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Hymnology prof honored with personalized hymn

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–What better way to honor a hymnologist than to present him with a hymn written in his honor?

Such was the case when Harry Eskew, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary professor of music history and hymnology and music librarian, was honored during a Jan. 25 banquet at First Baptist Church in New Orleans. The banquet was part of the seminary’s 26th annual Church Music Symposium, titled this year “In Celebration of the Church’s Song.”

The hymn, “Give Us Courage,” was written by Terry York, associate professor of Christian ministry and director of the doctor of ministry program at George W. Truett Theological Seminary in Waco, Texas, with the hymn tune, “ESKEW,” composed by Benjamin Harlan, dean and associate professor of church music at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. The song’s dedication described the professor as an esteemed teacher and an exemplary Christ-follower.

The words, too, celebrated Eskew’s willingness to follow the Lord: “Give us courage, Lord, to learn, the courage to teach; the courage to move when you say, ‘Come,’ to move when you say, ‘Go.'”

Eskew, a member of the NOBTS music faculty for more than 35 years, recently announced his plans to retire on July 31.

“There is no way to replace the man, Harry Eskew … ,” said Ken Gabrielse, chairman of New Orleans Seminary’s division of church music ministries and former student of Eskew.

The seminary’s music division quietly organized this year’s symposium, held at the Sellers Music Building, without Eskew’s knowledge, inviting friends, colleagues and former students to participate. During the three-day symposium, participants were given the opportunity to present papers on the topics of their choice.

Paper presenters included Hugh T. McElrath, former V.V. Cooke professor of church music at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C., who coauthored “Sing with Understanding” with Eskew; David W. Music, professor of church music at Southwestern; as well as many of Eskew’s former students, including York; Paul Powell, head of cataloging at Princeton Theological Seminary; Joel Reed, chairman of the department of music and director of choral activities at Mars Hill (N.C.) College; Lewis Oswalt, coordinator of church music studies at Mississippi College; Lee Hinson, assistant professor of church music and director of the church music department at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Mo.

The papers are intended to be a part of a Festschrift, or articles collected into a book, to be given to Eskew at a later date.

“What all of us know in this room, if NOBTS ever had a world-class scholar in a particular area, that world-class scholar is — not would be — Dr. Harry Eskew,” said NOBTS President Chuck Kelley, before the 130 alumni, faculty and friends gathered for the banquet. “The very first professor who knew my name and called me by my name was Dr. Harry Eskew,” Kelley said about his own first days as a student more than 25 years ago. “He [Eskew] loved students … not just those who studied under him.”

“It has been a great privilege to know this man as brother in Christ, caring friend, elder statesman, professional colleague and occasional cohort!” said Darryl Ferrington, NOBTS associate professor of music education. “I have found in him the best combination of unlikely combinations … a scholar of such excellence that he was asked to contribute to the Groves Encyclopedia of Music and Musicians, yet a common laborer who sawed boards and drove nails to build homes for the homeless through Habitat for Humanity.”

Ferrington continued, “Here is a man who to my knowledge never conducted a professional orchestra in a major work, led a great mass choir in concert or thrilled hearts with solo recitals, yet he probably has more national name recognition than any professor who has ever had the privilege of teaching in the church music division at NOBTS.”

Eskew was also honored with the first annual “Harry Eskew Sacred Harp Sing,” where participants sing from “The Sacred Harp,” a shaped-note hymn book edited by Hugh McGraw.
Wetzel is a writer at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: HARRY ESKEW.

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  • Joan Wetzel