Saturday, September 30, 2017
Lead Me Gently Home, Father – Will L. Thompson
This 32-year old Ohioan from East Liverpool had a few decades ahead of him yet, but still must have been mulling over what would be inevitable at some point. Will Thompson wrote “Lead Me Gently Home, Father” in 1879, and sounded rather like someone who had had enough of life, even though he was a relatively young man. Was it some disappointment with struggle he’d encountered as he began his professional life following college? He reportedly wrote down words at all times for musical ideas, so this much is sure: Will had experienced something that was significant enough for him to commit it to paper on the spot, thinking it would be a meaningful contribution to his spiritual and musical life. In other words, he must have thought the Spirit was always present, prompting him in various ways, even if an incident was downbeat.
Will Lamartine Thompson likely knew from an early age that he was going to pursue music as his life’s work. He wrote a few songs as a teenager, including some secular tunes that were popular (“My Home on the Old Ohio" and "Gathering Shells from the Seashore"). His musical penchant deepened in the 1870s with his college and post-college training, taking him to New England and Leipzig, Germany for specialized training in his chosen field. So, it was no doubt frustrating for him when he hit a speed-bump of sorts – a commercial music publisher who rejected his efforts. Will was apparently not one to surrender so quickly however, and he responded by forming his own publishing company. By the 1880s, the Will L. Thompson Music Company in East Liverpool was serving customers across the U.S., and must have contributed to Thompson’s formation of a similar company later in Chicago. But, as a 30-something, the mood of what he wrote in ‘Lead Me…’ suggests this young music businessman had his share of struggle and depression, too. This was a guy with his musical antennae active, and consequently recording poetry that pinpointed what was occurring around and inside himself. It must have been at least one or perhaps several days that prompted Will to write about ‘life’s toils’ (v. 1) and ‘darkest hours…(and) troubles’ (v. 2), compelling him to seek a gentle touch from his Father. In fact, ‘gently’ is Will’s favorite word throughout ‘Lead Me…’, suggesting his terrestrial days had been pretty rugged at the time.
Will Thompson was not a pity-party unto himself, though. Life didn’t stop him, though a roadblock was not uncommon in his path. Rejection from a publisher only fueled Will’s imagination, serving as grist for his musical mill. How do you suppose he got this attitude? From where did his musical creativity emanate? Maybe the source was someone else who was likewise cast aside, at least for a while. That person rose up and became a focal point, despite other people’s momentary disconsolation. Do you suppose Will noticed that historical example, too?
See the two sites here for information on the composer and the song’s original two verses: