"Hymnbook Reminiscences and Reflections”
Vincent B. Silliman
Berry Street Essay, 1977
Delivered at the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly
Ithaca, New York
June 20, 1977
The first hymnbook that I worked on was The Beacon Song and Service Book, a hymnbook primarily for children and young people, published in 1935. Not that I was ever officially appointed to serve on its committee. It just happened.
Some years earlier a hymnbook called The Beacon Hymnal was published by the Beacon Press; but it had not been well received; and a committee was formed to bring out a new hymnal for children and youth. As assistant minister in Buffalo, I had responsibilities in connection with the church school, and Margaret Boynton, who was associated with me, and I tried to use the book; but it didn’t work well with us. In consequence, after I took up my ministry of The First Parish in Portland, I began assembling a loose-leaf collection of materials for church school services, looking far and wide for things to put into it.
At that time, Gertrude Taft, a friend of many years, had become secretary of the department of religious education of the American Unitarian Association. When the committee before appointed turned in the manuscript of what was intended to be the new church school hymnbook, Gertrude had the feeling that it wasn’t really ready for publication; so she gathered some people, competent in various ways, to look it over; and, perhaps at the May Meetings, she told me what had happened. I then told her about the collection I had been assembling in Portland, and about various other materials, including books, that I thought her review committee should consult. Gertrude responded by asking me to attend the next meeting of her committee. I still possess the sturdy imitation leather suitcase I had bought in Italy, into which I crammed materials to take with me to Boston. There was nothing like time enough on that occasion to go through all I had brought, so Gertrude asked me to attend the next meeting, and the next, and so on, until I was attending every meeting, expenses paid. What happened was that we were really beginning a new hymnbook, with the former committee’s collection as a basis.
As the work intensified, some members of the new committee dropped away. In time the committee attained a stable membership: Gertrude E. Taft; Ruth E. Bailey, music editor; Katherine I. Yerrinton, representing the Universalists, and I. Presently a committee meeting became an occasion when the newest member, after working up materials at home in Portland, presented to it hymns, plus texts that needed tunes, along with recommendations as to what he thought would be good tunes to carry these texts; and the committee acted on the recommendations. Ruth Bailey, I learned, was a musician of the highest capability, who evaluated, harmonized, or otherwise worked over all the tunes which we had chosen. Professor Raymond C. Robinson, a Boston musician of recognized standing, was asked to pass on all music; which he did, paying full respect to Ruth Bailey’s capability. At meetings, Gertrude Taft would scrawl what looked like illegible jottings of committee actions all over large sheets of paper. She would then turn over to her secretary, Elizabeth B. Manley, the work that fell within her province; and all was done by Gertrude province; and all was done by Gertrude and Miss Manley with complete accuracy. Miss Manley was as much a part of the project as if she had been a member of the committee. As I recall it, we were working almost from the start with W. Forbes Robertson, manager of the Beacon Press, Incorporated. Working with such experts as Ruth Bailey, Professor Robinson, and Mr. Forbes Robertson was an education to me.
A committee which ultimately produced Hymns of the Spirit, of which Henry Wilder Foote was chairman, had been at work for some time before our committee took shape; and there were periods when Mr. Foote attended every meeting of our committee. He made his committee’s manuscript available to us, and he communicated our discoveries, and our decisions, which could be quite different from those of his committee, to that committee. Since we were never asked to participate in meetings of his committee, we deliberately included among our findings, and put into our books, things we thought should be in the new hymnbook for adults. Mr. Foote was helpful to us in many ways, and took part as a member of our committee when he was present at meetings. In one respect he was especially helpful. With the growing influence of humanism among Unitarians, and perhaps Universalists, at that time, and with the lack of hymns and other service materials that did not include theistic phraseology, we felt bound to put into our book as much material as possible with which humanists could be comfortable—not only hymn texts, but also other items such as responsive readings and prayer-meditations. Harry Foote, as he was known to his friends, encouraged us in this; and perhaps our inclusion of these materials made it easier for his committee to provide like materials in the book it was assembling.
On what basis did the young minister from Portland come to take so large a part in a committee to which, so far as I know, he was never formally appointed? Well, I grew up in a religious family—Baptist, to be exact—and church has always meant a great deal to me. When I could no longer accept the faith in which I was reared, I still wanted a church, in the best meaning of the word, for atheists, among whom I rated myself. Though I learned of the Societies for Ethical Culture in the University of Minnesota library, there was no Ethical Society nearby. But in Minneapolis there was the First Unitarian Society, of which Wilson M. Backus, the father of Burdette, was minister; and there was nothing to prevent my becoming a member of it. At any rate, my long-standing religious and churchly interest in part of the picture. Then, there was the reed organ in the parlor of my boyhood home, on which I was given music lessons by Clara Vincent, daughter of my mother’s best friend; thought I never practiced much. In later years I had two very brief spurts of piano lessons, so that by the time I came to work with hymn tunes I was able to play them. I also played, and still play, a typewriter; which helps to keep fingers supple, though not enough for playing hymns well now. In my home town, Hudson, Wisconsin, I sang in the church choir. I sang in the choir of the Unitarian church in Meadville, Pennsylvania, location, then, of the theological school I attended; later I sang in the choir of the Unitarian church in Meadville, Pennsylvania, location, then, of the theological school I attended; later I sang in the Portland Men’s Singing Club, during which time it was occasionally the prize men’s singing club of New England. I never did study harmony; but somehow I developed a sensibility for the matching of texts to tunes which musicians with whom I have been associated, have respected. Furthermore, I had, and have, a huge capacity for toil. Work on The Beacon Song and Service Book must have taken at least four years; and for months on end I worked for the First Parish in Portland eight hours a day, six days a week, and for the hymnbook also eight hours a day, six days a week, and sixteen hours on Mondays.
