Articles/Essays – Volume 03, No. 2

On Mormon Music and Musicians

In the interest of broadening (and corroborating) my thinking about Mormon music, I recently contacted fifty Mormon musicians in an admittedly non-scientific survey. The survey sampled the obvious Church music hierarchy: the General Music Committee, the Tabernacle Choir staff, auxiliary General Board music, committees, Mormon university and college music faculty members, and leading Mormon concert artists.

Obviously many significant Church musicians were not included. Another writer, compiling his own list, might well come up with different results. An unusually high (ninety) percent of those contacted completed and returned the questionnaire, an indication of keen interest.

Is There a “Mormon” Music?

To the broad question “Is there a Mormon music?” only twenty-eight per cent answered “Yes.” Sample responses:

“No. There are Mormon texts set to music, but no peculiar Mormon music as such would be comparable to Gregorian chant or Lutheran Chorale.”

“I don’t think so. Mormon words, yes, but no music that couldn’t belong to several religious groups.”

“Our liturgy does not admit of special forms. Therefore, we have not produced a ‘Mormon’ music as such.”

“Yes, but the answer may depend on what is meant by Mormon music . . . . It is the text and the Mormon composer which make them Mormon music . . . . Mormon music would consist of any music composed by Mormon composers, that is also accompanied by specifically Mormon-doctrined texts.”

“There is a Mormon Hymnody derived from music of Protestant revival sources of American nineteenth century, from English anthem, and to lesser degree from Lutheran chorale. Usage and unique texts have over a century given many of them a ‘Mormon flavor.’ Some hymn tunes have been borrowed directly from these sources, others composed in a similar style by Mormon composers. But there is not yet a unique Mormon art music.”

Mormon Musical Scholarship

Musical scholarship is relatively new to Mormonism, although John Tullidge cut quite a swath a century ago. In 1943 at the University of Maryland the late Sterling Wheelwright[1] filed his doctoral dissertation, first of a distinguished series of Mormon music studies. He was the fourth Mormon musician to earn the Ph.D.; his brother, Lorin, and John Halliday preceding him in 1938 and 1941, respectively. There followed a flood.[2] The river is still cresting.

Prior to World War II academic degrees, particularly graduate, were not the “musician’s route.” Conservatory training, European-style, was the vogue. Mormon musicians in those days beat a path to Boston’s New England Conservatory,[3] and later to Juilliard, Curtis Institute, and (more recently) Eastman-Rochester School of Music, University of Utah, University of Southern California, and Columbia, Indiana, Oregon, and Illinois universities.

Most Mormon doctorates since World War II have been in Composition, a few (too few) in Musicology, some in Theory, many in Music Education. And within the past decade numbers have turned to the new Doctor of Musical Arts (D.M.A.) degree. A “professional” doctorate, essentially in Performance, the D.M.A. has attracted many of the Church’s young and middle-aged musicians.[4]

Relatively few dissertations by Mormon musicians deal with Mormon music. Four, in particular, complement one another to form a comprehensive, objective study of Mormon hymnody. The survey indicated strongly that if there is a Mormon music, it is to be found in the Church’s hymnody, and I therefore examined these documents.

The four dissertations are: Wheelwright’s “The Role of Hymnody in the Development of the Latter-day Saint Movement,” William Wilkes’s “Borrowed Music in the Mormon Hymnals” (University of Southern California, 1957), Helen Macare’s “The Singing Saints” (University of California at Los Angeles, 1961), and Newell Weight’s “An Historical Study of the Origin and Character of Indigenous Hymn Tunes of the Latter-day Saints” (University of Southern California, 1961). Wheelwright’s is essentially a sociological study. Wilkes’s work deals chiefly with borrowed music, while Weight’s treats indigenous Mormon tunes and composers. Macare is concerned solely with texts, indigenous and borrowed, her major being English.

Some Sociological Aspects

Wheelwright’s approach is broad, general, historical; its purpose, “to identify the factors which produced a distinctive body of song, to disclose the varying roles played by music in succeeding periods. . . .” He maintains that “the distinctive hymnody of the Mormon Church was established by 1841.”

During Brigham Young’s colonization period, hymnody’s role expanded. “Music was the constant companion of the people through their heroic trek across the plains, through the crisis of the Utah War and a Mormon-Gentile conflict symbolized by polygamy … . Goals and rewards were sung over and over. . . .” Wheelwright writes in glowing terms of a mature flowering of Mormon music during the last three decades of the nineteenth century. The focal point was the publication of the first Mormon tune book, the Psalmody (1889). “Into this endeavor and into the development of fine choirs were poured the talents and training of a score of English-born converts who became a musical hierarchy. . . . The dynamic Sunday School Union . . . soared on wings of song, and the M.I.A. strode to eminence in recreational and cultural leadership.”

Of twentieth century Mormon music Wheelwright takes a dim view: After the turn of the century, the hymnody of the Church faltered as Mormonism faced both its distinguished but completed past, and its challenging new future . . . .
In [the] welter of economic, intellectual, and social readjustments, the hymnody was seen to have lost its original vigor and purpose. It appeared practically frozen by tradition and hard-bound cover; it was accepted as a symbol of the past rather than as an essential need of the present.

Wheelwright ponders the apparent imbalance between Church music and other Church emphases: “While the ideals and ambitions of vigorous health, moral control, and economic welfare, for instance, were re-emphasized by the Church, the voices of social communication were heard in pleas, pamphlets, and pulpits—but rarely in song.”

