were thus expensive, they might well be purchased by the town church, rather than an individual. The First Parish Church in Bedford, Massachusetts (Unitarian), displays one which it purchased early in its history.

The First Universalist Hymns in a New Land

It was into this blossoming musical scene, - the breaking of the tradition of psalmody, the free use of hymns in church and of topical songs for rallies and entertainment - that John Murray came from England in 1770.

Murray was a convert of James Relly in England. When Relly organized his London congregation, he and his brother John, desirous of singing their own gospel and not that of the orthodox, wrote and published their own book of hymn texts in 1770. They borrowed the common hymn tunes of the day and wrote texts of appropriate meters, a pattern repeated throughout Unitarian and Universalist history and that of other denominations. When Murray founded the first Universalist Church in America in Gloucester, Massachusetts, he used the Relly hymnal, accompanied by a barrel organ with a repertoire of ten tunes. (The organ can be seen on display in the church.) Murray printed an American edition of the Relly hymnal in 1776 and reprinted it in 1782, adding five hymn texts of his own.

Other early Universalist hymnals included:

New Hymns on Various Subjects, viz: On the Creation of the World; and the Formation of man - the State wherein He was Created, and his Sad and Shameful Fall. On the Early and Extensive Promises of God - the Coming of Christ, and the Completion of the Father's Promises: or, the Eternal Redemption and Victorious Salvation of Mankind Through Him, by Silas Ballou. Printed in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1785. Evangelical Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs, Selected from Various Authors. Compiled by the Universalists of Philadelphia and published there in 1792.  The Universalist Hymn Book: Psalms and Spiritual Songs: Selected and Original, published in Boston in 1792. It included fifty-two hymns by the Reverend George Richards, which were used throughout the nineteenth century.


LET TYRANTS SHAKE THEIR IRON ROD
William Billings, 1770

Let tyrants shake their ironrod,
And slav'ry clank her galling chains,
We fear them not we trust in God,
New-england's God for ever reigns.

Howe and Burgoyne and Clinton too,
With Prescot and Cornwallis join'd,
Together plot our Overthrow
In one infernal league combin'd.

When God inspir'd us for the fight,
Their ranks were broke their lines were forc'd,
Their Ships were Shatter'd in our sight,
Or swiftly driven from our Coast.

The Foe comes on with haughty Stride,
Our troops advance with martial noise,
Their Vet'rans flee before our Youth
And Gen'rals yield to beardless Boys.

What grateful Off'ring shall we bring,
What shall we render to the Lord?
Loud Halleluiahs (sic) let us Sing,
And praise his name on ev'ry Chord.

LET THE HIGH HEAVENS YOUR SONGS INVITE William Billings, 1770
"There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory." 1 Cor. 15:41

1
Let the high heavens your songs invite,
These spacious fields of brilliant light,
Where sun and Moon and Planets roll,
And stars that glow from pole to pole.
2.
Sun, Moon and stars convey Thy praise,
Round the whole earth and never stand,
So when Thy truth began its race,
It touched and glanced on ev'ry hand.

 

The Eighteenth Century Ends and American Unitarian Hymnody Begins

In the last quarter of the eighteenth century, churches in the Boston area that were experiencing a rising liberalism but had not yet declared themselves "Unitarian" took several steps toward compiling a Unitarian hymnody.

In 1782 the West Church of Boston published A Collection of Hymns, More Particularly Designed for the Use of the West Society. In editing it, the Reverend Simeon Howard selected hymns that were primarily ethical rather than theological.

In 1788 the East Church in Salem, Massachusetts, published A Collection of Hymns for Publick Worship, Edited by the Reverend William Bentley (17501819), the work included hymns of liberal bent from among the best standard sources of the day. Though of high quality, the collection was not used outside the East Salem Church, perhaps because Bentley became an outspoken Unitarian and a political liberal, and according to Henry Wilder Foote, was "persona non grata in a Federalist stronghold."5

In 1795 the Reverend Jeremy Belknap (1744-98), edited Sacred Poetry: Consisting of Psalms and Hymns Adapted to Christian Devotion In Public and Private. Belknap was the first Congregational minister to serve the Federal Street Church, which had previously been Presbyterian. One of his successors was William Ellery Channing. Belknap tried to edit a collection that would serve both the liberal and the orthodox wings of New England Congregationalism, but he managed instead to prepare the early collection that best satisfied the liberals.

