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“Harmony and Sweetness”: The Tabernacle Choir (by proxy) in Alaska, 1913

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 18, 2011

On September 1, 1910, the Tabernacle Choir entered a new age when an engineer from the Columbia Phonograph Company of New York secured recordings of twelve numbers sung by 300 voices under the direction of Evan Stephens.

Operations began at 8 o’clock. At the expert’s request, the ladies all removed their hats, and the entire aggregation of singers were packed in together as close as possible, all facing the horns. Owing to the distance from the organ, Prof. McClellan had to play all of his accompaniments double forte, and the two soloists, Mrs. Edward and Horace Ensign, were placed with their faces in one of the horn bells. Of course fine shading work was out of the question, massive effects were the principal thing. Prof. Stephens again called to the attention of the choir that they were now about to sing for the world.

The engineer ran a test of his equipment, with the choir singing a few bars of “We Thank Thee, O, God, for a Prophet.” When the test was judged acceptable, the choir sang their hymns and marches and anthems with

a wholesouled vigor, an earnestness, a wonderful unison and attack that carried Prof. Stephens and those who were there to listen, almost off their feet, as the expression is. Prof. Stephens particularly was delighted, his face beamed like the rising sun, he was entirely satisfied that the work of that great choir could not have been bettered.

The first 25 copies of the records were expressed to Salt Lake by the end of October, with a thousand other copies following, and from there the choir’s voices went out to the world.

One set of those records went to Kedzie Noble Winnie in Nome, Alaska. We’ve met Elder Winnie before, here and here, learning about his years-long faithful service in Alaska before moving to Utah in 1913.

Before he left Alaska, though, on New Year’s Eve, he attended a small gathering of friends, playing his records of the Tabernacle Choir “in this far Northland”:

Kedzie Noble Winnie
P.O. Box 342
Nome, Alaska

Dear Brethren:

Believing that a few words from me in this far Northland would not be amiss and that it might come to others of the saints who are isolated away in distant parts of the earth, as a word of encouragement in season, I send you the following:

To feel the power and influence of the spirit of the Lord working in and through us, convincing men of sin and of righteousness and a judgment to come. To feel one’s being thrill with joy unspeakable, as he bears his humble testimony of the restoration and power of the gospel in these latter days, is to sense to some small degree at least, the position a true Latter-day Saint occupies in the world. such was my privilege on New Year’s night, 1913.

I had agreed to bring my corn popper over and spend a social evening at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Vanderworker … On arriving I found two other friends there also, one a lady member of Alexander Dowie’s Zion City in Illinois, and Prof. Henry Peterson, a pianist of considerable ability and a staunch friend to our people, as I learned later in the evening from him that years ago, when a mere boy in his home town in far away Denmark, he remembered seeing and hearing the faithful Mormon elders as they traveled and ministered to the people, also the emigration that followed the introduction of the gospel in his native land.

Fortunately I had brought with me four selections (Columbia records) from the Tabernacle choir, Salt Lake City. At the conclusion of their rendering all agreed they had enjoyed a musical treat. Said the professor: “Never before have I heard such volume of harmony and sweetness; there is a conviction of faith in every word, a spirit in this singing the churches of the world do not possess.”

Several times the records were played during the evening and seemed to sound sweeter each time. I feel to say – Sing on! Sing on! thou valiant sons and daughters of our God. Such is the power of divine music when coming from the throats of inspired men and women.

This meeting will be long remembered by those who were present, for after some more lunch was served to all again, and this was about 2 o’clock the following morning, the professor and sister Vanderworker asked many questions pertaining to the work of the Lord in these days, and then for nearly two hours I answered their questions to the satisfaction of all and discoursed on many of the principles of the gospel and the redemption of the living and the dead and how it is being brought about. So enrapt was I in the subject before us that all desire for sleep had left me. Never yet has the power and presence of the Lord forsaken me when he desired me to speak in his name.

I remain your brother in the gospel,

ELDER K.N. WINNIE



3 Comments »

  1. Interesting letter. I was reminded how it wasn’t that long ago that a recording was a novel thing. (My own living grandfather was born in 1913 and it seems incredible to me that in order to hear music at the time, you pretty much had to either make it yourself or attend a live performance.)

    On another point, I found Elder Winnie’s self-assessment of his gospel teaching to be remarkably self-assured (“for nearly two hours I answered their questions to the satisfaction of all”). I have to wonder if listening to the music beforehand didn’t contribute to the success of the discussion? I guess I’m just a little envious; the number of such discussions that I had on my own mission can be counted on my thumb.

    Comment by David Y. — August 18, 2011 @ 8:24 am

  2. Always wondered how the Tab Choir started recording…thanks!

    Comment by Cliff — August 18, 2011 @ 1:06 pm

  3. Such is the power of divine music when coming from the throats of inspired men and women.

    Amen, Elder Winnie.

    Comment by mahana — August 21, 2011 @ 8:53 pm

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