Borrowed Music

Is Come, Come, Ye Saints “Mormon”? Most Mormons hope so. Certainly William Clayton’s text is. Yet the tune, All Is Well, is from an anonymous English source, handed down for generations by oral tradition. It derived from the folk song Good Morning, Gossip Joan, which still exists in Virginia as Good Morning, Neighbor Jones. In 1844, J. T. White of Georgia revised it into a more vigorous version whose text dealt with death, ending in All Is Welll “No doubt it was from this that William Clayton got the tune and ‘Mormonized’ it to fit Come, Come, Ye Saints,” according to Pyper.[5]

Most Mormons would be chagrined to learn that the “Mrs. Norton” of We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet had no connection with the Church. This borrowed tune was originally written by Mrs. Caroline Elizabeth Sarah Sheridan Norton, granddaughter of a British actor-playwright and member of Parliament, for her own three-stanza text, The Officer’s Funeral March. Pyper suggests that could Mrs. Norton “enter a Latter-day Saint chapel today she would be astonished to learn that the music which she dedicated to a fallen soldier of war is now frequently sung to a new song of praise in honor of a modern prophet of peace.”

The same can be said of O My Father (first sung to Gentle Annie and later Harwell). The Eliza R. Snow text has been set to music by at least a dozen Mormon composers. But the current popular favorite is non-Mormon James McGranahan’s My Redeemer, arranged by Evan Stephens.

The original music of O Ye Mountains High was O Minnie, O Minnie, Come O’er the Sea, a popular tune of Charles Penrose’s day; today we sing it to Thompson’s Lilly Dale. Do What Is Right is, of course, The Old Oaken Bucket. Guide Us, O Thou Great Jehovah is sung to In The Gloaming, and Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes was the tune for There Is a Green Hill Far Away—until 1948.

The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning is still sung to a Mormon tune unknown to researchers. Redeemer of Israel, Praise to the Man, Oh Say, What is Truth, Come, O Thou King of Kings, Now Let Us Rejoice, and other “Mormon” favorites all are sung to non-Mormon music.

Wilkes notes, “The close similarity of early Mormon hymnody to that of its neighbor sects was observed in the first hymnal of the Church (1835) … . Hymn tunes commonly known and collected in the various tunebooks of the day were supplemented with popular and traditional melodies adapted by Mormon poets for their new religious verse.”

Wilkes discovered that sources of borrowed tunes ranged in time from the Reformation to the present, “bulking large in the middle and late nineteenth century.” Geographically, British and American sources dominated all others, there being a minor representation from Austro-German sources. Classified as to source genre Wilkes found the largest portion in the “hymn tunes borrowed from established hymnodies” (German chorale, English-American hymn-tunes of eighteenth and nineteenth centuries). Gospel songs made sizeable inroads (Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel, Memories of Galilee, Behold a Royal Army, Oh, It Is Wonderful, etc.).

The serious art music of Europe is represented (Mendelssohn’s Cast Thy Burden and Lift Thine Eyes, Verdi’s Pilgrim Chorus, Handel’s Good Tidings, plus Mozart, Rossini and others) but as Wilkes points out this source genre is relatively small in Mormon hymnody: “A larger group came from the contra facture of secular songs. Parlor songs of the ‘genteel tradition,’ sailing, military, and patriotic airs provided a significant portion of borrowed melodies, such as Cheer Boys, Cheer, Life on the Ocean Wave, Juanita, Home, Sweet Home.” The final source genre is folklore. It was limited, however, to about one-eighth of the total borrowed repertory.

Wilkes shares Wheelwright’s conclusion with respect to the decline of Mormon hymnody at the turn of the century and beyond: “The 1889 and 1927 collections were more backward than forward-looking. Gospel hymnody invaded Mormon hymn books at the turn of the century. The popularity of the Sunday School songs outdistanced the slow progress of the adult hymnody and found favor with all ages and in all Church meetings.”

Indigenous Music

Wheelwright had suggested that there were no composers of Mormon hymn tunes during the Church’s first half-century. Weight’s research, however, showed that John Tullidge’s Psalmody for the Latter-day Saints, published in Liverpool in 1857, was thirty-two years ahead of its time. For it was not until 1889 in Salt Lake City that the first official Church hymnal with printed music was published (The L.D.S. Psalmody). Three from Tullidge’s book (the first Mormon hymnal to contain actual music) have endured through the current Hymns (1950). Tullidge’s Psalmody, writes Weight, is the “earliest known printing of originally composed hymn-tunes as settings for indigenous hymn texts.”

Twenty-four years earlier, Emma Smith’s 1835 hymn book[6] contained no titles or authors or music. It consisted solely of texts, ninety in all. Of these, fifty-three were by Mormon authors: Phelps, thirty; Parley P. Pratt, five; Eliza R. Snow, two; and others. Phelps, of course, had worked closely with Emma. Leading non-Mormon authors were Watts, fourteen; Wesley, two; and twenty who were anonymous.

In 1840 A Collection of Sacred Hymns was printed in England for the saints in Europe. It followed the pattern of Emma’s hymnal but was expanded to 271 hymns. Parley P. Pratt’s importance as hymn-text writer is evident; thirty-six of his texts appeared. The English hymnal subsequently went through thirteen editions with minor changes. The thirteenth contained 330 hymns and was printed in Liverpool in 1869.

Emma’s book was eventually superseded by the English version. There was also considerable publishing of hymns in Nauvoo periodicals, particularly the Times and Seasons and The Nauvoo Neighbor, from 1840 to 1845.

In 1871 a new edition was printed in Salt Lake City. Known as the fourteenth, it contained 345 hymns. The old hymn book subsequently went through twenty-five editions before going out of print in 1912. Its English counterpart continued through several printings, concluding with the twentieth in 1890.

Meanwhile, in 1882, the Deseret Sunday School Union printed a volume which was to exert tremendous influence in Church music during the next sixty years. The Deseret Sunday School Union Music Book contained eighty-nine hymns with tunes and four without. “Nearly all,” writes Weight, “were originally composed by Mormon composers represented in the later Psalmody of 1889.”

