Thy Goodness, Lord, a Joyful Theme

Thy Goodness, Lord, a Joyful Theme, an anthem for SATB chorus & organ, was the result of a 2019 commission from the First Presbyterian Church of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, (Marjorie Johnston, Director of Music) in celebration of the Church’s 200th anniversary.

Just as such a milestone anniversary as this reflects multiple centuries, so, too, the words set in this anthem come from an older time and even pre-date our nation’s Declaration of Independence. Samuel Willard (1640-1707) wrote his hymn text, Thy goodness, Lord, a joyful theme, in the latter part of the 17th century. It was published in 1830 as part of a collection of Samuel Willard’s hymns entitled, Sacred Poetry and Music Reconciled, or A Collection of Hymns Original and Compiled. Even now, in the 21st century, Samuel Willard’s powerful and moving words remain fresh and vital.

A New England clergyman and hymn writer, Samuel Willard was a native of Concord, Massachusetts. He graduated from Harvard College in 1659 and went on to serve as an influential minister to a number of New England churches, including Old South Church in Boston and the New England Calvinistic Church. Toward the end of his life, from 1701 to 1707, he worked in the administration of Harvard, serving the institution as both its Vice President and President.

Samuel Willard’s original hymn text, Thy goodness, Lord, a joyful theme, consists of five stanzas. I chose to set four of these stanzas and closed the anthem by repeating the first stanza. Reflecting the first stanza’s words, “a joyful theme,” my anthem is based on one primary musical theme that is varied throughout the piece. It is first heard in the organ introduction. This theme goes on to appear throughout the duration of the anthem, being heard in both the organ and chorus. The first and last sections of Thy Goodness, Lord, a Joyful Theme are majestic in spirit, with a contrapuntal middle section, reflecting stanzas 3 and 4, being more lyrical and reflective. The climax of the anthem, over the power of full organ, comes with the repeat of the first stanza text. These first stanza words, so fresh and meaningful, seem to sum up Samuel Willard’s entire hymn text: “Let love divine our hearts inspire, And harmonize our tongues.”
Dan Locklair
Duration: ca. 4’ 30”

1. Thy goodness, Lord, a joyful theme,
Demands our grateful songs.
Let love divine our hearts inspire,
And harmonize our tongues.

2. Thy goodness smiles in every dawn,
And gilds the evening sky.
In every scene of joy and grief
The God of grace is nigh.

3. Ten thousand eyes are fixed on thee,
Nor hope nor wish in vain.
Ten thousand tribes of happy things
Thy bounteous hands sustain.

4. O grant us, Lord, a heart to feel,
How good and kind thou art;
And still our woes and wants relieve,
And every grace impart.

Samuel Willard