My theme today, as it frequently has been, concerns music and song lyrics. In this case, it is one particular piece of music: the Londonderry Aire. My 70-year love affair with music intrigues and fascinates me, especially since I don’t play a single instrument or sing well at all (except maybe in the shower or in the car – alone!).
I’ve asked myself many times how to explain my fascination with music and lyrics. Is it how the music of many genres soothed my spirit, touched my emotions, and provided real enjoyment to me from my very childhood, especially ballads, folk songs, and story songs? Or is it that since I am descended, at least from my Mom’s side from Scottish people (she was a Buchanan), and probably from the English on my dad’s, and so culturally and genetically it’s a part of who I am? Or is it because some of those “kinds” of songs have been there over the years, or broken into my life at special moments? I suppose that only a psychiatrist or a psychologist could determine that: is it heredity or environment (or both)?
I only know that that “kind” of music and especially Scottish, Irish, and English ballads resonate with me and always have.
Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast (sometimes “beast”), to soften rocks, or bend the knotted oak.attributed to William Congreve (1670-1729)
In other words, music has a special quality, and unique power to bring calm into the human heart. Classical music, popular music, folk music, and most especially Christian music (because of the lyrics, obviously; poetry on steroids!) move us human beings in powerful ways. I’ve discovered that poetry sans music has a similar impact on me, but that’s a subject for another day.
“Barbara Allen”, “Loch Lomond”, and “The Fields of Athenry” are examples of Scottish & Irish music that I find moving. They touch me and set my spirit soaring.
I contend that one of the most beautiful songs in the English language is the ballad “Danny Boy”. The music is known as the “Londonderry Aire.” Its origins are from Northern Ireland. “Danny Boy” is the best-known lyric wed to the music, but it’s far from the only one. I’ve read that this tune “is played as the victory sporting anthem of Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games.”1
He Looked Beyond My Fault and Saw My Need
It was so cool when a gospel singer from the Kentucky mountains named Dottie Rambo wrote a song in 1968 adapted to the music from Londonderry Aire: “He Looked Beyond My Fault and Saw My Need”. Dottie was a marvelous poet-songwriter, (think of songs such as “Tears Will Never Stain the Streets of That City”, “If That Isn’t Love”, “I Go to the Rock”, and “We Shall Behold Him” Sandy Patty’s signature song). This was one of her best.
Amazing grace shall always be my song of praise For it was grace that bought my liberty I do not know just why he came to love me so He looked beyond my fault and saw my need.
Chorus: I shall forever lift mine eyes to Calvary To view the cross where Jesus died for me How marvellous the grace that caught my falling soul He looked beyond my fault and saw my need.2
I Cannot Tell Why He Whom Angels Worship
I also heard another song some 30-40 years ago to the same tune. It was written by William Young Fullerton from Northern Ireland, who was acquainted with the famous English preacher Charles Spurgeon. Fullerton wrote this song in approximately 1920 and has a powerful, Scriptural lyric accompanied by a compelling personal testimony.
I cannot tell why He, whom angels worship, Should set His love upon the sons of men, Or why, as Shepherd, He should seek the wand’rers, To bring them back, they know not how or when. But this I know, that He was born of Mary, When Bethl’hem’s manger was His only home, And that He lived at Nazareth and labored, And so the Savior, Savior of the world, is come.
I cannot tell how silently He suffered, As with His peace He graced this place of tears, Or how His heart upon the Cross was broken, The crown of pain to three and thirty years. But this I know, He heals the broken-hearted, And stays our sin, and calms our lurking fear, And lifts the burden from the heavy laden, For yet the Savior, Savior of the world, is here.
I cannot tell how He will win the nations, How He will claim His earthly heritage, How satisfy the needs and aspirations Of east and west, of sinner and of sage. But this I know, all flesh shall see His glory, And He shall reap the harvest He has sown, And some glad day His sun shall shine in splendor When He the Savior, Savior of the world, is known.
I cannot tell how all the lands shall worship, When, at His bidding, every storm is stilled, Or who can say how great the jubilation When all the hearts of men with love are filled. But this I know, the skies will thrill with rapture, And myriad, myriad human voices sing, And earth to heaven, and heaven to earth, will answer: At last the Savior, Savior of the world, is King.3
Every song with lyrics starts in the heart and mind of the songwriter. Sometimes the lyricist creates his or her own music, and sometimes they borrow the music from someone else’s composition. This is an example of beautiful, timeless music that has lent itself to being joined to a lyric that exalts the Lord and blesses His people.
Think of a song, (or songs) that’s special to you. Remember the author, the music, and the circumstances surrounding its composition. Rejoice that God has given such wonderful gifts as these to His children.