Printed Church music during the Utah period up until the Psalmody (1889) also appeared from time to time in The Juvenile Instructor, the Contributor, and Utah Magazine. Most selections were composed by the British “establishment”: Griggs, Thomas, Careless, Tullidge, Smithies, and Beesley. These selections, however, were for choirs rather than congregation, which emphasis, Weight indicates, may be a “weakness in early Mormon hymn settings.”

The Latter-day Saint’s Psalmody (1889) was the first official Church music volume containing printed music. For the most part it was choir-centered. However, representation of Mormon composers reached a degree never again attained in subsequent hymnals. Of 330 hymns three-fourths contained music by Mormon composers. One-fourth were borrowed, essentially from sources dealt with by Wilkes. The Psalmody was a principal cornerstone of Mormon Hymnody, the first major advancement since Emma’s 1835 hymn book.

Twentieth century Mormon hymnody saw the publication of the most popular music book in Church history: The Deseret Sunday School Songs (1909). Whatever else it did, it superseded the Psalmody among congregations and became the dominant force in Church music in the twentieth century. The selections were “light and unpretentious. Many were reminiscent of the so called ‘gospel songs’ in rhythmic movement.”

Another “standard work,” musically, was The Songs of Zion, with red cover and reproduction of familiar Tabernacle organ pipes. Printed in 1908 it contained 246 hymns, all but five of which had Mormon-composed tunes. According to Weight, “In quality and style the hymns and tunes of The Songs of Zion and Deseret Sunday School Song Book were similar. The major difference was simply that the Songs of Zion included hymns more appropriate to missionary work (the volume was printed in the mission field for mission use) as contrasted with Deseret Sunday School Songs which included hymns more appropriate for Sunday School gatherings.”

Both books played important roles in the Church for over four decades, until the most recent major hymnal upheaval of 1948-50. Prior to that time, however, President Heber J. Grant appointed a Church Music Committee to advise the Presidency. Its assignment was to provide a new hymn book to replace both Psalmody and Songs of Zion. The result was the dark-green-covered Latter-day Saints Hymns of 1927. It reflected, as had its predecessors, its Committee make-up. Gone were the Psalmody composers—save for Evan Stephens. This new book contained more congregational hymns than the Psalmody. Yet, it, too, was a choir book. The Deseret Sunday School Songs (essentially non-Mormon tunes being most popular) remained the congregations’ favorite. The new 1927 hymnal contained 421 hymns, 308 by Mormon composers. Approximately three-fourths had indigenous Mormon tunes.

In Utah’s 1947 Centennial year, the General Music Committee was assigned by the first Presidency to “compile three books for general Church use: (1) a hymn book for adult gatherings, (2) a recreational songbook, and (3) a children’s songbook. These were to replace all others. The result of the commit tee’s efforts were Hymns (1948), Recreational Songs, and The Children Sing.”

Weight expresses some disappointment at the selection of the 311 hymns (counting the seventy-six duplicates in special sections): “The Music Committee included many ‘favorite’ hymns .. . as well as a number of new songs, both words and music. . . . The new musical settings did not suggest a new era in hymn tune composition. Rather, they were similar to tunes of past generations. . . .” Of the total 311, Hymns (1948) included 172 Mormon-composed hymns. Fifty of the 311 were new—a majority by the General Music Committee.[7] This had also been the case with the Psalmody.

Because of mechanical and editorial problems a revised edition was published two years later. Known as Hymns (1950), it is in current use. There were eleven deletions and fourteen additions from the 1948 edition. Of the deletions, one was Mormon-composed; of the additions, seven were Mormon tunes. Concerning these seven, Weight expresses some concern: “Most of these additions to the 1950 edition were reminiscent of the old gospel songs rather than being progressive in style.”

Hymns (1948 and 1950) is generally conceded to be an improvement over previous Mormon hymnals, “although lacking in qualities of design and content.” As a reaction against the “bouncing rhythms and trite melodies” of the popular Deseret Sunday School Songs, Hymns (1948) “dropped many of the outmoded gospel songs as well as a number of the harmonically colorful choir centered tunes.” Weight notes that “through authoritarian influence a number of hymn tunes left out of the 1948 edition were reinstated in the 1950 revision.” “Approximately three-fourths of the hymn tunes in the Psalmody editions were by Mormon composers; . . . about two-thirds of the tunes in the Songs of Zion (1908), three-fourths of the tunes in the Latter-day Saint Hymns (1927), and one-half of those in the present Hymns (1950) are indigenous.”

A Weight survey maintains that “The leading musicians of the Church are not content with the conservative Mormon hymnody as it now stands. Beginning with a few borrowed hymns, Mormon hymnology has developed to its present status. It is evident that the gospel song era has lost its impact in Mormondom, and that the extreme, harmonically colorful tunes of past decades have been relegated to secondary status. Mormon hymnody will continue to reflect this past conservatism until a new creativity is given expression.” This, it will be recalled, was also Wheelwright’s conclusion—two decades earlier.

Hymn Texts

Although limited to texts of Mormon hymns, Macare’s “The Singing Saints” (University of California at Los Angeles, 1961) contains the saltiest writing and most outspoken observations on Mormon hymnody of any of the dissertations examined. While praising the hymnal as a “lusty and vigorous history of a vocal and notorious American minority. . . .” She points out that, like its music, its texts, too, are a combination of borrowed and indigenous, roughly one-third Mormon and the remainder borrowed. In spite of its British influences, the hymnal remains nonetheless an American document, in her view.

Macare, trained in English, is understandably critical of the hymnal’s editorial policies. She cites, particularly, the 1948 Committee who “proved they were like former editors in their amateur status.” She chronicles errors of author-composer listings and numerous editorial mistakes. One noteworthy suggestion: the hymnal should indicate which texts and musical settings are Mormon and non-Mormon. Otherwise, “a member grows up with the notion that the Mormons wrote their own hymns [and] he can conceivably go through his life thinking Isaac Watts was a good Mormon for all the information the hymnal gives him.”

