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October 2, 2007 | 17 Comments

The appearance of Martin Sheen on Saturday's show and especially his rendition of "How Can I Keep From Singing" (Listen) brought in a number of letters from listeners. Anna wrote: "I was driving home through the beautiful rolling hills in Northwestern Illinois and when Martin Sheen chanted the hymn of lamentations, I was profoundly moved and had to park off the roadway to assimilate this extremely moving moment. He honored the people of Burma and their struggles and made us all aware through his song to value freedom and those who are dying to fight for theirs."

And Anne G. wrote: "I was truly moved by his hymn singing and his dedication to the cause of peace."

Ruth O. wrote: "It was so nice to hear Martin Sheen tell his story, and how he got started in social justice. I was moved to tears by his heartfelt singing of that beautiful hymn."

And Peggy P. up in British Columbia wrote: "I heard Martin Sheen singing 'I Cannot Keep From Singing' on your show and was transfixed. It had such a haunting beauty, and his singing had such a honest simplicity, it was a perfect match (especially not being overpowered by musical accompaniment). I was so happy to listen to the rebroadcast to hear his heart-stirring rendition again."

It certainly was a stirring moment. There was a torrent of applause and then Maria Jette came onstage with tears in her eyes afterward to sing her song, and so we had to exchange a few inane remarks, and I had to remind myself NOT to say that I was frankly a little sick of the song having heard Martin rehearse it sixty times that afternoon in his dressing room. He is a great guy, though, and I was glad for him having that big moment. Of course when a megastar like him comes on the show, it's our obligation to harass him a little and make fun of his hair and write dumb stuff for him to do ("Captain Ahab don't want rehab") but in the end Mr. Sheen shone and bravo for him.


Dear Mr. Keilor,

I want you to know that I cannot get Martin Sheen's moving solo performance out of my head. It reminded me that those of us who came of age in the '60's were supposed to make the world a better place - considering the shape the world is in at the moment it is clear there are ample opportunities to renew our dedication to that task.

Gratefully yours,
Mical K. Buck
Hesperia, Ca.

Dear Mr. Keillor,

The inspiring words sung by Mr. Sheen differ very substantially from those in the hymn books. I shall transcribe them, although you might consider putting them on the show's page, and I should like to know who wrote them.

Thank you.

David Gray, Concord, Massachusetts

Fantastic! As Shean sang this grand old hymn from the Moody & Sankey Hymnal I was moved to tears. Lovely!
Forest McNeir
Gretna, Louisiana

Martin Sheen reminded us fellow Catholics that the main role of our religion in daily life is social justice. How can each of us contribute? This hymm continue to roll in my head and makes us want to move to action. How can we get a copy of this to forward to others?

Mr. Sheen has a wonderful Irish tenor voice, saved for public airing of an old hymn at the perfect moment. By the second stanza, it had the unexpected power of a mother lifting the full weight of a Ford Explorer from the chest of her beloved child. Sublime.

I have listened and appreciated "A Prairie Home Companion" for so many years and have repeatedly have been entertained, amused & had my thoughts provoked.

While the show and Garrison has touched my soul over the years, Mr Sheen's simple song of support for his fellow man simply took it to place I have not achieved with a life of christian parochial schooling ever thought it could go.

I hit the internet and learned more about the situation in Burma than a man learns when he has just been diagnosed with a terminal disease....all of a sudden the immediacy of this and other domestic & Global situations hit me like Truman said when Roosevelt died "I don't know if any of you ever had a load of Hay fall on you, but that's how I feel..."

Thank You!


Mr Keillor

My wife and I have enjoyed Prairie Home Companion for many years. It is a Saturday evening ritual and I could go on and on, but will not. I am writing to say it has been many a year since we have been as moved by a single song, sung by anyone, as we were by Martin Sheen this past (12/29) Saturday evening. He just got better and better as he sang until his marvelous climax.
If there is any way you (and he) could put that out on a CD, perhaps as NPR fundraising promos, or whatever, I believe it would be very well received.
Thanks for all the wonderful Saturday nights. Keep
them coming.
Tom & Marie Guilderson
West Warwick RI

Please thank Garrison and Martin Sheen for the moving rendition of "How can I keep from Singing?"
It would be a beautiful dream to have Mr. Sheen's voice, in all it's depth and sincerity, on CD. I wept and my spirit soared again with hope and faith upon hearing the rebroadcast, and I was so gratified someone else recognized the value of this priceless performance. What precious words of faith rendered by a voice of depthless warmth. Utter Americana on behalf of the nations! Martin Sheen, PLEASE make a CD of hymns and songs of this calibre. Profits could go to the cause! Melinda 228-497-5255

Oh golly -- the tears are so fierce as I re-listen to the re-broadcast of that darn song!!
Thank you for creating a situation that allowed that moment of sincere prayer to happen. I need to feel hope and joy in the face of all that is happening --- and in that song -- as Martin sang it -- I find endless reserves of both plus the courage to implement them. Thank you -- we need that recording as an anthem. Please Play it often.

I loved Martin Sheen's song. I listened to it again and again and managed to get the lyrics written down.

Martin sheenís song:

How Can I Keep from Singing?

My life flows on in endless song, above earthís lamentation
I hear the real though far off hymn that hails a new creation
Through the tumult and the strife I hear the music ringing,
it sounds an echo in my soul. How can i keep from singing?

What though the tempest round me roars, I know the truth it liveth,
What though the darkness round me flows, songs in the night it giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that rock Iím clinging!
Since love is lord of heaven and earth, how can i keep from singing?

When tyrants tremble sick with fear and hear their death knells ringing,
When friends rejoice both far and near how can I keep from singing?
To prison cell and dungeon vile, our thoughts to them are winging,
When friends by shame are undefiled, how can I keep from singing?

No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that rock Iím clinging
since love is lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?

I am writing nearly a year after this performance, having heard this song today on a "repeat" program. I had to stop what I was doing. Tears poured down my face. Sheen reminded me what America COULD be, SHOULD be. In the depths of this ugly election season, I remembered why it matters what kind of people we are and why it's worth working hard to reclaim what America once was.

Thank you, Martin Sheen.
Thank you, Prairie Home Companion.
Thank you, National Public Radio.

I heard this program rebroadcast today. Sheen's rendition was indeed beautiful and powerful. --

Sheen, like Pete Seeger before him, sang an altered version of the song written by gospel hymn composer Robert Lowry around 1870. Lowry's hymn was a personal expression of confidence and joy in Christ with no political reference. Sheen (and Seeger)sang a version by Doris Plenn, who added the stanza about tyrants. This added stanza gives the song its powerful applicability to the Burma situation and all situations of oppression. --

But Plenn (or someone else) also removed Christ from the hymn. Lowry wrote, "What though my joys and comforts die? The Lord my savior liveth"; Sheen sang, "What though the tempest round me roars? I know the truth, it liveth." Lowry wrote, "Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, How can I keep from singing?" Sheen sang, "Since love is lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?" An additional Lowry stanza, removed in the Plenn version, tells how "The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart, a fountain ever springing." --

The Unitarian hymnal has the Plenn version, but further bowdlerized: the tyrants no longer "tremble, sick with fear, and hear their death knell ringing"; they "tremble as they hear the bells of freedom ringing." (Seeger and Sheen sang the [implicitly violent?] original of Plenn's additional stanza.) --

Clearly the song can be moving both for those who believe they know the proper name of "truth" and "love" and also for those who do not, or perhaps at one time did but prefer to forget it, or possibly still do but discipline themselves not to say it.

Mr. Keillor,

I have been a faithful fan of Prarie Home Companion for years, but this past Saturday I was touched by the songs that were sung by Martin Sheen. "How can I keep from Singing?" was so beautiful and calming, and the other ones he rendered were also touching. It would be a great NPR fund raiser, I am sure. I would certainly like a CD of his music, if there was one. Thanks for an extraordinary show. But, they are all very entertaining. I do so look forward to Saturday evenings.

Thank you!

Like many others, I also was moved to tears by Martin Sheen's conviction expressed so powerfully in How Can I Keep From Singing. I heard both broadcasts, but it fills my heart every now and then, whenever I think of the crises people face. I intend to make the hymn the center of my "Longest Night Service"--a Dec. 21 worship service I have led for the past few years for people who have a hard time dealing with the holidays because of grief or suffering.
It's powerful message can stir souls, but it was Sheen's own conviction that first tugged my heart.

Thank you, American Public Media and "A Prairie Home Companion" for making the link to Martin Sheen's exquisite and deeply moving rendition of "How Can I Keep from Singing" available on this site. I found it through a circuitous route. The song itself is certainly beautiful, but what causes it to bring tears to the eyes is the depth of sincerity that springs from a man like Martin Sheen who has devoted much of his life to causes of social justice. He not only speaks about truth but exemplifies its power in his life. Even if I may never see or meet Martin Sheen, it comforts me immensely to know that a person like him walks this Earth with us during these difficult and dangerous times.

How very considerate of the host to post his characteristically downbeat, depressed inside information.


I hate to break the mood, but the link doesn't work.

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