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Category Archive: Music

Nov 25

Amazing Grace—a song loved around the world

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound. That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind but now I see.”
– published around 1779 by John Newton, English clergyman and seaman

Recently a story caught my eye about the history of the song, “Amazing Grace”, one that most of us can sing by heart.

It is a hymn that resonates with people everywhere in a way that almost no other song does and thus could be the perfect Thanksgiving hymn.

“Amazing Grace” is, quite simply put, adored worldwide.

In this country, it is sung at countless Thanksgiving Day and Veterans’ Day events and at such sad and unhappy occasions as the memorial services after the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

However, its unfailing optimism and uplifting message makes it popular with scores of recording artists, such as Judy Collins, Elvis Presley and Leann Rimes.

For more than two centuries the song became a fixture across spiritual and secular cultures worldwide, according to Joe Edwards, AP religious writer.

He notes that according to www.allmusic.com, “Amazing Grace” has been recorded more than 6,600 times.

Edwards explains why it is so popular: “It crosses denominational doctrine…and is unfailingly positive…the word ‘grace’ is mentioned three times in the second verse alone.”

How “Amazing Grace” came to be written is what I find intriguing.

For example, Newton’s lyrics “that saved a wretch like me” are understandable considering the fact that as a young midshipman he endured great suffering at sea with unbearable living conditions, public flogging, exchange into service on a slave ship and brutal abuse.

As the son of a merchant ship commander, Newton learned seamanship from his father and eventually signed on with the H.M.S. Harwich, a man-of-war.

Al Rogers authored a magazine article in 1996, “The Story of John Newton”, in which he explained that conditions on board were so intolerable that Newton deserted. He was soon recaptured, publicly beaten and demoted to common seaman. He was exchanged into service on a slave ship that took him to the coast of Sierra Leone and eventually rescued by a sea captain who had known John’s father.

This ordeal coupled with a violent storm at sea led Newton to write about these life-changing experiences. Rogers explained, “on a homeward voyage, while he was attempting to steer the ship through a violent storm, Newton experienced what he was to refer to as his great deliverance.”

Newton later recorded in his journal that when all seemed lost and the ship would surely sink, this self-described non-religious sailor asked for mercy and was saved. He believed, according to Rogers, that “amazing grace” had begun to work for him.

After retiring from sailing, he decided to become a minister, furthered his education and was eventually ordained. He accepted the curacy (“guiding the souls of the parish”) of the church of Olney, Buckinghamshire. In little time, the services became so crowded that the sanctuary had to be enlarged.

Newton wrote his own epitaph using words that mirror the lyrics of his beloved hymn:
“Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; ‘tis grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home”.

The lyrics of “Amazing Grace” offer reassurance, while at the same time, the music is easy to sing with few high notes.

Many of us know the words of this enduring hymn and love the melody. And like John Newton, we are grateful for what he most aptly described as “amazing grace”.

Indeed, the perfect song for Thanksgiving Day.

Nov 25

Amazing Grace—a song loved around the world

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound. That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind but now I see.” – published around 1779 by John Newton, English clergyman and seaman

Recently a story caught my eye about the history of the song, “Amazing Grace”, one that most of us can sing by heart.

It is a hymn that resonates with people everywhere in a way that almost no other song does and thus could be the perfect Thanksgiving hymn.

“Amazing Grace” is, quite simply put, adored worldwide.

In this country, it is sung at countless Thanksgiving Day and Veterans’ Day events and at such sad and unhappy occasions as the memorial services after the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

However, its unfailing optimism and uplifting message makes it popular with scores of recording artists, such as Judy Collins, Elvis Presley and Leann Rimes.

For more than two centuries the song became a fixture across spiritual and secular cultures worldwide, according to Joe Edwards, AP religious writer.

He notes that according to www.allmusic.com, “Amazing Grace” has been recorded more than 6,600 times.

Edwards explains why it is so popular: “It crosses denominational doctrine…and is unfailingly positive…the word ‘grace’ is mentioned three times in the second verse alone.”

How “Amazing Grace” came to be written is what I find intriguing.

For example, Newton’s lyrics “that saved a wretch like me” are understandable considering the fact that as a young midshipman he endured great suffering at sea with unbearable living conditions, public flogging, exchange into service on a slave ship and brutal abuse.

