John R. Sweney
every one who can write music can write such as will sway the
multitudes and satisfy the demands of great occasions. The subject of
our sketch was one of the most successful of these. Mr. Sweney has made
his impress on the religious world. His music is sung everywhere, and
if he had one characteristic more than another it was that of
E. Sweney was born in West Chester, Pa., December 31, 1837. He gave
marked indications of musical ability at an early age. While yet a boy
he began to teach music in the public school and to lead music in the
Sunday-school. This musical work determined his whole future life. His
love for music and his success in it led him to choose it for a
profession. AWhile thus teaching and leading it was his custom to
occasionally compose for his school.
At the age of nineteen he
began the study of music in earnest under Professor Bauer, a celebrated
German teacher. He took lessons on the violin and piano. About this
time he was chosen leader of a choir, and was also in constant demand
for children's concerts and entertainments, as well as the conductor of
a glee club.
At the age of twenty-two he was called to teach at
Dover, Delaware, where he was successfully at work when the Avar broke
out. He then took charge of the band of the Third Delaware Reghnent,
and continued till bands were disbanded by the government. After
returning from the war he was appointed
Professor of Music at the
Pennsylvania Military Academy, then located at West Chester, Pa.
Previous to this time he had written several pieces for the piano,
which were published. Three years after, the Pennsylvania Military
Academy was removed to its present location, Chester, Pa., but at the
solicitation of many friends he remained in West Chester, and put his
energy into his teaching there, especially his band, until "Sweney's
Cornet Band" became famous in that part of the state.
he was recalled to the Pennsylvania Military Academy, and moved to
Chester, where he was professor of music in that institution for
In 1876 the academy conferred on him the
degree of Bachelor of Music, and in 1886, the degree of Doctor of Music
was conferred on him by the same institution. In 1871, having connected
himself with the church in Chester, he began the composition of sacred
music, and soon became widely known, and was in great demand as leader
of large congregations.
For many years he led the vast
assemblies at the well-known summer meetings at Ocean Grove, N. J. He
also had charge of the music at Lake Bluif, near Chicago; at New
Albany, Ind.; Old Orchard, Me.;
Round Lake, N. Y.; Thousand Islands,
and many other places ; in fact, he was one of the most popular and
successful song leaders in the country. It was a common saying among
evangelists that " Sweney knows how to make a congregation sing."
ten years or more he had charge of the music at Bethany Presbyterian
Church and Sunday-school in Plnladelphia, of which school the Hon. John
Wanamaker was superintendent—one of the largest Sundayschools in the
Mr. Sweney wrote over one thousand sacred songs.
Among his most popular ones are : "In the Morning," "Light after
Darkness," "Sunshine in the Soul," "More about Jesus," "Tell Me How,"
"Oh, 'tis Glory," "The New Song," "I Will Shout His Praise in Glory,"
etc., but the most popular and widely known, and the one that is sung
in almost every language, is "Beulah Land" His first Sunday-school
book, the "Gems of Praise," Avas issued in annual numbers beginning in
1871 and finished in 1876. He was then associated largely with Mr. Wm.
J. Kirkpatrick in issuing the following books: "The Garner," "The
Quiver," "The Ark of Praise," "Songs of Eedeeming Love—Nos. 1 and 2,"
"Joy to the World," "Wells of Salvation," "Gospel Chorus" (male
voices), "Our Sabbath Home," "Melodious Sonnets," "Joyful Sound," "On
Joyful Wing," "Precious Hymns," "Quartette," "Trio," "Temple Trio,"
"Revival Wave," "Infant Praises," "Emory Hymnal," "Showers of
Blessing," "Temple Songs," "Prohibition Melodist," "Sunlit Songs,"
"Radiant Songs," Songs of Triumph," "Glad Hallelujahs," "Songs of
Joy and Gladness—Nos. 1 and 2" "Hymns of the Gospel—New and Old"
(published in London, England), two anthem books called—"Anthems and
Voluntaries" and "Banner Anthems," and in connection with the Hon. John
Wanamaker, "Living Hymns" Mr. Sweney also Wrote a number of services
and cantatas, and associated with Mr. Kirkpatrick a temperance cantata
entitled, "The Water Fairies" He also edited a number of other books.
Sweney was editor or associate editor of about sixty books. He spent a
busy life and was very popular. He was the right man in the right
place. "Blessed is the man who has found his work; let him
ask no other blessedness" "Know thy work, and do it ; and work at it like Hercules."
Sweney passed away peacefully in the presence of his wife and children,
April 10, 1899.—A life well spent in the service of Sacred Song. 'Mourn
not the dead whose lives declare That they have nobly borne their part,
For victory's golden crown they wear. R eserved for every faithful
Source: Biography of Gospel Song and Hymn Writers by J. H. Hall; 1914