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How Can I Keep from Singing?

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Wikipedia article

{{Infobox musical composition

| name = How Can I Keep from Singing?

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| image = Robert_Lowry.JPG

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| caption = Robert Lowry

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| composer = Robert Lowry

| genre = Hymn

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| meter = with refrain

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"'How Can I Keep From Singing?'" (also known by its incipit "'My Life Flows On in Endless Song'") is an American folksong originally composed as a Christian hymn by American Baptist minister Robert Lowry. The song is frequently, though erroneously, cited as a traditional Quaker or Shaker hymn. The original composition has now entered into the public domain, and appears in several hymnals and song collections, both in its original form and with a revised text that omits most of the explicitly Christian content and adds a verse about solidarity in the face of oppression. Though it was not originally a Quaker hymn, Quakers adopted it as their own in the twentieth century and use it widely today.

Authorship and lyrics

The first known publication of the words was on August 27, 1868, in 'The New York Observer'. Titled "Always Rejoicing", and attributed to "Pauline T.",[http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=32196&messages=46 song history - How Can I Keep From Singing] . mudcat.org. Retrieved on November 23, 2011. the text reads:

My life flows on in endless song;

Above earth's lamentation,

I hear the sweet, tho' far-off hymn

That hails a new creation;

Thro' all the tumult and the strife

I hear the music ringing;

It finds an echo in my soul

How can I keep from singing?

What tho' my joys and comforts die?

The Lord my Saviour liveth;

What tho' the darkness gather round?

Songs in the night he giveth.

No storm can shake my inmost calm

While to that refuge clinging;

Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,

How can I keep from singing?

I lift my eyes; the cloud grows thin;

I see the blue above it;

And day by day this pathway smooths,

Since first I learned to love it,

The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,

A fountain ever springing;

All things are mine since I am his

How can I keep from singing?

The word "real" is also used here, perhaps following Pete Seeger.

These are the words as published by Robert Lowry in the 1869 song book, 'Bright Jewels for the Sunday School'.Robert Lowry, ed. '[https://books.google.com/books?id=7ghITjeFeLsC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Bright+Jewels+for+the+Sunday+School Bright Jewels for the Sunday School]'. New York: Biglow and Main, 1869, hymn number 16. Here Lowry claims credit for the music, an iambic tune,Hymn 143, "How Can I Keep from Singing?" in 'Celebrating the Eucharist: Classic Edition, April 17, 2016 August 13, 2016', Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, p. 404, . but gives no indication as to who wrote the words. These words were also published in a British periodical in 1869, 'The Christian Pioneer','[https://books.google.com/books?id=rTcEAAAAQAAJ&pg=RA3-PA39&dq=%22i+catch+the+sweet%22+date:1800-1870&lr=&as_brr=0&ei=NpfmSIrqPJvs The Christian Pioneer, a monthly magazine]'. Vol 23, page 39, London: Simpkin, Marshall & Co., 1866. but no author is indicated. Lewis Hartsough, citing 'Bright Jewels' as source of the lyrics and crediting Lowry for the tune, included "How Can I Keep from Singing?" in the 1872 edition of the 'Revivalist'., No. 586. The 1872 edition had 336 pages including revised and enlarged indexes but was otherwise similar in appearance to the 1868 and 1869 editions. Ira D. Sankey published his own setting of the words in 'Gospel Hymns, No. 3' (1878), writing that the words were anonymous.Ira D. Sankey, 'Gospel hymns no. 3,' New York: Biglow & Main, 1878, hymn no. 66 In 1888, Henry S. Burrage listed this hymn as one of those for which Lowry had written the music, but not the lyrics.Burrage, Henry S. [https://books.google.com/books?id=_tcNAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA433 'Baptist Hymn Writers and Their Hymns.'] Portland, Maine: Brown, Thurston & Co., 1888, p. 433.

Doris Plenn learned the original hymn from her grandmother, who reportedly believed that it dated from the early days of the Quaker movement. Plenn contributed the following verse around 1950, and it was taken up by Pete Seeger and other folk revivalists:

When tyrants tremble, sick with fear,

And hear their death-knell ringing,

When friends rejoice both far and near,

How can I keep from singing?