The first collection that can distinctly be termed Unitarian was A Collection of Psalms and Hymns for Public Worship, edited by the Reverend James Freeman and layman Joseph May, for use in King's Chapel, Boston, in 1799. The collection contained only one original hymn. It was by James Freeman (see page 22).

These hymnals containing no tunes, borrowed heavily from Watts and from Tate and Brady. They included hymns which were appropriate to liberal theological views and liturgy. Although offending words were changed, the collections included very few newly written texts. Altering and amending hymns has been prevalent in Unitarian and Universalist hymnody. As a people concerned with ideas, we have resisted singing what we do not believe and have therefore rewritten, recast, and edited the hymns of others. John Wesley, furious over the practice of hymn-mending, once wrote, "They are perfectly welcome [to print our hymns] provided they print them just as they are; but I desire they would not attempt to mend them, for they really are not able . . . ." Wesley himself, however, amended Watts's hymns as well as others, (including those of his brother Charles), often to their benefit. Recasting has been carried on by hymnists of most faiths, although we may have done more than our share of it.
In addition to hymn mending or recasting, Unitarians and Universalists translated hymns from their original languages. Some of our translations such as "Praise to the Living God" to the tune of "Yigdal," and Luther's "A Mighty Fortress," have become the widely accepted form.

The First Third of the Nineteenth Century

During this period the orthodox continued to sing the old English hymns of Isaac Watts while also creating new texts: Timothy Dwight, president of Yale, edited a new edition of Watts's Psalms (1801); and Samuel Worcester, a minister in Salem, Massachusetts, compiled Select Harmonies (1815), a collection that included psalms and hymns. Unitarians and Universalists, by contrast, found themselves increasingly impelled to create new hymnals by culling past collections for those texts which would pass liberal muster, de-trinitizing or de-helling existing texts and writing new ones.

In 1808 the Reverend William Emerson, of Concord, Massachusetts, a Unitarian and the father of Ralph Waldo Emerson, published his Collection of 150 hymns. It was attacked by the orthodox for omitting "most of the capital doctrines of the Gospel." Its distinct contribution was to suggest a tune that was suitable for use with each psalm and then to list some dozen music books where it might be found. Awkward as this system was, it was the first American hymnal to include such suggestions as an "aid to the performers of psalmody." Few, if any, of the texts were original.

In 1812, in the Unitarian Church of Philadelphia, founded by Joseph Priestley, two laymen, Ralph Eddowes and James Taylor, edited Selection of Sacred Poetry. The 606 hymns of this fine collection were taken primarily from English sources.

In New York, in 1820, at what is now All Souls Church (Unitarian Universalist), layman Dr. Henry Sewall edited a collection of 504 hymns called The New York Collection. The psalms and hymns, arranged in alphabetical order by their first lines, included 5 original hymns by William Cullen Bryant, later a member of the congregation, without crediting him. In Boston, in 1830, the Reverend Francis W. P. Greenwood of King's Chapel published A Collection of Psalms and Hymns for Sacred Worship. It was the most widely used of the early Unitarian collections, running to fifty editions. It introduced new hymns by a number of Unitarians and others, including Charles Wesley. Emerson recommended it in a sermon in 1831 on "Hymn Books" and noted in his journal for 1847 that it was "still the best."

Meanwhile, individual Unitarians were becoming prolific hymn writers. The Reverend John Pierpont (1785-1866), a powerful voice in Boston during his ministry at Hollis Street (1819-45) and an able poet, wrote hymns on the aspects of faith, worship, and social causes that concerned him, including abolition and temperance. During this period it had become popular to write hymns for every aspect of church life and every issue of belief: for the special occasions of the church, including ordinations, installations, building, and organ dedications; for the times of the day and the seasons of the year; and for national holidays and civic celebrations. John Pierpont was a prolific hymn writer in most of these categories.

