The Best for the Children
It’s difficult to know which songs will endure for generations and which will quickly fall into oblivion; but it is not surprising to find strong elements of quality in songs that are used generation after generation. Such is the case with the famous children’s song “Jesus Loves Me.”
William Bradbury (1816-1868) was an American composer of hymns and gospel songs. For part of his training, he traveled to Germany to attend the conservatory that had been founded by the famous Felix Mendelssohn; and he studied music theory, composition, and piano with some of the finest instructors of his day.
Aware of the fact that children are often easily able to sing a five-note scale (the pentatonic scale) before they can negotiate the regular seven-note scale, he chose to set the melody of “Jesus Loves Me” in this easily sung scale. Because the pentatonic scale is extremely common in Chinese folk music, this children’s song became a favorite in that nation as well. Though his harmonies are appropriately simple, his working out of the four parts is elegant and completely professional.
Anna Warner had written an extraordinarily popular novel entitled Say and Seal, and she had included the poem as something the character Mr. Linden reads to the character Johnny Fox as he nears death. Her handling of both meter and rhyme demonstrates her thorough grasp of the conventions of English poetry. When William Bradbury read the poem, he realized it had great potential; and he created the musical setting that is still known internationally.
In a way, the famous children’s song “Jesus Loves Me” is a tribute to people who have given their best efforts to help children. As the old adage says, once they had climbed the mountain of learning, they came back down to feed the people. Of course, our Lord Jesus clearly spoke about the importance of children (Matthew 19:14); and when His disciples would have thought of them as irritating distractions, the Lord demonstrated that they were worthy of His time and attention.
We may have great learning and great abilities. However, it is wise for us to pause and to ask, “What have I done to help a child?”