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Music at Eden’s Birth

This year Eden is celebrating an important birthday! At this time in 1864, a small group of interested people in Hayward was holding meetings and Sunday School classes in various homes. By September 1865, nine Christians had met, entered into a covenant, and adopted the framework for what they named Eden Congregational Church.

Music for services at Eden has always been an important element of worship. However, those first years were vastly different from the current choir and magnificent organ that play an important role in our worship services today. Like most small churches of that time, they had no choir. Hymns were sung by the members of the congregation joining voices to express their faith through music. Also like most churches, Eden had no hymnals. These weren’t purchased until 1885 for 16 cents per copy. Hymns of that time were simply religious poems and might be sung to any melody that fit the rhythm of the lyrics and were familiar to the congregation. Different congregations might sing the same poetic lyrics to totally different melodic tunes. Even in churches fortunate to have hymnals, the books simply were collections of religious poems without music notes.

Hymns could be led by the pastor or by any member of the congregation. If the hymn was well known, everyone would join in with the leader. For new or less familiar ones, the call and response method was used. The leader would sing a single line and the group would follow. They would proceed through the hymn, one line at a time, until it finally became comfortable to all. We don’t really know if they used accompaniment in the beginning, but we do know that the daughter of one of the founders played piano for the church for many years.

Favorite hymns of the 1860s were greatly influenced by the Civil War. They were sung by the soldiers as they marched off to battle and around the campfire in the evenings. Most of these are great favorites still today: Onward, Christian Soldiers (this one was sung to several different tunes); Holy, Holy, Holy; The Church’s One Foundation; Work for the Night is Coming; What a Friend We Have in Jesus; and Now the Day is Over. One of the favorite songs of the Union soldiers was John Brown’s Body, but when a friend suggested she compose religious lyrics to replace those, Harriet Beecher Stowe sat down and gave us the stirring Battle Hymn of the Republic.

This tradition of poems being sung to many different tunes is still reflected today when various denominations may sing the same words to different tunes, or the same tunes to different words. Some of the words in our hymnal have been changed to be gender neutral and open and affirming. If you look carefully in our hymnal, at the top right corner it tells the author of the poem; at the bottom of the hymn it tells which of many traditional tunes is being used and the composer, if known.

~ Jacqueline Blake, 150th Anniversary Committee