“It is Well with My Soul” was written by Horatio G. Spafford following the drowning deaths of his four daughters. Ludwig van Beethoven composed his Ninth Symphony after he had lost his hearing. “Good King Wenceslas” was written about Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia, who ruled from 924 to 935, until he was assassinated by his own brother. Stories such as these – the stories behind the hymns, songs, and carols we enjoy – are both fascinating and important.
Why Learn the Stories Behind the Music?
Learning the history behind a song gives us a better understanding of the songs that we listen to. Music is impacted by the events the composers experience. Connecting the event to the song teaches the meaning behind the words, the message behind the tone and mood of the notes. Music also impacts events. Think of songs such as “Yankee Doodle,” “Dixie,” or “Imagine.” Music touches our emotions in a way that nothing else does. Songs have been used for generations to influence feelings and encourage support for various causes.
Traditional Charlotte Mason style composer study involves repeated listening to the best songs by a composer. Adding some background information improves understanding of the influences the composer was under when each song was written.
As you listen to the songs, you can follow the evolution of the composer’s music as he or she experienced life events.
Music and History
History and music appreciation naturally go hand-in-hand. Learning about songs and composers from the history cycle you are studying helps flesh out your history studies while giving context for the music. Add composers to your timeline to give students a visual representation of when the songs were composed. It will also help your child understand how music has evolved over the centuries.
Music has also been shown to improve our memory. Memory involves three steps: converting the learning to a form that can be memorized, putting information into short-term memory, and moving the learning into long-term memory. Repetition and rhythm, both often found in music, help us to move information into long-term memory. Connecting songs with historical events and using songs to help memorize information will improve the chances it will be transferred to long-term memory and, therefore, be truly learned. History education, with its facts and dates, is the perfect subject to use music to help with memorizing.
Not sure where to start? Below are some resources to help you find the stories behind your favorite songs.
Then Sings My Soul: 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories by Robert Morgan
101 Hymn Stories: The Inspiring True Stories Behind 101 Favorite Hymns by Kenneth W. Osbeck
Be Still, My Soul: The Inspiring Stories behind 175 of the Most-Loved Hymns by Randy Petersen
Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers by Patrick Kavanaugh
Vox Music Masters (The Story of Series)
The Maestro Classics Collection
Songs Sung Red, White, and Blue: The Stories Behind America’s Best-Loved Patriotic Songs by Ace Collins