History of Hymns: 'Praise the Lord with the Sound of Trumpet'
By C. Michael Hawn
“Praise the Lord with the Sound of Trumpet”
by Natalie Sleeth
The Faith We Sing, 2020
Praise the Lord with the sound of trumpet,
praise the Lord with the harp and lute,
praise the Lord with the gentle-sounding flute.
Praise the Lord in the field and forest,
praise the Lord in the city square,
Praise the Lord anytime and anywhere.*
*©1975 Hinshaw Music, Inc. All rights reserved.
In 1969, Natalie Sleeth (1930–1992) published a three-part quodlibet, “Canon of Praise,” with the Dallas-based children’s and youth choir educational publisher, Choristers Guild. It became the all-time, best-selling anthem for this church music publisher. In 1970, Carlton R. Young (1926–2023) premiered Sleeth’s “Jazz Gloria” at the annual Christmas service for Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University (SMU), in Dallas, Texas. In Young’s words, “It was an immediate success, and its publication propelled her into a remarkable career of over 200 published works ranging from children’s songs to full anthems” (Young, Canterbury Dictionary).
Words and melody seemed to flow effortlessly from Natalie Sleeth. Known primarily as a composer of children’s choir anthems, Sleeth earned a reputation for biblically based texts enriched by lively, memorable melodies that almost taught themselves. Carlton Young knew Sleeth well from their time together in Dallas when he was a church music professor at Perkins School of Theology, SMU, and she was on the staff of Highland Park United Methodist Church, a congregation adjacent to the University’s campus. He described her compositional process and mastery this way:
Sleeth was a thoughtful and talented poet and composer who usually wrote both words and music. Her compositional technique, in part, involved recording musical ideas and playing them back as she improvised at the keyboard. Her works are noted for their accessibility to choirs and their directors with little formal musical training, and their immediate reception by school and church audiences. Many are found in her Sunday songbook: a collection of unison songs for any age Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1976) (Young, Canterbury Dictionary.)
“Praise the Lord with the Sound of Trumpet” (1975) appeared first as an anthem in the immensely popular Sunday Songbook. Her text, a paraphrase of parts of Psalms 148 and 150, consists almost entirely of one- and two-syllable words, making it accessible to children of any age. In a manner not unlike Isaac Watts (1674–1748) in the early eighteenth century, Sleeth contemporized her paraphrase to speak to her time and place. For example, Sleeth takes verse 9 from Psalm 148—“Praise the Lord . . . you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars” (NIV)—and reframes it as “Praise the Lord in the fields and forests, / praise the Lord in the city square.” Verse 3— “Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars” (NIV)—becomes “praise the Lord by the light of sun or moon.”
She concludes her praise poem by echoing Psalm 150:6—“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.” (NIV)—“Praise the Lord in the peace and quiet, / in your work or play, / praise the Lord everywhere in every way.”
The Christian Reformed Church was the first to incorporate the anthem into its denominational collection, The Psalter Hymnal (Grand Rapids, 1987), under the creative editorship of Emily Brink (b. 1940), followed by a dozen other Catholic and Protestant hymnals and supplements in Canada, the UK, and the United States. Several of her anthems have also been adapted and incorporated into hymnals, including “Everywhere I go, the Lord is with me” (1975), “Go now in peace” (1976), “Go ye, go ye into the world” (1979), “God of great and God of small” (1973), “There’ll be joy in the morning” (1977), and “Were you there on that Christmas night” (1976). Sleeth’s most sung anthem turned into a hymn is the poignant text/tune, “In the bulb there is a flower” (“Hymn of Promise”) (1985).
Natalie Sleeth began studying piano at four years of age and grew up singing in various choral ensembles. She graduated from Wellesley College in Massachusetts (BA, 1952), studying music theory, piano, and organ. Her marriage to homiletics professor Ronald E. Sleeth in 1952 took her to Evanston, Nashville, Dallas, and Denver, accompanying him in the various positions he held. The success of her career as an anthem composer may be traced to her study in choral arranging in Dallas with SMU composer and conductor Lloyd A. Pfautsch (1921–2003) and music theory with Jane Manton Marshall (1924–2019), two of the foremost composers of American church music in their era. Sleeth dedicated “Canon of Praise” to Marshall and “Jazz Gloria” to Pfautsch. She received honorary doctorates from West Virginia Wesleyan College (1959) and Nebraska Wesleyan College (1990). The best description of her compositions may be found in her devotional book, Adventures for the Soul (1990). Natalie Sleeth died of cancer in Denver, Colorado, at the age of 61.
“Natalie Sleeth,” Composer Profile, https://www.hopepublishing.com/470 (accessed June 22, 2023).
Carlton R. Young, “Natalie Sleeth,” The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. Canterbury Press, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/n/natalie-sleeth (accessed June 22, 2023).
Verses marked NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
C. Michael Hawn, D.M.A., F.H.S., is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Church Music and Adjunct Professor, and Director, Doctor of Pastoral Music Program at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.