How did I choose hymns for the Hymns for Alz project?

If you spend any time around me, you know I love talking about the sing-along Hymns for Alzheimer’s project.

But you may be wondering: How did I choose which hymns to record?

Great question. The primary goal of this project is to use sacred music to spark joyful memories, encourage participatory singing, and bring spiritual blessing for as many elders with dementia as possible. So as a nondenominational chaplain leading worship services, I decided to choose songs that have the most overlap in the hymnals of several major denominations.

Creating the list

I started by asking friends and readers which songs they would like included, and I also took into account my own experience of songs that seniors with dementia respond to. (Everyone loves “How Great Thou Art” and “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” for example).

After I created a long list of classic hymns, I looked up each one on If you’re not familiar with that website, located at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, let me tell you: it is a treasure! This database has astonishingly complete information on every conceivable hymn, including composer, date, background, and much, much more.

I used the “Instances” and “Compare Text” sections on to find out which group’s hymnal includes each song, and marked the info on my spreadsheet. (I also tracked down and obtained copyright permission for the very few songs that are not in the public domain.)

For those of you who want to peruse the entire spreadsheet, here you go:

Then it was a matter of picking those hymns that appear in the most hymnals — with some exceptions to make sure that all major denominations had solid representation.

The more, the merrier …

In addition, I want these recordings to serve elders from many geographic and cultural backgrounds. Worshippers in Southern and African-American churches, for example, may favor different songs that those I grew up with out West.

That’s one reason I wanted to record a gospels and spirituals set. To create that song list, I asked for suggestions from friends and others who attend black churches for songs they felt most elderly black folk would recognize from their childhood (and adult) church days. If you read this blog, you already know how thrilled I am with the gospel musicians for that set.

… but I had to stop somewhere

If I’ve missed one of your favorite hymns, please forgive me — and tell me. Someday, I may generate a new list to record in the future.

Thank you again for all your support and encouragement, and please be sure to let people know about the free downloads.

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