T. C. O'Kane

1830 - 1912

 

AMONG all the popular gospel and Sunday-school song writers of our times, no one is more widely known or holds a higher place in the affections of the Christian world than T. C. O'Kane. He was one among the very first to strike out with more freedom in his melodies and rhythms, and introduce the style of songs that have since taken such a strong hold upon the people, and that have been the great moving power in religious revivals and great religious convocations.

 

Tullius Clinton O'Kane was born in Fairfield County, Ohio, March 10, 1830. He resided with his parents in this vicinity until the spring of 1849, when he went to Delaware, Ohio, and entered the Ohio Wesleyan University, from which he graduated in 1852, with the degree A. B., and received his A. M. degree three years later from his Alma Mater.

 

Immediately upon his graduation, he was tendered a position in the Faculty as Tutor of Mathematics, which he accepted and successfully filled for five years. The students always called him "Professor," by which title he is known to the present day.

 

His musical abilities were early recognized in the University, and for years he was the musical precentor in the daily chapel devotions. He organized and maintained a Choral Society in the College, and was the first musical instructor in the Ohio Wesleyan Female College, which a few years ago was incorporated into the University.

 

In 1857 he was elected to a principalship in the Cincinnati public schools, and served in that capacity until 1864, when he resigned his position to accept a place in the piano establishment of Philip Phillips & Co. He remained with this house until its removal to New York City in 1867, when, although urged to be transferred with the house to that city, he preferred to remove with his family back to Delaware, Ohio, where he now resides.

 

For the ensuing six years he travelled over the state of Ohio as the general agent for the Smith American Organ Co., of Boston, Mass. During this time he visited conferences, Sunday-school conventions, both State and County, introducing his Sunday-school singing books, and in this way became well known throughout his native state, and quite extensively in some of the adjoining states.

 

His musical compositions were first published in Philip Phillips' '"Musical Leaves," in 1865, and since then but few Sunday-school singing books have appeared without one or more of his compositions.

 

His first music book, "Fresh Leaves," was issued in 1868. This was followed at intervals by "Dew Drops," "Songs of Worship," "Every Sabbath," "Jasper and Gold," "Redeemer's Praise," "Glorious Things" and "Morning Stars." In connection with his son, Edward T. O'Kane, who is himself a most excellent composer and a very skillful organist, in 1882 he issued "Selected Anthems," a book designed for use by the more advanced choirs. In association with J. R. Sweney and "Chaplain" McCabe, he issued "Joy to the World," a song book for prayer-meetings, and the same editors, with the addition of W. J. Kirkpatrick, compiled "Songs of Redeeming Love, No. 1," in 1882, and No. 2 in 188Y. He also issued "Songs of Praises," "Unfading Treasures" and " Forward Songs."

 

Some of Professor O'Kane's best known songs are: "Glorious Fountain," "The Home Over There," "On Jordan's Stormy Banks," "Say, are You Ready?" and many others. With Mr. O'Kane, music and musical composition have ever been a recreation, rather than a profession. He is an excellent leader of choirs, but his forte seems to be in leading large congregations, Sunday-schools and social religious meetings in sacred song. He sings "with the spirit and the understanding also " — with a due appreciation of both words and music — and very naturally infuses his enthusiasm into his audiences so that they cannot "keep from singing." In his music he endeavors to catch the spirit of the hymn, and then give it expression in the music he composes for it. This sometimes seems to have been almost an inspiration, and could be illustrated by a reference to the circumstances under which many of his compositions have been made.

 

One of his earlier and more widely known pieces is that entitled, "Over There." He says he cut this hymn out of some newspaper and put it with others in his portfolio, intending some time when he felt like it to give it a musical setting. One Sunday afternoon, after studying his lesson for the next session of his Sunday school, he opened his portfolio, and turning over the selections, found these words, and something seemed to say, " Now's your time." He sat down at the organ, studied the hymn intently for a few moments, and then, as his fingers touched the keys of the instrument, melody and harmony were in every movement, and when the stanza was ended, melody and harmony found their expression in the chorus, and " Over There " was finished.

 

Another of his well known songs is "Sweeping Through the Gates." One cold, blustery day he had occasion to go from his residence to the railroad depot, about a mile distant, and in his route had to cross the river on a suspension foot-bridge. As he came down to the bridge, he thought of the "river of death," so cold, with no bridge, and then the words of the dying Cookman came to his mind, and he exclaimed to himself:

 

“Who, who are these beside the chilly wave"?

 

Words, melody and refrain seemed to come all at once and all together, so that by the time he arrived back at his home, the composition was complete.

 

Professor O'Kane is a genial, modest. Christian gentleman, who carries sunshine wherever he goes. His greatest joy comes from the consciousness that his music has cheered and comforted the hearts of Christian people all over the world, and has been the means of winning thousands from the pleasures of the world to the higher enjoyments of the Christian religion. His song, "Sweeping Through the Gates," will be sung till all the ransomed are gathered "Over There."

 

On the morning of February 10, 1912, immediately after family devotions, in which Professor O'Kane led and closing with the Lord's Prayer, he started for his room when heart failure seized him and he fell unconscious and in a few minutes his spirit had taken its flight to his "Home Over There." How beautiful and peculiarly appropriate that he went home with the "Amen" of his Master's great prayer as his last spoken word.

 

Source: Biography of Gospel Song and Hymn Writers by J. H. Hall (1914)