Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Victory in Jesus – Eugene M. Bartlett

Eugene Monroe Bartlett was a very well-known gospel hymnist in the early 20th Century in the South. Besides teaching and writing music for several decades, he also founded the Hartford Music Company in 1918, in Sebastian County, Arkansas. Along with the company that published music , Bartlett formed the Hartford Music Institute that taught voice, piano, piano tuning, rudiments, harmony, and stringed instruments to students all over the South. One of Bartlett’s main objectives was to teach worshippers to sight read a song by using “shape” notes, a debt that many of us still owe him today. (An assigned shape for each tone on an eight-note scale makes it easier for the common person to “read” the music.) Check out many song books, and you’ll still see them with triangles, diamonds, half-moons, etc. dotting the music scores on the pages. Perhaps that legacy was one of the main reasons that Bartlett was inducted into the Southern Gospel Music Association’s Hall of Fame in 2000. When you examine Bartlett’s composition “Victory in Jesus” however, you see he was more tuned into joining another association when he wrote this song in 1939. In 1939, Bartlett’s health suffered a serious blow when he had a major stroke. He spent much of the last two years of his life bed-ridden, so it’s surprising that he wrote his most well-known song “Victory in Jesus” at that time. Or is it? It’s said that Bartlett missed travelling and teaching, but he could still study the Bible, a study from which he gave us this song, his last. Is it an accident that Bartlett wrote about ‘victory’ in 1939? What was going on then? While much of the earth sat on the brink of World War II, Bartlett looked beyond that, to a victory none of us can know on earth. Though he could see an end to his life approaching, he also noticed something else about ends. Has it occurred to you that victory, though it’s something we strive for in all kinds of venues, can only be reached at the end of something here? A team never wins the game at its start, nor the championship during the season’s first few games. So, if you live for the competition, to play the game, then the end is bittersweet, even if it culminates in triumph and a trophy. Bartlett must have experienced some depression, if he was human like all of us. In fact, it’d be quite impossible to be as productive as Bartlett was, and not miss the life one has lived. But another part must have seen his physical descent as just a temporary blip, a normal part of the human condition. Though an earthly victory comes at the finish line, Bartlett’s 1st and 2nd song verses tell us that he had already experienced his eternal victory well before his earthly end approached. And, thank God that is the one that endures! Do you think Bartlett is now flashing the victory sign with two fingers, like a president we remember? Maybe he teaches shape notes in heaven, whaddya think? It wouldn’t be a surprise, since this method seemed to work here. Still, the only things we know of heaven are in John’s Revelation. He tells me that I’ll sing a new song (Rev. 5 + 14), a Moses song, and that I, as a winner -- a victor -- get to sing it (Rev. 15:2-4). It’s gonna be grand seeing Eugene Bartlett and so many other God-worshippers, with exquisite, perfect, musical bodies given by God, pouring out melodies and harmonies forever. Now that’s a hall of fame I want to be part of…how about you? Information on Eugene Bartlett was obtained from “The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs” by William J. and Ardythe Petersen , Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. 2006 Additional information on Eugene Bartlett found at the following website: http://www.musicscribe.com/2005/08/eugene-bartlett-biography.html Information on the Hartford Music Company is available at the following website: http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=2661

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