She also bemoans “the apparent editorial decision in 1948-50 to minimize certain doctrines or historical references expressed in hymns, coupled with the necessity to continue the beloved old favorites. . . . “

Leading Composers

Although the four leading Mormon scholars on hymnody are agreed that there is a Mormon music consisting of some good, bad, and mediocre hymn tunes, most Church musicians hold that there is little or no room for “art” music in the Sacramental Service. There have been attempts at art music, particularly in the anthems and cantatas of the 1889 and 1927 hymnal composers. Few such compositions have withstood the passage of time or the performance standards of most ward and stake choirs. Most were composed by conductors of the Tabernacle Choir for the Tabernacle Choir. All but a handful have disappeared.

This is not to say there are no Mormon composers of art music. True, during its first century the Church produced no musicians of national or international rank. Yet it attracted or produced a number of good regional composers: Thomas, Careless, Stephens, Beesley, Daynes, and, later, B. Cecil Gates.

During the second century two significant Mormon composers emerged. Arthur Shepherd (1880-1958) played a prominent role in the establishment of a professional symphony orchestra in Salt Lake City during his early years. Later life centered in Cleveland where he served, for a time, as assistant conductor of the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra and chairman of Western Reserve University’s Music Department. His compositions received major performances at home and abroad. Some Mormon musicians surveyed in this study objected to his inclusion because of Church inactivity, a view which I do not share.

Better known in Mormondom is Leroy Robertson (1897- ), head of Brigham Young University’s Music Department until 1948, when he accepted the same position at the University of Utah—remaining until retirement in 1966. He has been chairman of the Church General Music Committee since 1962. Robertson has been performed in America and Europe consistently for the past thirty years. Performances snowballed when his Trilogy received the Reichhold Award in 1947.

In addition to his major orchestral and chamber works—all art music by a Mormon composer—he completed in 1947 his Book of Mormon Oratorio. Of all his output it has the greatest probability of survival, particularly choral selections which had a life of their own before the oratorio was finished and which will continue in popularity both within and without the Church: The Lord’s Prayer, How Beautiful Upon the Mountain, and Old Things are Done Away, and the orchestral interlude Pastorale which was the principal encore of the Utah Symphony on its 1966 European tour.

It may be that history will record Shepherd as greater on the national scene because of logistics. The Church and Mountain West, however, will con tinue to accord Robertson the distinction of composer-laureate until some new major talent appears. No giant looms on the horizon.

There are, however, a swarm of active, eager, talented, young composers—college-age through middle-age. The survey asked the question: “Excluding yourself, who are the five leading Mormon composers in the Church’s history?” The tabulations follow:

1. Leroy Robertson

2. Crawford Gates

3. George Careless

4. Arthur Shepherd

5. Evan Stephens

6. B. Cecil Gates

7. Robert Cundick

8. Alexander Schreiner

9. John Tullidge

10. Leon Dallin & Merrill Bradshaw (tied)

Also mentioned: Ebenezer Beesley, Joseph Daynes, Alfred Durham, George Durham, Gaylen Hatton, Leigh Harline,[8] Cyril Jenkins, Rowan Taylor, Jay Welch

Except for Shepherd’s glaring misplacement (many of those polled may not have been acquainted with Shepherd because of their time-gap), this is a defensible listing.

Gates[9] ran a close second to Robertson in the anonymous poll. Because of his sensational youthful success in the Utah Centennial’s Promised Valley, his personal popularity throughout the Church through M.I.A. activities, and his many years at Brigham Young University, he is probably better known in the Church, generally, than any other musician.

Leading Mormon Compositions

Gates’s Hill Cumorah music—next to Robertson’s Book of Mormon Oratorio—received most votes answering the survey’s question: “Excluding your own, what are the three leading Mormon compositions to date?”

1. Book of Mormon Oratorio[10]Leroy Robertson

2. Hill Cumorah (Symphony No. 2)[11]—Crawford Gates

3. Promised Valley—Crawford Gates

4. Come, Come Ye Saints (choral-orchestral)—Leroy Robertson

5. Song of Nephi—Robert Cundick

The above all received multiple votes. Robertson’s oratorio polled fifty per cent more than Hill Cumorah. Promised Valley was a surprisingly strong third, considering its genre.

Other works nominated included Robertson’s Trilogy and Passacaglia, Crawford Gates’s Sand in Their Shoes, Shepherd’s Horizons (like Robertson’s orchestral works, it is not “Mormon” in extra-musical content), Stephens’s Visions and Martyrs, B. Cecil Gates’s Vision, Bradshaw’s Articles of Faith, the film Brigham Young’s sound-track (non-Mormon composer), Robertson’s The Lord’s Prayer, the traditional Come, Come, Ye Saints and McClelland’s Sweet Is the Work.

Acknowledging most of these as Mormon art music, with Promised Valley in a special folk-musical category, I should like to suggest that only the Book of Mormon Oratorio and the two familiar hymns are apt to endure. Selections from the Robertson oratorio and Gates’s Cumorah, rather than the complete works, are likely to continue into the twenty-first century.

Gates’s Hill Cumorah and Promised Valley are special cases and may go on for decades. The former is heard each summer as incidental music to the Church-sponsored Palmyra pageant. The latter was revived in the summer of 1967 and enjoyed a successful two months’ outdoor run in a special Church designed downtown Salt Lake City theater as a tourist attraction. It was cut to one-hour length. Previously it was witnessed by 180,000 during the 1947 Centennial summer and, later, as a repeater on the 1952 University of Utah Summer Festival.

