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"Tis Midnight and on Olive's Brow" by William B. Tappan.
Voices Only
Photo by Erik Tryggestad

Voices Only: What (or where) is ‘Olive’s Brow?’

Welcome to Voices Only, your weekly dose of great a cappella.

This past Sunday night my congregation sang the classic hymn “‘Tis Midnight and on Olive’s Brow.” I dug around for a good a cappella video version to share, but all I could find is this audio-only version from the Dallas Adult Christian Concert Choir.

Still, it’s a really nice rendition of the song.

As we sang the hymn, it occurred to me that I have no idea what “Olive’s Brow” is referring to. I know this song is about Jesus’ prayer just before his crucifixion, and that sweat drops of blood fell from his “brow.”

But who’s Olive? Or are we talking about the Mount of Olives?

I did a quick web search and — wouldn’t you know — one of the first things I saw was a blog post from Neal Pollard, a minister for the Lehman Avenue Church of Christ in Bowling Green, Ky. I’ve heard Neal speak at church events in the past. (If memory serves, he has excellent taste in college football teams.)

Here’s what Neal wrote about the hymn:

“The song is about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane the night He was arrested and ultimately led to the cross. … ‘Brow’ would be a poetic, late Middle English word for the top of a hill. The phrase, ‘The star is dimmed that lately shown’ would simply reinforce the idea of darkness and the anxiety such would add to Jesus’ suffering.”

Ah. Clears that up. Thanks Neal!

What’s your favorite a cappella song? Send us a video link and a short description of what the song means to you. We might use your selection in a future Voices Only.

Filed under: a cappella A Cappella Hymns Christian hymns hymn Voices Only Voices Only

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