Saturday, September 24, 2016

Let the Beauty of Jesus Be Seen -- Albert W.T. Orsborn and George L. Johnson



He really tried to live what he wrote, someone might say. And, his topic as a 30-year old stuck with him, so that he wrote some more over 30 years later to further describe how God’s beauty had affected him. Perhaps Albert Orsborn went about his job training others with the words of “Let the Beauty of Jesus Be Seen” on his lips, encouraging others to mimic the Holy Son’s behavior and attitude. If it was wartime, did his words take on extra meaning, pushing others to make a little more sacrifice, even in the midst of deprivation? What he said evidently compelled another writer, George L. Johnson, to add some more thoughts to Albert’s original composition nearly 20 years after its debut. How does conventional beauty compare to the beauty Albert and George recognized? Was Jesus most beautiful perhaps when he was transfigured (See Bloch painting here)?

Albert William Thomas Orsborn was in a position for most of his life in England and the British Commonwealth to project Jesus’ sacrificial example for others to see. This most likely was modeled for him by parents who were active in the Salvation Army, undoubtedly prompting the young Albert to invest himself in the same organization from his early teens through his senior citizen years. During World War I, Orsborn was an officer in a training college for the Salvation Army, where he evidently was when he composed his two verses of “Let the Beauty…”. We know not the exact circumstances that spurred Albert’s writing, but 1916 could not have been an easy period to ponder his life, as his countrymen fought enemies in a brutal European conflict that had spilled over into other regions of the world, had been raging for two years, and showed no sign of stopping anytime soon. Could it have been that Albert needed to nurture a renewed hope in mankind? What better direction to look than straight up? His 2nd verse could suggest he’d had a rough day or several days – ‘somebody has been unkind to you…word…pierces you through’—and needed to remind himself that Jesus endured revulsion too. As an officer at the time in the Army’s training college in London, and watching others train for their duties, Albert must have felt responsible for presenting the proper model to them, for obeying his superior officer’s – God’s -- charge. In 1947, Albert must have been still pondering Jesus’ beauty, when he published a collection of poems entitled “The Beauty of Jesus”.      

George Johnson picked up Albert Orsborn’s theme in 1934 and wrote at least one more verse along the same lines. If you’re having a rough stretch, and people around you seem uncaring, try on His clothes. George’s precise situation is no more evident to us than Albert’s, but it’s not hard to decipher what bothered either man. It’s no different than what ails anyone today, or has any day. Are your looks ordinary, like mine? Do others think your looks are average? We all need the therapy Albert and George prescribed.

Brief biography of one composer here: http://christianity.wikia.com/wiki/Albert_Orsborn
Very scant reference to other composer here: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/bio/j/o/h/johnson_gl.htm

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Bond of Love – Otis Skillings



This 36-year old music professional’s message wasn’t too complicated, though what he proposed would have required his hearers to exercise some imagination. Otis Skillings and those with whom he gathered to sing must have felt “The Bond of Love” on many occasions by 1971. And Otis had a particular theory, undoubtedly confirmed by what he and the others sensed repeatedly, about how the unity they all sought arose when they got together. What is the source of any group’s mutual love? We could hypothesize that an object, an experience, or maybe a person would fasten people to one another. What if the glue was a person who wasn’t present, someone that none of the people had ever physically touched, seen, or met? Otis’ words indicate that is exactly what took place. What glue (perhaps like what is shown here) would you choose if you wanted to keep something stuck together?

Otis Skillings was a talented professional who employed a variety of methods in the music world to promote the worship in which he was involved for several decades in the American Midwest (perhaps in Ohio, where he was born, and in Illinois where he finally died at the age of 69 in 2004).  He was responsible for at least two musicals called Life and Love – doesn’t get much more basic than that, does it? He reportedly composed, arranged, conducted, and performed, while also conducting clinics, so he was involved in a wide variety of ways to take the music wherever the Spirit moved him. Though only a handful of songs are attributed to Skillings, his work reached secularly powerful people, apparently including residents of the White House in Washington. So, Otis was very capable. Yet, he must have realized that what drew the music out of himself, and what synergy affected any group he guided in worship was due to another person. God, though not bodily present, inhabits the believer, and it was apparently no different for Otis and the crowd with whom he associated in the early 1970s. He wrote of Him in ‘The Bond …’, indicating there was something special going on because His Spirit had linked with people (v.1). And, Otis wanted this God-effect to inform the general public, too (v.2). They would take note that a unified body was present, a goal that Otis evidently thought had intrinsic value.

What good would it do for people outside of a group to know there’s a unified body? Was 1971 much different than what we still see today? Is division more common, or is unity? If you can answer these questions and still feel confident and upbeat about the world about you, then that’s a place I want to move into and inhabit! But, if you’re like me, it’s so obvious that discord prevails and that unity is difficult to reach and still more so to maintain. Perhaps Otis thought the same way, prompting his words about love and harmony, a remedy for the ills of his time. How about for all time?      


Very brief facts on the composer: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/bio/s/k/i/skillings_o.htm 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Angry Words (Love One Another) -- Horatio Richmond Palmer



This 33-year-old music director must have heard and directed enough choral sounds that he really appreciated the female voice. That much could be said of Horatio Richmond Palmer when one discovers that he was the most likely author of the music and the words for something most commonly known as “Angry Words” (also may be known as “Love One Another”). What would cause an experienced, gifted musical director to use such a negative-sounding title? Others who later appreciated the song’s message perceived the title was downbeat, and so put a different spin on it by changing its label. Were there women who played an important role in Palmer’s life in 1867? Were there some disagreeable words – a dispute – that had erupted in Palmer’s world? (Maybe the Disputa by Raphael, shown here, is a celestially symbolic one, representing what Palmer sought to avoid [the elders debate the significance of the Communion in Disputa.]) Let’s see.

Horatio Palmer’s upbringing and his development, following his birthmother’s premature death,  owed much to how and who helped fill a gap in his life. His father was a single parent after Horatio’s mother died when he was three. By seven, Horatio was singing with the church choir that his father, Anson, directed. Horatio also apparently had a stepmother at some point (according to a comment this blogger received for a Sept. 18, 2011 entry made on another Palmer composition, ‘O Lord, Our Lord), but it seems likely that the church was playing a significant role in his young life. That he devoted his professional life to music seems to confirm how essential this mentorship at a young age was for Palmer. Over the next twenty to thirty years, Horatio continued to develop and take on musical enterprises, including choral music like his father. After directing a musical academy in New York for a decade, Palmer moved to Chicago and was director of a church choir when he was in his early 30s, and it was there he may have written “Angry Words”. The song’s expressions suggest someone or group, or perhaps Palmer himself, had regretted some hasty, ill-tempered remarks. If it wasn’t Palmer, could it have been an anonymous ‘DKP’, whose initials appear attributed to the song in some hymnals? Or, what is the role of the ‘Sunday School Teacher’, also alternately associated with the song in many hymnals? Could the song’s emphasis on the female voices indicate their importance to Horatio and the song message? Horatio also exhibits this female-voice inclination in some of his other works (see the 18 September 2011 blog entry), so one wonders if Palmer had learned some significant lessons from them along the way.  Over a century after its initial publication, a women named Betty Bender wrote another verse, shown in some hymnals, in 1992.  

The intended audience of  “Angry Words” is as important as whomever may have contributed to its composition. ‘Children’ in one repeated section of the song suggests kids may have been of most concern to Horatio. But, none of us ever really stop being children, especially when we argue. And, some anger is justifiable; even Jesus and His father have been angry, we read. Just pick up your bible and find these episodes. But, you’ll see the love episodes there, too. Perhaps Horatio was thinking that our angry episodes come too easily, versus God’s. Do your love expressions come as easily as His?  

The following sites show Palmer as the author, or his composition history:

 
Site for Betty Bender, possibly the one associated with the song?: http://www.theicn.org/Templates/TemplateDefault.aspx?qs=cElEPTExMQ==

Saturday, September 3, 2016

We Will Stand – Russ and Tori Taff and James Hollihan



Just listen to him talk about what was on his heart in 1983, and see if Russ Taff doesn’t touch you too with a plea for unity. That’s what he was trying to do when he and two others penned some words that collectively say “We Will Stand”.  He and the others must have been talking and sharing about some difficult moments, and what instead they thought should be the focus of all Christian believers.  After all, if powerful leaders of nations, from opposite faith systems, can hold hands (as President Bush and an Arabian Prince Abdullah showed here in this April 2005 picture), shouldn’t people of the same basic faith be able to?