The onrush of bright young Mormon composers leads one to hope that a significant body of Mormon art music may result. Worthwhile musical expressions dealing with the following have yet to be penned: The First Vision, the Moroni story, The Trek, choral settings from the Doctrine and Covenants, and the dramatic Liberty Jail writings. Also, possible oratorios from The Pearl of Great Price. The list is endless.

Leading Mormon Performing Artists

Has the Church produced its share of significant concert artists? In answer to the survey’s question, “Excluding yourself, who are the five leading Mormon performing artists?” came the following:

1. Grant Johannesen

2. Emma Lucy Gates Bowen

3. Alexander Schreiner

4. Reid Nibley

5. Glade Peterson

6. Robert Cundick

7. John J. McClelland

8. Margaret Tout Browning

Also mentioned: Clynn Barrus, Art Lund, Albert Shepherd, Ewan Harbrecht, John Summerhays, Ardean Watts, Roy Samuelson, Irene Kelly Williams, Charles Shepherd

Johannesen, “Emma Lucy,” and Schreiner clearly ran far ahead of the field, winding up in a photo-finish. Only two votes separated them. The late Mrs. Bowen was the first Mormon artist to hit the “big time,” performing throughout Europe and America and appearing with the Berlin State Opera. With her brother, B. Cecil, she organized the Emma Lucy Gates Opera Company, which performed several seasons in the old Salt Lake Theater.

Dr. Schreiner may be the most significant performer in Church history. Exponent of the “forgotten” instrument in the twentieth century, he might have out-distanced all competitors in an earlier era. Fastidious technician, keen musician, and gifted composer, he ranks among the western world’s top organists. Some purists in the Church’s organ ranks objected in the survey to what they termed his “romanticizing of the Baroque composers,” but none of the objectors has dislocated him from his lofty perch. He enjoyed artistic and critical success in an extended European tour during the fall and winter of 1967-68. More than any other, he has influenced Church music in this century. He was the dominant force in Hymns (1948-50). He has had the ear and the respect of the First Presidency for four decades. His voice has long been the “strong” one of the General Music Committee, and his influence has been widespread through the vast Sunday School organization, whose Music Committee he has chaired for over twenty years.

Some respondents objected to Johannesen’s being listed, the implication being that, although Mormon-born, he should no longer be considered. Again, I do not share that view. In spite of this dissenting minority, Johannesen gained top ranking in the survey. His youth was spent in Salt Lake City. Deciding on a concert career, he tackled New York in his early twenties. His career did not gain momentum until the New York Herald Tribune’s Virgil Thomson orbited him with a “rave” review following a major Carnegie Hall solo appearance in the mid-fifties. Since then he has been one of the “elite”and is firmly entrenched in the upper echelon of keyboard artists. He married Zara Nelsova, the world’s greatest woman cellist two years ago. Mormons would honor themselves by claiming her—by adoption!

Though lacking Johannesen’s “grand manner” and magical stage presence, Reid Nibley could have succeeded in the concert world had he so set his compass after his New York Town Hall recital in the mid-forties. He chose, instead, the academic-performance combination and has enriched many college and metropolitan communities: Brigham Young University, University of Utah, University of Southern California, and – now—the University of Michigan. Few artists play Mozart and the early Romantics – particularly Schumann—as well as Reid Nibley.

Most underrated in the survey was what may be Mormondom’s greatest vocal product to date – Glade Peterson. His tenor has thrilled European opera audiences, where he has been the Zurich Opera’s leading tenor for nearly ten years. He has sung in most major European opera houses, San Francisco Opera, University of Utah Summer Festival operas, the Salzburg festival, and—last summer—at Santa Fe’s prestigious season. Glade is the Church’s male counterpart to Emma Lucy Gates. His career is still in its early stages, and his best years are ahead. He recently starred at La Scala—something no other Mormon has done. A week later he sang in the new Munich Opera House, thought by many critics to be the world’s most exciting opera center.

Robert Cundick is heir-apparent to Schreiner’s throne. The latter was king maker. The mantle fell when Cundick was in his teens. Lightning struck two decades later. A sensitive musician, good technician, and perhaps the Church’s most gifted living composer after Robertson and Gates, his influence in Church music circles is only beginning to be felt. His will be a strong, articulate, idealistic voice in the next quarter-century.

Roy Samuelson is certainly Peterson’s match, vocally. However, like Nib ley, he chose the American-academia route at Indiana University’s enviable opera center. His reputation will likely be regional and, possibly, national. He has the finest baritone voice in Church history.

The Tabernacle Choir

The Tabernacle Choir is a story unique in itself, interestingly told in J. Spencer Cornwall’s[12] A Century of Singing and in a number of master’s theses. There is little doubt that the Choir supersedes all artists I have listed in total audience, range of audience, and total “good” accruing to the Church. This distinguished volunteer ensemble’s missionary role—so designated by successive First Presidencies—is frequently caught in a pincer-movement—proselyting vs. musicality. This has been the principal problem of every conductor of the Choir. But it has been keener since the Choir became a radio “personality.” For, in order to attract and hold a mass audience through the years there has had to be some compromise where programming is concerned. While such compromise detracted from the Choir as a “musical” organization, it enhanced its missionary role. The Choir’s weekly broadcast is now in its thirty-ninth year of continuous airing and is “the oldest sustaining program in American radio history.”

This enviable association with the Columbia Broadcasting System led directly to the Choir’s successful ventures with Columbia Records, an affiliate of the network, commencing about fifteen years ago. The Choir soon became one of the most valuable “properties” in the recording industry. To its credit are two precedent-breaking “golden” records, symbols of over one million albums sold. Though this is common in the pops field, classical albums rarely reach that mark. In fact, the only two to my knowledge are those by the Choir—Columbia’s The Lord’s Prayer and The Messiah. Both passed the magic number over a year ago and are moving toward their second million. The Choir recorded with the Philadelphia Orchestra, whose conductor, Eugene Ormandy, terms the Choir “my favorite.”[13] Without precedent was the “No. 1 Hit Parade” pops rating of The Battle Hymn of the Republic in autumn, 1959, which brought the Choir the recording industry’s Grammy Award.

