2015-09-27 Notes from the Bench

“Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life”

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James T. Gerber, Music Associate


This early twentieth-century hymn speaks of the plight of the poor living in the ghettos of large American cities. The intensity of the text draws our attention to people living in poverty throughout the world. North’s prescription is to follow in the footsteps of Christ and to bring the gospel into the world through His word and deed.



The author of this hymn text is Frank Mason North (1850-1935), an ordained minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church, who wrote it at the request of Caleb. T. Winchester, Professor of English Literature at Wesleyan University. Winchester suggested to North the need for a new missionary hymn. The compassionate expression of North’s hymn was influenced by his involvement in missions in New York City. A hymn with ecumenical acceptance, it was first published in The Christian City in 1903, of which North was the editor; later in the Methodist Hymnal in 1905, and the Episcopal Hymnal in 1916.

William Gardiner (1770-1853), an amateur musician, composed the music in 1815. His melody is known as “Gardiner” in the Episcopal Hymnal while other hymnals name this tune “Germany”, “Fulda”, or “Walton.” Gardiner lived in Leicester, England and was an enthusiastic admirer of Beethoven and Haydn. Gardiner sought to improve the quality of church music heard in English churches during the nineteenth-century. Sacred Melodies, from Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, Adapted to the Best English Poets, and appropriate to the Use of the British Church, published in London in 1812, was the product of his labors to achieve this goal. A second volume of this work was published in 1815, and included the melody “Gardiner” with a version of Psalm 23 as the text. “Gardiner” never caught on in England, but was published in various early nineteenth-century American collections with a text by Lowell Mason entitled, “Softly the shade of evening falls.” Mason, who was influenced by Gardiner’s work, was popular in the United States during the nineteenth-century which assured the melody’s acceptance in this country. The committee that prepared the 1905 Methodist Hymnal chose Gardiner’s music for North’s hymn-text, and the two have remained paired to the present day.

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