Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Hymns: George Washington to James Monroe

From George Washington to James Monroe

            The United States of American is known for its rich heritage and the great men who founded it. These men are known for many of their attributes and accomplishments, but not often do people dig deeper to get a glimpse into the lesser parts of these men’s lives. While the music that these men listened to and enjoyed might seem like an unimportant detail, it gives us a fuller, clearer view of who these men were. This last month I have studied our first five founding Presidents; studying not just their presidency, but also studying the music (namely hymns) that they enjoyed.

            George Washington: This man who left probably the largest legacy on our Nation was not only a devout Christian, but also a lover of music. Known as his favorite hymn, the song "How Happy Is He Born" and Blessed is one of the best descriptions of Washington’s life that I have ever read. This humble, Virginian frontiersmen became a national hero during the French and Indian War which led to his entrance into politics. Known for his great honesty and humility, Washington understood his dependence on God. Providence protected him many times in his life against all odds.

 He had a love for good music and even though he himself may not have been very musical, he made a very large effort to ensure that his step-children and grand-children had proper musical education. Alexander Renigale, a popular composer at the time, performed and taught for the Washington household. Washington enjoyed different kinds of music including opera. Although, his favorite hymn may not be very well known now, it is a hymn the needs to be resurrected. The powerful truths of the song can be seen throughout his entire life and give us an even stronger idea of who Washington was and what he believed.

            John Adams: Being the second President and following in the footsteps of a man like Washington, Adams had his fair share of trials. At first glance, it does not appear that music played very much of a role in this President's life, but that is most likely because of his strong Puritan background. He did however write about some of the different denominational singing that he enjoyed and it was he who is responsible for first bringing the U.S. Marine Band to the White House. To this day the band is known as "the President's own band."

His favorite known hymn was "How Lovely Are Thy Dwellings Fair," by: John Milton, the author of “Paradise Lost,” and “Paradise Regained.” The tune used is more commonly used for Watts' song, "O God Our Help In Ages Past." This hymn must have greatly comforted Adams as he left office quite un-liked by most people. In times of depression and discouragement it must have given him hope in Christ.

            Thomas Jefferson: Extremely intelligent and heavily influenced by Enlightenment thinking, it is easy to see how Jefferson came to be the primary author of The Declaration of Independence. He worked very hard to separate church from state and ensure religious freedom for the American people. He was probably one of the most musical Presidents. He played several instruments and had violin duets with his friend Patrick Henry. He also made sure that his daughters were well trained in music.

Jefferson was not just a lover of music, but he was a lover of good music. His favorite hymn was “Hark the Glad Sound! The Savior Comes,” by: Phillip Doddridge. (By the way, of the songs that we have done so far, this one is my favorite musically, although I enjoy singing all of them.) At the age of 74 he said that music was “the favorite passion” of his soul.[1]

            James Madison: Father of the Constitution, James Madison definitely left his mark. Like Jefferson, he was not an evangelical but he fought hard for religious freedom. During his Presidency, the War of 1812 broke out, which did not make him very popular. (One very common theme I have noticed in studying our first few Presidents is men who were great men and did amazing things, but were not very popular during their terms as President.)

Madison and his wife were very hospitable while he was in office, which made music a vital part of their lives. They were the first couple to purchase a pianoforte for the White House. His favorite hymn was “O God My Strength and Fortitude,” by: Thomas Sternhold, the groom of robes to Henry VIII of England.  There is great solace in this song that must have uplifted Madison many times.

            James Monroe: Born in the oldest county of Virginia, serving in the Militia during the Revolutionary War, serving in Congress, being minister to France, becoming Governor of Virginia for 3 terms and eventually gaining the rank of President, James Monroe ranks high up with the men who served as President before him. His presidency was known as the “era of good feelings,” and it was he who gave the address before Congress we now know as “The Monroe Doctrine.” (The cornerstone for America’s foreign policy)

            Music wise, we know very little about him. He was the first President to have an inaugural concert. His favorite hymn was “O Lord, I Would Delight In Thee,” by: John Ryland, Jr., who is the Baptist minister that baptized William Carey. (Sorry, I just love learning about those kinds of connections!)  It’s a shame that we do not know more about the music he enjoyed, (if he even enjoyed itJ) but he did have a wonderful favorite hymn.

[1]  From the book, Presidential Praise, By: C. Edward Spann & Michael E. Williams, Sr.

1 comment:

Jeremiah Brensinger said...

Wow, I didn't realize that so many of our Presidents were not very popular during their terms as president, very interesting.