On the flip-side of the Battle-Hymn single was Robertson’s album title song, The Lord’s Prayer. It was interesting or annoying, depending on one’s esthetic outlook, to hamburger-munch in an off-campus beanery—with Rob ertson’s The Lord’s Prayer from the Book of Mormon oratorio as background. I sat with the composer on such an occasion. He seemed both pleased and bemused.

The Messiah recording, under Ormandy’s baton, finds the Choir among the world’s most select artistic company: Eileen Farrell, Martha Lipton, David Cunningham, and William Warfield, soloists. The same is true of Brahms’ Requiem, with Phyllis Curtin and Jerome Hines. The fourth major monument recorded by joint Philadelphia-Tabernacle Choir forces, Beethoven’s Ninth, is second on the industry’s best-seller charts at this writing.

Ormandy rates high critically on the international scene, although individual reviewers question his Handel and Beethoven—while applauding his Brahms. The Choir makes its greatest musical contribution in this literature, well-rehearsed and performed with a major orchestra.

The bulk of the Choir’s albums, capably conducted by Richard P. Condie[14] with Dr. Schreiner or Dr. Frank W. Asper at the console, are variety-type programs aimed at the mass radio audience. They are well done, for the most part. Some are religious, some patriotic—and a recent one was folk, which caused one venerable General Authority to question future directions of Choir recording during a televised interview.

If the Choir is to reach its potential as a musical organization (and, admittedly, its prime missionary function alone is a full-time calling), it might hopefully continue to record choral-orchestral masterworks with a variety of orchestras and conductors. No single conductor is master of the kaleidoscopic literature. A future recording schedule might include Verdi’s Requiem, which Ormandy was most anxious to do on the heels of the Ninth. But that was before he left Columbia for RCA-Victor.

And doctrinal problems arise. Although many early pioneer choirs sang excerpts from Mozart and Haydn masses in Latin, its subsequent use gradually came under a shadow in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Understandably, the words mass and requiem bother some Church leaders and laity. However, the First Presidency approved Brahms’ Requiem, both for Columbia recording and for Easter performances with Tabernacle Choir-Brigham Young University Symphony forces under J. Spencer Cornwall. Of course, the Brahms is written in German and was sung in English at these Tabernacle performances (as well as on the Columbia disc). The problem with the Verdi is that, unlike the Brahms, it contains the Roman Catholic mass’s Credo.

If Credo-type masses are ruled unsuitable, there will never be a Tabernacle Choir recording of Bach’s B Minor Mass or Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. “Why not a revival of Latin occasionally in Ward Choirs now that the Catholic service has reverted to the vernacular?” is the current shibboleth among many Mormon musicians.

In addition to Latin works, there are the Handel and Mendelssohn oratorios, Haydn’s The Creation, Bach oratorios and cantatas and, greater still, Passions, which the Choir may yet consider for recording. But, once again, the word passion seems offensive to some—but for indefensible reasons.

Better still, why not a Tabernacle Choir Columbia recording of Robert son’s Book of Mormon oratorio? This is yet to be done and appears inevitable to Church-recording-watchers. It seems natural and would combine the Choir’s missionary-musical functions as no other penned work could do. The problem here is convicing Columbia Records and the Choir’s public relations wing.

The Choir’s musical staff, business management, and 375 volunteer members render unique service to the Church, community, state, and nation. They were the only musical organization to participate in President Lyndon John son’s Inauguration, January, 1965. In the summer of 1967 they completed a successful Eastern America-Expo ’67 Tour, as well as their swan-song recordings with Ormandy-Philadelphia.

Theirs is a distinguished history, a promising future. Largely a “prophet without honor,” they receive greater acclaim outside the Church, state, and community than within. Critics from within the Church, sincere and idealistic, are unaware of the Choir’s full-scale practical problems and assignments. Regular network commitments and General Conference assignments (including national television) would tax a paid, professional ensemble. Add to this the strenuous, pressure-packed recording sessions with truly professional orchestras and soloists, plus periodic major concert tours throughout the world, and one appreciates more fully the problems of the Choir’s split personality—missionary-artist.

Some observers suggest the creation of a large choir to carry on the primary Church functions of weekly broadcasts and General Conference and a more select group to hone down essentially musical projects such as commercial recording, concert tours, etc. To date, duality of purpose remains the policy. Pressure from visual communications and recording media will come in a constant crescendo for Choir and Church leadership to ponder.

Other Church Choirs

There are few other first-rate choirs in the Church. They inevitably are located where there is (1) a capable professional Church musician and (2) a bishop or stake president sensitive to good music and its maximum Church role. This combination is rare.

Unusual is the Mormon Choir of Southern California, headed by H. Frederick Davis, one of the Church’s most distinguished musicians. His ensemble concertizes in major literature mostly in the Southern California area and has recorded commercially for Capitol Records. Deserving of the opportunity to appear at General Conference, they have yet to sing in the Tabernacle.

Other “good” choirs are found in select, well-endowed stakes where stake choirs assemble with too-little rehearsal solely to furnish music for stake conferences. The recent Church policy ruling which eliminates the afternoon session of stake conference will further dilute stake choirs, as they compete with existing stake singing mothers groups for the lone morning-session show case.

Ward choirs—with few exceptions—simply do not have the numbers to make a pleasant sound, vocally. Absence from rehearsal or Sacrament service of a key member or two results in panic, frustration—and poor performance. One reason for the decline of ward choirs since World War II and Hymns (1948-50) is an apparent policy division among leading members of the Church General Music Committee. This has been coupled with a lack of positive, definitive general Church policy. The entire hymnal philosophy had been geared to ward choirs from earliest days. Later, both Songs of Zion (1908) and L.D.S. Hymns (1927) were choir books. Congregations sang from the Deseret Sunday School Song Book in Sunday School—and in Sacrament meeting. Hymns (1948-50), good in most respects, nonetheless struck a psychological blow at choirs. The book’s choir section had only seventy-six hymns compared with L.D.S. Hymns’ 421 and Songs of Zion’s 246.