The Beacon Song and Service Book—hereinafter referred to as Beacon—is dated now; but I am immensely proud of the creative and scholarly work done on it by my colleagues and myself. The book included quantities of material new to us; its tunes are singable; and on its publication there was hardly a misprint in it. Incidentally, the rather formal services in the front are there because so many people asked for them. We would have preferred a less formal arrangement. However, these pages do provide an anthology of materials which can be freely recombined.
Our resources for the project included hymnbooks for adults and for young people of many denominations, including French and Icelandic hymnbooks; and collections of folk music from such countries as France, Alsace, Germany, and Iceland, where I had picked them up. We harvested much from Social Worship, an extraordinary collection of non-theist worship materials, assembled by Stanton Coit. He was a greatly creative Ethical leader, born in America, founder of the now defunct Ethical Church in London, England. And we were greatly influenced by an unofficial hymnbook prepared primarily for the Church of England, called Songs of Praise, which was distinctive alike in the poetry and the music which it included—poetry of renowned English poets, including lyrics written specially for it; and for music, German chorales, magnificent Calvinist psalm tunes, many folk melodies, along with some tunes specially composed for it. Both Beacon and Hymns of the Spirit gathered many a hymn from Songs of Praise.
Our debt to Songs of Praise was counterbalanced in a way by the admiration of its editors for the hymn-writing of Americans. In a companion volume, called Songs of Praise Discussed, the editor, the Rev. Percy Dearmer, has this to say, first quoting from a standard reference book, Julian’s Dictionary of Hymnology:
‘The English use of American hymns has been, until recent years, very limited, and mainly confined to the older collections of the English non-conformists…in Great Britain the noblest forms of American hymnody are known to the few.’ In fact [says Dearmer himself] while English compilers and translators were ransacking the material of the Dark Ages, and adding translations from hymns of the Counter-Reformation, to those of Medieval origin, the American school was hardly consulted—if at all—by Anglican compilers; and, as it happened, it was just in America that the best hymns, and those which are most in accord with the convictions of the present age, were then being written.
Songs of Praise includes 31 hymns of Unitarian authors, most of them Americans (some of these Dearmer singles out for the highest praise); along with eleven texts by the Unitarian Quaker, John Greenleaf Whittier.
Among the many hymns which entered Unitarian Universalist hymnody by way of Beacon are these, which I will usually refer to by their first lines:
"Who Thou art I know not,” of Harry Kemp;
"Who would true valor see,” from Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress (rather than the paraphrase of it which appears in Hymns of the Spirit);
"Pioneers, O Pioneers,” by Walt Whitman, fromSongs of Praise; lines for which Irving Lowens later composed a fine tune;
"Morning, so fair to see,” and "The mornings hangs a signal,” on which I will comment later;
—together with quite a few tune-settings first chosen for Beacon, that were taken over by Hymns of the Spirit, and/or Hymns for the Celebration of Life.
A fierce controversy of the time was whether or not the new book should include the tuneful carol, "’Twas a bluebird told the story.” On Easter morn this remarkable bird, beloved for decades by Unitarian children, pausing "’mong the blossoms of the thorn,” sang the refrain,
Christ indeed, indeed is risen,
Doubting ones, he lives again.
We liked neither the words nor music and, for better or worse, took our courage in our hands and left this number out. During those years Unitarian children had other songs, no less tuneful, about Christ’s rising, which equally have passed into oblivion, at least for now.
No one could be more surprised than I have been at the popularity of "Morning, so fair to see.” Its origin, though complicated, is prosaic enough. My colleagues on the Beacon committee wanted to include the tune once called by misapprehension, "Crusader’s Hymn,” now known as "Schoenster Herr Jesu,” long associated with the words "Fairest Lord Jesus”—a Silesian folk tune, apparently first published in 1842. According to Henry Leland Clarke, of whom you will be hearing later, Franz Liszt, who used the melody in an oratorio, made the fanciful assertion that "it was an old pilgrim song apparently from the Crusades.” So hymnbook legends grow. At any rate, theHymns of the Spirit committee included this tune, with a text translated from the Danish beginning, "Beauty around us…” We didn’t like the text; and I fixed up a version of "Fairest Lord Jesus” which I thought some Unitarians and Universalists might like. However, the rest of the committee wouldn’t have it. So I took the other text back with me to Portland, and reworked it. That, with an assist or two from the Hymns of the Spirit committee, became the hymn now so widely sung by Unitarian Universalists. How much of the phraseology is actually mine, I cannot at this moment say, for I have mislaid the text I worked from. The derivation of the text is indicated in a note at the back of Hymns for the Celebration.
