Saturday, March 24, 2018

Home of the Soul -- James Rowe

Did this 47-year old English-born journeyman ever feel that he’d discovered his true calling professionally, his ‘home’, or the position where he sensed that his Creator had placed him for his truest service? By the year 1912, maybe James Rowe could say that, as he compared that place to the “Home of the Soul” he expected to inhabit in the not too distant future. Albany, New York (see this panoramic shot from 1906, perhaps not too different from what James may have seen) was probably the place that James Rowe had begun to think of as his physical home, though England was his native land. His home vocationally, if he had in fact found it by 1912, had likewise come by a circuitous route. Perhaps James’ meandering path had given him a greater appreciation for the home upon which he knew could depend to outlast all the others that he encountered.

If a person’s most prolific life output is an indicator of his true calling, then James Rowe must have sensed his was in the musical field for some time, given what he eventually contributed in this field of endeavor. He must have been engaged for many years in writing the over 9,000 hymns, poems, and other works attributed to him, though how he made his daily living did not necessarily reflect this musical habit for some time. He worked in Ireland’s government for a few years before moving to the New World by 1890. Once settled in Albany, he worked variously for a railroad and for the Hudson River Humane Society for many more years, before pursuing music more intentionally as part of three music publishing enterprises in Texas (Trio Music) and Tennessee (A. J. Showalter and James D. Vaughan Music Companies). We can presume much of his music output was produced during his years associated with the music publishers, yet one does not suddenly have an awakening to this role; instead, James must have nurtured this inclination for some time before focusing on it more completely. Whether “Home of the Soul” was a product of his railroad/Humane Society years or later when he was active in music publishing is unknown. But, his vision of ‘home’ was no less clear, no matter the physical or occupational dwelling where he found himself in 1912. Perhaps like most workers, James must have been tired at times, a condition to which he alludes in his poetry (‘labors are o’er, rest…’ [v.1], and ‘sweet rest’ [v.2], and ‘Rest to our souls…’ [refrain]) repeatedly. Did the jumping from one type of work to another disturb James too, an aspect of his mortal life that he longed to relinquish (‘…never to roam’ [refrain])? Without more details of his motives for crafting “Home of the Soul”, one can only conjecture that James endured work’s tedium as most of us do periodically; perhaps his poetry/hymn-writing was therapeutic, allowing him to imagine the time and place when the daily workday would be in his rearview mirror. That wouldn’t be surprising for a mid-life 47-year old, would it?

James Rowe’s view of home versus where and when he lived says something universal. Even as I experience a home with probably more comforts than James had, things break. I can move about, tantalizing my fascination with different places, sights, and sounds – indeed all five senses can join in the fun! Yet, I get tired of it, don’t you? I need rest, even from the things I like to do. Is it therefore possible that this ‘home’ is too draining? I think I will need to re-tool at some point, including new parts and new places, new experiences. Where can I go, where upgrades are unnecessary, where everything is new perpetually, and yet it is home? James knew. Do you?  

See biography on composer here:

See also some biographic information on the composer here:

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