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America the beautiful

Samuel Augustus Ward's Materna

Grace Church in Newark, whose edifice has occupied the intersection of Broad and Walnut Streets since 1848, has been influential in many ways. Founded in 1837, Grace Church was the second parish of the Episcopal Church organized in the City of Newark. It has played an important role in Newark and the Episcopal Church over the years. It has long been a prominent parish musically, as well. It had a boy choir by 1854, when a letter to the editor of an unidentified publication praised the boys’ “accuracy of time and tune.” However, the most famous contribution Grace Church has made to the world of music has little to do with the organ or boy choirs. It is in the form of a patriotic song.

Samuel Augustus Ward became well known for his composition of the hymn tune “Materna,” which is now the tune most commonly paired with Katherine Lee Bates’ poem, “America.” Ward was a native son of Newark, born in 1847, and served as organist and choirmaster at Grace Church in Newark from 1880 until his death in 1903. He was known for his ability to engage a choir and for his spontaneous organ improvisations, though not much known as a performer at the organ. He received fairly little musical training. According to Edward Batailles’ Grace Church in Newark: the First Hundred Years, his only formal training was in harmony with a Professor Algar.

Interestingly, the tune was not originally intended for use with Bates’ poem. In fact, they were first paired by a publisher in 1910, seven years after Ward’s death, to become “America the Beautiful.” The tune was initially composed in 1882, with the text, “O Mother dear, Jerusalem” in mind. This hymn was much used at Grace Church, at first in manuscript form, and later appeared in the church’s hymnal. The Episcopal Church included it with its original text in The New Hymnal (1916) and The Hymnal (1940), and with “America the beautiful” in The Hymnal 1982. The text was written in the 16th century by an author known only by the initials F.B.P. and appears differently in different sources. The text as found in The Hymnal (1940) is:

O mother dear, Jerusalem, When shall I come to thee?

When shall my sorrows have an end? Thy joys when shall I see?

O happy harbor of the saints, O sweet and pleasant soil!

In thee no sorrow may be found, No grief, no care, no toil.

No murky cloud o’ershadows thee, No mist nor darksome night;

There ev’ry soul shines as the sun, For God himself gives light.

There lust and lucre cannot dwell; There envy bears no sway;

There is no hunger, heat, nor cold, But pleasure ev’ry way.

Thy gardens and thy gallant walks Continually are green;

There grow such sweet and pleasant flowers As nowhere else are seen.

Quite through the streets with silver sound The flood of life doth flow,

Upon whose banks on every side The wood of life doth grow.

There trees for evermore bear fruit, And evermore do spring;

There evermore the angels be, And evermore do sing.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, God grant that I may see

Thine endless joy, and of the same Partaker ever be!


Of course, the tune is now used almost exclusively with the better known patriotic text. Ward was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame for the tune in 1970.


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