Another hymn with a complicated story is "The morning hangs a signal,” which first appeared in Beacon in substantially its present form. The original is in a collection of texts fitted to popular gospel tunes, which was published apparently in the 1800s, by the Western Unitarian Conference. This text, which included many a fine phrase, was by William Channing Gannett; the tune to which it was set was "The Crowning Day.” Around 1930, Curtis Williford Reese, who was conducting Unitarian services in the Abraham Lincoln Center in Chicago, rearranged the text to form three eight-line stanzas. Seeing the Reese arrangement, I decided to try my own hand at redoing Gannett’s text, adding quite a few lines of my own. The product appeared in Beacon, along with a tune I had recommended to the Beacon committee. The Hymns of the Spirit committee improved the text a bit by changing a single word in the first line. I changed a further word or two for its appearance in We Sing of Life.
Another hymn of composite authorship is "He who would valiant be,” in Hymns of the Spirit, based on a text from Bunyan’sPilgrim’s Progress. This first appeared in Songs of Praise. It had occurred to me that the original text would serve Unitarians and Universalists better than the paraphrase, and I recommended this, to the same tune, to the Beacon committee. To make it more acceptable, I changed one phrase, "Hobgoblin nor foul fiend,” to "No word of foe or friend.” This change has been criticized, though I think it still has some validity. Perhaps next time it will be changed back.
Another hymn of composite authorship is "Praise to the living God,” of Jewish origin, with which William Channing Gannett among others took a hand.
Many well-known hymns are paraphrases, particularly of Biblical originals, such as "The King of Love my shepherd is,” which imposes Christian imagery upon the Twenty-third Psalm.
Hymn tinkering is a long-standing practice. Some tinkers have spread so widely that the original is all but forgotten. Thus, the original refrain of the hymn, "For the beauty of the earth,” was,
Christ our God, to thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.
The first phrase has something of a history, which I cannot go into. This hymn began as an Anglican Eucharistic hymn. Even the Episcopalians now sing as we do, "Lord of all, to thee we raise.”
Doubtless some of you know that the influential French philosopher, Auguste Comte, envisioned a humanist religion called by the name of his philosophy, "Positivism.” For God, as the supreme being of its worship, Comte substituted an idealized humanity. This devoutly fabricated religion had its calendar of saints, its sacraments, and even a sacramental sign, comparable to the Catholic sign of the cross. Thomas Huxley called it "Catholicism minus Christianity”; a votary called it "Catholicism plus science.” A local Positivist society was a "Church of Humanity.” There came to be a church of humanity in Paris, several in England, and some also in Brazil, where the religion at one time had considerable influence. Long ago I visited the Positivist chapel in Paris, with its busts of Positivist saints. Services were no longer held there; but the place was none the less adorned with fresh flowers. I visited the Church of Humanity in London on a weekday; but the building was locked. Ed Wilson told me that he once preached in the beautiful Church of Humanity in Liverpool, of modernistic design; which since has ceased to function. I like to think that the memory survives in our hymnbooks, in hymns by Malcolm Quin, minister of the long since defunct Positivist Community of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. To me his hymn, "We move in faith,” set to a tune I recommended to the Beacon committee, is one of the finest we have.
In like manner, I like to think that something of Stanton Coit’s Ethical Church is preserved in Unitarian Universalist worship. Coit, born in the United States, was a remarkable and many-sided individual of boundless energy and creativity. Of him George O’Dell, Ethical leader and Unitarian minister, used to say, "Stanton Coit taught me all I know.” Coit didn’t get along very well with Felix Adler, founder of the Ethical Societies in this country. Each had instincts of a leader. Several of our hymns, including those of Malcolm Quin, come to us by way of Coit’s two volume compendium of readings and hymns, entitled Social Worship. The responsive reading in several of our books entitled "A Rosary of Things Beautiful,” is by Harry Youlden, once an English Baptist minister, who became its resident lecturer. I visited Coit’s church in London while it was still functioning, though in the summertime, when services were not being held.
The Beacon Song and Service Book, as it was taking shape, was long without a name. To stimulate interest in the book, and to secure for it the best possible name, Mr. Forbes Robertson set up a contest. Among the responses to this was one from the wife of a Unitarian minister, The Beacon Hymnal with Suggestive Services; a thought for our next hymnbook commission.
