“The Morning Breaks”: George Careless, Musical Pioneer

On 19 July 1864 the Hudson docked in New York Harbor. Aside from a brief encounter with a Confederate privateer and an outbreak of measles, the voyage had been uneventful. Captain Isaiah Pratt was pleased with the order and cleanliness of his passengers, some 863 emigrating Latter-day Saints. 1 He was especially impressed with their singing. As the Saints were preparing to go ashore, Captain Pratt took aside their choir director, George Careless. “I have admired your music so much,” he told the young man, “that I want you to give me one of your tunes, as my family is religious and likes to sing hymns on Sunday evening.”

“I am sorry, Captain,” replied Brother Careless, “but my music is all packed up. I haven’t even a bit of music paper or I would write one for you.”

The captain insisted, however, so Brother Careless found a piece of writing paper, went to a quiet corner, and wrote a setting for Parley P. Pratt’s hymn “The Morning Breaks, The Shadows Flee.” While the Church’s agent in New York was finalizing arrangements to transport the emigrants West, George gathered his choir together. They sang for Captain Pratt the new setting, 2 which has since become familiar to millions through its use by the Tabernacle Choir.

George Edward Percy Careless was born in London on 24 September 1839. While still a child, he was given a little playhouse theatre with cardboard players, and with these he entertained his friends. At nine he was apprenticed to a basketmaker who was also an organist. The man recognized that young George had musical talent and offered to take him under his wing, but George left his employ to work for the firm of Cant and Sons, wholesale shoe manufacturers. Here he worked under Richard Rose, the manufacturing foreman. Rose owned a collection of violins, which he let George use. George taught himself how to play the violin and began to save money to buy one of his own.

George also had a clear soprano voice and was offered a position in a cathedral choir, including a salary and a free musical education. But meanwhile he had come in contact with missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Instead of accepting employment with the choir, he accepted the gospel. On 26 October 1850, at eleven years of age, he was baptized into the Church by Elder John Hyde.

Historical sources give no indication of the attitude of George’s parents toward his new faith. However, two years after his conversion, he clashed with his father about his future. George’s father insisted that the boy learn a useful trade. But George was adamant about following a career in music. Finally, his father gave George the choice of learning a trade or leaving home. George left home.

As George grew to maturity he began to earn extra money playing his violin. But he also became increasingly concerned about his diminutive physical size. On one occasion during these years, he found himself outside Parliament as Lord Palmerston (then Prime Minister) and Lord John Russell came out of the building. Lord Palmerston was a large man, but Lord Russell was as small as George. George thought, “There go two of the greatest statesmen in England; one a man large of stature, the other very small, but both equally great. Now, if Russell can make his mark in the world, so can I.” 3

In 1859 George began formal studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He passed the four-year course of studies in only three years and in 1862 began playing professionally. During the next two years George played under many of the famous conductors then working in London. He also conducted the Goswell Branch choir and presented concerts for Church members and their friends as part of the London Conference meetings of October 1863 and January 1864. 4

One Sunday evening early in 1864, Elder William Staines approached him. “Brother George,” he said, “I had a dream about you last night, and was shown that you were advancing so rapidly in your profession that your fame and fortune would be made if you remained in London, and that you would not be able to sacrifice it if you did not immigrate to Zion this year.” Elder Staines then counseled George to sail for Utah on the next ship, offering to advance him the money if need be. After laboring with George for half an hour, Elder Staines said, “You are wanted in Zion and I want you to go. What do you say?”

“I will go,” said George. 5

On 3 June 1864 George Careless set sail for America on the Hudson. The transatlantic crossing was unusually slow, and the Civil War delayed the train journey across the States. Consequently, George and his fellow emigrants did not reach the railroad terminus at Wyoming, Nebraska, until August 2. Because of these delays the Warren Snow ox train, of which George was a member, was caught in winter snows, suffering short rations and illness. When the company finally arrived at Salt Lake City on November 3, George was ill and had eaten very little for weeks. He needed three days to recover his strength.

