Resignation from the full-time pulpit of the Highland Church of Christ in 1923 afforded Elmer Jorgenson time and opportunity to expand his experience in vocal and choral music, activities which he considered important in sharpening his ability to make spiritual and aesthetic judgements for the continued development of the new hymnal: “All the time I had been working with and for the Louisville Chorus—a mixed group of one hundred trained singers . . . . ” Describing the activities of the ensemble, he says:

“We had done in part public concerts, the great things of the Russian a cappella liturgy, much from the early Latin and others. Naturally my tastes and hopes for our simple churches and Christian schools had advanced. Everything one does in good music has a tendency to elevate his musical tastes.”

He was also heavily occupied in marketing the Great Songs No. 1 hymnal, an effort which continued even throughout the Great Depression, with good success. The song rally tours were still held regularly.

            In 1926, a devastating tragedy struck the Jorgenson family. Their beloved child, Martha Jane, was seven years old, and an active and beautiful little girl. In mid-June 1926, however, she contracted a severe case of pneumonia which progressed very rapidly, despite the best-efforts of the medical science available at the time. After only one week of illness, she died Sunday morning, June 20. The funeral services were held in the Jorgenson family home June 21 without any formal address, under the direction of D. H. Friend, a close friend of the family.

Among many who offered love and wrote letters to E. L. and Irene Jorgenson during the dark days after Martha Jane’s death, R. H. Boll was perhaps the most constant in sharing written notes of encouragement and deep caring. On the day of her death, and each of the next two days, Boll, (who was out of town preaching and could not get away to be with the grieving family) wrote careful, spiritual, poetic letters to his friends. The June 20 letter begins: “My dear brother, whom I love more than any man.” He continues:

“The one thing that came to me when I heard, was this, that but just a little while (“how short, how short!”) and He that cometh shall come and not tarry. Then, in a moment, all sorrow and separation shall be forever past, as a dream of the night; and the Lord Jesus whom we love will give you back your precious little girl, to lose her no more.”

One week later, the faithful friend wrote again, with prose later to be utilized by ELJ himself in a tract he ultimately wrote on suffering:

“When we pass through the valley of the shadow of death God’s presence becomes more real. We never learn God in hours of ease, but in stress and trial He draws near to us and we to Him, and He is made known to us. And I am sure that He is more precious to you through your deep affliction.”

Two weeks later, Boll’s message, written from Sherman, Texas, responds to another letter he had received from E U in the meantime. The response makes clear the faith struggle and near-depression being experienced by the bereaved young father:

“I would have answered sooner if I could have answered more lightly. But your letter was so heart-searching and testing, so full of sorrow and battling faith and dreadful earnestness, that to answer it seems too great a responsibility. Above all I felt that I must guard against all m ere talk. When one has passed through such a trial, only felt truth and reality can bring comfort.”

Saddened, chastened, but even more focused, ELJ was able to concentrate on writing, editing, weekend preaching, and publishing during the years immediately following his daughter’s death. Typically, perhaps, it is as though he turned to his work with an intensity which distracted him from his grief. Numerous congregational singing services were held in the Kentuckiana area during the 1930’s, and in 1935 a “mass song service” with over a thousand in attendance was conducted in Bloomington, Indiana, the home of Indiana University. Other rallies were held in Chickasha, Oklahoma; Denver, Colorado; Berkeley, California and in Los Angeles. His work as Publisher of the Word and Work required his continued application to the business of that journal, and the articles he contributed to it were good enough to generate reprints many years later.

However, the primary work interest of his life remained the creation of the best possible hymn book for the worship of the non-instrumental Churches of Christ. As he grew in perception and studied possibilities, he says, “By 1935 I was dissatisfied with No. 1—though not with its sale. I felt I could now venture deeper and do so much better.” He then did some research, made some inquiries, and decided to go ahead–though the financial risk was great.

The editing, “winnowing,” choosing process—checking some three hundred hymnals and an aggregate of 60,000 numbers—writing many letters seeking permissions and copyrights, proof-reading, all took their toll in time and energy:

The stenographer knocked off at five o ’clock, but I went on right there, night after night, until midnight! For fear of my eyes, I dared not go any longer. But I never wanted to quit and could hardly wait until morning to go back down-I loved it so, and the work you love to do doesn’t kill you! In September 1937 I wrote the Foreword, went with my entire family to Chicago to check the final press proofs, and in October of that year the No. 2 was on the market.

The new book, which the compiler called the “supreme labor of my life, and . . . the ripened fruit of thirty years’ experience and research in the field of sacred music,” contained six hundred “Hymns” and “Gospel Songs.” The pre-publication price was fifty cents, increased to sixty-five cents after publication. The five sections of the book were divided into lighter gospel songs, the “stately hymns of the church,” “special songs,” “a children’s hymn section, and a complete set of indexes. The book was printed in both round notes and shape notes; shape notes made it more accessible to many southern churches where people could still read the shapes.

Immediately, the compiler hit the road again to conduct song rallies across the United States and Canada, so that the book could be both introduced and used. The first Louisville songfest was again at the Highland Church of Christ September 24, 1937, a rally which “taxed the capacity of the house.” A western trip was planned for summer, 1938, and in June of that year Jorgenson was also in Winnipeg, Canada with a mixed quartet to assist the rally scheduled at Sherbrook Street Church. During the summer of 1939 his tour covered 8,000 miles, all by train. Although the traveling constraints imposed by World War II inhibited the rally tours greatly, by 1945 they were again an annual affair and continued to be until E L J’s illness which brought them to a halt in 1958.

With the previous high level of acceptance of Great Songs No. 1, the vigorous tours, and the good reputation of the compiler, the new book had sold nearly two million copies to about ten thousand churches—Churches of Christ and conservative Christian Churches—by the mid-1950’s. The round note edition was published for a time during the 1950’s by the Standard Publishing Company of Cincinnati, Ohio. The shaped note plates were taken over by Abilene Christian College in 1958. The relationship between the College—later to become Abilene Christian University—and the compiler remained cordial and positive throughout his lifetime.

Besides earlier songs by ELJ, the new Great Songs No. 2 added March’s hymn, “Hark! The Voice of Jesus Calling” and an arrangement of the traditional chorus, “When He Calls Me.” A nod to tradition is the musical setting to the benediction, “The Lord Bless Thee and Keep Thee.” An inside flyleaf later added to the book provided space for Jorgenson’s arrangement of “Beyond the Sunset.” An additional supplement of seventy songs was added in 1975, but never brought into the primary alphabetical structure of the larger hymnal.