Although I did not work on it directly, I must not fail to refer to Hymns of the Spirit, with its distinguished committee: Henry Wilder Foote, Edward P. Daniels, Curtis W. Reese, Von Ogden Vogt, for the Unitarians, and L. Griswold Williams, Alfred S. Cole, Edson R. Miles, and Tracy M. Pullman, for the Universalists, with Robert L. Sanders as its "indefatigable” music adviser and collaborator. It introduced many hymns to Unitarian Universalist hymnody, including Ed Wilson’s "Where Is Our Holy Church,” "All creatures of our God and King,” Bob Sanders’ fine tune for "When thy heart with joy overflowing,” Harry Emerson Fosdick’s "God of grace and God of glory,” and Jacob Trapp’s "Wonders still the world shall witness,” along with several hymns from Songs of Praise, including "Morning has broken,” "To mercy, pity, peace and love,” "Once to every man and nation,” and above all, "Turn back, O man.”
This book confused organists and congregations by following Songs of Praise in adopting half notes where quarter notes had been customary. It took our people a long time to realize that nearly every tune in the book is gloriously singable. Harry Foote told me that Howard Chandler Robbins brought a copy of Hymns of the Spirit with him to every meeting of the commission for the Episcopal hymnal of 1940.
Following Beacon, my next hymnbook activity was meeting with the committee which produced Martin and Judy Songs. I contributed a few items, mostly by others, and lent to the editor, Miss Edith Lovell Thomas, my Icelandic and Alsatian song collections, from which she took several tunes.
In consequence of travel restrictions during the Second World War, the little Hollis Unitarian Church on Long Island, New York, where I became minister in 1939, almost died. With the ending of the war, the church began to grow, and many new adults were parents of young children. In the meantime the new Beacon Curriculum, under the leadership of Sophia Lyon Fahs, and during the administration of Ernest W. Kuebler, was taking shape, with religious as experience as its basis. I soon began to realize that, while Beacon had some materials for small children, largely assembled by me, the book as a whole was not in the spirit of the new curriculum. So I began another loose-leaf hymnbook, containing both songs, with tunes, and materials for the speaking voice. What seemed to me important in worship was not so much to thank God for things of worth as to be aware of them and to appreciate them.
In the meantime Aron Gilmartin, then minister of the Unitarian Church in Newburgh, New York, knowing of my interest in religious song, invited me to spend an evening in his home, and invited at the same time Irving Lowens, then employed in an airport, and his wife Violet. I had no alcohol allergy then, and my whole evening was spent drinking beer and listening as Irving sang songs of his own composition to Violet’s accompaniment. On that occasion I made up my mind that, if I were ever again to work on a hymnbook, I would want Irving to be my music collaborator.
Then the American Ethical Union asked me to edit a handbook of religious song, particularly for children and youth. I started work by myself, then consulted Miss Thomas, and she encouraged me to continue as I was doing. Then I asked Florence Klaber, director of religious education for the American Ethical Union, under whom I was working, if I could ask Irving Lowens to be my collaborator; and she agreed that I could. His expenses, like mine, were to be paid, along with a bonus of five hundred dollars, divided between us, for the years of labor it was going to take. Our wives helped actively. Irving’s wife, Violet, was specially trained for musical work with children. My wife, Elizabeth, who doesn’t carry a tune very well, nevertheless showed excellent feeling for the mutual fitness of text and tune, and has a fine understanding of children. Through the years I had been collecting verses to share with children at church services; and many of these became the texts of the new songs. All of us participated in the selection of texts. Irving worked with complete devotion, along with dispatching airplanes from the Washington airport. He brought many qualities and abilities to the project. He had a fine musical education. He could compose singable tunes. Although he belonged to no church or synagogue, he seemed to have an instinctive feeling as to what liberal religion was about. And he introduced me to a category of music that I had never so much as heard of—namely, American folk hymnody—fascinating and diverse melodies, often associated with rather harsh harmonies, and with far harsher religious sentiments, waiting to carry the kinds of texts we were collecting or developing. Irving composed several of our tunes; I tried a hand at writing a few of the texts we needed.
In my exceedingly limited experience, Ethical Leaders seem to be a songless tribe. At any rate, on one occasion it was my assignment to present some of the songs at a meeting of the Fraternity of Ethical Leaders. I assumed that to get acquainted with the songs, they would join me in singing them; but not one of them did. While I was working with the songs, I was also collecting and developing other service materials, including responsive readings, which at one point I scattered in otherwise blank spaces among the songs. The Ethical leadership was horrified at this, and practically disowned Florence Klaber for allowing such a thing. So the service materials for the speaking voice had to be brought together in a separate collection (a better arrangement anyhow), with which the Ethicals would have nothing to do. I am profoundly grateful to the American Ethical Union, for without its interest and support, We Sing of Life might never have appeared.
Getting the songs published was a difficult matter. Beacon would not handle them. When I spoke to Ernest Kuebler about the problem, he suggested that I set up a series of appearances at institutes of religious education during the next summer; which I did. Finally an arrangement was concluded by which, with a subsidy from the American Ethical Union, the Starr King Press, a subsidiary of the Beacon Press, was to get out the book. Then it was proposed that, instead of using type, the whole thing might be lettered by calligraphy—hand lettering—and this was done. It made an extraordinarily beautiful book. Some adults maintained that children would find the lettering hard to read. However, I have heard almost no complaints from children.
