My Faith Looks Up to Thee

My Faith Looks Up to Thee (An Anthem for SATB Chorus & Organ)
by
Dan Locklair

My Faith Looks Up to Thee (Anthem for SATB Chorus & Organ) was composed in January 2024 and is warmly dedicated to Peggy Haas Howell (Organist & Choirmaster) and the Parish Choir of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. Approximately 4½ minutes in length, the anthem is a setting of three stanzas of the well-known hymn text by the American hymn writer, Ray Palmer (1808 – 1887). A native of Rhode Island, Mr. Palmer grew up in the Boston area and was a graduate of Yale College (now University). Ordained to the ministry in 1835, Rev. Palmer went on to serve Congregational churches in Maine and New York. In addition to being a preacher, teacher, and writer of hymns, Ray Palmer also wrote and published original poetry throughout his lifetime.

According to various hymnody sources, Mr. Palmer unexpectedly met Lowell Mason in Boston in 1830. Long recognized as both America’s first public school music teacher and the “father of American church music,” Lowell Mason is said to have inquired to Mr. Palmer whether or not he might have a hymn available for inclusion in Mason’s upcoming publication, Spiritual Songs for Social Worship (1833). Originally in six stanzas, Ray Palmer presented My Faith Looks Up to Thee to Lowell Mason, who quickly penned music for it, calling his hymn tune, OLIVET. According to Hymnary.org, this original pairing of Palmer’s words and Mason’s tune and harmonization has now appeared in 2180 hymnals.

In Robert J. Morgan’s 2003 book, Then Sings My Soul, Mason is said to have told Palmer: “You may live many years and do many good things, but I think you will be best known to posterity as the author of ‘My Faith Looks Up to Thee.’”

For a composer, it is always a challenge to set a hymn text that has been connoted for generations with a well-known and, for many, a beloved melody like OLIVET. However, neither that melody nor its harmonization appears in my anthem. Instead, my setting seeks to express three stanzas of Ray Palmer’s original text in a fresh and expressive way. It is my hope that my anthem, based on these well-known and meaningful 19th century words, will bring about new insights to them for 21st century worshipers.

Dan Locklair
Winston-Salem, North Carolina

My faith looks up to Thee,
Thou Lamb of Calvary,
Savior divine!
Now hear me while I pray,
take all my guilt away;
O let me from this day
be wholly Thine.

May Thy rich grace impart
strength to my fainting heart,
my zeal inspire;
as Thou hast died for me,
O may my love to Thee
pure, warm, and changeless be,
a living fire.

While life’s dark maze I tread,
and griefs around me spread,
be Thou my Guide;
bid darkness turn to day,
wipe sorrow’s tears away,
nor let me ever stray
from Thee aside.

Ray Palmer (1830)