Today's poets, today's poems. Share yours, send to email@example.com
Celts once believed that the soul would not ascend to Heven without a bagpipe air to releae it from the earthly body. As early as the 14th century, Scottish warriors used musical horns and other musical instruments to intimidate their English adversaries; by the end of the 1500s the bagpipes had become the principal instrments, though the great highland bagpipes (piob mhor) were probably not invented until the late 18th or early 19th century and quickly became a symbol of Scottish nationalism. Between 1/3 and 1/2 of George Washington's army during the American Revolution were ethnic Scots, though there is no record of bagpiping during battles or funerals during the war. During the American Civil War the 79th New York State Militia (the "Cameron Highlanders") sported kilts in parades and tartan trousers in battle and played the screeching bagpipes to frighten the enemy. Meanwhile, the Great Irish Potato Famine of the mid-1840s led to mass immigration to the US, where it was difficult for the new immigrants to find decent work. As a result, many Irish men took on dangerous jobs, especially in the fire houses and police stations in New York, Boston, and elsewhere. When they died in the course of their duties they were given a sendoff that reflected the sentiments of their comrades and to remind the populace of who the society's protectors were. Over the years, this tradition spread to firefighters and police officers who were not of Irish descent. The use of the Scottish highland bagpipes (piob mhor) came to eclipse the Irish uillean pipe because they were significantly louder. The bagpipe did not become a traditional element of American military funerals until the mid-20th century, possibly spurred by their use at the burial of the Irish-American president John F. Kennedy in 1963. Piping is mainly reserved for large military memorial services; of the 150 families or so families who request assistance from West Point each year for burial ceremonies, only 3 or 4 want bagpipers, and they almost always request "Amazing Grace," a song made popular by Judy Collins in 1970 as a response against the Vietnam War). Because the instrument is not part of the official military funeral honors, which include the presentation of a folded flag and the playing of taps, families must pay for the pipers themselves.
In 1748 John Newton, an English slaver who himself had been forced to work for atime as a slave himself on a plantation in modern Sierra Leone near the Sherbro River, was nearly killed in a violent storm off the coast of Ireland, provoking his spiritual conversion (though he continued his trade until 1754 or 1755 and did not become an outspoken abolitionist until the 1780s). After teaching himself theology in 1764 he became the Anglican curate of Olney, Buckinghamshire, where he began to write hymns with poet William Cowper; their "Olney Hymns" were published in 1779 and was popular among British evangelicals for decades; it included six stanzas of Newton's "There Is a Land of Pure Delight" to illustrate a 1773 New Year's sermon on "1 Chronicles 17: 16–17" concerning king David's reaction to the prophet Nathan telling him that God intended to maintain his family line forever, perhaps sung as a chant without musical accompaniment. It was the last of Newton's sermons heard by Cowper, whose mental instability was returning. More than 60 of their hymns were republished in other British hymnals and magazines, but "Amazing Grace" was not, appearing only once, in "A Companion to the Countess of Huntingdon's Hymns" in 1780, where it was set to the tune "Hephzibah" by John Jenkins Husband. Selina Hastings, countess of Huntingdon, was one of the early leaders of the British Methodist movement, founder of the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion (a Calvinistic movement within the Methodist church that became popular in England and Sierra Leone), a close associate of Charles Wesley (who had initially been rsponsible for Newton's religious career), the first female principal of a men's college in Wales (Trefeca College, for the education of Methodist ministers), and promoter of early African-American writers such as Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, Phillis Wheatley, and Olaudah Equiano.
Although the song itself was relatively obscure in the UK, as "Amazing Grace" it was widely popular in the American colonies: Between 1789 and 1799, four variations of it appeared in Baptist, Dutch Reformed, and Congregationalist hymnodies, and by 1830 Presbyterians and Methodists also included Newton's verses in their hymnals. Sung to at least 20 tunes, it became a staple of religious services in many denominations and regions during the Second Great Awakening and was important in the development of shape note singing communities throughout the South and West (Developed to teach music to illiterate people in 1800, it initiall used just four notes to symbolize the basic scale; each sound was accompanied by a specifically shaped note. Communities often could not afford music accompaniment, or rejected it out of a Calvinistic sense of simplicity, so the songs were sung a cappella.) In 1831 Methodist minister James P. Carrell and David L. Clayton published the songbook "Virginia Harmony," which included an anonymous folk tune "Harmony Grove" used for the Carrell song "New Britain" (a similar version, an amalgamation of "Gallaher" and "St. Mary," had been published in Charles Spilman and Benjamin Shaw's anthology, "Columbian Harmony," in 1929). In 1835 William Walker, a Baptist "singing master" published "The Southern Harmony" in which he combined "New Britain" with Newton's verses, creating the best-known version of the song, though late in the 19th century a tune named "Arlington" accompanied Newton's verses as often as "New Britain." Nevertheless, Walker's collection sold 600,000 copies all over the US. In 1852 Harriet Beecher Stowe included the sixth and fifth verses in "Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly" (1852), the best selling work of American non-fiction in the 19th century; she also added a final verse that had been passed down orally in African American communities for at least 50 years, one of the 50-70 verses of Jerusalem, My Happy Home" that had first appeared in a 1790 book, "A Collection of Sacred Ballads." During the Civil War "Amazing Grace/New Britain" was included in two hymnals distributed to soldiers, as religious services in the military became commonplace. Dwight Moody and Ira Sankey began publishing their arrangements in 1875, the forerunners of gospel music; they used Newron's hymn three times, with three different melodies, but they were the first to give it its enduring title. Edwin Othello Excell re-arranged Walker's version for larger, urban choirs, and his 1900 version (Newton's first three stanzas and the one from "Uncle Tom's Cabin") became the standard form of the song in American churches. The Sacred Harp Choir recorded it a capella in 1922, and Fiddlin' John Carson was the first to record it with musical accompaniment (to a folk hymn named "At the Cross"). Mahalia Jackson's 1947 version received significant radio airplay, and she often later sang it for Civil Rights marchers. Judy Collins grew up with the song but was moved hearing Fannie Lou Hamer singing it while leading marchers in Mississippi in 1964. Two years after her epochal a cappella arrangement, which was close to Edwin Othello Excell's, the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, the UK's senior Scottish regiment, recorded an instrumental version featuring a bagpipe soloist accompanied by a pipe and drum band; it was based on Collin's version, though the tempo was slowed to allow for the bagpipes, and it began with a bagpipe solo introduction similar to her lone voice and was accompanied by bagpipes and horns instaead of a chorus. The pipe major was summoned to Edinburgh Castle and chastised for demeaning the bagpipes, but the recording has become the standard for renditions at funerals.
Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound) That sav'd a wretch like me!I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears reliev'd;How precious did that grace appear The hour I first believ'd!Thro' many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come;'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, And grace will lead me home.The Lord has promis'd good to me, His word my hope secures;He will my shield and portion be As long as life endures.Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail, And mortal life shall cease;I shall possess, within the veil, A life of joy and peace.The earth shall soon dissolve like snow, The sun forbear to shine;But God, who call'd me here below, Will be forever mine.-- John Newton, Olney Hymns, 1779
Join the conversation! What is your reaction to the post?