The rise of the Sunday school movement in America resulted in the formation of Sunday schools by both of our denominations and also in a wave of hymns for children. One of the early collections of original materials was by Eliza Cabot Follen, titled Hymns for Children, it was published in 1825. It is from her Hymns, Songs and Fables for Young People, published in 1831, that "Remember the Slave," included in this collection, is derived. (See page 31.) In 1837 two Universalist Sunday school songbooks were published, followed by five others in the succeeding twelve years and many more thereafter. During the same year the first of many hymnals for family and home use appeared. The best-known of these was the Family Singing Book (1848), by the Universalist scholar Sylvanus Cobb. Many of our most noted hymn writers, including Pierpont, William Channing Gannett, and Frederick Lucian Hosmer, wrote hymns for children during the following seventy-five years. Some of these represent a combination of sentiment, moralism, and adult fantasy about childhood that seems inappropriate to us today.

Andrews Norton, a Unitarian and a respected Biblical scholar who taught at Harvard, and Nathaniel L. Frothingham, minister of First Church, Boston (Unitarian), also wrote hymns of high quality during this period.

The Reverend Henry Ware, Jr., wrote a hymn for the ordination of Jared Sparks in Baltimore in 1819. It was on this occasion that Channing preached his "Baltimore Sermon," which drew the battle lines between the Unitarian and Trinitarian camps within Congregationalism. Ware's hymn "The Opening of an Organ" (1822), shows how attitudes have changed toward the use of musical instruments in church. Ware also wrote several significant Easter hymns.

Frederic Henry Hedge (1805-90), a Unitarian minister and Harvard professor, contributed to our hymnody throughout his life. His hymn "Sovereign and Transforming Grace," written in 1829, became known throughout Protestantism, as did his translation of Luther's "Ein feste Burg" ("A Mighty Fortress").

The nineteenth century began hymnologically for the Universalists with a second hymnal, A Collection of Hymns, by the Reverend George Richards, published in Dover, New Hampshire. It contained fifty-eight hymns by Richards, and twenty-six were added to a later edition.

In 1808 a collection of hymns for use by New England Universalists was issued, with the title Hymns Composed by Different Authors, by Order of the General Convention of Universalists of the New England States and Others. It consisted primarily of original hymns by Hosea Ballou, Abner Kneeland, Edward Turner, and Sebastian Streeter. (See page 27.)

In 1828 Hosea Ballou and Edward Turner published The Universalists' Hymn Book: A New Collection. In addition to many hymns by Ballou and Turner it included others written by Universalists, which had been published earlier for Philadelphia Universalists, and also selections from the General Convention hymnal mentioned above. There were also hymns by Watts which did not violate Universalist tenets.

Sebastian and Russell Streeter issued The New Hymn Book, Designed for Universalist Societies in 1829. It was published in Boston by Thomas Whittemore, before he wrote and published his own hymnals. An 1846 edition contains 550 hymns and measures only 4 1/2 inches high, 23/4 inches wide, and 1 inch thick.hymnbook_universalist-1846.jpg (39123 bytes)

THE

NEW HYMN BOOK,

DESIGNED FOR UNIVERSALIST SOCIETIES:

COMPILED
FROM APPROVED AUTHORS,
WITH
VARIATIONS AND ADDITIONS.

By SEBASTIAN AND RUSSELL STREETER
Praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Zion...Psalm lxv.1. 1.

Stereotyped m the Lancaster Foundery. 

Thirty-sixth Edition.

WOODSTOCK, Vr.:
PUBLISHED BY HASKELL AND PALMER.
1846.


The Mid Third of the Nineteenth Century

American hymnody came into its own in the mid third of the nineteenth century, with American musicians composing vast numbers of new hymn tunes and American authors writing texts of high quality. Hymn writing in all of the major denominations was prolific; and because of the impetus to improve congregational singing, tunes and texts began to be printed together in the same book, although it was not for decades that the practice became universal. A new type of formal hymn tune began to appear, of which Lowell Mason was the creator par excellence. (See his biography, page 48.) His original tunes and those he adapted were simple, appealing, and easy to sing, though somewhat monotonous by today's standards.

Although a considerable number of Universalist hymnals were issued during the nineteenth century, few of the hymns found their way into the mainstream of American hymnody nor do they appear in our own hymnals today.

