Toward a dialog on the hymn

Dear Bob,

Your article in the July Caxtonian on hymns was enchanting (pun intended). It brought to mind the many childhood years I suffered through weekly Sunday School sermons at our Reformed Jewish temple, which, bless its impoverished soul, tried so hard to be American it might have been mistaken for a Unitarian meeting house.

We sang all the early hymns, “Rock of Ages,” “The Lord’s Prayer,” etc., etc., neutralized and sanitized, of course. I love to sing, but that’s another story. As for the long- term religious influence on my life, suffice it to say that I am very much a Jew in identifying with the ethics and mores, etc., but I swore I would never be a practicing member of a congregation ever, and I am proud to say that I have kept that resolve.

When I began collecting type for my letterpress in about 1975, I came across some very curious and wonderful finds: an old Hebrew typeface that an aging stationer/typesetter used for Bar Mitzvah invitations and the like. One of the most curious finds was a box of type high cuts of hymns? ! I have never quite known how to use them. As a Jew, I have felt that using them in a cavalier way would be offensive. My non-Jewish daughter-in-law thought they were very “sweet.” I have never really used them for anything, but I do enjoy looking at them, and your article prompted several questions.

There is something rather fundamentalist in the Salvation Army hymns. They don’t seem to come from the tradition you write about in your article. I am very curious to know something about the origin of the enclosed. Perhaps there is some kind of sociological hierarchy in the hymn tradition, like low-church, high-church. What do you think?

Please accept these two prints and, if you can think of a use for them, let me know. Keep writing! You do a fabulous job.

Caryl Seidenberg
The Vixen Press

Editor’s reply

Your welcomed letter stimulated my own thoughts of early religious experiences, and I thank you for it. You are correct in recognizing the differences in the hymns I wrote of in the July Caxtonian and the hymns used by the Salvation Army and other evangelical groups. There was a great creative force at work in Evangelical Christianity, which brought the Gospel song into popularity. Homer Rodeheaver of the Billy Sunday evangelistic team became a major force, both through his recordings and through his music publishing companies, in Gospel music.

There is a socio-economic demarcation in American Protestant music, and the Salvation Army music represents well what might be called “low-church” music. It is highly personal, shaped by its own language rhythms — as opposed to being formed around traditional, European hymn tunes — and it can be played on mobile instruments such as drums, horns, or tambourines.

What I find so remarkable is that you sent to me the Salvation Army song by William Maltby and William Bearchell. I know the grandson of Maltby and the son of Bearchell. Both are good friends whom I see regularly in my travels. I spoke with Bob Bearchell of Seattle, son of William Bearchell, this past week, and he has provided the following information about the musicians and the song. Maltby and Bearchell were “best friends” as well as fellow Salvation Army officers. Bearchell was Best Man when Maltby was married.

This song (left) was written in the mid-1940s, shortly after the death from Hodgkin’s Disease of Maltby’s wife. He was devastated by the loss and wrote this song, “Christ Is the Answer,” to assuage his grief, collaborating with Bearchell in its arrangement. The song is illustrative of the Evangelical genre: it is personal, unique to its own form, and simple both in lyrics and music. (When Maltby married his second wife several years later, Bearchell was again his Best Man.)

Bob Bearchell has provided a photograph of W. Maltby and W. Bearchell, taken when the two men were Salvation Army officers stationed in New York City (below).

I have spoken with Major Florence Moffitt, Historian for the Salvation Army Central Territory in DesPlaines, IL, and she would be delighted to have the metal plates of Army songs for the Army’s collection. I would be pleased to make that arrangement on your behalf.

Thank you for your splendid letter, which has offered the opportunity for a worthwhile dialog on the hymn and the Evangelistic song.

Robert Cotner

Christ is the Answer

Song printed by and provided through the courtesy of Caryl Seidenberg.

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