Grief gives birth to great music

Grief gives birth to great music

Posted: Thursday, August 7, 2008 9:36 pm
By: By Don Harold Lawrence

One of the discoveries I have made regarding grief is that grief gives birth to great music. We see the profound and undeniable influence of grief in all types of music — country, gospel, popular, hymns, ballads, opera and classical. Music born from grief has come to us from every corner of the globe. Thus, grief is a universal experience that is reflected in the universal language of music. An example of how grief has given birth to great music is described in an article about Henry Wadsworth Longfellow written by Lisa C. Ragan in the Ideals Christmas magazine (Vol. 57, No. 6, November, 2000, pages 64-65, 73). Longfellow, who was born on Feb. 7, 1807, experienced a great deal of grief throughout his life. For example, in 1831, he married Mary Storer Potter, and, later, while the two of them were in Europe, “Mary miscarried their first child and died from the resulting infection.” As a result of this, Longfellow experienced a deep depression associated with grief. Longfellow later met and fell in love with Frances “Fanny” Appleton. After seven years of courtship, they were married in 1843. However, during the summer of 1861, Longfellow once again experienced a devastating blow of grief. Fanny died due to a fire that engulfed her clothing. That year he “was facing the Christmas season with a heavy heart following the death of his wife and the outbreak of the American Civil War. As the Christmas bells pealed, their persistent and uplifting message inspired Longfellow to write a poem of his renewed faith.” This poem was entitled, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Ragan writes: “In the 1870’s his words were set to music by English organist John Baptist Caulkin, and the result has since become one of the American people’s most beloved carols.” Thus, this carol we appreciate so deeply was born due to a tragic grief experience. Another example of how grief has given birth to great music is the hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” The author, Joseph Medlicott Scriven (Sept. 10, 1819-Aug. 10, 1886), was born in Ireland. On the day before his wedding, his fiancée was drowned. “This tragedy inflicted a melancholia that afflicted him ever after” (Albert Edward Bailey, The Gospel in Hymns, page 495). Years later Joseph fell in love with Eliza Roche; however, “tragedy struck again. A short time before their wedding day, Eliza became ill and died. … In 1855, he wrote ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’ for his mother in Ireland” (Charles Johnson, One Hundred & One Famous Hymns, page 182). Thus, once again we see how a particular hymn that has been sung and appreciated by millions of people was born in a traumatic grief experience. Don Harold Lawrence is coordinator of SUNRISE, which is sponsored by Shackelford Corporation. He may be contacted by mail at 145 Abernathy Drive, Adamsville, TN 38310-3001 or by telephone or fax at (731) 632-4483. His Web address is www.shackelfordfuneraldirectors.com. Published in The Messenger 8.7.08

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