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Lorin Farrar Wheelwright: An Early Adventure

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 03, 2008

His name is probably unfamiliar to most younger Church members, but if you’re 50 or older and grew up as a member of the Church, especially in Utah, his name would probably ring a bell. Bro. Wheelwright was prominent in Church music from the ’40s to the ’70s. He was the longtime head of music education for the Salt Lake public schools, where in the ‘60s we still had regular classroom singing, instrumental lessons, and organized bands even in the elementary schools.

Bro. Wheelwright was born in Ogden, Utah in 1909. He learned to play the piano as a child, well enough that he was his ward’s choir accompanist when he was a teen. He studied with Tabernacle organists Edward P. Kimball and Alexander Schreiner, then attended the University of Chicago (M.A.), Columbia (Ph.D.), and Juilliard.

He helped to edit The Instructor, was a longtime member of the Sunday School General Board, and taught at BYU. I met him several times as a child (which is probably why I can’t bring myself to refer to him by his first name, my normal practice in these posts), when my father did the photography for his publishing company.

He was a hymn writer, responsible for both words and music to several hymns in our hymnal:

Oh, May My Soul Commune with Thee

Oh, may my soul commune with thee
And find thy holy peace;
From worldly care and pain of fear,
Please bring me sweet release.

Oh, bless me when I worship thee
To keep my heart in tune,
That I may hear thy still, small voice,
And, Lord, with thee commune.

Enfold me in thy quiet hour
And gently guide my mind
To seek thy will, to know thy ways,
And thy sweet Spirit find.

Lord, grant me thy abiding love
And make my turmoil cease.
Oh, may my soul commune with thee
And find thy holy peace.

Help Me Teach with Inspiration

Help me teach with inspiration;
Grant this blessing, Lord, I pray.
Help me lift a soul’s ambition
To a higher, nobler way.

Help me reach a friend in darkness;
Help me guide him thru the night.
Help me show thy path to glory
By the Spirit’s holy light.

Fill my mind with understanding;
Tune my voice to echo thine.
Touch my hand with gentle friendship;
Warm my heart with love divine.

Help me find thy lambs who wander;
Help me bring them to thy keep.
Teach me, Lord, to be a shepherd;
Father, help me feed thy sheep.

So, are you convinced that he made a contribution to the world, and that we would be the poorer without his life? Then think of this: We almost lost him when he was a 14-year-old Boy Scout.

My column in today’s Salt Lake Tribune tells about nine Boy Scouts caught in a 1923 flash flood that drowned eleven people and destroyed many, many homes. Take a look at the accompanying picture – Lorin Wheelwright is the boy squatting in the front row, the one with all the merit badges on his sash. Then, if you don’t mind, come back here to leave a comment.



16 Comments »

  1. Ardis:

    I remember Lorin Wheelwright for two main reasons:

    1) He was my BYU Stake President who interviewed me prior to my temple marriage.

    2) He was the first to proposed implementing Gestalt Psychology principles in the printing of music. That is, he proposed that a fast succession musical notes be printed close together, and that slow notes be printed farther apart. Whenever you see a printed score with that format, then you can give LFW credit.

    Comment by S.Faux — August 3, 2008 @ 7:16 am

  2. Quite a story. I’m glad I wasn’t there.

    Comment by Eric Boysen — August 3, 2008 @ 9:30 am

  3. Wow, that is scary. This reminds me of the story in The Great Brain books by John D. Fitzgerald of the flash floods in Utah near the beginning of the last century. I would guess it was based on a true story. Ardis, have you read those? They’re wonderful.

    Comment by Tatiana — August 3, 2008 @ 10:48 am

  4. Pres. Wheelwright was in our stake when we first married. I remember he and his wife quite well. They were the cutest older couple. They used to wear matching suits in colors like teal or plum.

    I liked your article for the Trib, Ardis.

    Comment by Bored in Vernal — August 3, 2008 @ 12:31 pm

  5. Thanks, all.

    Eric, I’m with you — much easier to read about these things after the fact than live through them.

    BiV, you’ve given me new ideas about LFW (plum and teal? ha! Well, if you have to go twinsies, jewel tones rather than primary colors would be the way to go).

    S., I’ve noticed that sheet music printed a century ago has a “quaint” look about it without having any idea why that was so — after reading your comment this morning I pulled an old song book and realized that the spacing of the notes really does have a lot to do with the antique look. Funny that I had never noticed something that obvious before — thanks for pointing it out. Of course now I have to learn something about Gestalt to understand more.

