Book Review-A Song to Sing, A Life to Live

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A Song to Sing, A Life to Live: Reflections on Music as Spiritual Practice

Don Saliers and Emily Saliers

Emotional Response-4

Scholarly Response-3

I purchased this book years ago at the recommendation of a dear friend. She knew I love the Indigo Girls and thought I’d enjoy a book co-written by one of them. She was correct. This book seeks to break down the barriers between Saturday night (secular) music and Sunday morning (sacred) music. Emily represents the Saturday night side and Don (her father) represents the Sunday morning side because he is an organist, choirmaster, and professor of theology and worship. While it might seem that their musical styles are at odds, there are so many intersections and places of harmony found in their shared love of music. I enjoyed this book because I love music, and I strongly believe we need to break down the barriers between what is sacred and what is secular. Because God is everywhere and working in us all, everything can be sacred and everyone is a beloved child of God.

In this book, they tackle the difficult issue of music in churches. Their answer to the music wars (happening still in too many churches) is to listen to each other and be open to what you might hear in music you don’t yet appreciate.

Chapter 7, “Singing Our Sorrows” was my favorite chapter. Using music when one is grieving is a way to express one’s feelings when words often fail. I recommend the practice of planning one’s own funeral. Also, I recommend family members doing, saying, and singing what is meaningful to them when a loved one has died. A gift to me was hearing the backstory on songs I love. In this chapter, Emily talked about writing “She’s Saving Me” after her sister died. Without knowing this story, I have found this song comforting while grieving the death of a friend (and fellow Indigo Girls fan).

As I read this book, I was reminded of how music speaks to me and reminds me of times, places, and people I love. I must admit that I resonated with the songs they shared. I loved that I knew the hymns they mentioned and the Indigo Girls songs shared. For me, all of these songs are part of the songs of my life. Because so many of the songs were familiar, I may have enjoyed the book more than others might.

I recommend this book to anyone who likes to think deeply about music. I recommend this book to everyone who loves the Indigo Girls. I recommend this book to anyone who sees a divide between sacred music and secular music. This book will challenge that view.

Who are they writing for? “This book is for anyone who once took piano lessons and wishes now they hadn’t quit. It is for those who sing with their communities of faith but who are confused by secular music, and it is for those outside faith communities who wonder whether there is anything true in the songs of organized faith traditions. It is also for anyone who has sung around a campfire, tried to play the French horn, or been captivated by African or Asian drumming. This book is our yes to your musical memories and to your musical future. We offer it as an invitation to embrace a broader, deeper vision of the power and role of music in human life–and especially to embrace the spiritual and religious dimensions of attentive listening, collaborative music making, and honest thinking” (xvi).

“Music, we keep saying, is some kind of mysterious mediator between us and the God we seek” (5).
“Even some who have read the Bible all their lives are surprised to learn that there are more psalms of lament than any other kind of psalms, including those that offer thanks and praise to God. Perhaps we aren’t ready to notice them before we need them. The psalms of lament seem to lie in wait for us, ready to provide language when we are visited by pain and suffering” (125).

If this inspired you to check out the Indigo Girls, here is their song, “She’s Saving Me“.

Today’s photo was taken in the Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress. I enjoy reading in beautiful places like this. I highly recommend visiting the Library of Congress and its Main Reading Room the next time you are in DC. Visiting the library is free and available to anyone. It is free to visit the reading rooms after you obtain a reader identification card.


  1. Marydebenedettoi

    Dear Susannah,
    For me, music is the part of attending a service that most uplifts me. I do find sermons interesting and even thought provoking. But music can truly touch my soul and inspire me. I liked what you had to say about music in this posting!
    M. DeBenedetto

  2. SusannahDB

    Thank you. Music is such an important part of our worship services. Where else do people of all ages and singing abilities sing together?

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