Category Archives: Biographical Sketch

Send the Light

To hear this song played, click here.

To see the sheet music for this arrangement, click here.


Charles H. Gabriel

Charles Hutchinson Gabriel is one of the most prolific names in American church music for the 20th Century. He wrote some 8,000 songs, many of which are still included in modern hymnals.

He was born August 18, 1856 in Wilton, Iowa into a singing family. The Gabriel farmhouse was often the site of neighbors coming by to sing hymns together, led by Charles’ father, Isaac. The elder Mr. Gabriel taught singing schools and bought the family a reed organ, which Charles taught himself to play. In his autobiography Sixty Years of Gospel Song, Charles reflected on those early years: “In my home we were trained so thoroughly on the Hallelujah Chorus, for instance, that we sang it from memory. Choruses from Creation, Elijah, and other oratorios were included in our repertoire.” His only music education was what he received at the feet of his father. Charles was sixteen years old when his father died (1873), leaving behind a wife, eight children, and several appointments to teach singing schools. Charles took up his father’s schedule and began traveling and teaching, first keeping his father’s teaching dates and then – as his reputation grew – he made his own appointments as he traveled the country. In that same year, he published his first song.

After much travel, Gabriel returned to Wilton and – according to the Des Moines Register – became the town’s “leading musician, writing marches, polkas and leading the town’s band. Gabriel played the piano, cornet and violin, was a fine singer and excelled at arranging music.”

In 1890 Gabriel moved to San Francisco, California and began working with the Grace Methodist Episcopal Church as music director. It was there that he wrote Send the Light, which was first published in E.O. Excell’s Scripture Songs (1891). Send the Light was Gabriel’s first commercially successful song. Two years later he moved back to the Midwest and began work with the publishing side of religious music, anchored in Chicago.

From 1895-1912 he worked with Excell’s famous publishing house; then he moved to the Homer A. Rodeheaver Company of Winona Lake, Indiana. In addition to his publishing company, Rodeheaver was the song leader and music director for evangelist Billy Sunday. This union between Gabriel and Rodeheaver ensured that Sunday’s rival meetings would prominently feature Gabriel’s best work, cementing his reputation as a songwriter. On one occasion Washington, Iowa celebrated the chorister’s presence with “Charles Gabriel Day.” Reportedly, huge crowds turned out for the event.

He stayed active with Rodeheaver & Company until his death on September 14, 1932 in Los Angeles, at the home of his son, Charles Jr.

All in all, he edited some 95 hymnbooks during his carrier (although I have not seen this particular book, it is said that he edited The New Christian Hymnbook (1917), along with T.B. Larimore, for the Gospel Advocate Company of Nashville, a publishing house associated with churches of Christ.). These many works include: forty-three song books, seven men’s chorus books, nineteen anthem collections, and twenty-three cantatas. As stated earlier, Gabriel wrote around 8,000 songs. Supposedly, in order to keep buyers from thinking their products were collections of just Charles Gabriel songs, his publishers had him to publish many of his works under pseudonym. His aliases include Charlotte G. Homer, H.A. Henry, and S.B. Jackson.

His personal life included two marriages, with one child born to each. He first married Fannie Woodhouse in 1876 in Iowa. To this marriage was born a daughter, Vera. This marriage ended in divorce. His second marriage, to Amelia Moore, lasted from 1889 to her death in 1931. Charles, Jr., was born in 1892.


Send the Light is one of the great missionary hymns of the church. In 1890 missionaries’ tales of reaching the foreign masses thrilled the imaginations of stateside Christians.

Verse 1 sets the stage of adventure and distance, the call that comes ringing over the restless waves of the sea, beckoning the would-be missionary to traverse the wild sea and bring peace to the restless lives of those who call for help. The missionary would go and – in the words of Romans 10:14f – preach to them: “But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” The missionary would go! Send him! Send the light-bearing messenger! Not only are there souls to rescue and save, they are calling for the gospel. The hearer is a given, the teacher is a given – the only thing lacking is the sender.

As Gerald Paden, great missionary and trainer of missionaries, is known to say: Some give by going, some go by giving – without both, no mission work is done. We are partners with our missionaries whom we support! This song pleads with Christians who have the means to send a man with a mission, a true missionary, over the restless waves to bring the light.

Verse 2 echoes the story of Acts 16:6-10, “The Macedonian Call.” There is very little that can tug at the heartstrings of a godly person more than a plea for help. Although Paul had other plans in mind, the image of the Macedonian man urging him, “Come over the Macedonia and help us,” convinced him that he would serve God in that context. In the same way, there are missionary points today from which the native people have called, “Help us, too!” When we hear them, do we jump into action like Paul did? Do their cries fall on deaf ears?

The “golden offering” which is pictured at the foot of the cross is from each of us and answers the proceeding questions. We would lay down our very best and dearest at the feet of a crucified Savior? “Yes!” we answer in song.

Verse 3 emphasizes that it is grace which must be spread. In days past well-meaning missionaries have not only imprinted the story of Jesus upon native cultures, but they have also taken Western culture to foreign peoples. Jesus is cross cultural! Grace is not only given to Americans and American-style churches. In many ways, Christians of other lands would be good not to copy what they see in us. It would be to their advantage that they look ever to the Bible and New Testament congregations for an example of how to best serve Christ in their own local context. Does this not echo the words of Jesus as he chastised the Pharisees missionary methods? “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are” (Matthew 23:15). Why this condemnation? Because their message was something other than grace – they taught of a God who tied burdens on men (cf. Luke 11:46); Jesus represents a God who frees men. Grace produces thankfulness which, in turn, generates Christlikeness within the Christian. Truly knowing what God has done for us can lead only to becoming more like Jesus each day.

Whether we send or we are sent, verse 4 speaks to the hard work we are in for. Having grown up in a missionary family, I can attest to the rigors of living in a foreign country without any local support. As motivation Gabriel points to a heavenly crown, the stephanos victory crown of Revelation 2:10, “be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life.” The souls we have a part in saving will be to our credit, not of meritorious salvation, but of “good works which He has prepared in advance for us” (Ephesians 2:10). The jewels adorning this crown sparkle as an eternal testimony to our faithfulness in evangelism.

The original words of the chorus are interestingly different from what we sing today. The singer is pictured as one who takes responsibility to spread the Gospel willingly. He answers the call with a resounding, “Here am I – send me!” (Isaiah 6). If he is the giver, then this brings to mind “God loves a cheerful giver” (II Corinthians 9:7). Two components of cooperation are mentioned: the heart and the hand. Often one’s heart is willing (that is, he agrees it’s a worthy idea), but he won’t lift a finger to assist. Similarly one can be a busy Christian with a misguided heart, cruising a course of unfulfillment and disappointment. We must be balanced workers to be of lasting impact in God’s kingdom. The glory, however, goes not to mankind for his cunning evangelistic schemes or church growth paradigms, but to God “who gives the increase” (I Corinthians 3:7). “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty” (Luke 17:10).

From our shore to yours, let the light shine! Let the radiant beams of the Gospel light the world forever more!


Not only would one call this a typical gospel song, it is one which gave definition to the genre. The harmony is classic: predictable, yet enjoyable. The echoy voice parts are kept well within the singable ranges of the voices for which they were intended. The only part that doesn’t have a spotlight moment is that of the tenors. For the most part, the tenors only sing three notes through the whole song.

The most noticeable difference in this original arrangement of Send the Light is – obviously – the bass lead in the first chorus. However, do note that the second chorus is also different. In the last measure of the first line of the second chorus (“from shore to shore”), the soprano melody we’re used to hearing is Db-C-Bb-C (Fa-Mi-Re-Mi), but here it is Db-C-Bb-Ab (Fa-Mi-Re-Do).

I have no official story as to why the song was redacted to only one chorus, but the original chorus is growing on me. Do you know of other songs which were this significantly edited from their original versions?


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Campbell’s Preface to “Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs”

I’m sorry for being so long-gone from  My wife and I are expecting our first child soon and so my books and the shelves upon which they sat were removed from our house and banished to the garage until such time as the living quarters were rearranged to make room for Baby (sex is unknown; names are top secret). Well, the bookcases are now back up and books are coming out of their boxes!  I’m excited to have my collection back again.  I hope you enjoy today’s little glimpse into the history of the hymnals of the churches of Christ. I hope to get back to as my time permits.  This entry is regarding a revision of the first major hymnal of churches of Christ, compiled/edited by Alexander Campbell in 1851. This revision is said to contain “numerous additions and emendations” and is “adapted to personal, family, and church worship.” Campbell was assisted in his hymnal work by Walter Scott, Barton W. Stone, and John T. Johnson, all leaders in the back-to-the-Bible movement of the 1800s.


Alexander Campbell is known as a great intellectual theologian of the 1800s.  Though sometimes credited as “the founder of Churches of Christ,” most of those churches would not acknowledge themselves as “Campbellites” (as some have pejoratively called us).  Campbell was not solely a preacher and theologian, but also an educator, statesman, and writer/editor.  His influences are felt not only in the religious world, but in many other areas as well.

Historically, however, no one can deny the impact Campbell had on religious reformation in the United States.  Weary of denominational bickering, the young Campbell and his father Thomas urged the Christian world to unite under the Bible alone, leaving behind all manmade elements of religion.  This movement became convinced of and accepted two overarching emphases in their work: Christian Unity and Church Restoration.  For the church to truly be united as one, it would have to restore biblical beliefs and practices, shedding all other creeds, belief systems, and practices which divide men. Regardless of how one judges the results of Christians to have achieved these goals, the ideal they represented is a noble one.  As all over the nation honest believers began to leave their denominational worlds behind, they searched for ways to be united more closely together. One of the greatest ways for Christians to be united over great distances is to have a common hymnody (or, as Campbell writes, “psalmody”).

Have you ever travelled internationally and found an assembly of Christians with whom to worship? Perhaps you’ve visited church when you’re across country, away from home, and you’ve see the familiar sign: “The church of Christ meets here” (at least the sign on our church building growing up said). The culture of the folks inside may be different, the language they speak may be different, the order of service, etc. But if they sing some of the songs with which you are familiar you know you are home.  Growing up in Russia as the son of missionaries, we sang Takov Kak Yest’, Kak Ti Vyeleek, Ti So Mnoi (Just as I Am, How Great Thou Art, and It Is Well with My Soul). I was more at home with the Russian lyrics than I was with the English, but even when visiting the United States, I knew we were welcome among Christian family because of the shared songs of faith.

Interesting to me was Campbell’s assertion that lyrics are more important than the music to which they are set. Thoughts?  What about the idea that the hymnal is the Christians #2 book – do you think that still describes the church today? What do you think about the idea that if you can’t preach a sermon to an unbeliever, then you may be able to sing him one?  Enjoy your reading – I hope to see some interesting comments on this piece.

My next entry will be the Introduction of which Campbell writes at the end of this Preface.


Our Brethren in collective bodies, as well as in private circles, have expressed a desire for a larger compilation 1851 Campbell Title Pageof Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, as well as for a greater variety of subjects. To meet their wishes, and to redeem our promises, we have modified and enlarged our Hymn Book, and have subjected it to a severe revisal. We have spent much time and reflection upon the subject, and have examined the best Psalmody[1] of Protestant Christianity in our own country, with very considerable care and attention. We flatter ourselves that we have in the volume the cream of the most evangelical and scriptural poetic compositions now extant, and on a variety of subjects and occasions as will be all the wants and circumstances of the Christian community, as individuals, families, and congregations.

We have made the divinely inspired psalmody of the sweet Psalmist of Israel our beau ideal[2] of Christian psalmody, with the mere difference of dispensation, believing that the materials of the Psalms of David furnish a perfect standard of the proper materials of all praise, whether contemplated as psalms, hymns, or spiritual songs.

These distinctions respect the subjects and not the forms of Christian praise or prayer. Lyric poetry is equality apposite[3] to them all. They differ in matter and not in form.

In our former compilations tunes were prefixed as a guide to the appositeness of the sound or tune to the sense.

This prefixing of a tune to each composition has been objected, to for two reasons. The taste of musicians and of those who select tunes differs. Some prefer one tune and some another; and in the judgment of one precentor[4], the tune named at the head of the composition is not so suitable as another which he would prefer.

