New CD project brings old familiar hymns to life

WINNIPEG, MB—Ten years ago, Neil Klassen felt his life was at an end.

Diagnosed with vestibular neuritis—a debilitating condition that causes vertigo, dizziness and lack of balance—he was confined to bed, unable to function.

"I couldn't do anything," says Klassen, retired after a long career at Family Life Network (FLN), a Winnipeg-based Christian media production organization. "I couldn't read, I couldn't go out, I couldn't carry on normal activities. I often wondered: 'What's the point of living? What's the reason for going on?'"

One thing he could do was listen to music. He especially drew comfort from old familiar hymns.

"Music was all I had," he says, remembering those dark days. "It helped keep me going."

As he listened, he found himself wondering about the stories behind the hymns. Who wrote them? Why were they written?

Later, as his condition improved, he began researching their origins.

"I was surprised to discover that some of the hymns were written by people caught in dark times, just like I was," he says.

The more he learned about the stories behind the hymns, the more he thought others might be interested in their origins, too—including people who might have trouble reading, like he did, when he was ill.

The result is Hymn Stories, a new series of CDs featuring the stories behind familiar hymns.

The two CDs are produced by Klassen, a member of McIvor Mennonite Brethren Church, and hosted by another former FLN staffer, Herb Hamm, who attends First Alliance in Calgary. The researcher and storyteller is Christine Longhurst, a member of Winnipeg's River East Mennonite Brethren Church.

"Our goal is enrich and bless people's faith journey," says Hamm of the CDs, each of which contain five ten-minute stories about the hymns.

"We hope that people will develop a new appreciation for the hymns as they learn the stories behind them," adds Longhurst.

The two CDs, which have just been released, cost $10 per CD, including taxes and shipping.

"We wanted to make it affordable, especially for seniors," says Hamm, adding that a second set of CDs is being planned for 2012.

For Klassen, the project is the happy culmination of a long journey to recovery.

"These are the songs that comforted me in my darkest hours," he says. "They helped me, and I'm sure they will help others, too."

To listen to Hymn Stories, or to find out how to order, visit or call 667-9576 (Winnipeg) or 1-800-565-1810.

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About the author

John Longhurst is faith page columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press. He blogs at On Faith Canada and Making the News Canada