Still more copyright-free hymns

Five more copyright-free hymns added to this Google Drive folder. Full info about these newly added hymns below the fold. There are now 91 copyright-free hymns in the Google Drive folder.

66 of these are copyright-free versions (tune, text, and arrangement) of hymns from one of the two current Unitarian Universalist hymnals.

For the hymns not in the hymnals, I’ve tried to increase racial and gender diversity: 8 are from the African American tradition; 4 by women authors; 1 by a woman composer; and there’s 1 South African freedom song. I’ve also tried to add a little theological diversity: 1 Buddhist hymn; 1 Jewish hymn; 1 Neo-Pagan chant.

In the future, I’m planning to add tunes by Native composer Thomas Commuck, who was the first Native American to publish composed music. I’m also planning to add another 34 copyright-free versions of hymns from the current UU hymnals, bringing the total to 100 (plus the 25 hymns not from the current hymnals). Eventually, all these hymns will be gathered together on a static webpage. (But I don’t know when I’ll finish all these tasks, since we’re moving in a few weeks.)

Info for the newly-added hymns is below the fold.

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More ambiguous copyright status

Here’s yet another example of a hymn in a current UU hymnal, with an ambiguous copyright status.

The lyrics to “This Old World Is Full of Sorrow” — no. 315 in Singing the Living Tradition — apparently first appeared in print in 1983 in New American Songster, ed. Charles W. Darling (Univ. Press, 1983). Darling provides the following source for the lyrics:

“Howie Mitchell learned the words to ‘This Old World’ from Bernie Lourie while attending Cornell University. Its message is universal. Test: Golden Ring, Folk-Legacy FSJ-16 (used by permission of Folk-Legacy Records, Sharon, CT).”

The album Golden Ring was first released in 1964, and is still available from the Smithsonian Institute (which bought out Folkways Records). You can still purchase the individual track for “This Old World” on the Folkways website. I can’t find any earlier publication.

My guess is that these lyrics are a product of one or more anonymous authors during the Folk Revival of the 1950s and early 1960s. Given the spirit of sharing during the Folk Revival, and given that they resemble other folk lyrics, the authors/redactors of the texts doubtless considered them to be in the public domain. From a legal standpoint, Folkways Records slapped a copyright on the recording, although they really didn’t have the right to do so. During the Folk Revival, this was standard practice: companies slapped copyright notices on public domain tunes and lyrics, often to prevent other companies from claiming copyright on public domain material. However it would be difficult to enforce any copyright claim, and it’s unlikely the Smithsonian Institute, current holder of the putative copyright, would even try.

Regardless, the attribution in Singing the Living Tradition should be changed. Instead of “Words: American folk tune, adapt.” (which doesn’t even make sense), a better attribution would be “Words: probably U.S. Folk Revival, 1945-1964.”

Here are the words as they appear in New American Songster:

This old world is full of sorrow,
Full of sickness, weak and sore.
If you love your neighbor truly,
Love will come to you the more.

We’re all children of one Father,
We’re all brothers and sisters too.
If you cherish one another
Love and pity will come to you.

This old world is full of sorrow,
Full of sickness, weak and sore.
If you love your neighbor truly,
Love will come to you the more.

So what about the other two verses printed in Singing the Living Tradition? It’s a good bet they were written by the compilers of the hymnal. (They certainly don’t sound like folk lyrics, or even composed lyrics from the Folk Revival.) So Unitarian Universalist congregations can safely use the last two verses in Singing the Living Tradition. But if you use them for any other purpose, assume they’re copyright-protected.

As for the music provide from hymn no. 315, it’s adapted from The Southern Harmony. There are enough changes in the arrangement that it may be protected by copyright. Again, it’s probably fine for Unitarian Universalist congregations to use, but for any other purpose assume that there’s a copyright.

Six more copyright free hymns

Clearing a backlog of copyright-free hymns from my music files.

I’ve just uploaded PDFs of 6 more copyright-free hymns to this Google Drive folder: “The Growing Light,” “A Hundred Years Hence,” “Peace, the Perfect Word,” “Prayer for This House,” “There Are Numerous Strings in Your Lute,” and “Turn Back.” Most of these hymns have appeared in UU hymnals.

Why copyright-free hymns? Because you don’t need a license, which smaller congregations may not be able to afford. Because you can do anything you want with them, including recording them, altering them, projecting lyrics and/or music, etc., etc. In this multiplatform age, we need more copyright-free hymns.

Of this batch of copyright-free hymns, you may be most interested in “There Are Numerous Strings in Your Lute.” Lovely words by Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel prize winning author who was associated with the Brahmo Samaj, a South Asian spiritual movement which both was influenced by Anglo-American Unitarianism, and which had a powerful influence on Anglo-American Unitarianism. The music supplied for this text in Singing the Living Tradition is pleasant, but I don’t know anyone who’s ever actually sung it in congregational worship — it comes across as more of a choir anthem. I found two 19th century shape-note tunes that fit Tagore’s text reasonably well. I hope these two easy-to-sing tunes make it more likely that this lovely text is actually sung in worship.

Of the other hymns included here, “A Hundred Years Hence” is a feminist hymn; and both “Peace, the Perfect Word” and “Turn Back” are peace songs. Full information about tunes and texts is below the fold.

Now online: 87 total hymns, including 61 from the two current UU hymnals.

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Five more copyright free hymns

I’ve just uploaded PDFs of 5 more copyright-free hymns to this Google Drive folder: “Come By Here” (a.k.a. “Kumbayah”), “Many Thousand Gone,” “Nobody Know the Trouble I’ve Seen,” “Siyahamba,” and “Transience.” All these hymns have appeared in UU hymnals.

