When American authors Anna and Susan Warner penned their novel Say and Seal (1860), I doubt they imagined that a portion of their book – a poem written by Anna that one of the characters recites to comfort a dying child – was destined to become one of the most popular and recognizable children’s hymns of all time. David R. McGuire later added two verses to Anna’s text in the United Church of Canada’s The Hymn Book (1871) thus creating the Jesus Loves Me that we know and love today. Although the popularity of Jesus Loves Me could be justified only on its use of concrete, repetitive language and simple truths, I believe that the real strength of the hymn lies in its tune.
American musician William B. Bradbury composed the tune to Jesus Loves Me and published the hymn in his Sunday school song collection, The Golden Shower (1862). When he created the tune he used very simple rhythms but he also used one particular musical tool to guarantee that the tune had a singable melody: the pentatonic scale. Used by many cultures across the globe, the pentatonic scale – a scale with only five pitches – is almost hard-wired into humans. (You can see a great example of this in action in this fun video featuring Bobby McFerrin. When you watch it, be sure to sing along!) So, thanks to the universality of the pentatonic scale coupled with melodic and rhythmic simplicity, the tune Jesus Loves Me is one that children can easily learn and sing.
For the piano arrangement featured above, I paired Jesus Loves Me with an old favorite The Church in the Wildwood. When I was growing up, my grandmother’s church was my real life “church in the wildwood”. (I’m not exaggerating about the wildwood part. The church didn’t have running water until the 1990’s, just a pump and a privy out back!) I have such fond childhood memories of that “church in the wildwood”, it seemed only natural to combine the two hymns together. Although I didn’t adhere to the use of the pentatonic scale in the harmonies for Jesus Loves Me (an example of where I did that with a different hymn is in this blog post), I still tried to honor the simplicity of the original tune. Enjoy!
Yes, Jesus loves me.
The Bible tells me so!