July 4th and the Words We Sing

As we approach another July 4th and prepare to celebrate the birth of our United States of America, I am especially aware of the words we sing for this occasion. I just concluded two meaningful concerts of patriotic music with the 33rd Annual Roswell Patriotic Celebration, featuring the Roswell UMC Sanctuary Choir, the Atlanta Wind Symphony, organist Tom Alderman, my fellow conductor, Dr. Cliff Towner, and fabulous sound/light/video crews. Everything about these concerts was excellent, but I was especially moved by many of the words that were sung (this is probably not surprising since I am indeed primarily a choral musician).

Whether it was the texts of well-known patriotic favorites such as America, the Beautiful or My Country, ‘Tis of Thee, I found myself listening with fresh ears to these profound lyrics and the truths they impart. Another couple of favorites are Irving Berlin’s God Bless America (I’m old enough to remember Kate Smith singing this classic) and Battle Hymn of the Republic (this never fails to stir me, especially toward the climactic finale). But one piece that had an enormous effect on me this year was one that is not so widely known. It is entitled Hymn for America and the music is by Stephen Paulus and text is by Michael Dennis Browne. Here is the text:

We have love you for your rivers,
We have loved you for your shores,
Every treasure you have shown us,
Every seed that you have sown;
We have loved you for your mountains,
For your prairies, for your fields,
All these gifts we have been given,
All these glories that we share;
Now we thank you for these blessings,
We, your people, everywhere.

Many are the stars of heaven,
Many are the hopes of earth;
All around us worlds unfolding,
All around these dreams to grow.
From the moment of our rising
‘Till we rest when day is done,
May we tell our hearts’ own story,
Hearts that honor and believe,
Through our care for one another,
For this life and land we love.

I’m sure you have some patriotic favorites that speak very personally to you. Are they well-known or barely known? I’d love to hear from you.

Showing 5 comments
  • Dorothy Clark

    A hymn I’ve gotten to know over the past few years is This Is My Song, sung to the Finlandia tune, with words by Lloyd Stone and Georgia Harkness. It is hymn 437 in the United Methodist hymnal. The words are lovely and moving, acknowledging that as I love my beautiful country, people in other lands love theirs, too.

  • Debby Robic

    I was going to say exactly that, Dorothy Clark! We sang it at Atlanta Unity a number of times in the wake of 9/11, and I found it very healing. My favorite traditional patriotic hymn, though, has always been “America the Beautiful”.

  • Cheryl DiBiase

    My favorite has to be “America The Beautiful”. It reminds us that others came before us seeking freedoms in a foreign land filled with danger. They placed their trust in God’s gracious mercy to guide them in creating a new nation, fought for those who would come after and considered how to best be an example to the world of the beauty that is created when we allow God to come first in all things.

    O beautiful for spacious skies,
    For amber waves of grain,
    For purple mountain majesties
    Above the fruited plain!
    America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
    And crown thy good with brotherhood
    From sea to shining sea!

    O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
    Whose stern impassion’d stress
    A thoroughfare for freedom beat
    Across the wilderness!
    America! America! God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
    Confirm thy soul in self-control,
    Thy liberty in law!

    O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife,
    Who more than self their country loved,
    And mercy more than life!
    America! America! May God thy gold refine
    Till all success be nobleness,
    And ev’ry gain divine!

    O Beautiful for patriot dream
    That sees beyond the years
    Thine alabaster cities gleam,
    Undimmed by human tears!
    America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
    And crown thy good with brotherhood
    From sea to shining sea!

  • Felton Dunn

    The classic songs endure for a reason; they’re wonderful. I have you to thank for a newer favorite, Randall Thompson’s Testament of Freedom. Very powerful.

  • MOS Chorus Member

    Although I was only introduced to it about 6 weeks ago, I’m sure Song of Democracy (based on a poem by Walt Whitman) will be a favorite of mine for a very long time. The music, the lyrics, the hope of a man in a time of such chaos and turmoil…it overwhelms me.

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