Something happened two decades ago—and gone are the “choir practice” nights of my childhood. Gone forever. Most ward choirs now rehearse just prior to Sacrament meeting, and wisely so. But they are gradually disappearing, even as the Church doubles its membership every few years. It is safe to assume that unless Church music policy is drastically modified—with bold, imaginative leadership and direct-felt support from the First Presidency—there will be only congregational singing within twenty years. This may please some members of the General Music Committee who have long favored the Protestant-type unison-singing congregational music “conducted” from the console by the organist.

Church musicians polled in the survey favored both choir and congregational singing in Sacrament meetings. Particularly were they eager (94 percent to 6 percent) for a renaissance in ward choirs.

Leadership Problems

The principal problem in Church music is lack of competent leadership. This means conductors and organists. The General Music Committee has striven for over thirty years to alleviate this problem through Church-wide choristers’ and organists’ classes. More could be done. The Committee might consider formulating a Church-wide extension program in cooperation with Brigham Young University. Majors in Church Music are being established in many universities. One of the fifty Mormon doctorates in Appendix I falls in this category. Short of this, a concentrated program to prepare Mormon organists and choir conductors in technique, musicianship, and appropriate literature is overdue.

President E. L. Wilkinson expressed concern at a faculty meeting in September, 1965: “I think it is only fair to say that over the past century the Church has not produced the number or quality of outstanding artists in the field of music or art or theater or . . . allied fields. . . .” (Italics added). The Deseret News report of the Wilkinson statement continued: “Talented young people who belong to the Church . . . have had to go to New York or other large urban centers and many have apostatized from the faith” (not direct quotes). “It is the hope of the administration and the B.Y.U. Board of Trustees that hundreds of young men and women will now be trained in the new . . . Harris Fine Arts Center in an atmosphere where they will not be poisoned with agnostic or atheistic or “Jack Mormon” philosophy and go on to gain national and international reputations in the arts,” President Wilkinson added.

Despite President Wilkinson’s solicitous concern, a steady stream of the Church’s most distinguished musicians has departed from the Provo campus, beginning with Louis W. Booth (1947) and Leroy Robertson (1948). Others soon followed: Leon Dallin, Newell Weight, Robert Cundick, Reid Nibley, Crawford Gates, Norman Hunt, William Wilkes, Daniel Martino, Norman Gulbrandsen, and others. They left for a variety of reasons: professional advancement, personal reasons, one to become a Tabernacle organist. Most were loyal to the Church but nevertheless were attracted away from its university.

Music’s Role in the Sacrament Service

Mormon music should play its most significant role in Sacrament meetings. Anything detracting from the service’s sacred nature should be eliminated; that which enhances should be cherished, nurtured, and encouraged.

In May, 1946, the use of music during the preparation and administration of the sacrament was discontinued.[15] Problems of order and lack of reverence were immediate causes. It was not that the music was necessarily inappropriate but, rather, that ward officials could not cope with congregational noise, and the music was being used to cover up whispering and shuffling about.

Needless to say, deportment improved with the First Presidency’s letter. Musicians, admittedly, were not blameless: poorly trained organists, particularly in Sunday Schools, lacked both technique and musical taste. In my own youthful Sacrament Meeting days I actually heard The Rosary, White Christmas, I’ll Be Home for Christmas (all on organ), and—as a missionary farewell “request” number—The Beer Barrel Polka (Accordion!). Given competent organists and ward choirs, the Sacrament Service could be heightened by effective music dramatizing the Lord’s suffering and atonement.

The Sacrament was introduced as part of the Sunday School service relatively recently in Church history, in order to make it available to youngsters not returning for evening Sacrament meeting. When Junior Sunday Schools officially became part of the Sunday School modus operandi in 1949, I vividly recall the lengthy General Board discussions by some who advocated discontinuing the Sacrament in Senior Sunday Schools while continuing it in Junior Sunday Schools. This minority group felt that a single Sacrament Service each Sunday might help restore its central role by making it less common. Such a move was also discussed early in the life of the Correlation Committee.

Appropriate music well-performed could also help highlight this lone Sacrament Service ritual. Among those surveyed in the questionnaire there was sharp division on questions dealing with sacramental music:

“I think silence during the Sacrament itself is appropriate.”

“Silence is highly preferable.”

“No! No! Our sacrament service is effective and free from what someone might think is appropriate music.”

“Long before the First Presidency announced that there should not be any music during the Sacramental service, I had a clear feeling that music was a deterrent to pious contemplation. I am firm in the opinion that we should never have had any music, no matter how good it might be, to distract people from this sacred moment. Silence here is truly golden.”

The Mormon “Popular Religious Song”

A survey question which brought near-unanimity dealt with the “popular religious song,” which plagues all Protestant[16] services, particularly evangelical. In addition to I Believe, He, Someone Up There Loves Me, The Bible Tells Me So, Til Walk With God, I’m On a Honeymoon With Jesus, The Bells of Hell Go Ting-a-ling—Where, O Death, Is Thy Sting-a-ling? and My Cup Runneth Over now running rampant throughout Christianity, Mormons themselves have a growing pops library.

