FOR BRASS QUINTET, TIMP, AND ORGAN
Descant to the hymn tune NATIONAL HYMN. Free score with harmonized descant and optional instrumental introduction or bridge. Score available with parts for three Bb trumpets (via contact form). Free score.
The author of the text "God of our fathers," Daniel Crane Roberts, rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Brandon, Vermont, wrote this hymn (ie, the text) for his town's US Centennial celebration - sung to the tune (irony alert) RUSSIAN HYMN, which at the time was in use as the national anthem of czarist Russia. Some years later, with the Episcopal Church preparing a new hymnal, Roberts submitted the work, anonymously, to the commission overseeing the project. To his surprise and delight, it was selected. With the observance of another centennial pending - that of the US Constitution - it would simply not do that this text be sung to another country's national anthem. George William Warren of St. Thomas Church in New York wrote the setting NATIONAL HYMN for this text, and it was used at the Constitutional observance, and published in the Hymnal 1892; this has been an inseparable pair ever since.
But who are these 'fathers?' There is a patriotic temptation to view these as America's revolutionary or pilgrim founders, but the fact that the author was an Episcopal priest, and the reference to 'our fathers' is immediately followed by cosmological wonder, one might argue for a less wrenching torque in interpretation. The 'starry band' is our galactic Milky Way, which thus becomes the hinge of a very smooth transition from the creator God of our biblical fathers right through to the shining worlds in splendor through the skies. A single, seamless thought, setting God before and above creation. The most common alteration (if for no other reason than inclusive language) is to translate 'our fathers' into 'the ages,' but this is a vacuous rendering, bereft of human agency. In the second verse, a form of American exeptionalism is stated, borne of determined faith ('Thy word our law'), a prescient notion that a unified America would begin to take its place as the leader among nations, though the imagined nourishment of peace remains to this day elusive. In his commentary on the UM Hymnal, C. Michael Hawn notes that the hymn's arc is that "God will lead us from the war and pestilence of our earlier captivity to the freedom and light of peace."
This descant was written at the request of Phil Johnson, organist and choirmaster at All Saints Episcopal Church, Peterborough NH and first sung by the Youth Choir of St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Cambridge MA, as choral guests of Mr. Johnson on the Sunday morning of Memorial Day weekend in 1995.
[Note: a version of the accompaniment arranged for a trio of trumpets and organ is available upon request. Use the contact form at right for more info.]
Refs: Lectionary.org, The Hymnary, History of Hymns. The Gaffney Ledger
Updated: Jul 29 2015
God of our fathers
Refresh thy people on
their toilsome way,
lead us from night, to
never ending day;
Fill all our lives with
love and grace divine,
and glory, laud, and praise
be ever thine.
– Daniel Crane Roberts, 1876
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