In prison cell and dungeon vile,

Our thoughts to them go winging;

When friends by shame are undefiled,

How can I keep from singing?


During the 20th century, this hymn was not widely used in congregational worship. Diehl's index to a large number of hymnals from 1900 to 1966 indicates that only one hymnal included it: the 1941 edition of 'The Church Hymnal' of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, titled "My Life Flows On" (hymn no. 265).Takoma Park MD: Review and Herald Publishing Assn It was also published in the earlier 1908 Seventh-day Adventist hymnal, 'Christ in Song', under the title "How Can I Keep From Singing?" (hymn no. 331).Washington DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association. Facsimile reproduction. The United Methodist Church published it in its 2000 hymnal supplement, 'The Faith We Sing' (hymn no. 2212), giving credit for the lyrics as well as the tune to Robert Lowry.HIckman, Hoyt L., ed. 'The Faith We Sing.' Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000, hymn no. 2212. 'The Faith We Sing' version changes some of the lyrics and punctuation from the 1868 version. The Unitarian Universalist hymnal, printed in 1993 and following, credits the words as an "Early Quaker song" and the music as an "American gospel tune".'Singing the Living Tradition' Boston, MA: The Unitarian Universalist Association, 1993, hymn no. 108.

Pete Seeger learned a version of this song from Doris Plenn, a family friend, who had it from her North Carolina family. His version made this song fairly well known in the folk revival of the 1960s. Seeger's version omits or modifies much of the Christian wording of the original, and adds Plenn's verse above. The reference in the added verse intended by Seeger and by Plennboth active in left-wing causesis to 'witch hunts' of the House Un-American Activities Committee. (Seeger himself was sentenced to a year in jail in 1955 as a result of his testimony before the committee, which he did not serve due to a technicality.) Most folk singers have followed Seeger's version.

In his radio singing debut, actor Martin Sheen performed this song (using the PlennSeeger lyrics) on 'A Prairie Home Companion' in September 2007.

Use by Quakers

The song has often been attributed to "early" Quakers, but Quakers did not permit congregational singing in worship until after the American Civil War (and many still do not have music regularly). But learning it in social activist circles of the fifties and hearing Seeger's (erroneous) attribution endeared the song to many contemporary Quakers, who have adopted it as a sort of anthem. It was published in the Quaker songbook 'Songs of the Spirit', and the original words, with Plenn's verse, were included in the much more ambitious Quaker hymnal project, 'Worship in Song: A Friends Hymnal' in 1996.

Enya version

{{Infobox song

| name = How Can I Keep From Singing?

| cover = Enyahowcan.jpg

| alt =

| type = single

| artist = Enya

| album = Shepherd Moons

| B-side =

| released =

| recorded =

| studio =

| venue =

| genre = New-age

| length = 4:24

| label = WEA

| writer = Robert Wadsworth Lowry

| producer = Nicky Ryan

| prev_title = Caribbean Blue

| prev_year = 1991

| next_title = Book of Days

| next_year = 1992

| misc =


The song received new prominence in 1991 when Irish musician Enya released a recording of the hymn on her album 'Shepherd Moons'. Enya's version follows Pete Seeger's replacement of some more overtly Christian lines, for example: "What tho' my joys and comforts die?

The Lord my Saviour liveth" became "What tho' the tempest 'round me roars, I hear the truth it liveth." The song was released as a single in November of the same year, with "Oche Chin" and "'S Fgaim Mo Bhaile" appearing as additional songs. It reached the top 50 in Australia, Ireland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Music video

The video clip features Enya singing in a church in the Gaoth Dobhair countryside while also including archive footage of political figures such as Nelson Mandela and Boris Yeltsin, among others, and references to the Gulf War and famine. The line about tyrants trembling shows Gennady Yanayev, leader of the 1991 August Coup, in a press conference with visibly trembling handsapparently toward the end when the coup was unraveling.



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