We are in a special time of the year in our calendar when our fancy turns to the outdoors. We see new life aborning and yard and field work beckoning. While the fruitfulness of the earth becomes more apparent as buds and blossoms appear, human fruitfulness in the form of affection and love become more prominent in our hearts and culture. A young man’s fancy turns to love, or at least it should so turn. Our poets all celebrate this human response to the moon’s calendar and the agrarian reality. As Lord Tennyson waxed in his poem Locksley Hall, “In the Spring, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.”
In the Biblical Songbook, King Solomon had the same sentiments when he wrote in his Song of love (2:11-13): “See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of song has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land. The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance. Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me.”
As far as the Bible is concerned, April is the beginning of the year when the fruitfulness of God’s creation is evident to all. The biblical month of April is called either Abib or Nisan. Abib is the older of the terms, and means “young head of grain” indicating new birth. The Bible refers to April as the “first month” or the “lead month” (Ex. 12:2), the “turn of the year” (2 Sam. 11:1), the “beginning of the months” (Num. 10:10), or even the “month you came out of Egypt,” (Ex. 23:15), signifying God’s new life through redemption.
The Church has recognized the pleasures of April and the advancing warm and fruitful weather of spring, and the retreating rigors of bleak winter in her hymns. Isaac Watts, the great 18th century English hymnist, wrote two hymns that extol providential actions in bringing us April. In 1707 he wrote the wonderful hymn “There is a Land of Pure Delight” which is a paean of praise of paradise: “There is a land of pure delight, where saints immortal reign. . . There, everlasting spring abides, and never withering flowers; death like a narrow sea divides, this heavenly land from ours… Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood, stand dressed in living green.”
Ten years later Watts wrote the hymn “With Sounds and Honors Sounding Loud” which tells us, “He sends his showers of blessing down to cheer the plains below. He makes the grass the mountains crown, and corn in valleys grow. He sends his word, and melts the snow; the fields no longer mourn. He calls the warmer gales to blow, and bids the spring return. With songs and honors sounding loud, praise ye the sovereign lord.”
Turning now to the American Songbook, the earliest popular standard to celebrate April is the 1921 golden-oldie, Buddy DeSylva/Lou Silvers’ song “April Showers” from the Broadway show, Bombo. In the play, the song was sung by the extraordinary, Al Jolson. The story is told that when Jolson introduced the song he unexpectedly jumped up on the stage runway, pointed his right arm to the gallery and shouted, “Look, look, they’re not clouds, no, no – they’re crowds – crowds of daffodils.” The packed theater of 1700 open-nighters went in to a near frenzy. 36 curtain calls later, “April Showers” was to become part of Jolson’s permanent repertoire. He reprised it for his post-war 1946 bioflic The Jolson Story, which even then sold over a million copies. “April Showers” was the last song he ever sang in public – to wounded American soldiers in a Korean hospital in l950 when he was dying himself.
(“April Shower” performed by Al Jolson)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1Z0odJJj00
Next up on our cavalcade of spring standards is the most famous of all April songs from the American Songbook, the beautiful and haunting “April in Paris” by Vernon Duke and “Yip” Harburg. The song was written for the 1932 revue Walk a Little Faster. The lyrics tell of a love for a beautiful and romantic city, with the realization that the love of a person is what makes April and the City of Lights so special. Specific and unforgettable images beguile the listener as they settle into the mind: “chestnuts in blossom, holiday tables under the trees.” In l934 Freddy Martin’s orchestra had a number 5 hit with the song, and almost 20 years later April-born Doris Day revisited this standard in the l952 movie of the same name. And here is the beguiling Ms Day:
(“April in Paris” performed by Doris Day)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mur2DI1BInE
Now we come to an Abbot and Costello movie tune “I’ll Remember April” from their 1941 cinema classic, Ride ‘Em Cowboy. Written by Gene DePaul and Don Raye, the song tells of a April goodbye: “I’ll be content – you loved me once in April. Your lips were warm, and love and Spring were new. But I’m not afraid of autumn and her sorrow, for I’ll remember April and you.” Here is the wonderful Jo Stafford from her melancholic 1959 album I’ll Be Seeing You singing the lovely but sad“I’ll Remember April”:
(“I’ll Remember April” performed by Jo Stafford)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v3arD1tEabQ
Finally, in 1957 Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster wrote “April Love” for the movie of the same title. Early rock and roll superstar and outspoken Christian, Pat Boone, recorded the song which charted for 19 weeks and sold over a million records and was nominated for an academy award. In the movie, Boone sings the song to a local Kentucky farm girl played by the captivating Shirley Jones: “Sometimes an April day will suddenly bring showers, rain to grow the flowers, for her first bouquet. But April love can slip right through your fingers, so if she’s the one don’t let her run away.” By movie’s end Pat and Shirley sing of April’s love together.
(“April Love” performed by Pat Boone)https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtnjgXo3tPY
April is a time for recommitment to the things that matter to us – love, romance and new birth. The American Songbook naturally picks up on this human desire for serious companionship and new beginnings. Whether it’s the Victorian DeSylva/Silvers or the post-modern Fain/Webster, all our popular April songs speak of the passing of the seasons. So we are to be opportunistic in hanging on to love. Watts, however, assures us that the love of our life, Jesus the Christ, awaits us in a “land of pure delight” where spring lasts for ever. So rejoice, fellow Christians in this time of the year because it is a foretaste of eternal April
This is Bob Case for “Singing in the Shower: The American Songbook and the Church”