The Heritage of Hymns at Boston University School of Theology

By Carl P. Daw, Jr.

Boston University School of Theology proudly and rightly calls itself “The School of the Prophets,” but it could  equally well call itself “The School of the Hymn People.” Hymn-relatedness, after all, is firmly woven into the spiritual DNA of the Wesleyan tradition in which this school was founded, and it has manifested itself in notable men and women throughout the school’s history. I would like to remind you of (or introduce you to) twelve of them: seven from the 19th century and five from the 20th century.School of Theology Hymn

An appropriate place to begin is none other than William Fairfield Warren (1833-1929), who was successively acting president of the School of Theology (1866–1873), president of Boston University (1873–1903), and dean of the School of Theology (1903–1911). From 1873 onwards he was also professor of comparative theology and philosophy of religion. Though his hymns have ceased to appear in current hymnals, his two most popular hymns appeared in almost 250 hymnals between 1850 and 1957. One of them, “I love to worship thee, O Holy Ghost,” appeared in The Methodist Hymnal of 1935 (which remained in used for thirty years thereafter).

The next two people we have to take as a pair: Charles Nutter (1842-1928) and Frank Metcalf (1865-1945), because their combined collections of more than 2500 volumes form the core of the hymnological resources in the STH Library. Nutter graduated from STH in 1871, the year in which the Boston Theological School merged with Boston University. When not serving as a Methodist minister, Nutter collected hymnals and wrote both hymns and authoritative books on hymnology. (In 1913, he also taught hymnology at BU.) The other donor, Frank Metcalf, an 1886 BU alumnus, worked in the U.S. War Office and, like Nutter, collected hymnals and wrote on hymnology. Some idea of the significance of the Nutter-Metcalf Collection in hymnological circles can be gained from the fact that in 2004 the commercial publisher IDC reproduced on microfiche 561 titles dating between 1566 and 1890, which they are marketing to other libraries. The purchasers of this series can only boast that they have these microfiches; we have the real things.

Then there was Henry Augustine Smith (1874-1952), the person in this group of worthies whose academic title I covet most. His appointments here at BU went through many shifts of names, but my all-time favorite among his various titles was “Professor of Church Worship, Music, Hymnody, and Pageantry”—now there’s a title for you! In an age when entertainment options were much fewer than they are today, he was a tireless advocate for involving people, especially youth, in dramatic reenactments of Bible stories, hymn stories, missionary stories—anything that would teach through involvement. In effect, he was an exponent of multimedia long before the term was invented. He edited a number of hymnals and hymn-related books, the most notable being A Hymnal for American Youth (1919), The American Century Hymnal (1921), Hymns for the Living Age (1926), The American Student Hymnal (1928), and Lyric Religion: The Romance of Immortal Hymns (1931).

Now a name that you probably know: Georgia Harkness (1891-1974) was born in Harkness, New York, a small Adirondack town named for her grandfather. After graduating from Cornell University in 1912, she taught high school for six years before coming to Boston University for graduate studies. She earned three degrees here, culminating in her Ph.D. in 1923 (to which was added an honorary doctorate in 1938). After her graduate work, she spent 15 years teaching religion and philosophy at Elmira College in Elmira, NY. She also began to write regularly, eventually publishing more than 30 books. In 1937 she joined the faculty at Mount Holyoke College, and in 1940 she became professor of applied theology at what was then called Garrett Biblical Institute in Evanston, IL. Harkness concluded her teaching career at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA, where in 1949 she became the first woman to hold the professorship in applied theology. In addition to her significance as an influential author, educator, and theologian, Harkness had an affinity for ministry through poetry and the arts.

Watch this video on YouTubeShe wrote several hymns, the best-known one being “Hope of the World,” which she wrote as part of a 1954 competition sponsored by what was then known as the Hymn Society of America. The competition was seeking a hymn for use at the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Evanston, IL, that year, for which the theme was “Jesus Christ, Hope of the World.” Her entry won out over about 500 others and has remained in continual use, appearing in approximately 50 hymnals in the last half-century, including the current UMH, where it is no. 178.

Another hymn-writing dean, Earl Bowman Marlatt (1892-1976) was the son of a Methodist minister in Indiana, and received his undergraduate education at DePauw University. He then taught school in Rushville and Raleigh, Indiana, was associate editor of a Kenosha, Wisconsin newspaper, and served in World War I before enrolling at the Boston University School of Theology. He earned an S.T.B. degree in 1923 and began teaching in the School of Theology that same year. In 1938, Dr. Marlatt began a seven-year tenure as dean of the school. In 1945, he accepted an endowed chair in philosophy and religion at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, where he remained until he retired in 1957. Following his time at SMU, Marlatt was the curator of the Treasure Room and Hymn Museum at the Interchurch Center, New York City. He wrote several volumes of poetry and was the associate editor of The American Student Hymnal and Lyric Religion: The Romance of Immortal Hymns. Although he wrote a number of hymns, his best known text is “Are Ye Able?”, which he wrote for the 1926 consecration service of the BU School of Religious Education. It has appeared in approximately 75 hymnals since then, always with the tune BEACON HILL, written by BUSRE student, Harry Silverdale Mason (1881-1964). This text and tune continue to appear together in the current UMH at no. 530.

