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Updated 01/23/2020


While by My Sheep

“While by My Sheep” is a traditional German carol by Nach Friedrich von Spee in 1623. Spee (February 25, 1591 – August 7, 1635) was a German Jesuit priest, professor, and poet, most well-known as a forceful opponent of witch trials and one who was an insider writing from the epicenter of the European witch-phobia.

Spee wrote the lyrics and tunes of dozens of hymns, and is still the most heavily attributed author in German Catholic hymnals today. Although an anonymous hymnist during his lifetime, today he is credited with several popular works including the Advent song "O Heiland, reiß die Himmel auf", the Christmas carols "Vom Himmel hoch, o Engel, kommt" and "Zu Bethlehem geboren", and the Easter hymn "Lasst uns erfreuen" widely used with the 20th-century English texts "Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones" and "All Creatures of Our God and King".

Hugo Jüngst arranged the text to a traditional German melody. Jüngst (born 26 February 26, 1853 - March 3, 1923) was a German composer and choir-leader.

Theodore Baker translated the carol into English. Baker (June 3, 1851– October 12, 1934) was an American musicologist. He studied business but turned to music as a career, becoming an organist in Concord, Massachusetts. In 1874 he moved to Leipzig, Germany where he studied with Oscar Paul. He attended Leipzig Conservatory beginning in 1878 where he was awarded a doctorate in 1881. His dissertation, published in 1882 as Über die Musik der nordamerikanischen Wilden (On the music of the North American Indians), dealt with the music of the Seneca Indians, and was the first major work published on the music of American Indians.

In 1890 Baker returned to the United States. In 1892, he became literary editor for the music publisher G. Schirmer, a job he held until 1926. During his tenure he translated a considerable body of books and libretti into English.



Lyrics by Nach Friedrich von Spee

  While by the sheep we watched at night,
glad tidings brought an angel bright.

How great our joy!
Great our joy!
Joy, joy, joy!
Joy, joy, joy!
Praise we the Lord in heaven on high!
Praise we the Lord in heaven on high!

There shall be born, so he did say,
in Bethlehem a child today.

There shall the child lie in a stall,
this child who shall redeem us all.

This gift of God we'll cherish well,
that ever joy our hearts shall fill.