How Can I Keep from Singing
DESCRIPTION: "My life flows on in endless song Above earth's lamentation... It sounds an echo in my soul, How can I keep from singing." The singer notes all the troubles swirling around, but refuses to be influences by such things
AUTHOR: Robert Lowry
EARLIEST DATE: 1868 (New York Observer and Chronicle, according to John Garst)
KEYWORDS: religious nonballad
FOUND IN: US
REFERENCES (2 citations):
Silber/Silber-FolksingersWordbook, p. 353, "How Can I Keep From Singing" (1 text)
NOTES [419 words]: My original notes on this mentioned it as a Quaker song, based on liner notes on an album that shall remain nameless (and certainly it fits Quaker doctrine regarding the individual conscience, plus there is that line about "When friend (Friends?) by shame are undefiled..."). But John Garst has found out more about it:
"The text was first published with a tune by Robert Lowry in Bright Jewels for the Sunday School, 1869. The text alone, entitled Always Rejoicing, was published in the New York Observer and Chronicle, August 27, 1868 (information from Barbara Swetman). The text was submitted to the Observer, apparently as an original work, by 'Pauline T.' The song has nothing to do with Quakers, who did not sing hymns in their early days, except that Doris Plenn's Quaker grandmother knew it. One of the stanzas sung by Pete Seeger, beginning "When tyrants tremble, sick with fear," is by Doris Plenn. It is a protest of McCarthyism." - JG (RBW)
John Julian, editor, A Dictionary of Hymnology, 1892; second edition 1907 (I use the 1957 Dover edition in two volumes), p. 699, gives this publication history: "In Bright Jewels, 1869; the Royal Diadem, 1873, and others in America and G[reat] Britain, with music by the author."
Julian gives this biography of Lowry: "D.D., s[on] of Crozier Lowry, was b[orn] at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, March 12, 1826, and educated at Lewisburg University. Having received ordination as a Baptist Minister, his first charge was a West Chester, Pennyslvania. From thence he passed to New York City, and then to Brooklyn, N. Y. In 1876 he was appointed Professor of Rhetoric in his University. On resigning his Professorship he undertook the charge of the 2nd Baptist Church, New Jersey. Dr. Lowry has been associates with some of the most popular Sunday School hymn-books published in the States, including Happy Voices, 1865; Chapel Melodies, 1868; Bright Jewels, 1869; Pure Gold, 1871; Royal Diadem, 1873; Tidal Wave, 1874; Fountain of Song, 1877; Welcome Tiding, 1877, &c."
Unlike most hymn composers, Lowry managed to produce several songs that went into oral tradition. In addition to this song, he wrote "Shall We Gather at the River" and "Where Is My Wandering Boy Tonight?." According to William Reynolds, Companion to Baptist Hymnal, Broadman Press, 1976, p. 192, one of the congregations where Lowry served was at "Hanson Place" in Brooklyn; "Shall We Gather at the RIver" was given its official tune name after that congregation. - RBW
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