Sunday, May 08, 2011

The Many Uses of a Dark Room

»In The Garden«

Summer has returned. And a Sunday in May is just the right day to present the religious hymn »In The Garden«.

Soul Note LP # 1006 (1980)
Both Mitty Collier and Fontella Bass, among many others, have recorded versions of this song. Mitty Collier's version comes from her LP »The Warning« (1972). Fontella Bass's version is contained on her album »From the Root to the Source« (Soul Note # 1006, 1980, Italian pressing). The songs on Fontella's LP were recorded on 4. & 5. February in the Barigozzi Studios, Milan. Fontella is accompanied by her mother Martha Bass who had been active for decades in the gospel circuit and for a time was a member of the famous Ward Singers.

The hymn »In The Garden« was composed in 1912 by Charles Austin Miles (1868-1946) and belongs since many years to the common repertoire of gospel singers, even if neither composer nor his song made it into Anthony Heilbut's Gospel Sound. However, Cedric J. Hayes's / Robert Laughton's The Gospel Discography 1943-1970 (West Vancouver: Eyeball Productions 2007) lists no less than 25 recordings of this song (up to 1970), and the list does not include the many commercial »Pop-Gospel«-recordings of the song by the likes of Dionne Warwick (1968), Loretta Lynn (1968), Pat Boone (1957), Perry Como (1958) and Elvis Presley (1967)! (Perry Como's version, recorded on June 18, 1958, with the »Ray Charles Singers«, was arranged by Ray Charles himself.)

In a blog entry, the great-granddaughter of C.A. Miles provides the following information: »By the way, for a little bit of irony, the gospel song we are speaking of, In The Garden, was written on a cold, dreary day in a cold, dreary and leaky basement in New Jersey that didn't even have a window in it let alone a view of a garden.« This more or less corresponds to what Miles himself (as quoted in George Washington Sanville's book Forty Gospel Hymn Stories, 1947) said, namely that he had the inspiration for this song in his dark room where he kept, curiously, not only his photo equipment but also his organ.

He then opened his Bible in the dark, opening it in the chapter 20 of John. The story there tells of Jesus, arisen from the tomb, as he speaks to Mary Magdelene on Easter morning. Miles had a vision in which he saw the scene ... and this vision became the song: »Under the inspiration of this vision I wrote as quickly as the words could be formed the poem exactly as it has since appeared. That same evening I wrote the music.« It does not matter much whether visions of that kind enter in your frame of belief or not. The interesting thing is that Miles's is presented as a very »modernistic« version of an enlightening vision – Miles said about his first reaction afterwards: »I awakened in full light« – because it conceptualizes darkness viz. blindness not metaphorically but in the quite real setting of a ... dark room!

Well, here are the two versions of the songs, first that of Fontella Bass, followed by that, some years older, of Mitty Collier. The lyrics below follow Bass's version; Collier treated the traditional lyrics somewhat more freely, changing the text or adding to it.

Fontella Bass (1980) / Mitty Collier (1972), »In The Garden«:

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses,
And the voice I hear falling on my ear:
The Son of God discloses

And don't you know He walks with me
And He talks, He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
Oh, none other has ever known

He speaks and the sound, the sound of His voice
Oh, so sweet the birds hush their singing
And the melody that He gave to me within, within my heart
Within my heart is ringing

Don't you know, He walks with me and He talks, He talks with me
And He tells me I am, I am His own
And the joy we share as we, as we tarry there
None other has ever known ... ... ...

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