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Kirkpatrick, William James (27th February 1838-20th September 1921)

He was a musician, singer and composer born in Keerogue, County Tyrone, Ireland, whose family immigrated to Philadelphia in 1840.  His father was a schoolteacher and musician and William was interested in music from the time he was very young.

He wanted to become a violinist and could play several instruments before he entered into his formal music education and training as a carpenter.  He would also study with the singer Professor T. Bishop and took membership with the Harmonia and Handel and Haydn Sacred Music Societies.

In 1855 he became a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Wharton Street, Philadelphia, and here he would often accompany church services on violin or cello, as there were very few church organs at that time.

He also began writing hymns at that time which would remain unpublished, but his “When the Spark of Life is Waning” that appeared in Musical Pioneer, was issued when he was 21 and this would be the first of up to fifty that would be printed in his lifetime, several written in collaboration with John Sweeney.

Although his first love was the playing music for churches, writing hymns and issuing publications, it never provided enough income to keep him and his family comfortable, so he made carpentry and furniture making the main source of financial support.

During the American civil war he served with the Union army as a fife major in the 91st Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteers and it wasn’t after the war had been finished for several years and the death of his first wife in 1878 that he finally began to concentrate on writing tunes for some of the popular hymns of the day.  He would act as a song-leader at camps and it was during one of these times that he wrote the music and words for the hymn “Lord, I’m Coming Home” which had been influenced by a young man who never stayed to hear the sermons after the songs were finished.

Other hymns he set to music, which total 86, include “Redeemed, How I Love To Proclaim It”, “Tis Sweet to Trust in Jesus”, “We Have Heard the Joyful Sound” and his “Cradle Hymn” which is the music that is often used in the United Kingdom for the popular carol “Away in a Manger”.

He died at his home in Germantown, Pennsylvania, while working at his desk on a piece of music in 1921 and was discovered by his wife, Sara.  He was 83 years old.

Paul Hill Chorale recordings
CRC 2258 (CD: A Paul Hill Chorale Christmas)
Conductor – Paul Hill
Organist – Sondra Proctor
National Capital Brass and Percussion Ensemble

Cambridge Singers and City of London Sinfonia recordings
Collegium 106 (CD: Christmas Night. Carols of The Nativity)
Conductor – John Rutter

Choir of St. John’s, Cambridge recordings
London 421 022 (CD: Christmas Weekend -16 Favourite Carols)

Robert DeCormier Singers and Ensemble recordings
Arabesque 6526 (A Victorian Christmas)
Conductor – Robert DeCormier

Kings College Choir, Cambridge recordings
London 444 848 (CD: Noel – Christmas at Kings)
Conductor – Sir David Willcocks

Robert Shaw Chorale recordings
RCA 6429 – 2 – RG (CD: A Festival of Carols)
(Arrangers – Robert Shaw/Alice Parker)