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.

Henry Cutler Brings English Tradition to USA Choirs

This is the day that Henry Stephen Cutler was born in Boston, USA, in 1824.

Cutler studied organ under A.U. Hayter, organist of Trinity Church in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1844, he went to Europe to continue his studies in Frankfurt am Main. While abroad, he visited many English cathedrals and be came familiar with their style of music.

He became famous as an organist, then as choir conductor, at Boston’s Church of the Advent, commencing there is 1852. It was here he introduced the first surpliced male choir in America, and was criticised for it! A surplice is a loose fitting ecclesiastical gown – what we might now call a choir-robe. “Some people considered using robes in a church service to be overly formal!” (Treasury of Great Hymns, by G. Johnson, page 278).

Not to be discouraged, Cutler was appointed organist/choir master at New York City’s Episcopal Trinity Church in 1858. And this time, in honour of a visit by the Prince of Wales, he had his choir clothed in “cassocks and cottas” (a short white linen or lace garment worn over a cassock).

Again it caused a stir … and is thought to have been the cause of the church members “voting him out” at the next meeting, although a different reason was given!

Cutler also played at churches in Brooklyn, New York; Providence, Rhode Island; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Troy, New York; and Newark, New Jersey.

Henry Cutler wrote the melody “All Saints New”, to which Reginald Heber’s words, “The Son of God goes forth to war”, is set in some hymnals.

Henry Cutler died on 5 December, 1902.

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.