James Russell Houghton (1899-1990) was born in Davenport, IA, and was educated at the University of Iowa and at Harvard. He came to BU in 1927 and remained here until 1964. During his 37-year career, he served the School for the Arts and STH as Professor of Vocal Music, Chair of the Voice Department, and Conductor of the BU Glee Club, the University Chorus, and the Seminary Singers, which he founded during his first year at BU. At STH he taught courses on church music and hymnology. He was well known throughout the Methodist Church, serving on revision committees for the Book of Worship in 1944 and 1964 and for editions of the hymnal in 1935 and 1966. He was also the director of music at eight General Conferences from 1939 to 1960 and saw to it that our Seminary Singers provided the music for the opening Communion service at each of them.

For the five persons born in the twentieth century who are all still living, I will discreetly ignore dates of birth and simply take them alphabetically.

Linda Clark, the first Houghton Scholar of Church Music, merits a special place in this list of worthies because of her long and significant work in documenting how hymns shape and influence people’s beliefs and their actions based on those beliefs. While some of us would have been content simply to have an intuitive perception of the connection between faith and song, she has done the time-consuming labor of interviewing members of diverse congregations on multiple occasions in order to learn how aware they are of this influence. Her research, brought together in two Alban Institute publications, has provided the documentation that has translated assumption into fact and has verified once again the Wesleys’ affirmation of hymnody as a body of practical theology.

Carol Doran has come into the orbit of STH only within this academic year, but it is a joy to welcome her. In addition to the countless workshops she has led on congregational song, she has significantly enlarged the boundaries of the music of hymns through her compositions. Most notably, during the years that she and Thomas Troeger both taught at the ecumenical assemblage of seminaries in Rochester, NY, she collaborated with him in producing new lectionary-based hymns which were later published in two collections by Oxford University Press. Three of her hymn settings appear in the current UMH (at nos. 113, 264, 538). In addition she is an especially fine accompanist of congregational song, as you will be able to hear in our chapel next Wednesday.

Ruth Duck is a name familiar to many of you, both from her years as a doctoral student here and from her subsequent career at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. She has been one of the people to whom STH has turned for hymn texts on special occasions, most recently for the installation of Dean Mary Elizabeth Moore. Although only one of her texts appears in the UMH (at no. 605), thirteen of them appear in the UCC New Century Hymnal and twelve in the Chalice Hymnal (along with several revisions of traditional texts). Her hymns are marked by careful attention to inclusive and expansive language, and she is doing valuable work in enlarging our hymnic vocabulary.

Max Miller will be known to some of you as the former university organist and chair of the organ department in the College of Fine Arts. Although he is best known as an organist, he has also made some significant contributions to hymnody, having edited the 1977 UCC hymnal Sing of Life and Faith. But my favorite example of his hymnic activity is his tune MARSH CHAPEL, written for the Episcopal Hymnal 1982 and appearing with two texts in the UMH (at nos. 426 and 551), and it is worth noting that it was included in the 2007 revision of The Harvard University Hymn Book.

Last but far from least is Carlton R. Young, known since childhood as “Sam.” Two years ago he was named as a Distinguished Alumnus of STH, a title he amply deserves. He is the only person who has served as the editor of two revisions of Methodist hymnals, the former one of 1966 and the current one of 1989. In addition he was a co-author of the companion to the first of these and the sole author of the companion to the latter one. Somehow he has also found time to write and edit a number of other books, and he has a most impressive catalog of compositions, including many hymn tunes. He is a past president and a Fellow of The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada and was the first American made an honorary member of the British Methodist Church Music Society.

He has taught and directed sacred music programs at both Perkins School of Theology at SMU and at Candler School of Theology at Emory. Understandably, his contributions can be found throughout the UMH but they are also frequent in the current hymnals of many other denominations.

This is only a brief glimpse of a few members of the cloud of witnesses who have played a part in making STH a significant center of hymnic creativity and scholarship, and it is a tradition that is still alive in our recent graduates as well as our current students. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to be part of this marvelous enterprise.

Below is a partial list of graduates and students of Boston University who have written or composed hymns. Corrections and additions requested.

Marcus D. Buell — Linda Clark — Carol Doran — Ruth Duck — Georgia Harkness — Francis D. Hemenway — James Russell Houghton — Earl Bowman Marlatt — Frank Metcalf —  Max Miller — Charles Nutter — Henry Augustine Smith — William Fairfield Warren — Carlton R. Young