If you had asked me which hymns are on my “Unfavorites” list, I would have to include “Jesus loves me,” the hymn whose lyrics were written by Anna Bartlett Warner (1827-1915) with a melody by William Batchelder Bradbury (1816-1868). I guess this hymn is on my “Unfavorites” list because I’ve had to play it countless number of times, most commonly as a “marching song” for children to come to the front for a children’s sermon. In fact, Wikipedia states that the song became one of the most popular Christian hymns in churches around the world.
Surprisingly, the tune name is “CHINA,” and it got that label in the 19th century, because it was thought to be the favorite hymn in China. And interestingly enough, when John F. Kennedy’s PT-109 was sunk, the islanders who found him and the other survivors, sang this song with the Marines—the natives had learned it from Seventh-day Adventist missionaries.
What I didn’t know was that the words were published in 1860, and were words spoken as a comforting poem to a dying child. Here are the lyrics, in case you’ve forgotten them:
Jesus loves me—loves me still,
Though I’m very weak and ill;
From his shining throne on high,
Comes to watch me where I lie.
Jesus loves me—he will stay,
Close beside me all the way.
Then his little child will take,
Up to heaven for his dear sake
So I guess I should not have been surprised when the song was chosen for the funeral I played today at St. Andrew’s Cathedral. The man who died was a 49-year-old quadriplegic from birth and never got to run, jump, or do any of the things children like to do. Yet although his body was incapacitated, he was very smart, full of humor and this was one of his favorite songs. Hearing about the context of the song gave me a completely new perspective on this piece, that’s for sure.
Here is my arrangement of this song for soprano Georgine Stark. There is a little delay in the beginning, with a lot of clicking noises — that was me furiously pressing the memory level button when I realized the organ had defaulted to Level 1 and my Level was 63 !! So I had to push the button DOWN from 99!
(By the way, when I came to practice at the Cathedral this early morning about 6:15 am, I forgot I had left my phone in my pocket. So when I got off the bench and checked the app which tracks my steps, I was surprised that it said I had already walked half a mile or over 1700 steps! (St. Andrew’s is only two blocks from my apartment, so the balance of those steps were “walking on the pedals.”