By Jane M. Gardner
“This Is My Song,” a World Conference favorite, has had an interesting path into many hymnals and our hearts. The music was created in Finland in 1899 as a symphonic tone poem by Jean Sibelius, called Finlandia, Op. 26.
As the name implies, it was part of musical tableaus depicting Finnish history. Sibelius’s choice of naming the music Finlandia was a subtle protest of Tsar Nicholas II’s declaration of Russia’s intent to rule Finland without the consent of local legislators. Russian censorship demanded that the piece could not be performed publicly, so alternate titles were used (like “Happy Feelings at the Awakening of Finnish Spring”).
The tone poem musically paints the image of the times in Finland, opening with agitated and disruptive sounds, from which emerges the beautiful melody we now identify with our hymn, “This Is My Song.” The tone poem (389 in Community of Christ Sings) is a favorite of classical-music audiences and routinely is offered in concerts by orchestras around the world.
As often happens, the popularity and heartfelt nature of the music encourages poets and authors to create texts to match the song’s evoked emotions. Sometimes the fit is good; other times it is not. In this case, Lloyd Stone, an American public schoolteacher, authored the memorable first two stanzas in 1934 from his home in Hawaii. His text describes his hope for all nations and was written during the brief time of peace between World War I and World War II.
The tone poem musically paints the image of the times in Finland, opening with agitated and disruptive sounds, from which emerges the beautiful melody we now identify with our hymn, “This Is My Song.”
The poet balances his love of country with how others feel about their homelands. The rich imagery of the text is applicable to countries around the world. At the end of stanza 2, Stone summarizes the purpose of his poem: “a song of peace for their land and for mine.”
The initial publication of this text is hard to trace, but it appears closely linked to the Wesleyan Service Guild, a Methodist women’s organization in the 1930s. The published text and tune became so popular through the guild’s newsletter that the executive director asked Georgia Harkness to create an additional stanza, requesting “a more distinctly religious note.”
Harkness places the creation of her third stanza between 1937 and 1939. Her text moves from the consideration of international harmony to a prayer to the “God of all.” There are obvious ties to the Lord’s Prayer: “thy kingdom come; on earth thy will be done.” The combination of this new stanza with the first two is somewhat disjointed. The focus on the worth of all countries and praying for peace pivots to individual devotion to God, ending with a personal statement of commitment. Even with this dual focus, the final result is beloved.
The initial publication of this text is hard to trace, but it appears closely linked to the Wesleyan Service Guild, a Methodist women’s organization in the 1930s.
How beloved? A quick Internet survey gleans a multitude of flash mob videos of this hymn—with and without orchestra. The song has been performed on albums by many famous recording artists. They include, to name a few:
- Indigo Girls on the Rarities album.
- Peter, Paul, and Mary on the Morning Glory album.
- Joan Baez on the Bowery Songs album.
And, of course, Community of Christ Sings includes this song in the Core Repertoire (available in English, French, and Spanish). We have sung it fervently at each World Conference since 1998, and probably before that. There is a wonderful Jan Kraybill recording on the Auditorium organ of “This Is My Song,” on the Community of Christ Sings Audio Recordings available from Herald House.
If you can attend or join online with the 2023 World Conference, you again will be able to experience the tenderness and majesty of this hymn. It truly has become a Community of Christ favorite song for peace.
2023 World Conference
Explore and interact with the story of the Good Samaritan through worship, celebration, and legislative meetings. With "Courage" as the theme, we will consider the example of Jesus, the peaceful One. Plan to be a part of this special event from 22-28 April 2023.