Why copyright-free hymns? Because you don’t need a license, which smaller congregations may not be able to afford. Because you can do anything you want with them, including recording them, altering them, projecting lyrics and/or music, etc., etc. In this multiplatform age, we need more copyright-free hymns.

Of the hymns I just uploaded, you might be most interested in “Come By Here.” This is often assumed to be a copyrighted song composed by Marvin Frey. My research shows that this is, in fact, a public domain song. In addition, most of us are sick of the usual, sing-around-the-campfire “Kumbayah,” which can sound a bit dreary. I found alternate public domain tune and lyrics that are more lively, more fun to sing.

“Transience” is also worthy of your attention. It’s one of the songs that got dropped in the transition from the 1964 Songs for the Celebration of Life hymnal to the 1993 Singing the Living Tradition hymnal. The text is by South Asian poet Sarojini Naidu. Not only is it a pretty good poem, but we need more hymns by Asian and Asian American authors and composers.

Information for the five songs is below the fold.

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Two hymns not in the public domain

I believe the UUA’s “Copyright & Permissions for Hymn and Reading Use in UU Worship” may incorrectly lists two hymns as public domain or fair use.

Jubilate Deo, hymn #393 — words and music are stated to be “fair use or public domain.” The words clearly are in the public domain. However, the music is covered by copyright. Hymnary.org lists Jacques Berthier as arranger, and shows a scan of a page from a recent hymnal, Ritual Song (2016), that give the following copyright information: “Taizé Community, 1990, © 1978, 1990, Les Presses do Taizé, GIA Publications, Inc., agent.” I think it’s pretty clear that this song should not be used in recordings without permission from the Taizé community.

Rise Up O Flame, hymn #362 — words and music are stated to be “fair use or public domain.” The earliest reference I can find of this song is in the book Sing Together published by the Girl Scouts in the U.S. in 1936; there, the song is “used by permission” and credited to the Kent County Song Book from 1934, which was printed in England for the Girl Guides. Sing Together credits the music to Christoph Praetorius, and it’s quite possible the music is by Christoph Praetorius, or more likely was arranged by someone else from his work. However, the English-language words are surely a translation or adaptation, and may be protected by copyright.

Both these songs have been widely reprinted and recorded, including by major publishers, so you can probably get away with including them in recordings of your congregation’s worship services. But if you want to record “Jubilate Deo,” you really should get permission from the Taizé community. As for “Rise Up, O Flame,” it seems that it was copyrighted at one point, but it’s not clear if the copyright applied to the U.S., and if so, whether the copyright was renewed; proceed at your own risk. Besides, as an ehtical issue, we should respect the moral rights of composers and authors.

This shows that there are indeed errors in the UUA’s “Copyright & Permissions for Hymn and Reading Use in UU Worship.” You have been warned.

We shall overcome burdensome copyright restrictions

I recently learned that the song “We Shall Overcome” is now in the public domain, due to a 2017 court ruling and a 2018 settlement. A lawyer tells the whole story in some detail here.

The short version: In 2017, a federal court ruled that the tune, arrangement, and first verse of “We Shall Overcome” are in the public domain (We Shall Overcome Foundation v. The Richmond Organization, Inc., 2017 WL 3981311 [S.D.N.Y. Sept. 8, 2017]). In addition to the court ruling, the defendant and plaintiff subsequently entered into a settlement agreement which said, in part, that TRO would not “claim copyright in the melody or lyrics of any verse of the song ‘We Shall Overcome’”; furthermore, TRO agreed that all verses of the song were “hereafter dedicated to the public domain” (We Shall Overcome Foundation v. The Richmond Org., 330 F. Supp. 3d 960 [S.D.N.Y. 2018]).

This is very good news indeed. Sure, now the song can be used in all sorts of horrible advertising. At the same time, now you cannot be slapped with a royalty fee for using “We Shall Overcome” in your worship service, in the video that you made of some rally or demonstration, or in the audio recording of you singing at a coffeehouse.

Of course, just about all the piano or choral arrangements out there are copyright protected, including the one in the current UU hymnal. So here’s a very basic arrangement of “We Shall Overcome” which I’m releasing into the public domain; and hey, if you don’t like my version, it’s a public domain song so you can write your own! (I’ve changed a couple of the usual verses so they’re less ableist.)

Click the image above for sheet music.

By the way, I’m finding that it’s a good song to sing around the house now that we’re hunkered down because of the Omicron surge.

More copyright-free hymns

I just uploaded another batch of 26 copyright-free hymns onto Google Drive.

This collection of copyright-free hymns now includes a total of 63 hymns, with 38 copyright-free versions of hymns in the two current Unitarian Universalist hymnals, along with 24 other hymns and songs (including classics like “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore,” which really should be in our hymnals anyway). Not only are tune, text, and arrangement copyright-free, but the typesetting is as well, so you can project these or place them in online orders of service without a problem.

The “ReadMe” file in the Google Drive folder gives some information about each hymn, and also gives the corresponding number if there’s a version of the hymn in one of the UU hymnals.

In several cases, hymn texts now offer degenderized lyrics, for those who prefer to move away from binary gender options (e.g, for “The Earth is our mother,” the alternative “The Earth is our parent” is suggested). Eventually, I’ll offer degenderized options for all lyrics, but it takes — so — much — time to produce quality music typesetting that I can’t promise when I’ll get to it.

Whether you use these in your congregation’s online worship services, or at home, or around a campfire, I think you’ll find lots of fun and uplifting music here. I’d love it if you’d let me know where and how and if you use this music!

Update, 1/18/2022: Now up to 71 total hymns and spiritual songs, with 44 of them being copyright-free versions of hymns from the two current UU hymnals. List of hymns (with references to hymnal numbers, and notes on copyright status) below the fold.

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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.)

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”