But if the hardships of the journey West were not enough, a few days after his arrival George was discouraged by an old acquaintance. He met Richard Bentley, who had been president of the London Conference and had preceded George to Utah by only a few months. Brother Bentley said, “Brother George, I am pleased to see you, yet sorry you have come, because there are several music teachers here now and they cannot make a living.”

“Brother Bentley,” George replied, “I will stay with my music for two years. If I starve you will have to bury me.” 6

Bentley’s remark was all too accurate. The Latter-day Saints were undeniably a musical people. But the hardships of pioneer life meant that music had to come after the necessary activities of conquering an arid land. In addition, music materials such as books and sheet music were scarce. What little music reached the valley had to be copied by hand for those who could read it and taught by rote to those who could not. Although there were a number of bands and choirs in the Salt Lake area, most were led and manned by amateurs who made their living at other professions.

George did not let conditions deter him. Within a month of his arrival he had found twenty-four music students, although payment was often in goods and services rather than money.

The 1860s had seen significant advancements in the cultural life of Salt Lake City. David O. Calder began teaching singing classes in 1861, and by 1863 he had published his own lesson book. 7 Another professional musician, Charles John Thomas, had emigrated from England a few years before George Careless and was conductor of the Tabernacle Choir and the Salt Lake Theatre Orchestra.

By 1865 George had established himself as a professional music teacher. His success did not escape the eye of President Brigham Young. Early in 1865, President Young called George Careless into his office. “Brother George,” he said, “I have a mission for you. I want you to be Chief Musician of the Church. I want you to take the Tabernacle Choir and the Theatre Orchestra and lay a foundation for good music.”

“I will do the best I can,” George replied. 8

George Careless

George Careless directed the Tabernacle Choir for more than ten years. This is the earliest photo we have of the Choir. The conductor is Evan Stephens. (Courtesy of the Church Historical Department.)

The musicians of the Salt Lake Theatre Orchestra were the best in Salt Lake City, although some had no previous professional experience. Charles John Thomas had molded his orchestra into a fine ensemble and now was being sent by President Young to establish musical culture in St. George. Brother Careless joined the orchestra as early as 29 April 1865, although public acknowledgment was not made until September 13 of that year. 9

Apparently he also took over directorship of the Tabernacle Choir at the same time. At that time the choir met in the Old Tabernacle. On the night of his first rehearsal with the choir, Brother Careless discovered that the building had no heating or lighting for the singers. He immediately asked President Daniel H. Wells, President Young’s Second Counselor, for a stove and a chandelier with an oil lamp to be installed for the choir. Brother Wells was sympathetic but pointed out that those improvements would be expensive. Nevertheless, when the choir met the following week, the stove and chandelier were in place. 10

George Careless, however, must have felt he could not adequately serve as Tabernacle Choir director. As conductor at the theatre, he had to compose or arrange nearly all of the music played by the orchestra. By 19 November 1865, he handed leadership of the choir over to Robert Sands. Brother Careless did not return to the choir until 1869. 11

Professor Careless reorganized the theatre orchestra. Although at one time there had been as many as twenty-four musicians in the orchestra, Brother Careless now found himself with sixteen men of varying abilities. 12 Out of this ensemble he chose seven who became the new orchestra and made arrangements for each of them to receive a permanent wage.

As director of the Theatre Orchestra, George Careless was at the hub of Salt Lake City’s concert life. During Brother Thomas’s tenure, the orchestra had generally played dance music during intermissions or between plays. Brother Careless, however, preferred playing the works of the masters. Although he continued presenting lighter works, Brother Careless began introducing the Saints to the music of Haydn, Rossini, and Weber. It was also during his tenure that the theatre began producing opera. 13

Sometime in 1869, Professor Careless was offered a job at a much higher salary at Piper’s Opera House in Virginia City, Nevada. His reply was courteous but direct. He had come to Salt Lake for his religion and would remain there.

