Saturday, August 24, 2013

Traditional Hymn and Gospel Renditions of "Rock Of Ages"

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post features four different genre of the 18th century hymn "Rock Of Ages" (also known as "Rock OF Ages, Cleft For Me". Those genres which are represented in this post are: traditional English hymn, White American Gospel, and African American Gospel.

Information about the composition of "Rock Of Ages" and a link to the lyrics of that hymn are also given in this post.

The content of this post is presented for religious, anthropological, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

"Rock of Ages" is a popular Christian hymn by the Reverend Augustus Montague Toplady written in 1763 and first published in The Gospel Magazine in 1775.

...Traditionally, it is held that Toplady drew his inspiration from an incident in the gorge of Burrington Combe in the Mendip Hills in England. Toplady, a preacher in the nearby village of Blagdon, was travelling along the gorge when he was caught in a storm. Finding shelter in a gap in the gorge, he was struck by the title and scribbled down the initial lyrics on a playing card.

The fissure that is believed to have sheltered Toplady is now marked as the "Rock of Ages", both on the rock itself and on some maps, and is also reflected in the name of a nearby tea shop."
Click for the lyrics for that song.

(These videos are posted in chronlogical order based on their posting date, with the oldest video posted first.)

Example #1: Hide Me, Rock of Ages - The Statesmen Quartet

statesmenfan, Uploaded on Oct 29, 2008
"The Statesmen Quartet was a southern gospel music group founded in 1948 by Hovie Lister. Along with the Blackwood Brothers, the Statesmen Quartet is considered the most successful and influential gospel quartet of the 1950s.[1]...Along with hits spanning many decades, The Statesmen Quartet had many notable successes including being the first Gospel group to receive endorsement deals. Additionally, they made television commercials, appeared on numerous radio and TV shows, and were signed to RCA Victor before launching their own label, Skylite Records, with The Blackwood Brothers."
The music genre given to this group on that Wikipedia page is "Southern Gospel". It seems obvious to me that the genre of "Southern Gospel" was heavily influenced by African American Quartet singing. Click for information about the history of African American religious music in general, and African American Quartet singing in particular.

Example #2: Union Baptist Church Gospel Choir Singing "Rock of Ages" 02.22.09-11A.M.

BaptistBoi, Uploaded on Feb 24, 2009
I'd categorize this rendition of "Rock Of Ages" as an African American Gospelized hymn.

According to a commenter in this video's viewer comment thread, it appears that this arrangement was originally done by Truth Ministry (TM) Youth Mass* Choir.

Click for a sound file of that choir's rendition of this song.

*In African American Baptist churches the term "mass choirs" usually means members of all of the church's choirs combined in one choir. In the case of the Truth Ministry choir, the term "mass" choir may mean "a combination of several youth choir from that church or from several churches".

By the way, "Union Baptist" is a common name for African American Baptist churches. In the 1950s and 1960s I was a member of a church with that name in Atlantic City, New Jersey (actually "Union Baptist Temple"). At that church then & now, the song "Rock Of Ages" is sung as a hymn. Indeed, when I was attending that church-if not now- to "gospelize" that hymn in the way that choir in the video did would have probably been frowned upon and considered to be sacriligious.

Example #3: Rock of Ages cleft for me (Acapela)

calvarymennonite, Uploaded on Mar 28, 2010

Rock of Ages cleft for me (Acapela) as sung by Calvary Mennonite Youth Group
This is the traditional rendition of the hymn "Rock Of Ages".

Example #4: "Rock of Ages" | Northwestern High School Reunion Choir

The_Music_Note, Uploaded on Jul 22, 2011

The Northwestern High School Reunion Choir perform a classic favorite of ours, "Rock of Ages", at the 2009 Reunion Benefit Concert at the Northwestern High School Auditorium. The song rocks on forever and ever thanks to alumnus and former student director, Mr. Sevron Howard, Class of 1999.
This is another example of the gospelized version of "Rock Of Ages". Notice that the differences in the performance of this predominately African American choir and the African American choir in Example #2 of this post (for instance, the lack of accompanying handclapping and rhythmical movement in the beginning of Video #4.)
One commenter on this video's viewer comment thread wrote: "with all the respect, this is a song to sing with a slower music.

this kind of music takes the peace of the song away."
My response to that comment was "It seems to me that people who like this rendition of that song could gather just as much peace from it as they could gather from the traditional, slower rendition. And/or those people or some other people might not get any sense of peace from the traditional, slower rendition of "Rock Of Ages" because that rendition doesn't conform to their musical aesthetics.

In other words, it's okay for musical taste to vary in religious music as well as other music."

Click for a post about a Kenyan song that is based on the English hymn "Rock Of Ages".

Thanks to the composer of "Rock Of Ages". Thanks also to those who are quoted in this post, thanks to those choir members and musicians who appeared in these videos, and thanks to the publisher of these featured videos.

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