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“It Is Well with My Soul”: A hymn of peace born from tragedy

The Academy Singers "It is Well with My Soul"

Brentwood Academy | Fair Use via YouTube

J-P Mauro - published on 07/13/23

The Academy Singers, the a cappella choir from Brentwood Academy, put on a phenomenal showing with their most recently released song.

The Academy Singers, the premier vocal group of Brentwood Academy, recently released this phenomenal rendition of “It Is Well with My Soul.” This hymn is a heartfelt prayer that expresses gratitude for the Lord’s presence in times of hardship just as in times of peace. The song is based on the biblical narrative of Job, but it was drawn out of the lyricist when he experienced some of Job’s hardships. 

While we are uncertain of who arranged this masterpiece, it is one of the best versions of the tune we’ve ever heard. The talent of these young singers is expertly blended with a variety of musical elements that utilize every one of the 16-member choir for brief solos. All the while, the supporting vocals cycle through musical textures, like staccato “doos” that switch to lyrical accompaniment to add emphasis to important phrases. All said and done, these students definitely earned a passing grade with this one.

The Academy Singers are Brentwood Academy’s in-house a cappella group. Each year, the chorus auditions members of Brentwood’s student body to source new members. The group’s emphasis on singing without accompaniment gives the students invaluable experience at performance, as well as tightening their knowledge of music theory, sight-reading, ear training, and the many facets of the use of the vocal instrument, including proper tone, breath control, posture, blending, and diction. Any student of Brentwood Academy is free to audition for the group at the start of each term.

While the song is uplifting, and the group is all smiles while they performed the work, the story of this tune is actually quite tragic. Its lyrics were written by Horatio Spafford, a successful attorney who was based in Chicago, in the 19th century. According to The Tabernacle Choir, Spafford lost a fortune in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, leading to quite a bit of stress for him and his family. 

Seeking to get away from the strife, Spafford decided a family holiday in England was in order. With so much chaos following the fire, however, Spafford sent his wife and four daughters to England alone and planned to follow them after he had attended to some important business. Unfortunately, his family’s ship was involved in a chance collision, which sank the vessel and caused the deaths of his four daughters. His wife was one of just a few survivors who reached England, and she informed Spafford of the tragedy by means of a telegram, which began: “Saved alone. What shall I do?”

Spafford was in a rush to get to England to comfort his wife and mourn with her, booking passage on the first ship he could. While on the way, the captain of his ship – who knew the circumstances of Horatio’s journey – invited the grieving father to the bridge to inform him when they passed over the spot where his daughters were lost at sea. It was at that moment, while thinking about his daughters, that Horatio was struck with words of comfort that would become the lyrics of “It Is Well with My Soul.” 

Learn more about the Academy Singers at their dedicated website

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