As we celebrate Independence Day, I thought everyone might enjoy seeing this sheet music cover of arrangements of two patriotic songs for piano. They are the work of St. Paul’s own George William Warren, our organist and choirmaster from 1848 until 1860 (excepting the ten months that he played at Second Presbyterian).
These arrangements were published in 1861, the year after Warren left St. Paul’s to take the same position at Holy Trinity Church in Brooklyn. 1861 was also the first year of the Civil War, and in the image we see a Union soldier boldly displaying the Stars and Stripes. In this period, the United States did not have an official national anthem; “Hail Columbia” and “The Star Spangled Banner” were both popular on patriotic occasions. “Hail Columbia” is still used today as the Vice President’s ceremonial entrance march.
While Warren is the most prolific and best-known 19th century musician and composer to be associated with St. Paul’s, one rarely sees his name today. You will, however, find him in our hymnal, as the composer of “National Hymn,” the melody to which we sing “God of Our Fathers.” Is it coincidental that the accompaniment to “National Hymn” starts with a fanfare reminiscent of the ruffles and flourishes that traditionally precede “Hail Columbia”?
 Warren composed “National Hymn” in 1892 as a contribution to the Episcopal hymnal then in preparation. It was first sung by a quartet and large chorus on October 10, 1892 at St. Thomas Church during a Columbian service, celebrating the four hundredth anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in North America. The setting was published in The Churchman that same year, and appeared in The Church Hymnal published in 1894. See “Beginning the Festival: Thanksgiving Services in the Churches” New York Tribune 8 Oct 1892, 1; “St. Thomas’ Church,” New York Herald 10 Oct 1892; “In the Churches: Special Services Appropriate to the Anniversary—Many Out-of-town Visitors” New York Sun 10 Oct 1892; “The Episcopal National Hymn” Buffalo News 24 Dec 1892, 1; “Music,” The Churchman, volume 67, number 7 (18 Feb 1893), 244.
In a 1901 letter, Daniel C. Roberts, the author of “Faith of Our Fathers,” wrote that Warren composed the melody as a member of a two-person committee charged with selecting “a hymn for the centennial celebration of the Constitution.” Could the Rev. Mr. Roberts have misremembered, or been misinformed? No contemporary account mentions a connection to the centennial of the Constitution’s adoption, which had occurred four years earlier, in 1888. Roberts’ letter is transcribed in Louis F. Benson, Studies of Familiar Hymns, Second Series (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1923), 122.