Welcome‎ > ‎

Shall We Gather at the River

posted Jan 8, 2011, 12:34 PM by Steven Vaughan   [ updated Jan 20, 2013, 3:30 PM ]
Did you know this hymn was written just three miles from Immaculate Heart of Mary Church?  Though no, it wasn’t inspired by the East River…

Born in Philadelphia, Robert Lowry was a professor of literature and music editor for Biglow & Main Publishing Company who became ordained, and in 1861 was appointed pastor of the Hanson Place Baptist Church, at the corner of Portland Avenue.  (It’s now a Seventh-Day Adventist Church.)  In July of 1864, one of its most beloved members died, and an accident prevented Rev. Lowry from attending his friend’s death-bed, which made his loss exceptionally painful.  He found refreshment from this circumstance and the summer heat in the opening passage of Revelation 22:

The angel then showed me the river of life-giving water,
clear as crystal, which issued from the throne of God…

 
He soon had composed the first line of a hymn.  But its popularity wasn’t restricted to church.  Composer Charles Ives arranged it for a classical singer in 1916 as At the River.  It gained even more exposure on the concert stage in 1958 when composer Aaron Copland arranged it for his Old American Songs series.  In 1980, it was sung at the funeral of William O. Douglas, the longest-serving Supreme Court Justice in history.  It’s appeared in two Academy Award winning Hollywood movies: Trip to Bountiful (1986) and Three Godfathers (1916).  It’s employed in many of John Ford’s western soundtracks, including Stagecoach, My Darling Clementine and Tobacco Road.  It features prominently in Hobson’s Choice and Elmer Gantry, as well as The Wild Bunch and Hang ‘Em High, where it’s used ironically during onscreen massacres.

During prohibition, a preacher finishing his sermon on  temperance allegedly said: “If I could, I'd take all the beer, wine and whiskey and throw it in the river!”  To which his song leader announced, “For our closing hymn, let's sing #598, Shall We Gather at the River”...