Sunday, April 5, 2020

How Can I Keep from Singing?—Murfin Home Confinement Music Festival 2020

How Can I Keep from Singing sung by Enya.

It’s Sunday—Palm Sunday no less—and the perfect day for one of my favorite, uplifting, and inspiring hymnsHow Can I Keep from Singing? also known as My Life Flows On in Endless Song. The simple but lovely song is often mistaken for an uncredited, usually Quaker, traditional hymn.  The original lyrics were published  in The New York Observer under the Title Always Rejoicing  and attributed to a Pauline T. Baptist minister Robert Wadsworth Lowry included in the 1869 song book, Bright Jewels for the Sunday School and claimed authorship of the music.  

American Baptist minister Robert Wadsworth Lowry wrote the music to How Can I Keep From Singing? and included it in an 1868 song book.
The song was largely forgotten through much of the 20th Century and was included only in the 1941 edition of The Church Hymnal of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and titled My Life Flows On.
Around  1950 Doris Plenn reported that she had learned the original hymn from her grandmother, who mistakenly believed that it dated from the early days of the Quaker movement. Plenn wrote a new version that eliminated some of the explicitly Christian references in the original and added this new verse:
            When tyrants tremble, sick with fear,
And hear their death-knell ringing,
When friends rejoice both far and near,
How can I keep from singing?
In prison cell and dungeon vile,
Our thoughts to them go winging;
When friends by shame are undefiled,
How can I keep from singing?

Pete Seeger popularized Doris Penn's pacifist revision of How Can I Keep From Singing?
These lyrics were popularized by Pete Seeger during the folk revival of the late 1950’s and early ’60.  In this form it became popular in mainstream and liberal Protestant congregations.  In the late 1970s, How Can I Keep From Singing was recorded closely following the original lyric by Catholic folk musician Ed Gutfreund on the album From An Indirect Love  and then was published in the widely used Catholic Hymnal Glory and Praise.  It was especially popular in guitar masses.
The Plenn/Seeger version has been particularly embrace by the Society of Friends and other Peace churches and by the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and was included in the 1993 hymnal Singing the Living Tradition.

Irish New Age singer Enya brought  How Can I Keep From Singing? to new audiences.
The song received new prominence in 1991 when the ethereal Irish singer Enya, a New Age  music favorite released it her album Shepherd Moons following Seeger’s version including  changing the original lines “What tho’ my joys and comforts die? The Lord my Saviour liveth” to “What tho’ the tempest ‘round me roars, I hear the truth it liveth.”  Her video of the song included clips from then contemporary events like the Gulf War and the fall of the Soviet Union.
It was also performed by Celtic Woman in their Destiny show live from the Round Room at the Mansion House in Dublin.

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