This left out the materials for the speaking voice, which I considered just as important as the songs. By then I had moved to Chicago; and a committee had been set up under Western Conference auspices to collect service materials, with Max Gaebler of Madison as chairman. This group took on as an early project getting the speaking voice materials published, and appealed to the board of the Western Conference for help. Curtis Reese, the treasurer, said that he had managed an unexpected increase in the value of Western Conference holdings, and that he considered it suitable that part of this increase should be devoted to publishing the speaking voice materials. These were presently arranged for printing, with calligraphed section headings, all in a style that harmonized well with the calligraphy of We Sing. It was Florence Klaber who came up with the perfect title for the book of songs, We Sing of Life. In consequence, the collection of materials for the speaking voice was named, We Speak of Life. I regret to say that the last I knew We Speak of Life had been allowed to go out of print.
Songs that have entered Unitarian Universalist hymnody through We Sing of Life include:
"We sing of golden mornings”;
"Give thanks for the corn and the wheat that are reaped”;
Irving Lowens’ tune for "Pioneers, O Pioneers”;
Ken Patton’s "Man is the earth upright and proud”;
The Hanukkah "Rock of Ages”;
Louis Untermeyer’s "God, though this life is but a wraith”;
Don Marquis’ "A fierce unrest seethes at the core”;
Hosmer’s "I walk the unfrequented road,” from Social Worship;
and my "Faith of the Free” and "One World.”
Irving set many tunes to texts, as I did also. He did all the harmonizing called for throughout the book. Some of our songs and texts were supplied by him. Violet proofread much of the music when Irving couldn’t do it. Elizabeth helped with the proofreading of the texts. I proofread texts and music.
"We sing of golden mornings” is another hymn of complex history. While We Sing was in preparation, Edwin H. Wilson, Unitarian minister and Humanist leader, wrote that he could send me a batch of material he had collected through the years in which I might find things of use, if only I would do all the sorting out. The pile was nearly a foot high. In it was a tiny hymnbook of English origin, compiled in 1925, called Free Religious Hymns. I thought one text in it had possibilities; although it was mostly doggerel, it had some bright phrases. It was attributed to "Emerson.” It didn’t sound like Ralph Waldo Emerson to me; I didn’t trouble to look it up in Emerson; but I did shape a hymn text from it. The tune to which we sing it was chosen by Irving Lowens. After this hymn was accepted for Hymns for the Celebration, I thought I’d better check that Emerson attribution. Then I discovered that the text I had worked with was indeed based on Emerson. I trust that my rewrite still constitutes a better hymn.
One tinker in We Sing of Life didn’t survive. In "Light of ages and of nations” I thought the change of a single word would make the text more available for humanists without spoiling it for others. So "Lord, that word abideth ever” became "Lo, that word abideth ever.” Samuel Longfellow, the author, might well have approved this tinker. The Hymns for the Celebration commission was ready to go along with it, when John F. Hayward, formerly of the Meadville Theological School, accosted me and asked, "What became of the ‘..rd’ in the first line of the third stanza of ‘Light of ages’ in your book?” I answered as best I could; I don’t remember what Jack’s reply was to that. At any rate I began to think we were possibly doing too great violence to Longfellow’s lyric, and I recommended to my colleagues on the commission that the "..rd” be restored; and it was.
Here let me note a magnificent synonym for God in one of Samuel Longfellow’s hymns: "The Life that maketh all things new.”
Of all things, it was We Sing that restored the virgin birth to Unitarian Universalist—and Ethical Culture—Christmas song. It occurred to us that if the virgin birth is mythical, no less so are singing angels, Wise Men, meandering star, and Bethlehem as the place of Jesus’ birth, and if we were having some of them we might as well have them all. This could happen because among people for whom the book was made it seemed well established that none of this was to be taken literally. No doubt there are now Unitarian Universalists, as well as Ethical Culturists, who prefer to disregard entirely the mythical at Christmas time.
We Speak of Life, the collection of service materials for the speaking voice, edited by me and designed to accompanyWe Sing, was the outcome of the widest possible search for materials close to the interests and the living of children and young people, including pieces written by children. Everything in it or in We Sing was tried out with the long-suffering Hollis Unitarian Church (of which I was minister at the time) where children were part of the service every Sunday morning. As, with the help of my wife, I was getting these materials into shape, I also tried them out on every colleague and house guest willing to go through them with me. These things, by the freshness of their phraseology and of their patterns, were designed to be used not only with children and by children as they stand, but also to serve as encouragements to further creative writing on the part of girls and boys.
The English Unitarian hymnbook for children, Songs for Living, embodies much material from We Sing and We Speak, as well as some from Beacon and from Martin and Judy Songs.
One regret about We Sing is that we didn’t include more songs for pre-school children, for which we already had collected many texts plus a tune or two.
