"Let the Lower Lights Be Burning"

Philip Bliss, who wrote both the text and tune for this hymn, and his 19th century contemporary, Ira Sankey, are credited with founding the gospel song movement.  Both were part of the Dwight L. Moody evangelistic team, and both sang, led crusade singing, and authored many gospel songs.  Bliss was inspired to write this hymn…

"The Light of the World Is Jesus"

Philip P. Bliss (1838-1876) was one of the five children born to John and Lydia Bliss.  Their log home, typical of the early settlers of northern Pennsylvania, was filled with love and Christian teaching, but formal education was scarce.  Early in life, Philip developed a passion for learning and for music, and took advantage of…

"When Morning Gilds the Skies"

In Psalm 34:1, David proclaims, ” I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips.” (NIV)  To praise God morning, noon and night, and by everyone, everywhere, is exactly what the author of When Morning Gilds the Skies had in mind.  The original German text of fourteen stanzas first…

"Agnus Dei" (Georges Bizet)

Talk of recycling or repurposing often includes tires, newspapers, pallets, books (shudder!), cooking oil and plastic bottles.  What does that have to do with music?  Of all man-made things, music is surely towards the top of the list of things that have been recycled.  A few notes, a phrase, a theme or entire song may show…

"People, Look East"

As a church musician, I’ve heard the complaint that the songs of Advent don’t seem as joyful as Christmas songs.  I’ll agree that some of them can feel a little heavy.  After all, Advent is a time of reflection and preparation, and reflections and preparations don’t always come easily or lightly.  Then along comes People,…

"We Gather Together"

Think of the main dish on the menu for Thanksgiving.  You probably thought of turkey.  Think of a hymn about Thanksgiving.  You probably thought of We Gather Together.  Did you know that the words “thanks” and “thanksgiving” do not appear in the hymn?  Although it is a song of praise for the blessings God gives, it…

"For All the Saints"

Some churches celebrate the Feast of All Saints on November 1.  Others set aside the first Sunday in November as All Saints Sunday.  As predictable as singing “Silent Night” on Christmas Eve, those congregations will be singing “For All The Saints” sometime in early November.  The day is set aside to honor departed saints, whether known or unknown.   This…

"Come, Ye Disconsolate"

Turn on the evening news and your home will be invaded with images of war, disease, famine and cruelty.   These stories aren’t just from some distant land.  It doesn’t matter where you live.  Every nation, state, province, county and town has its own version of corruption, lawlessness and injustice.  And if that isn’t enough, many families turn on one another…

"Shall We Gather At the River"

Multi-talented Roberty Lowry (1826-1899) was a professor of literature, a Baptist, and a music editor at Biglow Publishing Company. Lowry once said, “I would rather preach a gospel sermon to an appreciative, receptive congregation than write a hymn,” yet he wrote nearly 500 hymns and gospel songs, including “Shall We Gather At the River,” “I…

"Work, for the Night Is Coming"

The text for “Work, for the Night Is Coming” was written in 1854 by 18 year old Anna Walker Coghill (1836-1907) and published in a Canadian newspaper.   Ten years later, it first appeared in a hymnal paired with a tune by Lowell Mason (1792-1872) and has since appeared in over 1000 hymnals. The clear and persistent ‘call to action’ of this song is…

"Battle Hymn of the Republic"

John Brown believed he could free the slaves, and in 1859, with a small band of dedicated men, raided the arsenal at Harpers Ferry to gain weapons and supplies to help the effort.  Thirty-six hours after the raid began, most of the men were wounded or killed, and John Brown was captured.  Abolitionist Brown was…

"Brethren, We Have Met to Worship"

Brethren, We Have Met To Worship is one of the oldest published American folk hymns. George Atkins wrote the lyrics and first published them in 1819. The traditional tune, HOLY MANNA, is a pentatonic (5 tone) melody in Ionian mode originally published by William Moore in 1829. Brethren, we have met to worship And adore…