In 1837 Thomas Whittemore, Universalist minister-evangelist, publisher, and entrepreneur, began editing hymnals with several features which I have not found in other Universalist hymnals or in Unitarian ones. His works included Songs of Zion (1837), The Gospel Harmonist (1841), Conference Hymns and Tunes (1842), and The Sunday School Choir and Superintendent's Assistant (1845). The Gospel Harmonist is a book of hymn and anthem music and texts for the use of organists, choir directors, and singers. It contains instructions in the basics of music and singing. Conference Hymns and Tunes contains revival-type hymns, with text and music and a fervent Universa!ist message. The Sunday School Choir and Superintendent's Assistant is one of the earlier collections for Sunday school use. (See "The Teacher's Hymn," page 36.) Whittemore's hymns seem to have been entirely rejected by subsequent Unitarian and Universalist hymnal editors, as far as I have been able to ascertain.

One of the most widely used collections of Universalist hymns was edited by Hosea Ballou, 11. Titled A Collection of Psalms and Hymns for the Use of Universalist Societies and Families, it was published in Boston in 1839.

An early Universalist hymnal to provide tunes was Hymns of Zion with Appropriate Music, edited by Abel C. Thomas and published in Philadelphia in 1839.

Henry Wilder Foote 6 cites Hymns for Christian Devotion edited by John Greenleaf Adams and the Reverend Edwin Hubbell Chapin, as the most notable American Universalist collection of the nineteenth century. Published in Boston in 1845, it contained 1,008 hymns, well organized according to topics. The collection reveals the social concerns of Universalists in this era with 59 hymns on such "philanthropic subjects" as human equality and rights; the care of widows, orphans and persons in public hospitals and asylums; temperance; abolition; the progress of freedom; the rehabilitation of prisoners; and universal peace. Many of the hymns were selected from non-liberal sources and others were written by the authors themselves and Universalists such as Ballou and Turner. Some were by well-known Unitarians, such as John Bowring and John Pierpont. Still others, according to the preface, were "taken from a copy of the new Cambridge Unitarian Hymn Book, kindly handed us in sheets, [so] it was not known whether they were original or not."7 Adams was an indefatigable author, hymn writer, and collector, publishing the Gospel Psalmist in 1861, the Sabbath School Melodist in 1866, and Vestry Harmonies in 1868 before launching his distinguished Universalist historiography.

By far the most interesting texts of the period to me, appeared in The Hopedale Collection of Hymns and Songs, for the Use of Practical Christians, edited by Adin Ballou and published by him in Hopedale, Massachusetts, in 1849. (See page 47 for further information about Hopedale.) The hymnal is unique, as far as I know, for its early introduction of so extensive a collection of hymns on social issues; "practical Christians" being persons who applied Christian teachings to the problems of the day.

The Universalists, like other denominations, had several hymnals which had been gathered for the people of a particular church, convention, or geographical area, such as Hymns for the Church and Home: With a Selection of Psalms: Portland Collection compiled by
Dr. E. C. Bolles and Israel Washburn, Jr., and published in Boston in 1865.

Two authors whose works came into vogue among Victorian sentimentalists were the Universalist Cary sisters, Alice (1820-71) and Phoebe (1824-71 ). Phoebe's "One Sweetly Solemn Thought" became popular because it was included in revival hymn collections by Moody and Sankey. (See page 52.)

Among the Unitarians, Samuel Johnson (1822-82) and Samuel Longfellow (181992, younger brother of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, made significant contributions through their A Book of Hymns, published in 1846, and Hymns of the Spirit, published in 1864. Lifelong friends; fellow students at the Harvard Divinity School; ministers, and transcendentalists, they wrote with freshness, vigor, and high literary standards. Poetry was flowering in New England, and they took verse from John Greenleaf Whittier, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Theodore Parker, and James Russell Lowell, and combined it with the best musical possibilities. All were Unitarians and some were Harvard graduates. Standard works on hymnody refer to the significant contribution of Unitarian hymnody or "Harvard hymnody" of this period.

A Book of Hymns and Hymns of the Spirit introduced hymns which have proved significant expressions of liberal faith. "Life of Ages, Richly Poured" by Samuel Johnson, sings of freedom as a religious principle and describes God in ways that go beyond anthropomorphism. "Light of Ages and of Nations" by Samuel Longfellow, recognizes that inspiration and truth arise in every race and time. "True Freedom" by James Russell Lowell is a summons to action by those who believe in freedom. "O Thou Great Friend" by Theodore Parker described a human Jesus. See Nos. 172, 248, 173, and 120, respectively, in Hymns for the Celebration of Life.)