Hymns for the Celebration of Life, as innovative as anything our denomination has produced along this line, was the outcome of many years of cooperative effort on the part of a commission. The chairman was Arthur Foote, minister and musician, son of Henry Wilder Foote, and nephew of a distinguished American musician of the same name. At the start there were among us two professional musicians in a category by themselves, each a professor and a composer, with a diversified list of compositions to his credit: Robert L. Sanders and Henry Leland Clarke, along with two other professional musicians, Lorraine W. Bays, whose last name now is Weber, an organist, and Christopher Moore, UU minister and then recently the founder and director of the Chicago Children’s Choir. Ida M. Folsom is a minister with competence in other fields, including college teaching and denominational administration. The other two members were Kenneth L. Patton and myself. Ken Patton’s abilities are well known among us: minister, scholar, poet, writer of beautiful prose, liturgical innovator, who, in engaging Frank Lloyd Wright as architect of the Unitarian church in Madison, Wisconsin, became, so to speak, the midwife of one of the most influential buildings in this country.
From the start it was assumed that Bob Sanders and Henry Clarke would be essentially the music editors. However, this arrangement presented a problem. What do you do when two persons of competence and good will do not agree? Which of them should be the one to yield? This difficulty was taken care of when another musician of like competence, Kenneth Munson, was added to the committee. In preparation for the work ahead, Bob Sanders pulled from his vast files a collection of five hundred tunes, to supplement those in Hymns of the Spirit and other sources close at hand; and he placed a copy of this collection in the hands of every member of the commission. First, musicians, ministers, and lay people were polled as to the actual use among us of hymns in Hymns of the Spirit, although we did not intend to base our decisions on popularity alone. Next, we went through existing Unitarian Universalist hymnbooks, including Hymns of the Spirit, Beacon, and We Sing.
Ken Patton took on as his special assignment the search for fresh materials. In fact he already had a loose-leaf collection of a hundred and more hymns, mostly new, entitled Hymns of Humanity, which he had brought together for the Charles Street Meeting House in Boston. Early in our labors, Ken spent months going through poets and anthologies for any and all passages which could conceivable serve as texts for new hymns. These, all 219 of them, he got typed up on thin sheets of paper, of which he provided each member of the commission with a set. These were known as "Ken Patton’s Flimsies,” though I don’t think Ken ever liked the term. All Ken’s materials were, of course, gone over by the commission. Then the many items which we thought might serve as hymn texts were turned over to the professional musicians to be fitted out with one or more possible tunes. In each instance, the vote for acceptance or rejection was by the whole commission. If a text seemed good, but the proposed tune unsatisfactory, the musicians were asked to look further. In the same manner every item submitted to us by anyone else was dealt with by the whole commission. The musicians made their own harmonizations as necessary, and reviewed the harmonizations of all the other tunes. Tunes composed for the book by Henry Clarke included that for "The World Tree,” by the poet Ridgely Torrence. Bob Sanders contributed several tunes; to me the outstanding one of these is that for "Praise, O my heart to you,” also by Ridgely Torrence. Arthur Foote contributed two tunes, both of them excellent and singable, of which the one I know best is that for Jan Struther’s words, "For all the joys that greet us.” The composer himself, I find, prefers the other tune and text, "Sound over all waters.” Among the tunes new to our hymnody are several American folk hymn tunes, in addition to those taken over from We Sing. One or two of these, as well as some of the other tunes in this book, I wish I liked better than I do.
The title of the book comes from Vogt’s definition of worship as "the celebration of life,” a phrase that has passed over into the common speech of people of religious interest, who may not know its origin.
I count in all something like 124 hymns or single stanzas in Hymns for the Celebration that in one way or another are fresh contributions to Unitarian Universalist hymnody. Of these a very large proportion were proposed by Ken Patton, though by no means all. (On the same basis, Hymns of the Spirit had about 108 new hymns.) Something tremendously impressive about these hymns and stanzas is their authorship—many from contemporary poets, others from great literature of other times. Included among them also are bits of anonymous verse that have something to say.
Hymns for the Celebration is essentially a compendium of this worldly religion. Personal immortality is barely in this book; "heaven is my home” is not here at all. Here, almost for the first time, and largely due to Ken Patton, is the celebration of death as a meaningful part of life. I say almost, for St. Francis early in the thirteen century celebrates death in his "The Canticle of the Sun.” Here is the celebration of the earth as the home of man, and in a sense our mother. These are topics essentially unique to Unitarian Universalist hymnody.
In this connection let me cite two other topics as also unique to UU hymnody: first, the recognition of each of the world’s religious traditions as standing on an even footing with the rest, to be evaluated on its own merits, and not necessarily to be compared unfavorably with Christianity; and second, freedom as a religious value.
While scores of Unitarian Universalist hymns have been taken over into the hymnbooks of other denominations, not one of them I know includes our magnificent "Light of ages and of nations.” On the other hand, the hymn "Gather us in,” found in many hymnbooks, although in its original form it mentions other religions by name, is at pains in each instance to point out the superiority of Christianity.
I think we Unitarian Universalists sometimes overdo our celebration of freedom. Freedom, it seems to me, is not so much an end in itself as it is an implement and an opportunity essential to the realization of other values. Freedom is easily abused.
