It is the 11th of August 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Think about collective singing. How often, outside of the church, do you see people congregating and singing together. I’ve seen this at soccer matches in the UK.
From an article on British football I read “Somebody… once said they liked football because, while they didn’t believe in God, they quite liked joining a crowd and singing once a week.”
Perhaps we are somehow hardwired for singing.
Now think about the money, time, thought, controversies, committees, etc… spent in your church on issues pertaining to how you sing and what you sing.
Now think about how much time is spent in scripture talking about vocal, musical worship. Praise in action, poetry, and song are everywhere in scripture. But we don’t really get any “rules” for how we do it. (And yes, I know there is a group of people who believe in something called the “regulative principle” that’s a different conversation).
So, who writes the songs? Who picks the melodies? Today if you are a member of or have ever been to a standard protestant mainline or protestant evangelical church the musical tradition owes so much to a man called “the father of American Music education” and the author of hundreds of hymns and tunes. This man, Lowell Mason, died on, the 11th of August in 1872 at the age of 80.
A quick bio of this cat:
Born in 1792 in Massachusetts. His parents sang in church and he studied musical composition and various instruments. He would grow up to lead his church choir and the local band, but by the age of 20 it was time for him to get a “real” job (professional musician wasn’t a widespread thing yet).
He moved to Georgia where he worked in a dry good store he continued to write music and studied composition with Frederick Abel who had immigrated to Georgia from Germany.
The Handel and Haydn Society’s Collection of Church Music 1822- perhaps the most widely used hymnal in the 19th century
The Juvenile Psalmist 1831- the first hymn book for children
Boston Academy of Music 1833- the first academy dedicated to the teaching and composition of music.
This led to The Manual of the Boston Academy of Music 1834 (rigid European musical notation in opposition to the growing American tradition to eschew such formality). Music must be fit intellectually, morally, and physically!
He would be named the first full-time music teacher in a public school system and his success led to this job being replicated across the nation. He arranged the version of “Joy to the World” that you probably know. A popular setting of “When I survey the Wondrous Cross” comes from Lowell as does the setting for “Nearer My God to Thee”
There were many musical cultures in the early United States but the particular tradition of musical education and hymnody was set by Lowell Mason on account of his long and influential publishing and teaching career. Even modern church music that sounds nothing like this Germanic/English classical tradition is often a reaction to the foundation set by Lowell Mason who we remember on this, the anniversary of his death on the 11th of August in 1872.
The last word for today comes from the letter to the Ephesians:
“Be filled with the Spirit in the following ways: speak to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; sing and make music to the Lord in your hearts; 20 always give thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; and submit to each other out of respect for Christ.”
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 11th of August 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by Christopher Gillespie whose favorite hymn is “In the Garden of Eden” by I. Ron Butterfly.
The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis whose least favorite hymn is “Bro Hymn” by Pennywise.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.