Category: Book Reviews


Then Sings My Soul

I love hymn stories! As a believer I am encouraged by these musical expressions of faith and by the revelations of Divine Providence that often prompted the writing of the great hymns. As a songwriter, I love discovering more about the process and inspiration behind songs of worship as well as hearing the stories of how a song has touched the lives of those who’ve heard it.

Then Sings My Soul Book 3 by Robert J. Morgan is a book of hymn stories and much more. Divided into four sections, the second part is similar to the first two books in the series; a hymn, complete with musical notation on the left page (though some of the sheet music takes two pages in the 3rd book) and the hymn story on the right page. (I’d prefer the pages to be reversed, since I always read the story first so that I have a deeper appreciation for the hymn, and because I find it easier to prop the book open to the right-hand page on the piano). This format makes it an excellent book for personal devotionals. As with the first two books, the hymns are arranged chronologically which is helpful in hearing the stylistic changes in the hymns over the centuries. The indices make this a very helpful resource for hymn reference as well.

Part 3 has expanded hymn stories of six famous hymns. I knew, for example that all did not go well for Mr. Spafford after the writing of his famous hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul”. One resource I’d read mentioned a subsequent breakdown. Mr. Spafford most certainly did not live, “happily ever after” as is implied in the brief account which is usually related. Robert Morgan’s account of further hardships faced by the Spafford Family is more realistic in keeping with the Christian life experience…mountains and valleys, trials and tribulations, stumbling, falling, fainting, yet, God’s unfailing love and mercy ever-present to sustain and keep us until the final day. I am grateful that Mr. Morgan has included “the rest of the stories” here.

Part 1 is my favorite—the History of Hymnody. Robert Morgan provides an overview of hymns divided into seven categories: Biblical Hymns, Ancient Hymns, Medieval Hymns, German Hymns, English Hymns, Gospel Songs and American Hymns, and Contemporary Praise and Worship Music. Although it is brief, only 45 pages, it provides a “cause to effect” account of the progression of hymn writing and singing practices, as well as historic parallels to the current “worship wars” we are experiencing in the church today. The inclusion of reference notes makes this even more useful as a framework for personal or group study on the hymns.

Part 4 includes a call to worship—an admonition to all believers to read the hymns; to memorize, ponder, play, sing, proclaim, and quote the hymns. By so doing, we will learn to lean upon the hymns, especially in times of great trial or grief.

Then Sings my Soul Book 3 is inspirational, a great resource! It should be on the desk or coffee table of every God-loving, God-worshiping Christian. I highly recommend it and look forward to using it as a reference for my songwriters’ study group.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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Learn from the Best

I recently read a new biography by Rick Marschall entitled Johann Sebastian Bach, which is part of the Christian Encounters Series by Thomas Nelson. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which focused on Bach as a man of faith—the consummate church musician. Marschall calls Bach, “The Fifth Evangelist”.

So many modern sources try to secularize classical music and exclude the religious convictions of history’s great composers. Marschall chose to embrace Bach’s spiritual side and supported his conclusions through Bach’s life choices, his music, and his own statements.

Some of my favorite Bach quotations include the following:

“Music has been mandated by God’s Spirit.”

“The aim and final reason of all music should be none else but the glory of God and refreshing the soul.”

“For the glory of the most high God alone, and for my neighbor to learn from.”

“It is my intention to advance the music in the divine service toward its very end and purpose, a regulated church music in honor of God.”

And, in regard to an organ performance, “There is nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right notes at the right time, and the instrument plays itself.”

If anyone had reason to boast of musical talent, it was J. S. Bach. Yet Marschall writes of Bach as a humble man who attributed his gifts to God and considered it his calling to honor God through his music and his life.

Character is not formed in a vacuum. By putting Bach’s life in historical, geographical, and cultural context, Marschall provides new insights into the influences that shaped the greatest composer of all time. For example, Bach was not merely a Lutheran, he was born in Eisenach, the town of Martin Luther, the Father of the Reformation, whose writings had a profound impact on Bach’s beliefs. His life began one generation after the Thirty Years’ War at a time when its treaties limited the state and provided greater civil liberties and economic growth, which enabled Bach’s faith, career, and creativity to flourish.

This book is filled with similar examples of providence not only in Bach’s life, but also in his legacy. My favorite is the story of how Baron van Swieten discovered the forgotten music of J. S. Bach, and through publications and concerts, introduced it to the musicians he subsidized…Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. Through this dedicated patron the music of Bach has been preserved for all generations and his genius influenced not only the greatest composers of the classical era, but shaped all of Western music.

As a composer, music educator, and church musician myself, I found this book most inspiring.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.