Posted by: rcottrill | February 5, 2010

Today in 1837 – Dwight Moody Born

MGraphic Dwight Moodyr. Moody was not a musician. Far from it. One evidence of his lack of musical ability came to gospel song writer George Stebbins in an unusual way. At one of Moody’s meetings, Stebbins was accompanying the congregational singing on a reed organ. But he was bothered by a strange, rasping sound during the singing. He worried that there was something wrong with the organ. During an interlude when there was no singing, he listened carefully to the sound coming from the instrument, but it seemed fine. Stebbins says:

I was not long in doubt, however, for I soon heard the voice of Mr. Moody, singing away as heartily as you please, with no more idea of tune or time than a child. I then learned for the first time that he was one of the unfortunates who have no sense of pitch or harmony, and hence are unable to recognize one tune from another or to sing in unison or harmony with others.

But in spite of this handicap, Dwight Moody had a great appreciation for the value of music in his ministry, and keen insight into what would serve best in that area. He usually asked his musicians to lead in 45 minutes to an hour of singing at his meetings, before he got up to preach–and it was not unusual for him to hold four meetings in a single day! Moody’s stamina was legendary, but this schedule frequently taxed the endurance of his singers!

Along with his music director and soloist, Ira Sankey, the evangelist did a great deal to popularize the singing of gospel songs on both sides of the Atlantic. A number of songs were introduced in his meetings, such as The Ninety and Nine. To God Be the Glory, by Fanny Crosby, remained virtually unknown until Moody and Sankey started using it in Britain. Many years later, the Billy Graham team brought the song back to America. (For more of the story, see the second item under Today in 1847.)

(2) Today in 1867 – John Fearis Born
John Sylvester Fearis had a great love for music. He took organ lessons, and was soon playing for Sunday School and church. Later, he became the director of the church choir, and taught singing classes in the towns around. Fearis wrote his first hymn at the age of 16, and went on to become an editor of choral music with the Lorenz Publishing Company.

Mr. Fearis wrote the tune of Jesse Pounds’s gospel song, Beautiful Isle of Somewhere. The author of the text sounds a little vague about the location of heaven, but it was not her intention to pin that down. She wanted to focus more on the hope of the Christian for deliverance from the trials of this life. Nevertheless, because the song is non-specific in doctrine, it is not surprising that it has been recorded by many secular artists. Here is a well rendered version by British entertainer Sir Harry Secombe.

John Fearis also wrote a tune for Fanny Crosby’s beautiful Trinitarian hymn, Be Thou Exalted–though personally, I prefer Al Smith’s tune for the latter, found in his hymnal, Living Hymns.

Be Thou exalted, forever and ever,
God of eternity, Ancient of Days!
Wondrous in majesty, perfect in wisdom,
Glorious in holiness, fearful in praise.

Be Thou exalted by seraphs and angels,
Be Thou exalted with harp and with song;
Saints in their anthems of rapture adore Thee,
Martyrs the loud hallelujahs prolong.

Be Thou exalted, O Son of the Highest!
Gracious Redeemer, our Saviour and King!
One with the Father, co-equal in glory,
Here at Thy footstool our homage we bring.


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