Another look at sources of sacred song

Music geeks, this post is for you.

Jay Atkinson mentioned to me that he is tracking down errors in the attribution of some of the readings in the 1993 Unitarian Universalist hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition, and I told him that there are also misattributions in the music. He asked me to give him some examples, and with very little effort I came up with the following:


279, “By the Waters of Babylon,” with words taken from Psalm 137, is attributed to William Billings in Singing the Living Tradition. However, this tune does not appear in the definitive four volume Complete Works of William Billings; there is a tune titled “Lamentation over Boston” with the words “By the rivers of Watertown,” a Revolutionary War era parody of Psalm 137, but the tune is utterly different. The second edition (1998) of Between the Lines: Sources for Singing the Living Tradition makes a partial correction, stating “This tune is frequently attributed, erroneously, to William Billings.” On his 1971 album “American Pie,” pop singer Don McLean performs this tune almost precisely as given in Singing the Living Tradition, and attributes it to William Billings; wherever McLean got his misinformation, no doubt this once popular album has spread the misinformation far and wide.

Where, then, does the tune come from? Continue reading “Another look at sources of sacred song”

Election day

A beautiful sunny morning, with damp warm air. I walked the half a dozen blocks to the Congregational Church of San Mateo, noticing little shoots of green poking up everywhere, prompted to grow by the light rains a couple of weeks ago. A big sign outside the church said “VOTE HERE,” and there were smaller signs in Spanish and Chinese, presumably saying the same thing.

At the table for Precinct 2628, two people looked up my name and each of them carefully crossed my name out on their lists of registered voters. The next person at the table had me sign my name in a book, and then she gave me a receipt with an access code on it.

I walked over to the voting booths, and found an open booth between two occupied booths. I cast my votes for U.S. president, U.S. representative, state senator, member of the state assembly, member of the county board of supervisors, member of the county board of education, three members of the board of commissioners of the San Mateo County Harbor District. I also cast my vote for eleven state ballot initiatives and three county ballot initiatives. The only way I got through all those votes without my eyes glazing over was that I brought a sample ballot with me on which I had marked all my preferences. (Years ago, I would do all my research for voting in newspapers, and usually you couldn’t get much information about local candidates; now I can do all my research for local candidates online.) When I finished voting, the same people were still in the voting booths on either side of me, still working their way through all the votes they had to cast. Continue reading “Election day”

Indirect economic attrition

In his short story “The Upside Down Evolution” (c.1985 in Polish, 1986 in English), science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem claims to have read a military history of the world written in the twenty-first century, and used what he learned in his novels:

In 1967, I wrote a science fiction novel entitled His Master’s Voice (published in English in 1983 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich). On page 125 of that edition, third line from the top, are the words “the ruling doctrine was … ‘indirect economic attrition’,” and then the doctrine is expressed in the aphorism, “The thin starve before the fat lose weight.”

The doctrine expressed publicly in the United States in 1980 — thirteen years after the original [Polish] version of His Master’s Voice — was put a little differently. (In the West German press they used the slogan “den Gegner totrüsten” — “arm the enemy to death.”)

The policy of indirect economic attrition has changed significantly with the fall of the Communist Bloc; nevertheless, it remains an effective foreign policy, one which will, no doubt, be followed by either major presidential candidate.