This is part 4 of an Advent/Christmas series titled “Songs of Christmas.” For other parts of the series see the index. The index also contains the introduction for the series.
I know, I said in Friday’s post that I was going to post about this carol yesterday. I forgot it was Saturday and I was going to deal with something a little more secular on Saturdays. I had this ready and written when I realized it, so I pushed this back another day.
In Josiah Holland we have another lyricist who made a career change for which we benefit greatly. Holland, born in Massachusetts in 1819, went to school to become a doctor. He finished the course of study and went into practice. It didn’t, however, last long. Holland took a job with the Springfield Republican. A few years later he founded Scribner’s Magazine where he remained editor for the remainder of his career.
Holland was also an accomplished author in his own right. He wrote several best selling novels. His works of fiction brought him high praise. He also wrote poetry. Holland was a very faithful man and his Methodist background showed in many of his writings.
One of the poems he wrote is our Christmas song for the day, There’s a Song in the Air in 1874. Holland wrote the piece for publication in a Sunday school journal where it might have died, never to be heard from again. But, later in 1874 Holland published a book titled Complete Poetical Writings.
Karl P. Harrington discovered the poem in Holland’s Complete Poetical Writings in 1904. Harrington was an avid reader. It was a way to help him relax and relieve stress. Among his favorite authors was Josiah Holland.
Harrington was a church musician and was also on the committee compiling the 1905 Methodist Hymnal. Harrington found the hymnal to be a huge and stressful undertaking. Trying to figure out the worship needs of every Methodist congregation from the very small to the very large was no small task. As he grew frustrated he withdrew more to his reading and in particular Josiah Holland.
Harrington picked up Holland’s Complete Poetical Writings. As he read through the book he came across “There’s a Song in the Air.” He immediately realized it was unlike anything he had previously read of Holland’s work. He thought to himself, “This needs to be put to music.” He went to his organ and began to play the keys and a melody came to life.
Once the poem had a tune, the only thing left for Harrington was to publish the song. He did that by including it in the 1905 Methodist Hymnal. The hymn quickly gained popularity and became a part of hymnals in many different Christian traditions.
Holland never knew his poem became a song. He passed away a few years before Harrington discovered the poem. Still, many of us love this hymn and look forward to singing it each year.
The chorus above is actually new to many of us. It is not included with the song in the United Methodist Hymnal.
As I have contemplated the words to this hymn and learned about both its poet and composer, I was struck with how close we might have come to never having this beautiful carol. What if Karl Harrington had remained hard at work and didn’t take the time to read in order to relieve his stress. The world probably would not have this beautiful song. But, throughout his work on the hymnal, Harrington prayed that God would guide his work. I believe we can chalk that one up to an answered prayer.
Have a blessed day in the Lord.
Joy and Peace,
Copyright 2016, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved
Collins, Ace, Stories Behind the Best Loved Songs of Christmas, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.
Gant, Andrew, The Carols of Christmas: A Celebration of the Surprising Stories Behind Your Favorite Holiday Songs, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2015.
Osbeck, Kenneth W. Joy to the World: The Stories Behind Your Favorite Christmas Carols, Grand Rapids: Kregal, 1999.