The other major Unitarian hymnal published during this period was Hymns for the Church of Christ, edited by Frederic H. Hedge (1805-90) and Frederic D. Huntington (1819-1904). It was afar more conservative collection than Hymns of the Spirit.

The Last Third of the Nineteenth Century

Several hymn movements existed side by side during this period. The new hymns of Samuel Johnson and Samuel Longfellow gained in familiarity and use in liberal religious circles and even beyond. At the same time, a new wave of evangelism swept across Protestantism, bringing gospel songs not only into evangelistic circles but even into some Unitarian and Universalist hymnals. Dwight L. Moody (1837-99) and his singing partner, Ira David Sankey, stormed the country with preaching and gospel singing. Sankey compiled Gospel Hymns and other collections said to have had a total sale of fifty million copies. Some of the tunes were from old folk hymns; others were Sankey's own. They were simple, catchy, spirited, frankly emotional, and "calculated to awaken the careless, to melt the hardened, and to guide the inquiring souls to the Lord Jesus Christ."

The compilers of most Unitarian and Universalist hymn collections, along with the compilers from some other denominations, such as the Episcopalians, avoided gospel hymns determinedly, but some still found their way into a few collections. A Book of Song and Service by the Unitarian Sunday School Society, published in 1896, contains several; including "Rescue the Perishing" by Fanny J. Crosby (1820-1915). Blind from birth, Fanny is reputed to have written 8,000 hymns, many of which became popular. For many years she was hired by a gospel hymn publisher to produce three a week, a small number, indeed, for her.

One of the all time favorites of A Book of Song and Service was the hymn based on Kate L. Brown's poem, "'Twas A Bluebird Told the Story." This Easter hymn became so popular that its proposed omission from The Beacon Song and Service Book in 1935 caused a major controversy. The hymn was omitted. The first verse, printed below, tells something of our lingering faith as well as of our favorite hymns.

'Twas a bluebird told the story,
On his way from heav'n this morn,
As he paused beneath my window,
'Mong the blossoms of the thorn:
"Hark! to you I bear the story,
Weary ones who wake with pain,
Christ indeed, indeed is risen,
Doubting ones, he lives again!"

Another form of American religious music, the spirituals of Black Americans, began to come to public attention during the post-Civil War era. The first collection designed to preserve and share them was Slave Songs of the United States, published in 1867 with the help of Thomas Wentworth Higginson. (See his biography, page 42.)

In 1867 the American Unitarian Association published its first denominational hymnbook. Titled Hymn and Tune Book it was the first Unitarian hymnbook to be completely furnished with tunes on the same pages as the texts.

Two other Unitarians, fellow students at Harvard Divinity School, were to make important contributions to hymnody near the end of the century: Frederick Lucian Hosmer (1840-1929) and William Channing Gannett (1840-1923). Both are well represented in Protestant hymnals in England and America as well as in our own Hymns of the Spirit and Hymns for the Celebration of Life. During this period the Universalist Publishing House issued its first hymnal, Church Harmonies. Released in 1873, it included more than 1,000 hymn texts. The Universalist Publishing House also issued Devotional Melodies: Adapted to Social Worship in 1876 and Sunday School Harmonies in 1879. Church Harmonies New and Old followed in 1895, edited by Charles R. Tenney and Leo R. Lewis. Its "Index of Authors and Translators" includes detailed information on the writers of the hymns, an unusual feature.

The Twentieth Century

Many of the trends in American hymnody which began in the nineteenth century continued into the twentieth, including gospel singing in the evangelistic churches. The use of romantic Victorian texts and tunes also continued, but as the century progressed, a new interest developed in the great classic tunes of both the European and American traditions. Texts of higher quality and less sentimentality were sought out.

Hymnody in general became less denominational and more ecumenical. Unitarian and Universalist hymnals included new hymns from Congregational, Presbyterian and Episcopalian sources. These denominations, in turn, continued to borrow from the best Unitarian hymn writers. The Pilgrim Hymnal, issued in 1904 by the Congregationalist Press, ascribed 115 of its hymns to Unitarians and thirty-two of its sixty-nine American authors were Unitarians.

