Welcome to the official website of pianist and composer Deanna Witkowski.

Deanna cover photo for Raindrop (no text)

Posted in blog | Leave a comment

HYMN TUNE HISTORY: HYMN TO JOY (Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee)

Just in time for Thanksgiving: Here’s the fourth entry in my hymn history co-blog with author and activist, Pam McAllister.  We’re exploring the history of each of the hymns on Makes the Heart to Sing: Jazz Hymns.

This week, we look at the tune, HYMN TO JOY with the text, “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.”  As Pam explains, the hymn text was inspired by a visit to the Berkshires.

Click to hear a clip of HYMN TO JOY from Deanna’s new album, Makes the Heart to Sing.



Henry van Dyke (1852-1933) was well-established as a professor of English literature at Princeton University when he visited the president of William College in Western Massachusetts one day in 1907. There, he was overwhelmed by the beauty of the Berkshires. He picked up his pen and wrote the words of the hymn we know as“JOYFUL, JOYFUL, WE ADORE THEE.”

According to the story, when he handed the poem to his friend, van Dyke said, “Here is a hymn for you. Your mountains were my inspiration. It must be sung to the music of Beethoven’s ‘Hymn to Joy.’”

Artaban helps a dying man, illustration by Jackie Morris from The Greatest Gift (picture book)

Before teaching at Princeton, Dr. van Dyke spent seventeen years as the pastor at Brick Presbyterian Church (1883-1900). Parishioners and tourists crowded into the Manhattan sanctuary to hear his sermons.

One Christmas Eve, he told the hushed gathering about a man named Artaban, the fourth wise man, who missed his caravan connection with the Magi because he stopped to help a dying man. Delayed, he arrived in Bethlehem too late and spent the next 33 years searching for Jesus, using the gifts he’d brought for the baby to rescue those in distress. And then, at last, he reached Jerusalem on a significant day and …. I don’t want to spoil it for you, dear blog reader. You can read it here. Continue reading

Posted in blog, news, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment