|Robert Lowry |
How Can I Keep From Singing?Choir
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"How Can I Keep From Singing?" (also known by its opening line "My Life Flows On in Endless Song") is a Christian hymn with music written by American Baptist minister Robert Wadsworth Lowry. The song is frequently, though erroneously, cited as a traditional Quaker hymn. The original composition has now entered into the public domain, and appears in several hymnals and song collections, both in its original form and with a revised text.
Authorship and Lyrics
These are the words as published by Robert Lowry in the 1869 song book, Bright Jewels for the Sunday School. Here Lowry claims credit for the music, but gives no indication as to who wrote the words. These words were also published in a British periodical in 1869, The Christian Pioneer, but no author is indicated. Ira D. Sankey published his own setting of the words in Gospel Hymns, No. 3 (1878), writing that the words were anonymous. In 1888, Henry S. Burrage listed this hymn as one of those for which Lowry had written the music, but not the lyrics.
Doris Plenn learned the original hymn from her grandmother, who reportedly believed that it dated from the early days of the Quaker movement. Plenn contributed the following verse around 1950, which was taken up by Pete Seeger and other folk revivalists:
During the 20th Century, this hymn was not widely used in congregational worship. Diehl's index to a large number of hymnals from 1900 to 1966 indicates that only one hymnal included it: the 1940 edition of The Church Hymnal of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (hymn no. 265). The United Methodist Church published it in its 2000 hymnal supplement, The Faith We Sing (hymn no. 2212), giving credit for the lyrics as well as the tune to Robert Lowry. The Faith We Sing version changes some of the lyrics and punctuation from the 1868 version.
Pete Seeger learned a version of this song from Doris Plenn, a family friend, who had it from her North Carolina family. His version made this song fairly well known in the folk revival of the 1960s. Seeger's version omits or modifies much of the Christian wording of the original, and adds Plenn's verse above. The reference in the added verse intended by Seeger and by Plenn - both active in left-wing causes - is to 'witch hunts' of the House Un-American Activities Committee (Seeger himself was sentenced to a year in jail in 1955 as a result of his testimony before the Committee, which he did not serve due to a technicality) . Most folk singers, including Enya, have followed Seeger's version.
In the late 1970s and early 80s, How Can I Keep From Singing was recorded by Catholic Folk musician Ed Gutfreund (on an album called "From An Indirect Love"), and the music was published in a widely used Catholic Hymnal called "Glory and Praise," and was popular among Catholic liturgical music ministers, especially those who used guitar. In this, and in an 1993 recording by Marty Haugan, Jeanne Cotter, and David Haas, the quatrain beginning: "No storm can shake my inmost calm..." is used as a repeated refrain.
Contemporary Christian artist, Chris Tomlin clearly was inspired by the song when he wrote his song, "How Can I Keep from Singing Your Praise" in 2007. So, Pauline T's Christian poem is again regularly sung in churches as a worship song.
The song received new prominence in 1991 when Irish musician Enya released a recording of the hymn on her album Shepherd Moons. It was also released as a single in November of the same year, with Oíche Chiún and 'S Fagaim Mo Bhaile appearing as additional tracks.
The videoclip featured Enya singing in a church in the countryside, while also including archive footage of political figures such as Nelson Mandela or Boris Yeltsin among others, and references to the Gulf War and famine.
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