october 2011

Martin Luther (left) and his manuscript for ‘Ein feste Burg’ with the composer’s signature in the lower right corner

‘We Try So Hard To Be Good, To Lead A Life Worth Living.’

The above headline is taken from the lyrics of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s touching “Thanksgiving Song,” a landmark seasonal meditation on living an honorable life. Thanksgiving in song has not been celebrated to the extent Christmas has, but there are some special tidbits, from hymns to novelties, that highlight the day’s focus on family, friends and food. Herewith a small sampling of a Hall of Fame-worthy collection of Thanksgiving celebrated in song, both vocal and instrumental.

Mary Chapin Carpenter, ‘Thanksgiving Song,’ from her 2008 album, Come Darkness, Come Light: Twelve Songs of Christmas

The Chuck Wagon Gang, ‘Shall We Gather At the River,’ a traditional Christian hymn written in 1864 by Robert Lowry, based on his tune ‘Hanson Place’. In addition to being included on Set 2 (1958) of Aaron Copland’s Old American Songs and being the object of a revised arrangement by Charles Ives, the hymn became a staple of early western films. No director made better use of it than John Ford, who featured it in five films (including Stagecoach, which made a star of John Wayne, and The Searchers, which made a myth of John Wayne) as a device symbolizing a community’s unity in faith during difficult times.

Johnny Cash sings ‘A Thanksgiving Prayer’ to June Carter Cash on an episode of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman

Aaron Copland, ‘Down a Country Lane,’ commissioned by Life Magazine, 1962

Vince Guaraldi, ‘Thanksgiving Theme’

Vince Guaraldi, ‘The Great Pumpkin Waltz’

Thelonious Monk, ‘Stuffy Turkey,’ from the 1964 album It’s Monk’s Time, with Monk on piano; Butch Warren on bass; Ben Riley on drums; Charlie Rouse on tenor sax. Produced by Teo Macero.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, ‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,’ the best known of Martin Luther’s hymns. Composed sometime between 1527 and 1529, its first hymnal printing was in Joseph Klug’s Wittenberg hymnal of 1528 and another from 1592, of which no copies exist. The earliest extant hymnal featuring it is Andrew Rauscher’s 1531 volume. It was originally titled Der xxxxvi. Psalm. Deus noster refugium et virtus. The most popular English version is A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing and was translated by Frederick H. Hedge in 1853.
Another popular English translation is by Thomas Carlyle and begins A safe stronghold our God is still. Luther’s ‘Our God, he is a tower of strength’ is one of the many translations of ‘Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott.’


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