An interesting hymnal of the late nineteenth century was Unity Hymns and Chorals, edited by Hosmer, Gannett and Blake in 1880. A revised edition by Hosmer and Gannett was published by the Unity Publishing Company at the Abraham Lincoln Center in Chicago, in 1911 . It was created to serve the needs of the "Western" churches and the small church with a "singing congregation rather than a choir." Scarcely more than half an inch thick, this rich volume contained 335 texts and 116 tunes, arranged in "split leaf" fashion. Each page was cut horizontally a third of the way down, with the tunes on the top third and texts on the bottom two-thirds. Since tops and bottoms turned independently, a wide variety of matchmaking between tunes and texts was possible.

In 1907 the Universalist Publishing House published Hymns of the Church, with Services and Chants, edited by Charles Conklin, Stephen H. Roblin, and Cornelius A. Parker. In both denominations the publication of hymnals was increasingly the responsibility of denominational agencies, with fewer hymnals being published by churches or individuals. In 1914 the American Unitarian Association issued its New Hymn and Tune Book, with 885 hymns, only 242 of which were in the publication of 1867.

With the coming of the world war, there were waves of patriotic hymns, peace hymns, and hymns urging the growth of a worldwide community. Although many of the better hymnals increasingly included hymns of social conscience and action, they seldom included hymns written about certain social issues: the women's movement, child labor reform, and the labor movement. Rather there were general summons to complete the unfinished work of humanity, such as "The Oven Way" by the Reverend John Coleman Adams 49-1922), a Universalist. This hymn begins with a Thanksgiving theme - "We praise thee, God, for harvests earned" but also speaks of "soil unturned from which the yield is yet to win." (See Hymns for the Celebration of Life, No. 219.)

During the 1930s the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America began cooperating in the publication of hymnals. In 1935 a committee made up of Unitarians and Universal ists edited The Beacon Song and Service Book - For Children and Young People. It was published through a joint venture of Beacon Press and the Murray Press of the Universalist Publishing House. The volume contained 101 pages of service outlines and resources on such varied topics as "Thy Neighbor" and "Loyalty to Truth," supplementary readings, and 331 hymns. The purpose, according to Vincent B. Silliman (1894-) a Unitarian minister, member of the editing committee, and one of the major contributors to the collection, was to provide materials in appropriate language and imagery so that children, youth and adults could sing about religious values.

The collection was broader in musical scope than previous ones, consciously introducing folk tunes from around the world. It was also broader in theological scope with hymns such as Silliman's "Morning, So Fair To See," celebrating human and natural values in non-theistic language. (See No. 14, Hymns for the Celebration of Life.) The hymns and readings were of high literary and musical quality, and a significant improvement over many previous hymnals for children and youth. New materials introduced into our hymnody for the first time in this collection were later included in Hymns for the Celebration of Life.

In 1937, the Unitarian and Universalist Commissions on Hymns and Services joined in publishing Hymns of the Spirit, thus reviving the title of the earlier Longfellow and Johnson hymnal. The new hymnal was distinguished by its good music drawn from a broad spectrum of musical sources which the preface describes as "Jewish ritual; the medieval church; the psalmody of the Genevan reform and a wide selection of German chorales; French church melodies; tunes from Iceland, Finland, Denmark, Hungary, Italy and the Netherlands; many English and French carols and folk tunes; as well as the tunes of known composers of England, Scotland and Wales, and of American composers from the time of Oliver Holden to the present." 8 The editors looked particularly for texts "with a strong ethical note, which emphasize the newer social applications of religion, and for hymns which give expression to modern conceptions of the human soul and its relation to the universe." They regarded religion "as a living experience forever taking on new forms," welcomed "fresh and living creations of modern thought," but cautioned against expressions of "sectarian dogmatism" and "propagandist verse" which "seldom rise above the level of doggeral or (have) any lasting value. . ."9

The collection includes Unitarian hymn writers with such diverse interests as the mysticism of Marion Franklin Ham (1867-1956), the social reform of John Haynes Holmes (1879-1964) and the lyric yearnings for a better world of Jacob Trapp (1899- ). It includes material for humanists and theists.  A perplexing feature of the book is the inclusion of a "SUPPLEMENT of additional hymns and tunes which do not enter into the general scheme of the book."' 10 We may only guess that the orthodox hymns "Sweet Hour of Prayer," "Blest Be the Tie That Binds," and "He Leadeth Me" were included, not because they were judged to be adequate expressions of modern liberalism, but because "upon inquiry, (they) appeared to ... have considerable present day use . . ."11 Also relegated to the "Supplement" is "Years Are Coming," a splendid peace hymn from The Hopedale Collection, edited by Adin Ballou. Surely it deserved a place among the nineteen other peace hymns in the main body of the book. It appears as No. 198 in Hymns for the Celebration of Life.

