This morning we have dedicated a new instrument to the church. One of our church families has graciously donated a Clavinova, an electronic keyboard which can sound like a piano, a pipe organ or a full piece orchestra. Its truly an amazing instrument which is programmed with over 1300 songs. The Clavinova is giving us a new sound that is augmenting our worship.
Some folks resist new music. They feel an attachment to the pipe organ or the piano. “Why do we need this new-fangled maching?” some will say. But, every generation has their own music. There was the big band era in the 30′ and 40’s, the rock and roll of the 50’s and 60’s, hard rock in the 70’s and 80’s and rap in the 90’s. The song that we sing is constantly changing, but that doesn’t mean the old songs we sing are irrelevant. In fact, if you truly listen to today’s music you will hear many tunes and words that came from songs in the past.
Are you aware that “My Country, Tis of Thee” was written to the same tune as “God Save the King?” Samuel Francis Smith wrote the words to this famous American hymn from a children’s songbook from Germany. On the fourth of July in 1832, the hymn was first sung at a children’s celebration in Boston. So here in America we are singing a “new song” which is really and old song from another time and place.
Speaking of patriotic songs, our beloved national anthem was actually written to the tune of an old bar song in England. Francis Scott Key simply wrote new words to an old tune.
The Anacreontic Society was a popular gentlemen’s club in London, named in honor of Anacreon, a lyric poet of Greece who lived and wrote in the fifth century B.C.. The society’s patron saint was Anacreon, the “convivial bard of Greece.” The society’s membership, one observer noted, was dedicated to “wit, harmony, and the god of wine.” The lyrics of the Anacreontic Song, the first four words of which are “To Anacreon in Heaven ….” were written by Mr. Ralph Tomlinson, who had been president of the society.
A SUBSCRIBER SAYS: “Thanks, Dick, for the great service you provide! You are a life saver!”
Resources to inspire you — and your congregation!
There does not seem to be a single composer of this tune, rather it was a collective effort by the members of the Anacreontic Society. The new society song, “To Anacreon in Heaven” required a new tune and thus all got together and worked on this project. John Stafford Smith (1750-1836), a court musician and member of the society, was probably the guiding force behind this endeavor and most likely is the person responsible for the tune as we know it today. As early as 1798 the tune of The Anacreontic Song appeared in American papers with various lyrics, among these was Robert Treat Paine’s (1731-1814) popular “Adams and Liberty,” perhaps the most prominent American song prior to “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
As early as 1806 Francis Scott Key adapted the tune to an earlier poem he wrote entitled “When the Warrior Returns” in honor of an American naval victory over the Barbary pirates. Hence, there is no doubt that Key was well acquainted with the tune, when in, September 1814, he saw the flag over Fort McHenry “by the dawn’s early light.” Soon after the battle, the poem and tune were published, a reminder of the American victory.
Psalm 98 was also written because of victory, but the victories of God. In response, the psalm tells us to “sing a new song.” God has been good. God has vindicated the people and set them free. “Because God has done marvelous things,” the Israelites were to sing a new song.
What does it mean to sing a new song? First, it means to accept the fact that times change. Old tunes may ring in our hearts, but it takes new words to express the reality of the moment.
Secondly, to sing a new song means to open the door to newness and creativity. New sounds can inspire and enrich us just as old ones have. Last week during the anthem, the chancel choir used maracas and rain sticks to accompany their music. It was very creative and many commented how good the music was. But to appreciate new sounds we must be willing to open our ears and be receptive to the possibility that new sounds can inspire us just as old sounds have.
Finally, to sing a new song means to “make a joyful noise.” Joyful noise? Sounds like an oxymoron. The key word here is “joyful.” Our world is filled with noise. There are those with dominant voices who want attention. There are distractions which keep us off track. There are chores, errands, functions that demand our time and energy. Life is complex and most of us are just trying to survive. The media doesn’t help since all we hear about are tragedies, atrocities, greedy corporations, etc. Consequently we get discouraged and we certainly don’t feel like singing.
For the Israelites, God was their liberator. God led them from a world of oppression and gave them hope. God is our liberator too, the One who helps us to rise from the doldrums of life and lift our spirits.
One of my favorite hymns is, “I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord.” It was written by Rev. Timothy Dwight. He was from Massachusetts and taught at Yale. He was a pastor, teacher and eventually became the president of Yale in 1795. He was a notable scholar and very much loved by his students. Dwight was stricken with smallpox and as a result his sight was adversely affected. He suffered with pain and could only read about 15 minutes a day. But in spite of his illness, Dwight was able to write 33 hymns. “I Love Thy kingdom, Lord” was published in 1800.
When we sing with joy we can rise above our despair and connect with the Almighty. Singing with joy doesn’t eliminate the difficulties of life but a new song gives us hope and purpose to our lives.