The Power of Music to Bring History to Life

I was struck today while listening to a special musical number at church how the words of the song helped bring the experiences of our ancestors to life. While I love both music and history, I had never made this connection before.

The song was “Come, Come, Ye Saints” (you can listen to it here). This song was written in 1846 by William Clayton. The Mormons were forced out of their homes in Nauvoo, Illinois and started leaving in February, 1846. It was bitterly cold and the trek across Iowa was miserable. It was a wet and muddy spring and the Mormons suffered greatly from exposure and lack of food. William was in one of the first groups to leave and had to leave behind his pregnant wife who was unable to travel. When word reached him in April that she had delivered a son, he was overjoyed and wrote a song he called “All is Well”.(1)

This hymn, now called “Come, Come, Ye Saints” quickly became a favorite among the wagon companies traveling west. I believe this quote sums up best how this hymn is viewed today. “In the minds of many members of the Church, “Come, Come, Ye Saints” is the hymn that more than any other connotes the heritage and spirit of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The unforgettable words of this hymn allow us to pay tribute to the unflinching courage of the early Saints and to relate that commitment to our own lives.”(1)

As I was listening to the music today and singing the words in my mind, I had a strong picture of the struggles, challenges and heartache that my ancestors faced as they moved west, as well as the strong faith that carried them forward.

How can you use music to identify with your ancestors? Perhaps it is a folk tune, or a religious hymn or music song during the various wars. Please share with us in the comments.

1. Davidson, Karen Lynn. Our Latter-day Hymns: The Stories and the Messages, pp. 58-59