In 1955, We Sing of Life with We Speak of Life was published through a cooperative arrangement between the American Ethical Union and Beacon Press. Vincent B. Silliman served as editor with the noted historian of American music, Irving Lowens (1916- ) as music editor. Introductions were written by Florence W. Klaber (1888- ), then director of religious education of the American Ethical Union, and Algernon D. Black (1900- ) of the Board of Leaders of the New York Ethical Society. A foreword was written by Sophia Lyon Fahs (1876- ),then curriculum editor for the American Unitarian Association.

This collection of songs and readings sought to express the philosophy of religious development embodied in the New Beacon Series in Religious Education. In the words of Dr. Fahs, "All the songs in We Sing of Life are religious, using the word in a broad sense to include feelings of wonder and awe and the sensing of the intangible at the heart of all things. Some express an outreaching of sympathy and understanding to embrace a growing fellowship that binds the past to the present and the far to the near, while others express personal longings. Some of the songs symbolize by the use of the word "God," the great and all-inclusive reality that binds humanity in one family and that somehow expresses the source of all things and stands for a foretaste of possible values yet to be achieved."12

A varied selection of melodic American folk hymnody was included: "We Sing of Golden Mornings" arranged by Vincent Silliman from Emerson's poem, "The World Soul," was set to a folk hymn from William Walker's Southern Harmony (1835). It appears as Hymn No. 40 in Hymns for the Celebration of Life. Rosemary and Stephen Vincent Benet's poem "Johnny Appleseed' was set to a melody in the Virginia Sacred Musical Repository (1818). The Jewish "Shalom Havayreem," the Zuni Indian "Rise, Arise," and the Chinese folk tune used for "Leaning Last Night" (and for Puccini's opera Turandot) represent the diversity of this collection.

Like the New Beacon Series in Religious Education of Sophia Fahs' era and the multi-media curricula kits of today, these songs were "field-tested." According to an editorial note: "Our judgments have been influenced by the reactions of people of all ages with whom these songs have been tried out. Our special thanks go to the adults and children of the Hollis Unitarian Church in New York, who have been singing these songs for several years, including more than one version of some of them, and who were tolerant of their minister's (Vincent Silliman) preoccupation with his work."13

In 1964, three years after the merger of the American Unitarian Association and the Universalist Church of America, a distinguished commission headed by Arthur Foote, I I completed its work on a new hymnal. Titled Hymns for the Celebration of Life, it was published by Beacon Press. Its title reflected Von Ogden Vogt's definition of worship. The collection, in my opinion, is an outstanding one, using tunes from the best hymnic sources of the past and reviving some of the excellent American folk hymn tunes such as "Foundation," "Complainer," "Salvation," and "Windham." Its textual sources are extensive, including some from a variety of non-Christian religions. It excludes sentimental tunes from the late nineteenth century that were familiar favorites in previous hymnals, so that some familiar texts are set to new or lesserknown tunes.

Hymns for the Celebration of Life introduces many contemporary Unitarian Universalists, including the poet John Holmes and such religious leaders as Frederick May Eliot, Edwin Buehrer, and Charles Lyttle. Kenneth Patton and Vincent Silliman are more fully represented here than in previously published hymnbooks. The work also includes hymn texts by such authors as Ridgeley Torrence, Robert Frost, Jan Struther, John Hall Wheelock, and Rabindranath Tagore.

Interest in the religions of the world is reflected in the inclusion of such texts as "Be Ye Lamps Unto Yourselves" attributed to Buddha, "All Within Four Seas" from Confucius and "Give Me Your Whole Heart" from the Hindu Bhagavad-Gita.

