It is Well With My Soul

Marina McLerran

Editor, McLerran Journal

Assistant Band Director, Center ISD, TX 


Grief is defined as a “deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement.” It is an intense emotion that is experienced differently by each individual and must be handled with extreme care. According to the Kübler-Ross model, grief is processed by the majority of people in five stages; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance (Kessler). These stages, experts agree, are the brain’s way of attempting to “pace our feelings” of loss and slowly settle into a new normal (Kessler).

Managing the grief of school-aged children is a delicate process since oftentimes it is the first time that the children have experienced the death of a loved one. The way in which the loss is handled by their parents and educators will permanently shape the students’ idea of death. It is critical that the pain students feel is acknowledged by the music staff, but educators must be careful not to dwell on the experience so much that it makes the pain worse. In these sensitive situations, all directions should be taken from trained school counsellors. Although it may cost a portion of instructional time, students should be encouraged to participate in memorial services or small acts of community (like making and distributing ribbons or holding a candlelight vigil). In this instance, teachers must remember that students are people first and that learning to process grief is an enormous part of the human experience.

            Resources for Grief Management

  David Kessler, Grief Expert

  Helping Children Cope With Grief, Center for Loss and Life Transition

  Mental Health America


An American Elegy, Frank Ticheli

Frank Ticheli (b.1958) is an American composer who is best known for his works for concert band and orchestra. He currently holds a position at the USC Thornton School of Music in Los Angeles as a Professor of Composition and regularly travels the globe to serve as a guest conductor or clinican. Ticheli has degrees from the University of Michigan (MM in 1983 and DMA in 1987) and Southern Methodist University (BM in 1981). In his career, he has been awarded First Prize at both the Britten-on-the-Bay Choral Composition (1999) and at the Delius Choral Composition Contest (2000) for his piece, There Will be Rest. From the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Ticheli has earned the Charles Ives Scholarship (1986), the Goddard Lieberson Fellowship (1990), and the Arts and Letters Award (2012). Other honors include winning First Prize at the 30th Annual NBA/William D. Revelli Memorial Band Composition Contest (2006) and the Virginia Ramo Award for Excellence in Teaching (USC Thornton School of Music, 2012). Learn more about Frank Ticheli here.

An American Elegy was commissioned by the Columbine Commissioning Fund, sponsored by the Alpha Iota Chapter of Kappa Kappa Psi at the University of Colorado, in “memory of those who lost their lives at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, and to honor the survivors (Manhattan Beach Music).” The piece was premiered by the Columbine High School Band on April 23, 2000 conducted by director, William Biskup, and guest-conductor, Frank Ticheli (Manhattan Beach Music). The ten-minute composition is meant to represent the profusion of hurt felt by the Columbine community as the deceased souls ascend peacefully to Heaven. Perhaps the most moving portion of the entire composition however, is the integration of Columbine High School’s Alma Mater, also composed by Ticheli, at the dramatic climax of the work. Choosing to highlight the phrase, “We are Columbine! We all are Columbine!” reflects the composer’s understanding of the need for community after a tragedy and also served as an eerie foreshadowing of future loss. In 2018, the work was performed nearly thirty times in one day by protestor-musicians at the Ohio State Capitol after another school shooting ended the lives of seventeen people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The protest, organized by Leah Dunbar of Kenyon College, was meant to pay tribute to the victims of the twenty seven school shootings in the U.S. since Columbine and to draw attention to the need for change. In his conductor’s notes for An American Elegy, Ticheli had described his work as a “tribute to [the students’] great strength and courage in the face of a terrible tragedy,” the first of its kind in the U.S. (Manhattan Beach Music). This past February, after the violence in Parkland, the composer shared on social media that he has been constantly saddened by the recurring need for this piece and the “cultural situation that makes it so.”

Purchase An American Elegy Here


It Is Well With My Soul, Horatio Spafford

“Saved alone.” This was the telegram Horatio Spafford received from his wife in 1873 after a tragic shipwreck claimed the lives of his four daughters (Spafford Children’s Center). Spafford, an American lawyer and philanthropist, had devoted most of his time and resources in the years prior to helping refugees of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 (Spafford Children’s Center). To reward his family with a much-needed vacation, Horatio purchased tickets for the five women in his life to travel to Europe. The news of the wreck came as an enormous shock. He was heartbroken. Being a devout Christian, however, Spafford decided to forgive God and wrote the hymn It is Well With My Soul which is still widely popular in the U.S. (Spafford Children’s Center).  

“When peace like a river attendeth my way

When sorrows like sea billows roll,

Whatever my lot,

thou hast taught me to say:

It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

The act of forgiveness and search for peace, even after the loss of four children is commendable, but the Spaffords’ faith was  about to be further tested. Only a few short years later, another child, Horatio, Jr., was claimed by scarlet fever at the age of only three (Spafford Children’s Center). A lesser man would have likely abandoned his faith and charity at this moment, but Horatio decided that the best way to manage the pain and anger he felt was to travel to Jerusalem, since that was “where [his] Lord lived, suffered and conquered (Spafford Children’s Center).” The family, at that time comprised of Mr. and Mrs. Spafford and two young daughters, Bertha and Grace, moved to Jerusalem in September 1881 and settled in a house near the northern city wall (Spafford Children’s Center). There, they immediately and completely dedicated their lives to the service of the poor and plague-ravaged and quickly became known as The American Colony (Spafford Children’s Center). Here, pilgrims of all origin and ages were offered free food, lodging, and medical care through events as severe as World War I (Spafford Children’s Center). This generous work is continued still by Bertha Spafford Vester, who founded the Spafford Children’s Center in 1925 in honor of her parents (Spafford Children’s Center).

Purchase It is Well With My Soul Here


For another perspective on loss in the work environment, visit an article by the CEO of Cleverism.



"Grief." Accessed September 9, 2018.



Kelly, Michael. (2018). MC Represented in Musical Tribute to Shooting Victims. The Marietta Times.

Ogden Newspapers. The Nutting Company. Marietta, Ohio. Web. 5 October, 2018.




Kessler, David. (2018). “The Five Stages of Grief.” Grief.  Web. 9 September, 2018.



Manhattan Beach Music. (2000). An American Elegy. Frank Ticheli. Web. 9 September, 2018.



Spafford Children’s Center. (2018). History. Jerusalem. Web. 9 Septermber, 2018.



Ticheli, Frank. (2018). Faculty Profile. USC Thornton School of Music. Web. 5 October, 2018.