    Tatiana, I did read the Great Brain books — it would be fun to talk about those here sometime, wouldn’t it? It’s been so long that I don’t remember the flood there, but awed reports of these “cloudbursts” (the word I usually see in contemporary reports) appear so often in reminiscences of that time that I’m not surprised.

    We’ve all grown up aware that overgrazing and wildfires lead to floods and mudslides, so it seems a little foreign to think of a time not so long ago when that awareness was brand new.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 3, 2008 @ 5:57 pm

  6. Ardis, it was in one of the later books. I think there were 7 back when I read them. The Great Brain had some sort of rafting business he had started, and a flash flood came and swept them away on one trip. The other kids held a trial and convicted him of criminal negligence or something like that. I would love to reread those books. I wonder how historically accurate they were. Obviously it was semi-autobiographical.

    Comment by Tatiana — August 3, 2008 @ 7:47 pm

  7. Ardis,
    Is Mr. Wheelright’s middle name “Farrar” or “Farr”? With the first name “Lorin,” I’m tempted to think that he was named after Ogden’s famous pioneer leader Lorin Farr, a colonel in the Nauvoo legion and a key figure in the construction of the transcontinental railroad across northeastern Utah.

    Comment by Bill MacKinnon — August 3, 2008 @ 7:58 pm

  8. Tatiana, I’m going to have to reread those books — that will be fun.

    Bill, I’ve seen it both ways. “Farr” makes more sense for the reason you mention, but the seemingly most authoritative places use “Farrar.” I’ll have to do some more looking and report back.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 3, 2008 @ 8:36 pm

  9. Bill and Ardis, maybe his father had a speech impediment and it got recorded incorrectly. :)

    Comment by Ray — August 3, 2008 @ 8:38 pm

  10. Ray (#9), you remind me of the little third-grade girl, who, when asked by her teacher if she knew how to spell “banana,” replied that she did but not when to stop. Heh, heh…

    Comment by Bill MacKinnon — August 3, 2008 @ 10:09 pm

  11. The IGI shows his name as Lorin Farrar Wheelwright, and shows his father as David Reuben Wheelwright.

    Ancestral File shows David Reuben Wheelwright’s mother as Catherine Emma Farrar.

    The Social Security Death Index, which might be more accurate, doesn’t show a middle name.

    I’d put my money (but not much of it) on Farrar.

    Comment by Mark B. — August 3, 2008 @ 10:26 pm

  12. I remember him as ‘Dean’ Wheelright, as he was Dean of BYU’s College of Fine Arts during the time I worked as a recording engineer in the Fine Arts Building on campus in the 1970s. He was the motivating force for including a long playing record in the Relief Society’s first Cultural Refinement Lessons. I still have a letter over his signature in my files on BYU stationary congratulating the recording department on its contribution to the original recordings that went into that LP (old technology, I’m afraid). As I recall, one of the hymns on that record was his.

    Comment by Anthony E. Larson — August 4, 2008 @ 12:49 am

  13. Thanks for that new information, Anthony — and anyone who thinks LPs are old technology should check out today’s post on Evan Stephens and listen to the 1924 recordings there, one recording per side of the old disk.

    Also, I’ve checked some additional sources, including the patriarchal blessing index (LFW would presumably have been the source of his own name given to the patriarch), and find more occurrences of “Farrar.” So for now I’m staying with that name, although “Farr” does appear in other public places.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 4, 2008 @ 10:03 am

  14. I visited a 92-year-old sister on my VT beat this afternoon. Like many people a lot younger than she is, Willie finds it easier to remember the long ago than the recent — in fact, she had forgotten we were coming today, and asked us five or six times during the visit whether we had phoned her yesterday (my partner had). Near the end of our visit I asked her if she remembered a flood that happened when she was a child. Without missing a beat, she said, “Yes. I was seven. My father took me on the streetcar to Farmington to see where the houses used to be.”

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 4, 2008 @ 8:13 pm

  15. Lorin is my uncle and his middle name is his grandmother’s maiden name, Farrar. She, Catherine Emma, and her Sister, Sarah, journeyed from England to Utah in 1859 with a handcart company and settled in Ogden with their older sister, Mary Ann Farrar Wheelwright.

    Comment by Peggy Wheelwright Parry — September 9, 2008 @ 4:05 pm

  16. Thank you, Peggy! Now we know without question.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 9, 2008 @ 4:08 pm

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