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You Have Been Listening to the Sunday Evening Broadcast: History of LDS Hymns

By: Ardis E. Parshall - September 24, 2010

Radio Program Presented Sunday, Jan. 4, 1934

Announcer: As we near the close of another Sabbath, we bring you again the radio service of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the seventh of a series presenting the hymns of the “Mormon” people. Tonight’s broadcast comes from the famous Tabernacle, through KSL, Salt Lake City.

The spirit of song has always been with God’s people. I quote: “As we turn back the pages of our Bible we find that from the time the foundations of the earth were laid, when the morning stars sang together and the sons of God shouted for joy, down through the stream of time to the apocalypse, the Bible itself is one grand song service. Again and again its pages are brightened by the beautiful verses of song. Many a spiritual thirst has been quenched by the songs of Miriam and the “refreshing water of the Psalms.”

The Latter-day Saints have always been a singing people. To them the Lord has said: “The song of the righteous is a prayer unto me and shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.” Their songs have cheered them in time of trouble, buoyed them up in their faith and helped them to “stand firm under the pressure of life.” First this evening, we want to introduce you to one of the compositions of the late Evan Stephens, one of the most prolific of the “Mormon” composers. He was a poor boy of Wales. As a convert to the new religion he emigrated to Utah and walked a thousand miles across the plains from the Missouri to Salt lake City. He settled in the village of Willard, Utah, where the love of music became a passion with him. He gradually advanced in his art until he became director of the great Mormon Tabernacle choir. For thirty years he guided the destinies of that organization. He took the members on many pilgrimages including California, Denver, Portland, Seattle, Chicago and New York, singing in the intervening cities. In 1893 his choir won second prize at the Eisteddfod held at the World’s Fair Chicago. The Mormon hymn book contains 86 of his compositions including 18 of his hymns. We have with us this evening Mr. George D. Pyper, under whose direction this series of broadcasts of latter-day hymns has been given and who was an old friend of Prof. Stephens. We’re going to ask him to tell us something about this interesting man.

Mr. Pyper: I was closely associated with Professor Stephens in a musical way for over fifty years and could relate some wonderfully interesting things about the choir, the operas he produced and the pilgrimages you speak of, but time will not permit. However, I will tell of one incident, a little closer to the ground and more intimate than these big events. Professor Stephens who lived and died a bachelor was an ardent lover of nature and much of his leisure time was spent in climbing the mountains of Utah. He loved the hills around Brighton, a resort high up in the Wasatch range, and his favorite spot was what he called the “Crow’s Nest” afterwards named “Stephens’ Roost.”

On one occasion he asked three of us to join him in his hike and after two hours hard climbing from the mountain hotel we reached the “Crow’s Nest.” It was simply a bushy pine tree flattened by the heavy winter snows forming a natural leafy platform nearly 10,000 feet above sea level, overlooking beautiful Silver Lake and the far reaches of the Canyon below.

There he sat cross-legged, like the tailor of Tamworth and asked us in imagination to listen to the chorus of the pines. Here on the left a grove of tall young pines represented his sopranos. A little below, in the colorful rays of the setting sun were his contraltos; to the north on a raised hill, stood his white pine tenors; and to the extreme right, those dark fir trees in the shadow of the everlasting hills, were his bassos. Interspersed among the pines the quaking asps sparkled and fluttered and these furnished the brilliant accompaniment for his novel imaginary choir. As the sun slowly sank and the evening breezes played among the murmuring pines, there seemed almost miraculously to come forth, like a legendary “music of the Spheres,” the mysterious harmonies of nature’s great choir. Under such circumstances Professor Stephens wrote many of his songs, among which was “Let the Mountains Shout for Joy.”

Choir sings “Let the Mountains Shout for Joy.”

Announcer: Another nature hymn, but differing widely from the one just rendered is “The Wintry Day” written by the late Orson F. Whitney, another of the gifted poets of “Mormondom” and one of the Apostles of the Church. His father was one of the original pioneers and his mother the daughter of another. The music was written by Edward P. Kimball, a grandson of Heber C. Kimball, Brigham Young’s right hand man. Mr. Kimball is well known as an organist of the great Mormon Tabernacle. The hymn tells its own story.

The wintry day descending to its close
Invites all wearied nature to repose,
And shades of night are falling dense and fast
Like sable curtains closing o’er the past.
Pale through the gloom the newly fallen snow
Wraps in a shroud the silent earth below,
As tho’ ‘twere mercy’s hand had spread the pall,
A symbol of forgiveness unto all.

John the Revelator in vision saw the scenes preceding the latter-day advent of Christ and wrote: “And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation and kindred and tongue and people, saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him, for the hour of his judgment is come.”

The Latter-day Saints believe that the angel referred to has flown; that the everlasting gospel has been restored, and the Church is sending missionaries to the ends of the earth in fulfilment of John’s prophetic vision. Professor Stephens has written an effective male chorus to words written by Robert B. Thompson.

(Male quartet sings.)

See the mighty angel flying,
See, he speeds his way to earth
To proclaim the blessed gospel,
And restore the ancient faith.
Hear, O men, the proclamation,
Cease from vanity and strife.
Hasten to receive the gospel,
And obey the words of life.
Soon the earth will hear the warning,
Then the judgments will descend.
Oh, before the days of sorrow,
Make the Lord of hosts your friend.
Then when dangers are around you
And the wicked are distressed,
You with all the Saints of Zion,
Shall enjoy eternal rest.