As the son of a merchant ship commander, Newton learned seamanship from his father and eventually signed on with the H.M.S. Harwich, a man-of-war.

Al Rogers authored a magazine article in 1996, “The Story of John Newton”, in which he explained that conditions on board were so intolerable that Newton deserted. He was soon recaptured, publicly beaten and demoted to common seaman. He was exchanged into service on a slave ship that took him to the coast of Sierra Leone and eventually rescued by a sea captain who had known John’s father.

This ordeal coupled with a violent storm at sea led Newton to write about these life-changing experiences. Rogers explained, “on a homeward voyage, while he was attempting to steer the ship through a violent storm, Newton experienced what he was to refer to as his great deliverance.”

Newton later recorded in his journal that when all seemed lost and the ship would surely sink, this self-described non-religious sailor asked for mercy and was saved. He believed, according to Rogers, that “amazing grace” had begun to work for him.

After retiring from sailing, he decided to become a minister, furthered his education and was eventually ordained. He accepted the curacy (“guiding the souls of the parish”) of the church of Olney, Buckinghamshire. In little time, the services became so crowded that the sanctuary had to be enlarged.

Newton wrote his own epitaph using words that mirror the lyrics of his beloved hymn:
“Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; ‘tis grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home”.

The lyrics of “Amazing Grace” offer reassurance, while at the same time, the music is easy to sing with few high notes.

Many of us know the words of this enduring hymn and love the melody. And like John Newton, we are grateful for what he most aptly described as “amazing grace”.

Indeed, the perfect song for Thanksgiving Day.

Jul 02

On Independence Day, whistle Yankee Doodle with the fervor of John Adams

“Yankee Doodle went to town a-riding on a pony. Stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni.” – Revolutionary War ditty

As we celebrate the 4th of July this weekend, perhaps whistling the song Yankee Doodle is just what we need to do as we reflect on the birth of our nation, 233 years ago in 1776.

We must never forget that day and why it is important either. Whistling and singing Yankee Doodle might help us do just that, if we do it with the gusto John Adams professed.

As I researched the history of July 4th to rejuvenate my memory, I remembered that July 2nd not July 4th was the official date when the Second Continental Congress voted in a closed session to separate the American colonies from Great Britain. But the date July 4th is the date shown on the Declaration of Independence document, the date when the colonial government announced its independence to the world.

The exact date does not really matter anyway as John Adams wrote in this now-famous note to his wife at the end of the colonists’ world-changing congress. What does matter is how we remember and celebrate our nation’s birth.

John Adams penned: “The second day (later celebrated as the fourth) of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated at the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

I like what John Adams had to say.

In fact, I wish patriotism would come back in style with the fervor John Adams describes.

I wish we could unabashedly sing Yankee Doodle Dandy’s light-hearted and whimsical tune without a cynic raising an annoyed eyebrow.

I wish folks would stick a small American flag in a flowerpot with pride, display an official flag with dignity and respect, and never, ever belittle it.

I wish the citizens of this great country would feel proud, very proud, of their fine country, the best experiment in freedom ever envisioned. I wish we would never hang our heads about the United States of America, I wish.

I wish when fireworks explode over ballparks and city parks this July 4th, that we collectively get a lump in our throats, that we swell with pride as the national anthem is sung.

I wish we would do all these patriotic things again without apology as we did in days and years gone by.

And yes, I wish folks would walk around whistling the light-hearted and whimsical Yankee Doodle Dandy refrain. It would bring a smile to my face. It would make you feel good, even if you are dressed up, as my cousin Al used to say.

Hey, Kermit the Frog sang Yankee Doodle and so did Barney and Friends. Caroline Kennedy named her pony “Macaroni”, and it is the official State Song of Connecticut.

How can you go wrong with that? It won’t hurt you, it will help you.

So won’t you join me this Fourth of July by taking John Adams’ words to heart and sing happily and proudly:

“Father and I went down to camp, along with Captain Gooding. And there were all the men and boys as thick as hasty pudding. There was Captain Washington upon a slapping stallion; a giving orders to his men, I guess there was a million.

Yankee Doodle went to town a-riding on a pony. Stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni. Yankee Doodle, keep it up, Yankee Doodle Dandy. Mind the music and the step and with the girls be handy.”

Happy Fourth of July!

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