Another not-Emerson hymn?

Where do the words for the hymn “We Sing of Golden Mornings” come from? This hymn appears in the 1955 American Ethical Union hymnal We Sing of Life, and in the 1993 Unitarian Universalist hymnal Singing the Living Tradition. In the latter hymanl, the words are attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, “recast 1925, 1950, 1990.”

But a quick web search shows that the phrase “golden mornings” does not appear anywhere in Emerson’s poetry. The same is true of several other distinctive phrases in the hymn: “flashing sunshine,” “heart courageous,” “earth’s great splendor,” etc. I can’t even figure out from which of Emerson’s poems this hymn might have been derived.

Eunice Boardman (Exploring Music, vol. 4, Holt, Rhinehart, and Winston, 1971, p. 26) attributes this as “words by Vincent Silliman from a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson.” Well, maybe. But I can’t find any Emerson poem that even vaguely resembles this. Clarence Burley, in an essay “Emerson the Lyricist” (Emerson Society Papers, vol. 8, no. 1, spring, 1997, p. 5), says that as this poem “does not appear in the Library of America edition [of Emerson’s complete poems], I don’t know the extent of recasting and revising.” That’s a nice, polite way of stating my conclusion — that this hymn is Not Emerson.

(Oh, and to complicate matters more, the music attribution is also wrong. The tune is in fact from William Walker’s Southern Harmony, only slightly modified. But the harmonization in Singing the Living Tradition is most definitely not by William Walker, which raises the question: Who wrote the harmonization?)

(Click here for more Not Emerson.)

Winter holiday songs

A few years ago, I started working on a book of songs and carols for winter holidays, pitched for medium voices (most Christmas carols are pitched for sopranos and tenors), arranged on simple lead sheets. I had to abandon the project because life got in the way. Someday maybe I’ll finish the book, but in the mean time to help you celebrate Yule and Christmas, here are three of the completed lead sheets: “Children, Go Where I Send Thee,” transcribed from a 1942 Library of Congress recording; “A Christmas Caroll” by Thomas Ravenscroft; and “The Cutty Wren,” one of those songs about the weird winter tradition of the hunting of the wren.

Yeah, I know it’s still unsafe to sing in large groups, but you can sing these at home.

Step by Step

I got curious about the song “Step by Step,” a song that Waldemar Hille and Pete Seeger put together — it’s hymn number 157 in the Unitarian Universalist hymnal. Hille found a poem in the “Constitution and Laws for the Government and Guidance of the American Miners’ Association” (1864), and he and Seeger made a song out of it. But Seeger said they changed some of the words, so I got curious about the original wording. I found a digitized copy of the poem online, and it reads like this:

Step by step, the longest march
Can be won, can be won,
Single stones will form an arch
One by one, one by one,
And by union, what we will
Can be all accomplished still.
Drops of water turn a mill—
Singly none, singly none.

I decided I liked the original words better than Hille and Seeger’s rewrite — the original second stanza feels more positive to me. Then I realized I’ve always disliked Hille and Seeger’s tune; it sounds like a dirge, better suited to a funeral than to a union marching song.

Worst of all, Hille and Seeger slapped a copyright on their song. Maybe while they were alive they would have given permission to use it freely, but they’re both dead now. Besides, who wants to have to write for permission to sing the song?

So here’s my version of this grand old union song. It has the original public domain words, paired with a tune licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License:

Click on the image above for a PDF.

Another attribution problem

We’ve been singing “Follow the Drinking Gourd” with campers at our ecojustce day camp. But Tobi just pointed out that we may want to drop it next year. Why? Well, first of all there’s serious doubt whether it’s a traditional African American song. The most familiar form of the song (including the version found in the Unitarian Universalist hymnal) derives from the version recorded by the Weavers. This version is an arrangement by Lee Hays, first published in 1947 in “People’s Songs Bulletin”; let’s call this the Hays version. Compare the Hays version to the first published version, collected by amateur folklorist H. B. Parks between 1912 and 1918, which first appeared in print in 1928 in Publications of the Texas Folklore Society, Number VII:

The 1928 Parks version, with 11 measures and four fermata, does not conform to the conventional structure of Anglo-American folk music. The 1947 Hays version, on the other hand, has 8 measures with no fermata and a more elaborate melody in measures 5-6. You can imagine Lee Hays regularizing and developing the melody so that it better conformed to the standards of an eight-bar chorus of the Folk Revival. The Parks version, with its “irregular” structure, feels more like something that could have been collected in the field from a singer who had no training in conventional Western music theory. (And I admit my personal preference: I like its lonesome sound much better than what I consider to be the sanitized sound of the Hays version.)

But what about Parks’s version? How authentic is it?

Continue reading “Another attribution problem”

Living in a sick world

Gospel singer Deitrick Haddon has released a new single in which he takes on pandemic deaths and grief. Listen to Haddon’s soaring, swooping gospel voice over a compelling trap backing track: “Sick World” by Dietrick Haddon.

What I especially like about this song is that Haddon gets the way grief is additive. All the grief we’ve experienced since the pandemic began gets added to all the grief we’ve experienced from COVID deaths and COVID-related deaths. Haddon specifically mentions Kobe Bryant’s death, and the official music video references the insurrectionists storming the Capitol building: these and many other events get added to the people we know who’ve died because of COVID. Here are some of the lyrics:

“We’ve got kids killing each other in Chicago,
Detroit just ain’t the same no more,
And it ain’t getting better on the West Coast —
Tell me why we treating each other so cold.
People would rather put faith in a vaccine
Than wearing a mask, keeping their hands clean,
And this will all go down in history
That thousands have died cause we cannot agree, yeah.
Living in a sick world, but I’m praying you are well,
We can’t stand to lose nobody else,
Can’t stand to lose nobody….”