Again, the tunes named are not universally known. For these objections or reasons we have left everyone to choose for himself. Our Hymn Book being used in every State of the Union, and in the British provinces, we have given no index to any song as to the tune most appropriate. In this as in all things merely circumstantial, let every community judge for itself. It is infinitely more important that we should have one pure speech and one evangelical psalomody than one and the same tune.

Again, in this selection we have had respect to another fact. All the compositions in a hymn book will be read but not all sung. Indeed, my observation goes to prove that in no one community are there more than one or two scores of favorite songs, I mean songs or hymns frequently sung. In all my travels, and they are not within narrow limits, I find only one or two dozen universal favorites, sung almost daily, especially at large public meetings.

This fact is not confined to what are called human compositions.[5] I remember it obtained in Europe in my youth when the psalms of David were sung in Scotland and Ireland. A score of these were universal favorite and almost weekly or monthly sung. But the synods occasionally enacted that they should be first explained and then sung. Hence the one hundred and fifty were generally sung in some churches once in two or three years.

But on the hypothesis that only a tithe[6] of all the compositions in our hymn books would be sung, they should contain both in number and variety an adequate supply for all persons, conditions, and circumstances, and on all subjects of praise or prayer for another and a great purpose.

The Hymn Book of a Christian community, next to the Bible, is more generally read, and much and often read by all true Christians. It is assumed that it does, and certainly it ought, to contain the marrow and the fatness of the gospel and the exercises of the Christian heart on all the themes of Christian faith, hope and love. It is the best substitute in the world for what is usually called a confession of faith, an exhibit of Christian doctrine and Christian instruction.

It is, moreover, a sort of stereotyped preached gospel, and to unconverted persons it is the next best thing to a sermon or to an exhortation on the great themes of Christian salvation. One this account it may without any offence against good taste and good sense contain various compositions which may be regarded as not so apposite to be sung as to be read. But even these may be sung in obedience to an apostolic injunction: “Teach and admonish one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with gratitude in your hearts to the Lord.” We may, therefore, sometimes sing the gospel to sinners as well as preach it to them.

This object is not lost sight of in the following selection. But for this and other matter we solicit and attentive perusal[7] of the following introduction.

[1] the act, practice, or art of setting psalms to music; psalms or hymns collectively; the act, practice, or art of singing psalms.

[2] a conception of perfect beauty; a model of excellence.

[3] suitable; well-adapted; pertinent; relevant.

[4] a person who leads a church choir or congregation in singing.

[5] In Campbell’s time there was much debate whether to sing only biblical texts set to music (literally, singing the psalms) or if it was permissible and appropriate to sing texts of more recent, uninspired origin.  Isaac Watts was a great promoter of singing such “human compositions.” Campbell seems to be addressing the possible argument from a reader that the reason such a limited number of songs are sung is because they are not “divine compositions,” which would – to that reader’s mind – naturally meet with more success.

[6] That is to say, only ten per cent

[7] Although our typical usage of “peruse” would mean “to give a quick once-over,” its real definition is the opposite: “to read through with thoroughness or care.”


Posted by on December 12, 2011 in Biographical Sketch


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The Sun-Bright Road of Calvary

To listen to On the Sun-Bright Road of Calvary, click here.
To see the music to On the Sun-Bright Road of Calvary, click here.

The gospel song On the Sun-Bright Road of Calvary was written by Austin Taylor (1881-1973), a Kentucky-bornAustin Taylor and Texas-bred song writer, associated with churches of Christ.  There is little published biographical information about Taylor’s life, but anecdotally several stories and moments remain.  Taylor was said to have possessed a very clear, loud singing voice, even into his later years.  He led the singing at many meetings for famous preachers in his day.  His legacy lives on in The Texas Normal Singing School (also known as The Singing School at Abilene Christian University).  In 1946 preacher Edgar Furr and Brother Taylor began to discuss the need for trained songleaders in the church. As often happens when men go off to war, the quality of singing in church houses diminished during World War II.  They established an annual two-week singing school at Sabinal, Texas.  Many, many boys and young men were trained in music theory, harmony, shape note sight reading, and songleading at that campus.  Eventually the buildings at Sabinal fell into disrepair and it was beyond the capabilities of a summer singing school to build anew. Since 1988, The Singing School has met each summer on the campus of ACU.  The program now caters to adults and presents a full curriculum of church music-related subjects.  Brothers Taylor and Furr would be happy to know that the staff is currently preparing for the 66th year of training men to lead singing (in fact, this blog was born out of a class that I teach at The Singing School on the history of our hymnals in churches of Christ).