Death as a natural part of life is celebrated, perhaps for the first time in our hymnody. Evolution, which includes humans who are themselves evolving, is celebrated in such hymns as Kenneth Patton's "Man Is the Earth Upright and Proud." Science, social justice, the democratic way of life, world peace, the arts, and freedom are all themes included in these hymns of life.

Several of the members of the commission which created Hymns for the Celebration of Life have themselves been pioneers in creative worship, especially in the growing experimentation in the use of the arts. Kenneth Patton's efforts at the Charles Street Meeting House in Boston, Massachusetts, led to the publication of many of his original hymns and readings in Hymns of Humanity (Boston: Meeting House Press, 1963); and Services and Songs for the Celebration of Life (Boston: Beacon Press, 1967).

In addition to the Unitarian Universalist Association, the main publishers of our hymns since World War I I have been the Meeting House Press and the Hodgin Press of the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles. The latter assembled its committee under the leadership of its organist, Waldemar Hille, and published, in 1960 and 1969, two editions of Songs of "Faith In Man " for Religious Liberals. In the editor's preface to the second edition, Hille says, "As Unitarianism-Universalism grows, changes, and becomes involved in vital aspects of the contemporary American and world scene, there is a constant need for relevant expression in song of its varied emotions, insights, and commitments." Hille's statement has been true of our entire movement in America. We have been a people of ever-changing and ever diverse ideas. Nowhere is there more diversity than in our ideas of what is musically relevant and appropriate. As Robert Shaw said when he was installed as minister of music at the First Unitarian Church of Cleveland, Ohio, "one person's Bach is another's 'Old Rugged Cross.' " Today our congregations are singing the most contemporary and topical songs by John Denver, Bob Dylan, and Joan Baez, and/or the most upbeat choruses from Broadway musicals and/or anonymous folk songs and spirituals, and/or formal hymns ancient and modern, and/or nothing. In some congregations hymn singing is a given on which there is consensus; in others, a subject for contention and controversy; and in still others, anathema.

I believe that hymns and songs have given us a way of affirming together our thoughts and feelings, our agonies and aspirations. We have needed to sing of those things which have not changed and of those which have. We have begun to learn that today, uprooted from yesterday, is shaky. We need new words and new tunes to sing of where we are now.

But we also need to know whence we have come, to trace the path backwards in order to understand the present. I hope this volume will help make this possible. If it is to do so, however, we must learn something that sometimes seems hard and that is to sing together, unabashedly, contributing whatever our voices bring forth. The potentiality to do so is in us. If we realize that potentiality, our celebrations of life and we ourselves, will be richer.

1    The Holy Bible, King James Version (New York: Garden City Publishing Co., 1940), Psalm 100, vss 1, 2.
2    Hymns for the Celebration of Life (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964), No. 18, vs 1.
3    Bay Psalm Book (Cambridge, MA: Stephen Daye, 1640), title Page.
4    Henry Wilder Foote, Three Centures of American Hymnody (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1940), p. 39. An excellent and absorbing historical work.
5    Henry Wilder Foote, comp., American Unitarian Hymn Writers and Hymns (Cambridge, MA: 1959), p. 16. This volume is an extremely useful and voluminous directory to Unitarian hymnals and hymn writers.
6    Henry Wilder Foote, comp., Catalogue of American Universalist Hymn Writers (Cambridge, MA: 1959). This is a brief volume which lists many Universalist hymnals and hymn writers.
7    J.G. Adams and E.H. Chapin, comps., Hymns for Christian Devotion (Boston: Abel Tompkins, 1853), preface.
8    Hymns of the Spirit (Boston: Beacon Press, 1937), p. xi.
9    Ibid, pp. v-vi.
10    Ibid, See "Supplement," Hymns 546-576.
11    Ibid, p. v.
12    We Sing of Life (Boston: Beacon Press, 1955) Foreword.
13    Ibid (Boston: Beacon Press, 1955) Editorial Note.

UNIVERSALISM  TIME LINE  PEOPLE  EVENTS  WRITINGS  LITURGY  EDUCATION  RESOURCES  SEARCH

This page was last modified Monday 13 November 2006.  Copyright 19992006 Rev. Alicia McNary Forsey, Ph.D.
All rights reserved.  For comments or requests [ Webweaver at PacificUU dot org ].