Here are a couple of books that every music therapist, chaplain, activity director, and caregiver who uses music in their work will want on their shelf.
Then Sings My Soul by Robert J. Morgan
“Then Sings My Soul” by Robert J. Morgan tells the stories of 300 Christian hymns, from the “The Lord Bless You And Keep You,” based on words from the 14th century BC, to “Because He Lives,” written by Bill and Gloria Gaither in 1971.
Published in two volumes, these books include hymns written by men and women, across many decades, and from a variety of cultural lenses (although all Christian and Protestant.) Each hymn is printed with the music on one page, and the hymn’s story on the facing page. When possible, in the hymn stories, the author includes each hymn composer’s own words, by quoting their letters and other writings about their experiences writing their hymns.
You can purchase “Then Sings My Soul” in volumes 1 and 2, each with 150 hymns, in paperback or on Kindle; or if you’re lucky, you can get your hands on the spiral-bound keepsake edition, which is much more piano-bench-friendly!
Update: Morgan has now published a third book in this series. I haven’t seen it, but I imagine it provides more great stories of favorite hymns.
Dual Approach: Historical/Cultural and Spiritual
So, are these religious books? Maybe yes, maybe no. With what the author has provided, it is possible to approach these hymns purely from a historical view. In other words, you can share the hymns and their stories for their historical and cultural interest, without having to dig deeply into theological or spiritual concerns if that is outside of your scope. For example, it is simply interesting just to know that “Jesus Loves The Little Children” was originally a Civil War ballad, beginning with the words “Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! The boys are marching.” People still liked the tune after the war was over, so a minister/lyricist friend wrote new verses and a chorus, completing the Sunday school-friendly song that is familiar now.
On the other hand, Morgan wrote these books with an eye (or ear?) towards daily devotionals and the use of songs in sermons and other worship settings. For chaplains and other caregivers addressing spiritual needs, these books will be helpful in identifying those songs that provide the spiritual support needed on a given day. You may find that the story behind your caree’s chosen hymn is exactly what is needed to be heard. For example, the family tragedy that preceded Thomas Dorsey’s composition of “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” may add to the comfort that this song can provide for someone experiencing a great loss. (More on that song’s story in this post.)
How Caregivers Can Use These Books
What are the best ways to use these books, then? Here are some suggestions:
- Keep a copy in your piano bench. The hymns are printed in easy-to-read type, in simple arrangements. This book is made for occasional playing at the piano, and with the included stories, it invites conversations along with the music. (For this purpose, get your hands on the spiral-bound edition if you can!)
- Use stories in worship services. You could use a hymn and its story as the center of a sermon. As a bonus, singing the song at the beginning or end of the service makes it easier for people with cognitive impairments to participate fully in the service.
- Find relatable stories for one-on-one visits. Look for the hymns to which your clients or loved ones can relate. Use the stories as a jumping off point for your conversations.
- Collect a few favorites. For a simple group activity, choose a few of your group’s favorite hymns and share each hymn’s story before singing it together.
These books represent a collection of the songs that are full of meaning for many Christians. Whether you are a Christian yourself or just someone who wants to learn more about the songs that are meaningful to someone you care for, this book is sure to be a handy reference for you.