(1838 – 1876)
In 1849, Philip left home to earn his own livelihood. Over the next six years, he worked as a farmer, assistant cook and woodcutter. Despite the ungodly influences of his rough and rowdy fellow workers, Philip remained steadfast in his faith.
Attending school as and when he could, Philip gained enough education to enable him to teach. In 1856, he was assigned the position of schoolmaster at Hartsville, New York.
o Musical Career
The following year, Bliss met J G Towner, who taught singing. Recognising the young man’s musical talent, the latter gave Philip his first formal voice training and the opportunity to attend a musical convention in Rome, Pennsylvania that winter. At the convention, Philip met William B Bradbury, a famous composer of sacred music, who persuaded him to be a music teacher.
In 1859, Philip became a music teacher in the Rome Pennsylvania Academy. It was here that he met his future bride, Lucy Young, the eldest daughter of the family he was lodging with. A gifted poet from a family of singers, Lucy encouraged Philip to develop his musical talents. They were married on 1st June 1859. While pursuing his musical studies, the young groom worked on his father-in-law’s farm for US$13 a month. In the evenings, he supplemented his income by teaching music.
A year later in 1860, Philip had acquired sufficient musical knowledge and experience to become an itinerant music teacher. He travelled from one community to another with his old horse, a ramshackle buggy and a $20 melodeon. In the winter, Philip conducted singing schools, and in the summer, he pursued his musical studies at the Normal Academy of Music at Geneseo, New York.
In 1864, the Blisses moved to Chicago where Philip became widely known as a music teacher and singer. On one of his concert tours, he was offered a position with Root and Cady, a Chicago music publisher at a salary of $150 a month. Between 1865 and 1873, Philip, “often with his wife by his side, … held musical conventions, singing schools, and sacred concerts under the sponsorship of his employers. He was becoming more popular in concert work, not yet directing his full efforts into evangelical singing. He was, however, writing a number of hymns and Sunday school melodies, and many of these were incorporated into the books, The Triumph and The Prize”
o Ministry in Chicago
In 1869, Philip was led, by God’s providence, to serve with two Chicago evangelists. One summer evening, the Blisses were taking a stroll when they passed a revival meeting where Dwight L Moody was preaching. Drawn by the earnestness of the speaker, they went in to listen. Philip noted the weak singing due to the lack of a music leader.
“‘From the audience, I helped what I could on the hymns, and attracted Moody’s attention. At the close of the meeting, he was at the door shaking hands with all who passed out, and as I came to him he had my name and history in about two minutes, and a promise that when I was in Chicago, Sunday evenings, I would come and help in the singing at the theater meetings. This was the commencement of our acquaintance.’ … How little did either of the two men who met that night at the theater door realise what God was preparing them for, and the relation they would in future years sustain to one another in the work of winning souls.”
A year later, Philip was taking the place of a song leader in a gospel meeting when he met Major Daniel W Whittle who recommended him for a position of choir director at the First Congregational Church in Chicago.
Major Whittle recorded his impressions of the new choir director: “He held, as I did, that all music in connection with worship, whether by instrument or voice, should be consecrated and worshipful. In his conception, he who led at the organ should be one to come to the keys fresh from his closet, one who should pray, as his hands swept over the manuals, that the power of God might, through him, constrain the people’s hearts to worship in spirit and in truth. So he believed that all who led in the service of song should sing with grace in their hearts; that the music should be strictly spiritual music – not selections made on grounds of taste, high musical character, but selections aimed at honoring God, exalting Jesus Christ, magnifying His Gospel – music, in a word, that God’s Spirit could wholly own and use to comfort, strengthen, and inspire God's people, and lead unsaved souls to Christ. Accordingly, the highest devotional character marked all his selections, all his rehearsals, all his leadership in the Lord’s house. It was his invariable custom to open his rehearsals by prayer.”
(… to be concluded)
(Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations are from Memoirs of P.P. Bliss http://www.biblebelievers.com/bliss/mem_ch1.html).