Composed by what one leading Mormon musician terms “devoted, sin cere, Latter-day Saints worthy of our affection and brotherhood,” Mormon pop music has mushroomed since World War II, spreading throughout the Church far more quickly and widely than Robertson anthems. The poetry is generally poor to mediocre—however “sincere.” But the music is most objectionable. Romantic melodies are chorded, printed, and published like tin-pan alley hits. Sacrament meetings often feature a McGuire Sisters-type arrangement of an M.I.A.-approved-and-printed song. Recently, a girls’-close-harmony quartet rendered a romantic ballad, In the Temple By the River (We will go there, you and I), apparently a reference to the Idaho Falls Temple. A more recent one with a Southern California setting is The Temple By the Sea.

Use of this genre may be questionable even as Mormon recreational pieces for M.I.A. and firesides. But they have no place in a Sacrament meeting or during the Sabbath day.

The survey’s most vitriolic retorts ricochetted from the question: “What is your view on the ‘popular religious song’ written by devoted Church members?”

“Whether by Mormons or anyone else, it is all romantic trash with sacred text which does not add to the spirit of our meeting . . . .”

“Pretty trite stuff, sentimental, sweet, and loaded with the ‘popular twang’—ooohh!”

“Horrible—corny ‘singing mothers’ songs are even worse.”

“I detest with a passion the intrusion of such music, regardless of composer!”

On the other hand, representing a two-person minority, one respondent maintained that this genre “Helps some people. All are not musicologists.”

And Alexander Schreiner, knowing of my research, forwarded a carbon copy of his reply to a typical inquirer. In the Good Shepherd tradition Dr. Schreiner wrote: “. . . I agree with you wholeheartedly, only my temperature is not so high as yours . . . . I suppose the texts of the items you refer to are really not sinful or in wrong doctrine. Therefore, may I advise you in the kindliest way that you be gentle . . . this gives you an opportunity to exercise your forbearance . . . . The Gospel is for rich and poor, for young and old, and for the cultured and uncultured. . . .”

Specific, official Church policy is unlikely. The battle will continue in the trenches.

[Editor’s Note: For Appendices I–IV, see PDF, pp. 38–40]

[1] See Appendix III.

[2] See Appendix I.

[3] During this century’s first three decades many Mormon musicians attended the New England Conservatory of Music. Shepherd and Robertson—and, earlier, Evan Stephens—studied there with George Chadwick. Others included Franklin and Florence J. Madsen, George Durham, Richard Condie, Louis Booth, Margaret Summerhays, Lydia White Boothby.

[4] See Appendices I and II.

[5] George D. Pyper, Stories of L.D.S. Hymns (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1939), pp. 24-25.

[6] The “Emma Smith hymnal” (1835) was compiled in compliance with Section 25 of the Doctrine and Covenants—the only Latter-day revelation dealing with the arts.

[7] See Appendix IV. Members of the committee for the 1948-50 hymnals were Tracy Y. Cannon, chairman, Leroy Robertson, Spencer Cornwall, Alexander Schreiner, Frank Asper, and Lorenzo Mitchell. Also associated with the overall project were several specialists working exclusively on The Children Sing and Recreational Songs.

[8] Harline is one of the most widely performed Hollywood composers since 1932. His greatest success was the score to Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which won an Academy Award.

[9] Gates resigned as Professor and Head of Brigham Young University’s Music Department on June 30, 1966, to accept the post of Musical Director and Conductor, Beloit, Wisconsin, Symphony Orchestra, where he has just completed his third successful season, having served as guest conductor 1963-64.

[10] Premiered in 1952 by Utah Symphony, University of Utah Choruses, and soloists under Maurice Abravanel. Vanguard’s recording was reviewed by the writer in Dialogue, Autumn 1967.

[11] Crawford Gates’s Second Symphony (Scenes from the Book of Mormon), premiered in 1960 by Utah Symphony members, Brigham Young University A Cappella Choir, and narrator, under the composer’s direction. This score is heard annually as incidental music to the Hill Cumorah Pageant.

[12] J. Spencer Cornwall, distinguished conductor of the Tabernacle Choir 1935-57, is a General Music Committee member. He led the Choir on its far-reaching Summer 1955 European Tour. In addition to the Tabernacle Choir volume he authored Stories of Our Mormon Hymns, which is the other side of Pyper’s coin. Together with Weight’s detailed examination, they form an excellent composite of Mormon Hymnody.

[13] RCA-Victor announced in December 1967 that it had lured the Philadelphia Ormandy team away from a long-standing marriage with Columbia Records. Also a Columbia artist, the Tabernacle Choir must record with Columbia orchestras and conductors. This leaves them alone with the New York Philharmonic, with whom happy marriages have been historically difficult. Columbia could pull the “coup” of the industry’s history by signing the Los Angeles Philharmonic and its dynamic young conductor, Zubin Mehta. Logistics and compatible philosophies could work to the mutual advantage of the Choir and Philharmonic.

[14] During his tenure (1957-present), Dr. Condie has attracted and developed quality voices through his vocal expertise—the Choir’s “sound” is the richest in its history. No Tabernacle Choir conductor has faced the multiple demands of radio, concert, General Conference, re cording. Under his aegis the Choir has become one of the recording industry’s leading “properties.”

[15] In a letter to presidents of stakes and bishops of wards, dated May 2, 1946, The First Presidency (George Albert Smith, J. Reuben Clark, Jr., and David O. McKay) altered the existing music pattern in Sunday School and Sacrament Meeting by affirming that “the ideal condition is to have absolute quiet during the passing of the sacrament, and that we look with disfavor upon vocal solos, duets, group singing, or instrumental music during the administration of this sacred ordinance. There is no objection to having appropriate music during the preparation of the emblems, but after the prayer is offered, perfect silence should prevail until the bread and the water have been partaken of by the full congregation.”

[16] Catholics have problems, too, with the folk, rock, and jazz masses. Just released at this writing is an Ed Ames pops vocal, Who Will Answer? It is Gregorian chant, pure and simple. Actually, not so pure and simple but with a rock-beat, saccharine pop harmonies, and “message” lyrics.