Russ Taff was 30 years old at the time, and probably still looking back at his upbringing, examining his circumstances at the time, and looking forward to what could be.  His family roots in Pentecostal worship and Gospel music made his choice of a singing career a natural outcome by his teenage years. He took his parents’ spiritual background and some of the popular secular music he heard and fused them to form his own sound with a band called Sounds of Joy. He sang with another group, the Imperials, in his mid-20s, and then went solo after a few years, so that by 1983, Russ had sung with various groups and with an eclectic style to match.  Perhaps that was the incubator of what his wife Tori, their friend James Hollihan, and Russ would write in “We Will Stand” – there is variety, but stay focused on a main unifying force. Based on the joint attribution, one can imagine the three of them sitting and mulling over their faith, each chiming in with their own earnest words to fill out the song’s potential, and dreaming about what it would mean if every believer stuck together. Russ speaks passionately about it during a minute or two of a performance of “We Will Stand” in 1983, probably while the song’s genesis was still fresh in his memory. Russ felt that no denominational wedges should block the message of what ‘Christian’ means – togetherness in Him. Another video testimony, many years later, shows Russ Taff being very personal and vulnerable about his life in a conversation with his friend Bill Gaither, and telling from his own standpoint how he has been able to endure – to stand. He sounds like a very indebted person, compelled to repeat what’s been in his heart for several decades.

With so many musical memories and friends to share them, Russ Taff keeps going back to the well of “We Will Stand” to re-drink from its contents. There was a concert with his musical friends in January 2015 that was punctuated with the song, and the previous year Russ’s handwritten words to the song were used to raise funds for a mission work in Ecuador. So, it’s not just any song. Unity is not a casual expectation. He himself prayed for this in a garden, just before He was to die. You think this is important? He’s not a God I want to disappoint.


Lotsa information re: the song and its meaning today are here: http://www.russtaff.com/?s=We+Will+Stand&submit=Search

Russ talks about what the song means to him in this song link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJZGQVSMsSU  (between the 1:18 and 2:55 minute marks)

Here’s an interview with Russ Taff: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTYddNynmHU
Biography of Russ Taff here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russ_Taff

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sing to Me of Heaven -- Ada Powell



Ada Powell. Few other details are known of her, or even if this composer was a her, although this name is normally given to a female. Ada could have been a shortened version of Adelaide or Adeline, but there is more significant information than her name that one could gather about Ada from the words she composed for the song “Sing to Me of Heaven” early in the 20th Century. What motivated her poetry can be surmised, at least speculatively, from the verses she recorded. And, since she doesn’t appear to have been a complete novice at verse composition, we could imagine that she engaged in similar activity over a reasonably lengthy period, either professionally or certainly in a semi-serious way. In other words, she was keenly involved in her walk of faith, and probably sought the companionship of others whom she hoped would reciprocate. What picture of heaven did she and others imagine – was it like this one, shown here?

Ada Powell authored at least a few dozen hymn poems over her lifetime, including this one about heaven that was first published while she was still a relatively young woman in 1914. As a 32-year-old poet, Ada most likely had been engaged in previous efforts, perhaps in a collaborative way as “Sing to Me of Heaven” proved to be. While she wrote the verses, her musical comrade, at least on this occasion, was Benjamin Beall. The music to another of her songs (“Do Something for Jesus”) was written by another composer (Benjamin Hultsman, Jr.), so evidently Ada was not entirely anonymous among her contemporaries. Her theme through the three verses of “Sing…Heaven” suggests Ada’s premise for writing was either personal or group-centered. ‘Sing to me…’ is a hint, not unexpectedly, that she was among other believers from whom she needed to draw strength or who were in need of her fellowship. In short, this group needed to be each other’s angel chorus, to simulate what each longed to experience in another realm. Did 30-something Ada feel life’s weights (v.1), suffer with loneliness (v.2) or depression (v.3)? Or, did she know others who knew these sensations too acutely to keep silent? Even a relatively young person could probably say ‘yes’ to either of those questions. The world was a complicated, busy, stressful, and challenging place in 1914 – at least for Ada and her friends.   

She might be mostly anonymous, but Ada Powell said something over 100 years ago that certainly sounds familiar. Heaven has a reputation. Some people with near-death experiences say it’s wondrous. Our bibles say something about it being a glorified earth. It’s the upside of death’s journey, the alternative to the horrible. Ada said it’s a place that’s sweet, bright, and gleaming like a pearl. She hadn’t been there either when she wrote these words, yet she was willing to take a chance on it, probably as she thought about earthly days in comparison that were none too pleasant. Are you like Ada? 

A list of the songs that the composer generated is here: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/bio/p/o/w/powell_a.htm