Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Lily of the Valley -- Charles William Fry

This 40-ish English-Scottish musician and bricklayer was probably helping with an evangelism campaign and perhaps receiving input from family members when he wrote out some words that today are known to us as “The Lily of the Valley” (see one pictured here). It was also the year before this fellow Charles William Fry died, in the latter part of the 19th Century. So were the words he penned significant to him, as if he knew what was approaching? Or were they merely coincidental, reflecting what was important, but yet what was routinely true of Fry’s life at the time? And why did he choose the metaphor about this particular flower?

Charles Fry was the composer, but his credit for “The Lily…” was probably a footnote in his life among all the other details of the song’s development. Fry is known to have composed just a handful of musical works, perhaps because his vocational and musical endeavors kept him otherwise occupied. Though his trade was as a bricklayer, Fry was a notable musical influence in his community in southern England. He directed a band and an orchestra at a chapel, earning him the unofficial title as the “first bandmaster of the Salvation Army”. As this label suggests, he and his family’s participation in the Salvation Army’s campaigns were as common as was that of the organization’s founder, William Booth. We know that “The Lily of the Valley” was spawned as part of Fry’s involvement with the Salvation Army’s efforts in London, telling us his focus was on sending a message to those who Booth was trying to reach. The ‘lily’ of which Fry wrote indicates he was engaged in studying the Song of Solomon (chapter 2, verse 1), the only biblical reference point for the song title’s phrase. Or, perhaps it was Booth, as he prepared a message, or one or more of Fry’s family members in the band who was inspired by the bible passage and floated the idea for the song. It was a tune this family of musicians would be playing together, after all. It may have been Fry’s last composition, of the few he reportedly created, because he died the following year, in 1882. Could he have known of his impending demise? We know nothing of this possibility, but the last two lines of his third verse are nevertheless a fitting epitaph for this musical director-believer.  Fry writes of being carried away ‘to glory’ and dwelling among ‘rivers of delight’. If he indeed felt his own end was imminent, he doesn’t sound doomed, does he?    

If I were writing something that would be near the end of my terrestrial life, what would that be? I’d want to be gleaning something from His word, as Fry apparently was doing in 1881. Something hopeful, drawing me toward the One whom I’ll be meeting. Maybe trying to take some others with me, as Fry was thinking about when he composed this for the Salvation Army’s use. That’s two pretty good thoughts to keep primary, isn’t it? Getting myself ready to go, and urging others to come along.      

A brief biography of the composer is here:

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