What are roads for?  Travel.  Especially in biblical imagery, it’s travel by foot, it’s a walk.  The great word pictures of “walk” that Paul, Peter, and John (oh, especially John!) use in the New Testament gives great hope to the Christian reader who claims the text as his own.  As Gerald Paden taught in his lectures on I John, “It’s where you walk, not how you walk.”  Meaning in no way to ease the emphasis on holy living that the Scriptures teach, Gerald taught us that Christ forgives!  That “walking in the light” is not sinless perfection (for even Christians sin, cf. I John 2:1), but it is the blood-bought Christian’s march, marathon, sprint, crawl, and walk ever TOWARDS God that is an evidence of saving faith which God sees and through which He forgives.

In this song, the “sun-bright road” seems to be the walk of a Christian’s life.  In verse one, it’s the road upon which sings the “ransomed throng” “praises to the King.”  Why are they so confident to march this road, singing aloud? Because they were ransomed by the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or spot (cf. I Peter 1:18f).

In verse two it’s not only a road TOWARDS God, but a road away from “sin’s dark night.”  Isn’t that the essence of repentance? Away from sin, towards God.  No longer led by the desires of weak flesh, we together are led by truth.

Verse three invokes the picture of Hebrews 12:2, “fix your eyes on Jesus.”  Who knows how long this “sun-bright road” is?  What obstacles stand before us?  Keep your eyes on the prize, what lies beyond the finish line.

Characteristically, like many gospel songs, the last verse is evangelistic in thrust.  In it we see an invitation to the “sinner,” “lift your feet from the downward way.”  As children somehow we learn that heaven is “up” and hell is “down.” And you don’t want to go “down there, do you?,” asks the first line of the verse?  Yet the burden you carry continues to drag you down.  Instead, take Jesus up on his offer of rest for a weary soul (Matthew 11:25ff).

Musically, there’s nothing remarkable about this song.  I do notice that the bass part is written more like an “old hand” bass singer would sing it, rather than the way most are written.  For example, the last three bass notes in measure 4 (mi-re-do), the mi in the 4th measure of the chorus, the first two notes of the last measure, etc., could have been written as do-do-do, do, and so-so.  Obviously there are hundreds of moments in the hymnal where we notice that we don’t sing the notes exactly as written – because our own personal arrangement sounds more “fitting” to our ears or our surrounding culture.  Taylor seems to have incorporated that “bass culture” into his song to begin with.

This is probably a good example of comfortably singable ranges in church music. No single part is strained in what they are asked to sing.  Only the sopranos’ F’s in the second measure of the chorus might give certain unexercised voices a moment’s pause.

So, why is this a “gospel song” and not a “southern gospel song” (also known as “quartet songs” or “convention songs”) or a “hymn”?  It’s true, the definitions are a bit arbitrary, but maybe these observations will help.  Also, keep in mind that it’s not just one or two of these rules that causes a song to go into one category or another. They’ve got to hit a critical mass of attributes before they’re classified one way or another.  Especially in the “in-between years,” songs can easily be hybrids of any given genres.

  • Gospel songs: written between 1830-1930, simple rhythm, a lyrical hook that’s repeated in each verse, Elizabethan English, all parts sing together (with notable exceptions), war themes, at least one evangelistic verse, simple harmonies (I-V-I-IV-V-I), more open harmonies with sometimes an octave between neighboring parts.  Gospel songs are probably the easiest songs in any church’s repertory, due to their folksy nature.  Their major strength is that they can be sung by anyone.
  • Signs of a “classic” southern gospel songs:  Accidentals (especially lots of Fi’s), syncopated rhythm, and upbeat tempo, tighter harmony (made possible by the many accidentals), melody switching from part to part, call-and-response or echo lyrics, usually written between 1935-1965.
  • “Modern” southern gospel songs are more flashy (?), and definitely more syrupy in harmony (think Bill and Gloria Gaithers).

What style of song makes your heart sing? Why?


Posted by on September 29, 2011 in Biographical Sketch, Song Reviews


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