Monday, December 7, 2015

The Gift of Song

Last winter, I had the privilege of attending a concert directed by Alice Parker, 90-year-old composer and choral director and arranger, and it was a moving experience. She explained her desire to preserve songs from cultures around the world and her passion to keep singing alive in a culture that has slid into spectator mode, rather than active participation in singing. She said something like, "Our culture is surrounded by music, but robbed of song." Think of the easy access and limitless choices we have to hear music with the touch of a finger, thanks to technology.

Yet with these resources, we become more and more silent, listening in, but rarely singing ourselves or with others. Ms. Parker laments; this development because cultures die when people are not connected through community and music is an ancient tie that binds us together.

Just as the practice of reading and finding excellent literature in a time when the quantity of published books is unsurpassed is a challenge, so is the precious gift of singing. To learn an old song that is new to you and to share it with your family possibly is the most lasting gift you could give this Advent season. As we learn to celebrate the precious gift story is in our lives, so we should sing the stories set in songs.

The story behind the Christmas hymn As With Gladness Men of Old, found in almost every collection of hymns, is of William Dix, a Scottish young man who was recovering from a severe illness at Christmas time in 1860. He was 23 years old and while reading the story of the Magi in Matthew 2:112, felt compelled to put the story to music that same day out of his longing for light, joy, and power to return to his body and soul. The church traditionally celebrates the coming of the wise men at Epiphany, January 6, but a journey of that distance surely started before the Christ child was born and is appropriate to remember during this Advent season.

As with Gladness Men of Old


As with gladness men of old
Did the guiding star behold,
As with joy they hailed its light,
Leading onward, beaming bright,
So, Most Gracious God, may we
Evermore be lead to Thee.


As with joyful steps they sped
To that lowly cradle bed,
There to bend the knee before
Him Who heav'n and earth adore,
So may we with willing feet
Ever seek Thy mercy seat.


As they offered gifts most rare
At that cradle rude and bare,
So may we with holy jo,y
Pure and free from sin's alloy,
All our costliest treasures bring,
Christ, to Thee, our Heav'nly King.


Holy Jesus, ev'ry day
Keep us in the narrow way;
And, when earthly things are past,
Bring our ransomed souls at last
Where they need no star to guide,
Where no clouds Thy glory hide.


In the heav'nly country bright
Need they no created light;
Thou its light, its joy, its crown,
Thou its Sun which goes not down;
There forever may we sing
Alleluias to our King!

(Written 1860)

For the joy of singing,



  1. My husband and I have talked often about the ways we consume music rather than make it. Every year during Advent I host "Sing for Your Supper," a gathering of my co-op's moms; we share a meal and sing Christmas carols between courses. It brings me such joy to sing along with these women, and to watch them sing.

    This hymn is new to me. I'm off to find music for it :)

    1. Kimberlee,

      Way to go! Keep on singing with friends, with children. I think you will recognize the tune when you locate it.