The Oracles of Concord

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William Channing Gannett

Boston-born and Harvard-educated Unitarian minister William Channing Gannett, composed these lyrics in 1894:

From Sinai’s cliffs it echoed,
It breathed from Buddha’s tree,
It charmed in Athens’ market,
It hallowed Galilee;
The hammer stroke of Luther,
The Pilgrims’ seaside prayer,
The oracles of Concord,
One holy Word declare.

This is the second verse of “It Sounds Along the Ages,” Hymn  No. 187 in the Unitarian Universalist hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition. The phrase “oracles of Concord” is usually understood to refer to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Bronson Alcott. Gannett was an ardent supporter of women’s rights, so he doubtless counted among his oracles Margaret Fuller, a frequent visitor to Concord and an influential voice in the Transcendental Club.

Gannett’s regard for the Transcendentalists was practically a birthright. He was named after his godfather, William Ellery Channing, whose liberal theology helped define American Unitarianism and laid the groundwork for the Transcendentalist movement.

(Image source: Conjubilant with Song)

Douglas Brinkley to speak on FDR at First Parish May 13


brinkleyFDRThe Thoreau Society and the Transcendentalism Council of First Parish in Concord present Douglas Brinkley speaking about his new book, Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America on Friday, May 13, at 7:00 p.m. at First Parish in Concord.

The acclaimed, award-winning historian examines the environmental legacy of FDR and the New Deal. Douglas Brinkley’s The Wilderness Warrior celebrated Theodore Roosevelt’s spirit of outdoor exploration and bold vision to protect wild America. In Rightful Heritage, Brinkley turns his attention to the other indefatigable environmental leader, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, chronicling his legacy as the founder of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and premier protector of America’s public lands. Rightful Heritage portrays FDR’s unrivaled passion and drive, and illuminates the tension between exploiting our natural resources and conserving them. It’s essential reading for anyone seeking to preserve our treasured landscapes as an American birthright.

Doug_BrinkleyDouglas Brinkley is a professor of history at Rice University, the CNN Presidential Historian, and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and Audubon. The Chicago Tribune has dubbed him “America’s new past master.” His recent Cronkite won the Sperber Prize for Best Book in Journalism and was a Washington Post Notable Book of the Year. The Great Deluge won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. He is a member of the Society of American Historians and the Council on Foreign Relations.

“American Visionaries” featuring Triple Helix, at First Parish in Concord, Friday, May 1


On Friday, May 1, at 7:30 pm, at First Parish in Concord (map), The Rivers School Choruses, conducted by Susan Emmanouilidis, and Triple Helix Piano Trio will present American Visionaries. The performance will include music inspired by the Transcendentalists, including composer Charles Ives and his grandiloquent Piano Trio. Lois Shapiro, pianist of Triple Helix, will also perform Ives’ Alcott movement from the Concord Piano Sonata.
Also for this inaugural performance, American composer Eric Sawyer has written a work for The Rivers School Choruses and Triple Helix entitled Transcendental Choruses. This world premiere sets two poems by authors of Concord’s Transcendentalist movement, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, and one by a writer connected to that movement both by personal friendship and philosophic dissent, Herman Melville. The sequence of texts allows for a musical succession from exuberance to bracing austerity to a more tempered, gentle affirmation. This also provides a range of opportunities for deploying the unusual choral accompaniment of piano trio, ranging from full orchestral color to lyrical lines spotlighting the sonorities of each instrument.
The concert takes place at First Parish in Concord, a church richly steeped in transcendentalist history. Emerson himself spoke from the pulpit many times, and his grandfather was a minister there. Jan Turnquist, a vivacious tour guide at Alcott’s Orchard House, will give a short, lively pre-concert lecture about the Transcendentalists.
This Concert is presented in collaboration with Music for Food. All donations will benefit Music for Food, a musician-led initiative for local hunger relief.
Tickets are free but must be reserved in advance. Please click this link to reserve tickets.

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Remembering Abraham Lincoln on the 150th Anniversary of his Death

Lincoln photograph by Anthony Berger, 1864, Library of Congress

Lincoln photograph by Anthony Berger, 1864, Library of Congress

In April of 1865, Concord mourned the assassination of President Lincoln with a memorial service at the First Parish Meetinghouse, featuring an address by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Please join us as we commemorate this historic anniversary on Sunday, April 12, at 3:00 pm, at First Parish in Concord, 20 Lexington Road (map). The program will include:

  • Ministerial Intern Brian Chenowith
  • Concord historian Rick Frese reading excerpts from Emerson’s 1865 eulogy for Lincoln
  • Readings by author Polly Peterson and historian Richard Smith, The Thoreau Society
  • Period music by pianist Jacqueline Schwab.
Lincoln Service in Concord

1865 broadside for the memorial for Lincoln at First Parish in Concord (From the collection of Rick Frese)


Rick Frese is the author of Concord and the Civil War: From Walden Pond to the Gettysburg Front, and he chaired Concord’s 350th Anniversary Committee in 1985 and served on the 375th Anniversary Committee in 2010.


Polly Peterson is a researcher, writer, and speaker in the field of American History, and the author of Stirring the Nation’s Heart: Eighteen Stories of Prophetic Unitarians and Universalists of the Nineteenth Century.


Richard Smith is a historian and interpreter who appears as Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond and other sites.


Bruce Blumberg, a former MIT professor, is an avid reader of Concord history and the Transcendentalists.


Jacqueline Schwab is a folk and classical improvisational pianist who has performed on the soundtracks for Ken Burns’ Grammy award-winning Civil War, the Emmy award-winning Baseball and Mark Twain, among others.


Brian Chenowith is ministerial intern at First Parish in Concord. He received his Master of Divinity from Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago.

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“Yosemites in the Soul: The Transcendentalizing of California,” Sunday, July 13


Please join the Transcendentalism Council on Sunday, July 13 at 10:00 am at First Parish in Concord. Polly Peterson will give the sermon, Yosemites in the Soul: The Transcendentalizing of California, as the highlight of a service that commemorates Thomas Starr King. It is planned in conjunction with the Annual Gathering of The Thoreau Society. The service will include special music by Roderick Phipps-Kettlewell and soprano Pam Schweppe, and be followed by coffee and light refreshments in the Parish Hall.

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Thomas Starr King (1824-1864) was a Unitarian minister, first in Boston and then in San Francisco, where his inspired sermons and lectures are often credited with keeping California part of the Union during the Civil War.

Polly Peterson is the author of Stirring the Nation’s Heart: Eighteen Stories of Prophetic Unitarians and Universalists of the Nineteenth Century as well as a number of biographical stories for the UUA’s Tapestry of Faith curriculum.

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