Thomas Hastings the Albino Musical Genius

This is the day that Thomas Hastings was born in Connecticut, in 1784.

At the age of 12 he and his family moved to Clinton, New York State, “by ox sledge”. He studied music from textbooks, without instruction, and in 1806 became the head of a singing school. Despite little education and “acute near-sightedness”, and the fact that he was an albino, he became a genius in the world of church music. He could read a page of music when placed upside down!” (Finney, by K. Hardman, page 252).

Hastings was married in Buffalo, N.Y., Sept. 15, 1822, to Mary Seymour. He taught singing in Troy, N.Y. during 1822-23, and was editor of the “Western Recorder”, a religious journal, at Utica, N.Y. from 1823-32, meanwhile lecturing on music in Albany, New York city, Philadelphia, Pa. and Princeton. N.J. He resided in New York city from 1832-72, where he held the position of choir master, first in Dr. Mason’s church, afterward in Dr. Hutton’s and finally in the West Presbyterian church.

He contributed frequently to the musical and religious periodicals, published the “Musical Magazine” for the years 1835-37 and edited many collections of music. He received the degree of Mus. Doc. from the University of the city of New York in 1858. Evangelist Charles Finney employed Thomas Hastings as music director at the Chatham Street Chapel, New York.

For 40 years Hastings taught music, trained choirs, composed, compiled and published hymnals, wrote 600 hymns for tunes and 1000 tunes for hymns!

The tune “Toplady” used for Rock of Ages… comes from his pen, as does “Ortonville”, to which we sing: Majestic sweetness sits enthroned…

Among his best known words are ‘Hail to the brightness of Zion’s glad morning’ and ‘Come, ye disconsolate’, in which he improved upon the work of an earlier poet.

One writer states that Thomas Hastings “did valuable service in his day in stemming the tide of deteriorating influences in American hymnody and maintaining the ideal of devoutness in church praise” (Handbook to the Hymnary, page 363).

One is tempted to add, “Oh, for another Thomas Hastings!”

He died in Vermont, USA, on 3 January, 1918.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

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