A few of the hymns in Hymns for the Celebration are denied me because I don’t like the tunes. Others of them are denied me because they don’t fit my own outlook on life, of that of the particular church I serve. In other churches, as I learn from church bulletins, hymns that I don’t announce myself seem to be doing well. The hymns I don’t use are more than made up for by the ones I use, and by the many others that I could be using. Here is one of the values of a bound hymnbook—the fact that in it through the years you can be discovering hymns that you hadn’t previously noticed. While loose-leaf collections are valuable in an experimental situation, or as supplements to an existing book, they are full of disadvantages, especially if they are all the book you have.
A feature of Hymns for the Celebration that has aroused considerable comment is its lack of terminal amens. It seems that we Unitarian Universalists got them from the Episcopalians. Amens were no part of the traditional hymnody of Baptists, Congregationalists, Universalists, or Unitarians. So far as I know, Unitarians didn’t have amens before 1890. They were also absent from earlier Universalist hymnbooks. As late as 1903, one of the most ceremonious of Universalist service books, Gloria Patri, strong on "Father, Son and Holy Ghost,” had no amens to the many hymns it included. The latest hymnbook I have, Hymns of the Church, 1917, that was published under exclusively Universalist auspices, is fully equipped with amens. On the other hand, the English hymnal, Songs of Praise, beginning with its first edition in 1925, omitted amens from nearly all its hymns. But this didn’t influence the compilers either of Beacon or of Hymns of the Spirit. Ken Patton had amens in his loose-leaf Charles Street collection. However, amens had seemed inappropriate in We Sing. During the preparation of Hymns for the Celebration it became clear to me that an amen was not necessary after any hymn, and that after many an unconventional text an amen would simply be incongruous; so I proposed that we omit amens. The majority of the commission was, I think, against me at the start. I remember that one of our musicians, forgetting that secular songs have no amens, insisted that an amen was necessary to bring a succession of stanzas to a conclusion. However, at that time the commission took no action. When the next session was convened, sentiment had changed; it seemed to be taken for granted that there would be no amens in the new book; and there the matter rested.
I have preached recently in churches where the blue book, Hymns for the Celebration, is used, and where amens are dutifully added. In the Beverly Unitarian Church in Chicago, the matter came up early; for the church was equipped with We Sing to supplement Hymns of the Spirit. With some trepidation I arranged with Florence Petersen, our organist, to drop amens, though I offered no explanation to the congregation. I waited apprehensively for what might happen, but nothing did. In Yarmouth, where also we have two hymnbooks, we do otherwise. When using the hymnbook with amens, we sing them; when using the other book, which is Hymns for the Celebration of Life, we do without them.
Here let me turn to what may be called The Easter Problem. First to us came disbelief in the Easter narratives of the New Testament. Then Unitarians, and perhaps Universalists also, disregarding the mythical, took to celebrating Easter as the Festival of Immortality. But this interpretation has run into difficulty as many people have ceased to count on personal immortality as something certain, and have even come to regard it as irrelevant to the meanings of daily living—a change in outlook that has made hymns affirming personal immortality unwelcome at Easter or any other time. A colleague in Maine wrote in his newsletter for the Sunday before this year’s Easter:
The insipid, non-Christian rewrites of Easter hymns leave something to be desired in Hymns for the Celebration of Life. So we substitute again this year the hymnbooks called Hymns of the Spirit…One would not think of celebrating Hanukkah or Passover or Ramadan without using the authentic words of the festival. Why should we blanch at Christian words to a Christian festival?
Well, festivals remain, but their meanings often change. I recognize that our Easter section is pretty thin, although I thought we had done well enough in retaining Unitarian Universalist Easter hymns from the older book. Perhaps we should have kept more of the older Easter hymns. At Christmas most of us sing the legendary and love it. But with regard to Easter, many of us have hang-ups—at any rate, I do. In Hymns for the Celebration, we have beautiful spring songs to sing at Easter, including part of an Easter hymn that is new to us, "Lift your hidden faces.” The principal trouble is that the Easter hymns we need do not exist. For Unitarian Universalists, as for others, there is an Easter message of profound significance. It is essentially the marvelous capacity of the human spirit to rise above despair and defeat, and to take new heart. This is what happened to the followers of Jesus after his crucifixion, although the meaning of their experience is enshrined in myth. At any rate here, as it seems to me, is the most inspiring of all religious truths. It belongs to, and deserves to be celebrated at Easter, the best attended of church festivals, along with the natural event that got it all started, namely the marvel of springtime in our climate. We need the hymns we do not have to sing this message.
As for the speaking voice materials in Hymns for the Celebration, we have been criticized for including so great a quantity of one man’s writing. Perhaps we overdid ourselves, although we didn’t leave out other things to get him in. We actually included everything by other authors that we thought would stand the test of continued use. Few if any of us write as well for liturgical purposes as does Ken Patton. As for the Bible passages, we say in our introduction, "With few exceptions we have preferred to use the King James Version…deeming its stately rhythms and classical quality more important than any loss in literary accuracy; its mistranslations indeed are sometimes better religion than the original sense.” Now the Roman Catholics and Episcopalians have gone over to contemporary English. You may be amused to learn that it was Ida Folsom who insisted that we ought to use modern English, and Ken Patton who was the strongest advocate of King James.