I don’t listen to much gospel or hip hop any more, but the powerful lyrics and the high level of musicianship make this song worth a listen. And yes, I am praying that you are well.

Using Jamulus to sing online in real time

The Bay Area Sacred Harp (BASH) singing community has been using Jamulus to sing together online, in four part harmony, in real time. The big problem with trying to sing online together is that the Internet has built-in “latency,” or lag time. Jamulus is free open source software that minimizes latency to allow people to make music together in real time.

Last night, we had eight singers logged in to our Jamulus server, including two singers from Southern California. And it finally felt like we’re getting the hang of how to do this.

We started experimenting with Jamulus back in June, and since mid-August we’ve been singing twice a month, so this is our seventh regular meeting. Singing online requires several adjustments on the part of singers. First you have to get used to the Jamulus platform, including watching your volume level, adjusting the volume levels of other singers, etc.

Beyond the technical learning curve, there’s also a musical learning curve. You have to get used to the fact that you have no visual cues, so instead of watching someone beating time you have to maintain a very sure sense of the tempo. You also have to get used to the fact that there’s more lag time than when singing in person; in person, you can rely on another singer by listening to them and following a split second behind, but singing online has just enough lag time that you have to be exactly on the beat (or even the tiniest bit ahead). In short, you have to be very confident of your part.

No, it’s not as good as singing in person. But because of the pandemic, singing in person simply isn’t possible. This is the best alternative; and really, given how good it feels to be able to sing with others, it’s a pretty good alternative.

I’ll continue after the jump with more technical details.

Continue reading “Using Jamulus to sing online in real time”

The wild diversity of Christianity, part two

This second video in the two part series explores Christian diversity in the U.S. through Christian music, touching on everything from Christian K-pop to Primitive Baptist hymns to Mainline Protestant choral music to an AME Zion hymn choir — and more. The people who write, perform, and listen to this Christian music come from widely divergent religious perspectives, and very different cultures and ethnicities, and the musical diversity covered in this video should challenge anyone who thinks Christianity is a monolith.

(A disclaimer that will be obvious to my Unitarian Universalist readers: I’m looking at Christianity from the outside; Unitarian Universalism can no longer be considered a Christian religion, it is now quite firmly post-Christian — and whatever that means, it definitely isn’t Christian, though it is related historically.)

Click on the image above to go to the video on Youtube.

Below is the text I was looking at while making the video (but I deviated from the script more than once). The videos from the associated Youtube playlist are embedded below.

Questions that are implicit in the video: How do you define the boundaries of a religious tradition? What makes a piece of music Christian — Christian text, Christian performers, Christian context, Christian intent behind the music, Christian musical genre, or more than one of the above, or all of the above? What are the boundaries between culture and religion? — or are culture and religion somehow intertwined? How can we listen across religious and cultural boundaries? — what do we have in common, and how do we get past what we don’t have in common?

Continue reading “The wild diversity of Christianity, part two”

The wild diversity of Christianity

A short (5 min.) talk for an adult class in which I talk about some stereotypes of Christians, and then suggest listening to the wild diversity of Christian music as a way to get past the stereotypes to begin to understand something of the wild diversity of the Christian religion….

Click on the image above to take you to the video.

Below is the uncorrected text that I was reading from (I diverged from the text a bit, but this is most of it):

Continue reading “The wild diversity of Christianity”

“I Don’t Want To Wear a Mask”

Just in time for Independence Day, here’s a song about how nobody tells me what to do:

Click the image above for a PDF of the sheet music.

1. I went out to buy some food,
They wouldn’t let me in the store,
Said I had to wear a mask,
I shook my fist, I cursed and swore:
I don’t want to wear a mask,
I don’t want to look a fool,
Makes me feel uncomfortable,
No one tells me what to do.

2. I went to the park today
And started hanging out with friends,
They all stayed six feet away,
I said our friendship’s at an end:
Don’t you social distance me,
COVID’s no worse than the flu,
Six feet is too far away,
No one tells me what to do.

3. I’m a free American,
Don’t trample on my civil rights,
If you make me wear a mask,
I’ll get a gun, I’ll start a fight:
Masks are unamerican,
They are not red, white, and blue,
I am like my President,
No one tells me what to do.

4. I began to cough a bit,
My temperature hit 102,
Had a tracheotomy,
And now I’m in the I. C. U.:
Now I never wear a mask,
I don’t have to look a fool,
They say I may not make it, but
No one tells me what to do.

Update July 8: Revised music and lyrics.

The mystery of the misattributed hymn

One of my favorite hymns about peace begins:

Years are coming — speed them onward!
When the sword shall gather rust,
And the helmet, lance, and falchion,
Sleep at last in silent dust!

This hymn has mostly been reprinted in Universalist and Unitarian Universalist hymnals, and it is usually attributed to the Universalist minister Adin Ballou, who founded the utopian Hopedale community in Milford, Massachusetts, in 1842. Ballou and the members of the Hopedale community were believers in women’s rights and abolition and temperance and education and pacifism. Recently, while I was researching family history, I discovered that my mother’s great-grandparents Nathan Chapman and Hepzibah Whipple left the utopian Rogerenes of Ledyard, Conn., to join the nearby utopian Hopedale community in Massachusetts; and their daughter Jeannette was married in Hopedale to her husband Richard Congdon by none other than Rev. Adin Ballou; and though by the time of this marriage the Hopedale community had gone bankrupt, the spirit of the community lived on in the Hopedale Unitarian church of which Ballou was the minister.

Not only did this family history help explain why I’m a feminist, pacifist, educator, and utopian dreamer, but I decided it must explain why I like this hymn so much.

Except that Adin Ballou didn’t write this hymn.

Continue reading “The mystery of the misattributed hymn”