Announcer: The Latter-day Saints believe that Zion, or the New Jerusalem, will be built upon this continent, that their home in the mountains is but the fulfilling of the words of the Prophet Micah, to quote – “But in the last days it shall come to pass that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills and people shall flow unto it. And many nations shall come and say, Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths, for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”

The hymn “High on the Mountain Top” was written by Joel H. Johnson, a Latter-day Saint of early days. The music was composed by Ebenezer Beesley, another handcart pioneer, and leader of the Tabernacle choir from 1880 to 1889. He was composer of many beautiful “Mormon” hymns. This hymn was a favorite of the third president of the Church, John Taylor, who carried to his grave the bullets received from the mob at the time Joseph Smith was martyred.

High on the mountain top
A banner is unfurled,
Ye nations now look up,
It waves to all the world.
In Deseret’s sweet peaceful land,
On Zion’s Mount behold it stands,

For God remembers still
The promise made of old,
That he on Zion’s hill
Truth’s banner would unfold.
Her light should there attract the gaze
Of all the world in latter days.

Announcer: What is considered one of the greatest of all Latter-day Saint hymns was written by Eliza R. Snow, one of the most gifted women in the “Mormon” Church. Miss Snow was at one time governess in the home of the “Mormon” Prophet Joseph Smith. While there she had the opportunity of hearing many discussions on important gospel themes. During this period Zina D. Huntington (afterwards Zina D. Young), prominent among “Mormon” women, grieved over the death of her mother and her distress was intensified a few months after interment by circumstances surrounding the removal of the body to a permanent burial place. Among other questions asked by her of the prophet was this: “Shall I know my mother when I meet her in the world beyond?” The prophet answered emphatically, “Yes, you will know your mother there.” This discussion no doubt led Eliza R. Snow to ponder over our relationship to Deity and from the prophet’s revelations in all probability came the inspiration to write the great Latter-day Saint hymn, “O, My Father.” It was written in 1842 and was penned on a wooden chest – the only table available in her unfurnished room. On account of the unusual doctrinal content of this hymn its popularity has extended beyond the circle of the “Mormon” people. It is four stanzas. The first makes plain the literal Fatherhood of God and a pre-existence with him in his glorious habitation. The second tells of a secret something that whispers we have wandered from a more exalted sphere. The third stanza projects a new thought from the restored key of knowledge, that there is a heavenly Mother as well as a heavenly Father. The last verse expresses a yearning to meet the heavenly Father and Mother when we shall have finally finished our earthly career. Like many of the early hymns of the Latter-day Saints it has been set to several tunes. One of the most popular is that of “My Redeemer,” by James McGranahan, arranged by the late Evan Stephens.

O, My Father, thou that dwellest
In the high and glorious place,
When shall I regain thy presence
And again behold thy face?
In thy holy habitation
Did my spirit once reside?
In my first primeval childhood,
Was I nurtured near thy side?

For a wise and glorious purpose
Thou hast placed me here on earth
And withheld the recollection
Of my former friends and birth.
Yet ofttimes a secret something
Whispered “You’re a stranger here.”
And I felt that I had wandered
From a more exalted sphere.

I had learned to call thee Father
Through thy spirit from on high,
But until the Key of Knowledge
Was restored, I knew not why.
In the heavens are parents single?
No! the thought makes reason stare.
Truth is reason! Truth eternal
Tells me I’ve a mother there.

When I leave this frail existence,
When I lay this mortal by,
Father, Mother, may I meet you
In your royal courts on high,
And at length when I’ve completed
All you sent me forth to do,
With your mutual approbation
Let me come and dwell with you.

Prayer is the watchword of the “Mormon” people. It was through the principle of prayer that the Church was organized. Nearly every revelation contained in their book of Doctrine and Covenants came in answer to an appeal to the Lord of Hosts. To the Latter-day Saints prayer is not merely subjective but objective; they appeal to their heavenly Father as they would to their earthly parent believing that in some way their supplications will be granted. Since almost the beginning of Latter-day Saint services, James Montgomery’s beautiful hymn, “Prayer Is the Soul’s Sincere Desire,” has been used to a beautiful setting by George Careless, the Mormon pioneer composer.

Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,
Uttered or unexpressed,
The motion of a hidden fire
That trembles in the breast.

Prayer is the burden of a sigh,
The falling of a tear,
The upward glancing of an eye
When none but God is near.

Prayer is the simplest form of speech
That infant lips can try;
Prayer, the sublimest strains that reach
The Majesty on high.

Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath,
The Christian’s native air:
His watchword at the gates of death;
He enters heaven with prayer.

O, thou by whom we come to God,
The life, the truth, the way,
The path of prayer thyself hast trod.
Lord, teach us how to pray.

As we bring this service to a close we have in our hearts the prayer for all who are listening in that the peace of God, which passeth understanding may abide with you now and in the days to come. This we ask in our Redeemer’s name.

This radio service has been brought to you by the music committee of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, under the supervision of George D. Pyper. For the singing of the hymns tonight we are again indebted to the Eighteenth ward choir, of Salt Lake City, under the direction of Albert J. Southwick. Erroll Miller is accompanist for the choir. Frank Asper was at the Tabernacle organ this evening. Members of the male quartet are Richard Condie, Howard Frazee, John Wood and Albert Southwick. Reed Jones was the choir soloist.

Next Sunday night at 10 o’clock we shall bring to you another half hour of songs rendered by the Swanee Singers.



4 Comments »

  1. Delightful.

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 24, 2010 @ 9:25 am

  2. Is it okay to say I enjoy reading these more than listening to the current Music and the Spoken Word broadcasts?

    Comment by kevinf — September 24, 2010 @ 11:44 am

  3. Heh! Maybe I should have found links to recordings so that you could hear with your ears as well as your mind as you read.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 24, 2010 @ 12:16 pm

  4. Ardis: I love it, thanks

    Comment by Jeff Johnson — September 24, 2010 @ 11:34 pm

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