From our Archives: Daniel B. Towner
Shared by Sandy Chamberlain
Evangelism and music was not something I ever thought about as going hand in hand. But the people of Rome, Pennsylvania have been proud to recall two men who contributed to its religious history. One man is P.P. Bliss who will be discussed in an upcoming article. The object of today’s article is Dr. Daniel B. Towner.
Mr. Towner was born March 5th, 1850 in Rome, PA. According to an article from the May 1986 issue of The Settler, Mr. Towner was the second son of John Griffin and Julia Forbes Towner. He was the eighth generation of his family. Many of his descendants still live here. The house he was born in remained standing until April 1976 when it burned to the ground.
According to The Settler, Daniel's love for music was very evident at an early age. He preferred to sing and play than do farm work. After completing his elementary education, he walked two miles every school day to Rome where he attended the Academy and following that period, attended Susquehanna Collegiate Institute at Towanda, where he majored in music.
Daniel's father, J. G. Towner, taught music and directed the neighborhood singing schools which were a popular and instructive form of recreation in the late 1800's. These schools were conducted all over the Bradford County area and traveling was all by wagon or sleigh. One of the largest schools was held in the Methodist Church on Towner Hill.
Daniel later studied under such famous musicians as George F. Root in Chicago at the National Normal Institute. Dan had a marvelous bass voice which often moved his father to tears for the joy of hearing him sing. He won notable recognition and at the age of 17 was hailed as the “boy with the wonderful bass voice”.
In 1870 he married Miss Mary McGonigle a year later, they moved to Binghamton, NY where Daniel was employed as the director of music in the Methodist Episcopal Church. His wife was also a talented musician who assisted him greatly.
From Binghamton, they moved to Cincinnati, Ohio where Daniel was again in charge of music at the York Street Methodist Episcopal Church. It was in 1883 that Daniel
traveled to Covington, Kentucky, to conduct music in the Methodist Church where
Dwight L. Moody was holding Evangelistic meetings. While there he conducted a chorus of 1000 voices for Mr. Moody. It was the largest chorus that Mr. Moody had ever had up to that time. Soon after, Daniel Towner went to work for Mr. Moody full time and remained with the Moody Institute until Mr. Moody's death.
The Moody Institute was the first permanent, continuing institution to offer a course designed to educate leaders in church music in the United States. In 1886, a department under Dr. Towner was established for Gospel Music. In 1893, Daniel became the chairman of the Music Department. During his 26 years as chairman, he wrote several text books, added to the faculty, developed the curriculum and fulfilled the Institute's philosophy that every Christian worker should know how to sing, how to read music notes and how to lead congregational singing.
In addition, he edited many articles and books authoring four music theory text books and composing over 2000 hymns, tunes and anthems. He was always an active church choir director. In recognition of his services as director, in 1900, he was awarded a Doctorate of Music from The American Temperance University in Harriman, Tennessee.
During the time he was with Mr. Moody, he also traveled. On one of his trips to England, he was requested by the Y.M.C.A. to help an evangelistic campaign, and at the end of the service series he gave the 'Y' two of his hymnals for which they collected all royalties.
On October 3, 1919, Dr. Towner was engaged in conducting the choirs and the congregation in the singing of the songs of other gospel writers of that time at an evangelistic service in Longwood, Missouri. While singing a new hymn that he composed, entitled “Would You Believe” Dr. Towner suddenly fainted and was removed to a nearby hotel where he died of acute uremia. He was buried in Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago.
Dr. Daniel Towner was the last of the great American Gospel Soloists and composers who had been associated with D. L. Moody. A bronze plaque in the Moody Bible Institute reads: “To the glory of God in loving memory of this honored servant, Daniel B. Towner. A great man of great influence in his devoted life and general personality that touched the lives and helped those men and women who knew him.”
To learn more about Dr. Towner and see a list of his compositions, please visit the Tioga Point Museum. Look for an upcoming article on P.P. Bliss, another Rome native next time.
The Tioga Point Museum is open 12-8p on Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout the year. You're invited to come and explore!