I Sing A Song of the Saints of God
We have been walking with the saints these last few weeks here at COS. It has gotten me thinking about some of the people in my life that have affected me deeply and gotten me to where I am today. By the way, if you do see me, please tell me where I am.
Since this is a music column, I will skip those special people who have been mentors to me outside of that part of my life. I thought I might write about someone who had a profound impact on me musically. This could mean I might write about my high school choir director, for whom I was privileged to sing with for five years (no, I didn't fail one year - he was the choir director at my junior high for one year as well). He actually gave me my first opportunity to conduct a choir when I was on break from my freshman year in college. However, he is still alive.
I have been away from Northwestern University's School of Music for a long time, so I figured perhaps the choral director who I adored singing with there might have passed away. But thanks to the Internet, I discovered that while he has retired from Northwestern, he is still conducting and his compositions are being performed today by such prestigious companies as the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. He had told us that Mozart was the disco of his day (it was the early 1980s after all - but it was after the Chicago White Sox had held their infamous Disco Demolition Night in which a crate of vinyl disco records was literally blown up on the field between a baseball doubleheader, with fans storming onto the field and causing so much damage that the evening game had to be forfeited to the Detroit Tigers). Dr. Robert A. Harris got sixty shy 18-22 year old music majors to dance around the room singing 200-year old Mozart compositions. He brought such joy to choral music. But, thankfully, he is still with us. So where to go next?
My paternal grandfather, Lyle Clemens Smith, was a professional youth choir singer (he was a tenor) in Philadelphia in the first decade of the 20th century. When I was young, he never told me that he had sung. I found out years after he died. His family was quite poor, and he sang in a boys choir to earn money to pay for his clothes. My mother told me this just a few years ago. How I wish I had known when I was younger and could have asked him where he sang and hear about his experiences and love of music.
So, in the absence of knowledge about my grandfather's experiences, let's talk about John Henry Hopkins, III. No, I did not personally know him; he lived in the 19th century. Who is he, you ask? Well, we have been singing his hymn for the last several weeks: "I sing a song of the saints of God." His uncle was John Henry Hopkins Jr. You might be a little more familiar with a hymn that his uncle wrote, which you have heard and likely sung since you were a little kid: "We Three Kings of Orient Are." Junior's father was the first bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont and became the 8th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. I am sure that these three generations of Hopkins all influenced each other, musically and spiritually.
And now, we sing this hymn as we walk our path toward All Saints Day in three weeks. How wonderful to leave behind a hymn which is sung by millions of people to the glory of God. I guess I will have to work on that! Stay tuned.
"They were all of them saints of God, and I mean, God helping, to be one too." Amen.