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Soothing songs with beauty and meaning

Published July 27. 2013 09:03AM


Some music is so hauntingly beautiful that once you hear it, the tune stays in your mind forever.

For me, that's the way it is with Pachelbel's Canon in D, one of my very favorite pieces of classical music.

No matter how many times I hear it, I'm moved by the music.

That's not the case with a lot of music I initially enjoy. I bought Jackie Evancho's first major classical album and liked it so much I played it repeatedly. I put the CD in my car and played it on every long trip.

Eventually, from playing it too much, I tired of it.

That's not the way it is with Pachelbel's Canon. I've loved it for decades. I have it in at least three different CD versions, my favorite being Pachelbel's Canon with sounds of the sea.

Sometimes, when I can't sleep, I play my favorite recording of it with the sound of waves. Soon, my body relaxes and I can sleep.

Pachelbel wrote other chamber works but most of them were lost. Doesn't matter. He achieved immortality with just that one composition.

Recently, I've been moved by another totally different composition, a 19th century hymn, "It is Well With My Soul."

I've always liked the hymn, but ever since I heard the story behind it, I can't put it out of my mind.

It was penned in 1873 by Horatio Spafford under circumstances that would make anyone want to wail, not write.

Horatio and his family lived a good life in Chicago. He had everything a man could want - a loving wife, four daughters, a young son and immense wealth. He also had strong faith in God, a faith that eventually was tested like Job.

During my recent trip to the Holy Land, our guide played the hymn and told the story behind it.

Horatio's beloved son died at the age of four from scarlet fever. Less than a year later, the Great Chicago Fire of 1870 destroyed Horatio's business and all their real estate holdings, wiping out the family's wealth.

Instead of giving into despair, he and his wife Anna used what little they had left to feed the hungry and help the homeless.

When his wife's health started to fail, Horatio arranged for the family to travel to Europe on a steamer. At the last minute he got called away on a business emergency but his wife and four daughters sailed without him.

The steamer was struck by an iron sailing ship in the middle of the Atlantic, tossing all passengers into the water. Anna clung to her baby until the child was torn from her arms by heavy debris. Although Anna was eventually plucked from the water and saved by the crew of another boat, all four of her daughters perished.

When a telegram informed Horatio of the tragedy, he sailed on the next ship to his wife.

At one point of the journey, the captain pointed to the water and said he was certain that's where the Spafford children were lost at sea.

Unbelievably, that's when Horatio wrote "All is Well with My Soul," strong words of faith from a man who lost all that was dear to him.

The song is a testimony to his trust in his God.

"When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,

It is well, it is well with my soul.

Praise the Lord, it is well with my soul."

I don't know how anyone could have such faith, such trust in the face of that great tragedy.

Rather than blame God as some do when life takes a bad turn, Horatio praised God.

When I first heard that haunting hymn and the story of how it came about, I cried.

Months later, I still fill up with emotion when I hear that song of faith.

I felt despondent this week with back pain that has taken over my life and a daughter who suffered serious health and financial setbacks. When your kids hurt, you hurt.

I carried my sorrow into church on Sunday, not really paying much attention because I was absorbed in pain and worries.

I snapped to attention when the soloist sang "It is Well with My Soul."

I looked at the words in the hymn book once more and again was moved to tears at Horatio's faith. If he could have such trust during his family's devastation, my own troubles pale in comparison.

I've been playing and singing that hymn all week, reminding myself not to drown in sorrow.

The song and the circumstances under which it was written continue to be an inspiration for many.

Wanting to know more about the man who wrote "All Is Well," I did a bit of Internet research on his life. Eventually the family left America and settled in the old part of Jerusalem where they built a home to serve the needy, help the pour and take in homeless children.

They called that venture "The American Colony." The building lives on, but now it's a five-star hotel where we dined our last night in Jerusalem.

Horatio's song lives on, too.

Music has such incredible power. It can soothe us, inspire us, infuse us with energy, lift our mood or stir our memories.

What piece of music lifts your spirit or stirs your soul?

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