Tuesday, November 18, 2014

"Shall We Gather At The River", or how to tell when you've seen too many cowboy movies.

A couple of weekends ago the choir at Mass sang Hanson Place (which I didn't know it was titled), more popularly known as Shall We Gather At The River.  It's a neat tune, and I know the first verse of the song by heart.

But not for the right reasons, and it instantly brings up a strong mental association with Western movies, which unfortunately says a lot about me, and nothing about the song.

The tune may be well known, but I've never heard it in a Catholic church before, so it caught me off guard.  None the less, all its lyrics are familiar to me.
Shall we gather at the river
Where bright angels feet have trod
With it's crystal tides forever
Flowing by the throne of God.

Yes, we'll gather at that river
The beautiful, the beautiful river
Gather with the saints at that river
That flows by the throne of God.
Why do I know it? Well it seems to be in every Western movie ever filmed, and sometimes to make a counter point or set up an ironic scene.

For example, its the tune being played, with its common name even mentioned, in the opening really violent scense of The Wild Bunch.  In that movie, temperance marchers are playing it just before the big gun battle breaks out.  It's also in another film by the same director, Sam Peckinpah, Major Dundee, in which its sung at a funeral for soldiers actually killed in a river crossing.  A funeral scene also figures in John Ford's The Searchers, where its sung again.

I looked it up, and while I don't recall it, it's also apparently sung in Stagecoah, Hang 'Em High, Three Godfathers (a great film), and My Darling Clementine,  all of which I've seen.  and two of which I like.  It apparently is also sung in Cat Ballou and The Oregon Trail, which I haven't seen.  Its use in film seems to be traceable to director  John Ford who really liked the hymn. 

It's apparently also spread beyond Westerns.  According to what I read, it shows up in Hobson's Choice, Tobacco Road, Elmer Gentry, and others.

I guess that means it has entered into what some would call "The American Song Book".  Of course, that also means I've seen too many Western movies.

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