The story behind “Joy to the World” is that it took almost one hundred years to be completed by two of the most influential music writers of their day. The first writer is Isaac Watts who was born in England in 1674. Isaac’s father was a reformer for the Protestant church and was often jailed and persecuted for his stance against the Church of England, in fact his father was in prison for his birth. Isaac also was a reformist, but in the form of church music. The songs of the church in Isaac’s day were limited to chants of the Psalms. Isaac’s father challenged him to write more modern hymns using less archaic language. Isaac took this challenge to heart and wrote over 600 hymns in his lifetime and many more poems. Many of the hymns are still sung in churches today.
Early on in his hymn writing, Isaac met with great resistance. He finally got a job at a church in London and quickly moved up the ranks to the head pastor. Here is where his hymns were finally meet with approval. While studying Psalm 98, which says, “Make a Joyful Noise,” Isaac was inspired to write a 4-stanza poem called “Joy to the World.”
Forty-four years after Isaac Watts’ death, Lowell Mason was born in New Jersey. He was trained in classical music with a love of Hayden and Handle. He stayed for a while in the New Jersey area as church choir director and music teacher but decided that was not a way to make a living. Therefore, he moved to Savannah, Georgia and became a banker by day and on weekends a church choir director and composer. He composed several classical music arrangements and sent them off to a publisher in Boston. They were rejected at first, but in 1827, a publisher printed his music and the Hayden and Handle society ordered 50,000 copies. He quickly moved to Boston where he was the toast of the town for over 20 years. He was also a revolutionary, like Watts, Mason wanted to get music to the youth so they would appreciate it, but was running into all kinds of walls. Therefore, he took his own money and started the first public school music program. Like Watts, he also wrote more than 600 hymns.
While reworking parts of Handel’s Messiah, Mason wrote a tune he called Antioch that had no words to fit the tune. It took three years for Mason to finally use Watt’s Poem “Joy to the World.” The carol did not become popular until in the infancy (1911) of records. Victor’s recording produced a record with the Trinity Choir singing “Joy to the World,” and the rest is history.
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