One feature of our book that calls for special mention is the "Notes on Hymns, Tunes, and Readings” at the back. These are our substitute for the hymnal handbook that we knew the denomination could never afford to publish. I am confident that people who have discovered these notes have found them interesting and valuable. Henry Clarke did all the notes on music; Arthur Foote and I did the text notes between us.
It is hard to single out just a few of the hymns which Hymns for the Celebration of Life had introduced to Unitarian Universalist hymnody, but let me mention some:
"O source of life,” by Ridgely Torrence, part of his paraphrase of Psalm 104, with its magnificent tune by Robert L. Sanders;
"O Lord of stars and sunlight,” by John Holmes, set to a glorious tune;
"Let the whole creation cry,” by Stopford A. Brooke. This has been around for a long time as a text of many four-line stanzas. We gave it new life by making it over into three eight-line stanzas, and setting it to a grand old tune. Art Foote collected a valuable quatrain for it from an English Unitarian hymnbook; it begins, "You to whom the arts belong”;
Among Ken Patton’s texts here, none is finer than, "We journey with a multitude,” with its sparkling imagery;
"From all the fret and fever of the day,” written by Professor Monroe Beardsley for a Sunday service of the Unitarian Church of Delaware County, Pennsylvania. Its beautiful, but somewhat difficult, tune is worth the effort it takes to learn it;
"Where is your God, they say,” the rewrite of a text by James Martineau that perhaps has given it new life; at any rate, it has for me;
"Wisdom has treasures,” an old text which appeared in Hymns of the Spirit, here rewritten, including further phraseology from the Book of Proverbs, and provided with a more pleasing tune than the one it had before;
"They cast their nets in Galilee,” from the 1940 Episcopal hymnal;
"For no sect elect,” by Charles Swinburne, which probably came to us from Coit’s Social Worship, set by our musicians to an attractive arrangement of an old psalm tune;
"Now give heart’s onward habit brave intent” and "Peace is the mind’s old wilderness cut down,” additional texts from the poet John Holmes;
"The World Tree,” by Ridgely Torrence, for which Henry Clarke composed what seems to me his finest tune;
"The art, the science, and the lore,” by Jacob Trapp—a welcome addition to the hymns expressive of our debt to other religious traditions than our own;
"On this day everywhere,” a Christmas text to a bright tune, which I helped Chris Moore hatch together for immediate use, when he called on me in desperation one winter evening about supper time.
I haven’t got around to using all these hymns myself by any means, though I see them listed in orders of service of other churches. I could just as well have listed many another hymn from this book of equal merit.
To bring together things of such excellence is not, it seems to me, a small accomplishment.
However, no human achievement is final, or there would be nothing left for an oncoming generation to discover, to redo, to struggle for, or to achieve.
This is true of every hymnbook, no matter how excellent it may be. Times change. The life of the present must always be its own. Each generation has the necessity and right to be doing its own thing.
Although any culture exists in part by the preservation of what has proved worthful in the past, to be meaningful to us, must be received as if it were new, and must be restated somehow in terms that are pertinent to the present. Therefore, in our relation to the days that were we must take account of two essentials: the preservation of the excellent; and our perpetual need of what is new and different.
I have lived long enough to know something about the ephemeral nature of human fashions: fashions in secular garb, in pulpit attire; fashions in poetry, in painting, in architecture; fashions in music, including church music; fashions in theology, and in the chancel and seating arrangements of church buildings.
There are climates in which it is said, "If you don’t like the weather, just wait half an hour.” This is true not solely of the weather.
What the present discards as antiquated may well come back again, though usually with a difference.
Two tendencies are strong among Unitarian Universalists at present:
One that should not surprise us, namely, a revolt against whatever has been, and especially against the recent past.
Another that some have thought would never come to be—namely a widening sense that something called worship is the central business of churches. I do not refer specifically to prayers and anthems, but to the whole spirit of a church’s principal occasion, the Sunday service or its equivalent.
This tendency is in accord with human nature—with its boundless versatility, with its consequent need of goals and guidelines for daily living, and with its further need to discriminate among the alternatives that so often are before us.
Essential to human living is an inner life. Essential to the inner life is what may properly be called worship.
Worship is appreciation. Worship is evaluation. Worship has to do alike with joy and struggle. Worship identifies the noblest achievements of the human spirit, which are, in memorable phrases from Von Ogden Vogt: "defeat turned into victory,” "pain transformed into benefit,” "evil overcome with good.” Worship is celebration of The Life That Makes All Things New. Worship is an intensely personal experience; worship is also people assembled to consider creatively the meanings of their living.
Humans the world around express in song the things that move them the most profoundly.
Hence the large place of song in social worship.H