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How Can I Keep From Singing?

[ Roud - ; Ballad Index FSWB353A ; DT KEEPSING ; Mudcat 32196 ; words trad., music Robert Wadsworth Lowry (1869)]

How Can I Keep From Singing? is a Christian hymn with music written by American Baptist minister Robert Wadsworth Lowry. The original composition has now entered into the public domain, and appears in several hymnals and song collections, both in its original form and with a revised text.

Doris Plenn learned the original hymn from her grandmother, who reportedly believed that it dated from the early days of the Quaker movement. Plenn contributed the third verse below around 1950, which was taken up by Pete Seeger and from then on by other folk revivalists.

Jennie Manners sang How Can I Keep From Singing? at the Festival at Towersey in 1968.

Bram Taylor sang How Can I Keep From Singing? in 1986 on his Fellside album Dreams and Songs to Sing. This track was also included in 1999 on his anthology Singing! The Bram Taylor Collection. From the 13 June 1987 "final broadcast" of A Prairie Home Companion. Lovely rendition, by Scottish singer Jean Redpath, of a beautiful hymn. In STEREO, thanks to a simulcast FM radio broadcast on Connecticut Public Radio.

This video shows Jean Redpath singing How Can I Keep From Singing? at the 13 June 1987 broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion:

Grace Notes sang How Can I Keep From Singing? in 1993 on their first album, Down Falls the Day.

Cordelia’s Dad sang How Can I Keep From Singing? in 1998 on the anthology of songs of Pete Seeger, Where Have All the Flowers Gone?.

False Lights sang How Can I Keep From Singing? in 2015 on their album Salvor.

Karina Knight sang How Can I Keep From Singing? on her 2020 album of songs learned from her parents, From the Knee.

Alex Cumming sang How Can I Keep From Singing? on his 2020 download album Isolation Sessions: The Songs. and on his 2024 album Homecoming. He noted on the first album:

This is a beautiful traditional hymn with a musical setting from Robert Wadsworth Lowry in 1869.

and on the second:

This is a song that has got me through some incredibly hard times, through the Covid years and my battle with chronic pain. I had known this song for a long time but first arranged and performed the piece whilst I was the Music Director for Unitarian Universalist Church of Medford, MA. For the first month of the pandemic I had to move away from my partner and children due to being Immunocompromised and my wife being a doctor working on the front lines of the Covid outbreak. This was a really scary time, being away from my family, the fear I could die or become seriously ill, but this song really helped keep my head above the water. No matter what, this song reminded me I could still sing and hold onto the music to guide me through.

Elly Lucas sang How Can I Keep From Singing? on her 2023 download album In the Quiet of the Waiting. She noted:

How Can I Keep From Singing? began as an old hymn, but was beautifully reworked and added to by Pete Seeger and Doris Plenn in the 1960s. Music is and has always been incredibly important to me and my mental wellbeing through trying times, as it has for so, so many others, and there was something about this song which just seemed particularly fitting for the strange days we’re in.

Featuring as the backing for this track are a series of field recordings from a sunny walk along the Rivelin Valley in Sheffield; a gentle meander, marvelling at how many more layers of birdsong I could hear with the microphone gain turned up that little bit higher.


Grace Notes sing How Can I Keep From Singing?

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentations,
I hear the real, tho’ far-off hymn
That hails a new creation;
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear its music ringing;
It sounds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?

Although the tempest loudly roars,
I hear the truth, it liveth.
What though the darkness ’round me close,
What in the night it giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that rock I’m clinging;
Since love is lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?

When tyrants tremble, sick with fear,
And hear their death-knell ringing,
When friends rejoice both far and near,
How can I keep from singing?
In prison cell and dungeon vile,
Our thoughts to them are winging;
When friends by shame are undefiled,
How can I keep from singing?

(repeat first verse)


See also the Wikipedia entry for How Can I Keep From Singing?.