History of the Volumes

History of the Songs from the Sanctuary Hymns Spirituals & Classic Gospels

One of the liveliest sounds on the Princeton Seminary campus is the harmony of a congregation singing in Miller Chapel. And for the last several years, one of the most distinctive voices leading the congregation has belonged to PTS graduate William N. Heard (2004, 2005).

“William Heard was and remains a phenomenal gift to Princeton Seminary,” said Martin Tel, the Seminary’s director of music. “People here came to know William as a gospel musician par excellence, which he is, but those who sang with him in the Cantate Domino Choir, the Chapel Choirs, and the Alumni touring choir also know that he possessed a mastery of the spiritual as well, not to mention his extensive background in Western classical and global music.”

Heard has been singing for over four decades, starting in his childhood home, Corpus Christi, Texas. “I sang as a child in my dad’s church,” he said. “My dad pastored Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church in Corpus Christi, where he sang as well as preached. My mother was a singer, too.”

Those early years of singing in his father’s church greatly influenced Heard, who released his first CD, Songs from the Sanctuary Hymns Spirituals & Classic Gospels, a compilation of hymns and gospel music between Master of Divinity and Mater of Theology degrees. “I was influenced by male gospel quartet singers and soloists my dad invited to minister in the services,” said Heard. “He also bought albums of the great gospel artists like James Cleveland, Mahalia Jackson , Shirley Caesar, Aretha Franklin, Sam Cook, and Tommy Dorsey as well as recoding groups like the Swan Silvertones, the Pilgrim Jubilees, the Staples Singers, and Clara Ward and her singers.  I was greatly impacted by and instructed in the worship experience of the African American church.”

Heard’s inaugural production in the Songs from the Sanctuary Hymns Spirituals & Classic Gospels series, was released on Valentine’s Day 2005. It contained 14 tracks, with well-loved songs like “Blessed Assurance,” “Here I Am, Lord,” and “My Living Shall Not Be in Vain.” Heard’s first recordings for the CD were completed in the fall of 2004, and came during a rather turbulent time for his family. “When I began my Th.M. in the summer of 2004,  my family and I had to leave Seminary housing,” said Heard. While securing new housing “we found ourselves with no place to live. But even though things were complicated, we decided to push on with the recording.”

Volume II was produced in 2006 after graduation with classics like “Give Me A Clean Heart” by Black sacred music pioneer Dr. Margaret Pleasant Douroux, “God Has Smiled On Me”, Dr. C. A. Tindley’s  “Beams of Heaven (Someday)”, and Heard’s  arrangement of “Lord I Know I’ve Been Changed”. Volume III, completed in 2010 in time for Heard’s second tour in India, features sacred favorites like “We’ve Come this Far by Faith”, contemporary classic “I Love the Lord”,  Andre’ Crouch’s timeless standard “Through It All”.

“I’ve wanted to record as long as I can remember. Every time I sang somewhere, people would ask when I would have a recording available,” said Heard. “It was simply a matter of approaching the sound engineer for the Seminary’s choirs about how I could record, and the rest has been history. I am indebted to PTS professors Dr. Martin Tel and Dr. Cleophus J. LaRue for their wisdom and encouragement”.

Songs from the Sanctuary, available in Cokesbury Books store on Princeton Seminary’s campus, at Heard’s web site, www.HeardSong.com, and at www.NTimemusic.com, has generated a good deal of notice. “Willie Heard has a really wonderful voice,” said PTS president Iain Torrance. “But, even more than that, he represents a depth of spirituality expressed in his music that I had never encountered before. That’s why he is on my iPod, and I often listen to him on plane journeys.”

“I love his music,” said pastor Simeon Spencer of the Union Baptist Church, Trenton New Jersey, where additional tracks for Volume I  were recorded,  “Heard’s selections and delivery are timeless. My mother

is 80 years old, and my father just passed away, and this is music I heard them sing. It’s music that goes to the heart and soul of the African American worship tradition.”

He hopes to release four additional Volumes in the Songs from the Sanctuary series, including CDs with Christmas, Easter & Christ’s Passion, and  The Funeral Songs themes, and Volume VII, a compilation of music from the main-line Black churches: Baptist, Methodists, and C.O.G.I.C. (Pentecostal).

“I have a global vision for my music.” said Heard. “I have been blessed to share copies of the Volumes with people from all over the world who are part of the Princeton Seminary community. Some of the richest experiences of my life happened during my time at the Seminary, especially opportunities to share my gifts with other people sharing their gifts.”

Although Heard has graduated, he is still involved with the PTS choirs. Many of the concerts on the Volumes were recorded in live concerts and services in Miller chapel such as, “Marching to Zion: Sacred Songs from the African American Worship Experience,” “This Far By Faith: Music From the African American Church Tradition, and Dem Dry Bones: A Revival of the African American Spiritual, recorded in observance of the PTS Bicentennial celebrations (1812-2012), which featured the narration of PTS Professor Emeritus, Dr. Peter J. Paris, and Choral Assistant Minister Michael R. Gittens.

Heard says affectionately of these historic sociocultural presentations, “If you have ever heard or enjoyed hymns, spirituals, or classic gospel music, you will thoroughly enjoy these renditions, interpretations, and corporate expressions, captured in the Songs from the Sanctuary

Excerpts taken from PTS Inspire Magazine Summer/ Fall 2005
outStanding in the field

Press Play! PTS Alumnus Releases

Songs from the Sanctuary

by William Shurley