They called it Melton Mowbray (and referred to as “a favorite song of Zion;”) it is generally known as ‘Head of the Church Triumphant’.
Hiram Bingham & Asa Thurston of the Pioneer Company spontaneously broke into singing this song at:
• Ordination of Bingham and Thurston at Goshen (Sep 29, 1819);
• Receiving Instructions from the ABCFM at Park St. Church (Oct 15, 1819);
• Parting Address delivered by Asa Thurston at Park St. Church (Oct 16, 1819);
• Long Wharf, Boston Harbor on the day of their departure to Hawaiʻi (Oct 23, 1819) and
• Kawaihae, shortly after the arrival of the Pioneer Company (Apr 1, 1820)
Ordination of Bingham and Thurston at Goshen
At the ordination of Hiram Bingham and Asa Thurston, “A larger assembly than had ever congregated here thronged the old meeting-house. There were many outside who could find no accommodation within.”
“Nearly all the Foreign Mission School were present; as also several students from the Andover Seminary, who afterwards became missionaries. Strangers, too, from a distance were here, the honored and the excellent.”
“‘The sermon was preached by the Rev. Dr. Heman Humphrey, who had been a theological pupil of Mr. Hooker in this place, and was afterwards President of Amherst College, from the words: ‘And there remaineth yet very much land to be possessed.’ (Joshua xiii: 1.) It was quite in advance of the general spirit and sentiment of the times.’” (Hibbard, History of Goshen)
“ Without previous intimation the two consecrated young men stepped into the broad aisle, and with clear, strong, ringing voices — Thurston, tenor; Bingham, bass; sung Melton Mowbray (‘Head of the Church Triumphant’).’”
“‘The effect was electrical. Those young missionaries were looked upon as martyrs. Some pictured them as finding their graves in the bottom of the ocean; some as meeting with death at the hands of savages; some as the welcomed heralds of glad tidings to isles waiting for God’s law, and for the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“Enthusiasm rose to the highest pitch. There are junctures when nothing but the voice of sacred song can either lift the soul to heights unattained before, or give utterance to its exalted emotions.’” (Hibbard, History of Goshen)
Receiving Instructions from the ABCFM at Park St. Church
“The mission received the public instructions of the Prudential Committee given by Dr. Worcester, on the evening of the 15th of Oct., at Park St. Church, when one of these pioneers preached ” on the grand design of the Bible to promote benevolent action.”
“Many churches, in different parts of the country, moved by the same spirit, engaged in special, earnest prayer for the success of this mission, and many a heart began to anticipate the happy result of the enterprise.” (Bingham)
Parting Address delivered by Asa Thurston at Park St. Church
“The next morning, Saturday, October 16, at 10 o’clock, Mr. Thurston delivered a farewell address in the same church to a large congregation of friends of missions from various parts of New England.
Kawaihae, shortly after the arrival of the Pioneer Company
When the American Protestant missionaries first arrived in the Islands, they broke into song. Hiram Bingham notes that on April 1, 1820, off Kawaihae, Kalanimōku came onboard their boat.
“The chiefs, on this occasion, were rowed off with spirit by nine or ten athletic men in each of the coupled canoes, making regular, rapid and effective strokes, all on one side for a while, then, changing at a signal in exact time, all on the other.”
“Each raising his head erect, and lifting one hand high to throw the paddle blade forward beside the canoe, the rowers, dipping their blades, and bowing simultaneously and earnestly, swept their paddles back with naked muscular arms, making the brine boil, and giving great speed to their novel and serviceable sea-craft.”
“These grandees and their ambitious rowers, gave us a pleasing indication of the physical capacity, at least, of the people whom we were desirous to enlighten, and to whose necessities we rejoiced to know the Gospel to be adapted.”
“As they disappeared, the sun sank to his western ocean bed towards populous China, and the full orbed moon, brightly reflecting his light, rose majestically from the east, over the dark Pagan mountains of Hawaii, symbolizing the approach of the mission Church, designed to be the reflector of the sun-light of Christianity upon that benighted nation.
“Then, ere the excitement of the chiefs’ visit was over, Mr. Thurston and his yoke-fellow (Hiram Bingham) ascended the shrouds, and, standing upon the main-top (the mission family, captain and crew being on deck) …”
“… as we gently floated along on the smooth silent sea, under the lee of Hawaii’s dark shores, sang a favorite song of Zion (Melton Mowbray), which they had sung at their ordination at Goshen, and with the Park St. Church choir, at Boston, on the day of embarkation.” (Bingham)
New Musical Tradition with Harmony and Choral Singing
When the missionaries first arrived at Kailua-Kona in 1820, King Kamehameha II and his entourage came aboard the Brig Thaddeus and listened to the hymns sung by the missionaries. “Happy to show civilities to this company, at our own table, we placed the king at the head of it, and implored the blessing of the King of kings, upon our food, and on the interview.”
“All assembled on the quarter-deck of the Thaddeus; and the mission family with the aid of a bass-viol, played by George P. Kaumuali‘i, and of the voices of the captain and officers, sang hymns of praise.”
“Apparently pleased with this exercise, and with their interview with the strangers, our royal visitors gave us a friendly parting aloha, and returned with favorable impressions of the singular group of newcomers, who were seeking among them an abode in their isolated territories.” (Bingham)
“Our singing, aided by the bass viol, on which G. P. Tamoree (Humehume) played, was pleasing to the natives, and will probably have a salutary influence in winning them to approve and to engage in Christian worship.” (Journal of the Mission, Missionary Herald, May, 1821)
“One of the oldest residents, Mr. H—, at the sound of the songs of Zion had the tears upon his furrowed cheek. He had heard nothing of the kind for more than twenty years. He is a native of Mass. O, that it might appear that the gospel is not sent to him and others, after this long voluntary banishment from it, in vain.” (Sybil Bingham)
It has been stated that formerly there was no word in the Hawaiian language for singing as we know it. The modern term is hīmeni an adaptation of the word hymn. The native Hawaiians first obtained an idea of real melody from the hymn singing of the missionaries. (Roberts)
The Pioneer Company of missionaries (April, 1820) introduced new musical traditions to Hawai‘i – the Western choral tradition, hymns, gospel music, and Western composition traditions.
They brought strophic hymns and psalm tunes from the late-18th century in America. The strophic form is one where different lyrics are put to the same melody in each verse. Later on, with the arrival of new missionaries, another hymn tradition was introduced was the gospel tune with verse-chorus alternation. (Smola)
Once established in the Islands, missionaries used songs as a part of the celebration, as well as learning process. “At this period, the same style of sermons, prayers, songs, interrogations, and exhortations, which proves effectual in promoting revivals of religion, conversion, or growth in grace among a plain people in the United States was undoubtedly adapted to be useful at the Sandwich Islands. … some of the people who sat in darkness were beginning to turn their eyes to the light”. (Bingham)