During his tenure with the orchestra, some of the musicians began to talk about organizing a musician’s union. They wanted Brother Careless to be their president. He declined, however, and when a union was formed during the 1869–70 theatre season, he resigned and turned his attention to the Tabernacle Choir. 14

Brother Careless began writing hymn settings during his tenure as Tabernacle Choir director. The official hymnal of the Church at that time, Sacred Hymns and Spiritual Songs, printed the hymn texts without music. The Saints generally sang their hymns to popular or folk tunes. But there were some musicians in the Church who felt the Latter-day Saints should have their own psalmody. In 1857 John Tullidge published his own hymn settings in a book entitled Latter-day Saints Psalmody. But that volume was published in England and was not popular in Utah.

In 1876, George Careless and David O. Calder began publication of The Utah Musical Times. This monthly periodical carried articles on the masters as well as commentary on current musical events. More importantly, however, Careless and Calder included in each issue a number of newly composed hymn settings by native Utah composers. The majority of these settings were by George Careless himself. A few, however, were by others who were soon to enrich Mormon hymnody, such as Ebenezer Beesley, Thomas Griggs, and the young Evan Stephens. 15

Some of Brother Careless’s hymns were written for special occasions. “Thou Dost Not Weep Alone” (Hymns, no. 181) was written for the funeral of President Brigham Young in 1877. One of Brother Careless’s most popular hymns, “Though Deepening Trials” (Hymns, no. 285), was written during a serious illness. Other hymns were simply written for the use of the Church. Brother Careless later told George Pyper, “Brothers E. Beesley and Thomas C. Griggs from time to time selected a number of beautiful Sacramental hymns and gave them to me at the afternoon meeting. I would take some music paper and compose a tune, hand it to the brethren with instructions to have it copied for Friday’s practice to be sung the following Sunday. Most of the Sacramental pieces were composed under these circumstances.” 16

George Careless retired from the Tabernacle Choir in 1880. But he did not sever his connection with Church music. In 1886 he was invited by President John Taylor to be a member of the committee that published the first official Latter-day Saint hymnal to include both words and music. This book, The Latter-day Saints’ Psalmody, was published in 1889. Most of Brother Careless’s eighty-eight hymn settings were published in this volume. He remained on the General Music Committee until his death on 16 December 1932.

In addition to his work for the Church, George Careless contributed much to the development of musical culture in Salt Lake City. In June 1875 he conducted the first performance of Handel’s Messiah in the Intermountain West. The oratorio was performed by the Handel and Haydn Society, an inter-denominational musical organization founded by Careless. Among the soloists was one of the notable singers in early Utah, George’s first wife, Lavinia Triplett Careless. Brother Careless also founded the Careless Concert Orchestra in 1879 and the Careless Opera Company in 1885.

In 1888, three years after his first wife, Lavinia, died, he married Jane Davis. George Careless was a private, unassuming man and possessed an Englishman’s sense of propriety. During general conference in 1869, a fifteen-year-old Welsh boy, Evan Stephens, visited Salt Lake City. “I was interested in the choir and naturally I wandered into the west door [of the Tabernacle]. Brother Careless was choir leader, and he noticed me there in my shirt sleeves. He came up quietly and patted me on the shoulder and asked me where my coat was. ‘I have a coat but I thought I would not need it.’ ‘I think you had better go and get that coat,’ he said. So I realized dress had something to do with it. I had fun over that.” 17

George Careless was a willing servant of the Lord. At his funeral, his friend Charles Richmond recalled, “Notwithstanding great honors and privileges had come to him, he still loved those humble things of life and was willing to contribute of his time and energy … for the accomplishment of those things which were required of him as a humble member of the Ward and as a high priest.” 18

George Careless was a quiet but forceful Latter-day Saint. He came to Salt Lake City at a time when musical culture was ripe with untapped potential. He took that infant culture and, following President Brigham Young’s admonition, laid a foundation for good music among the Saints.

[photo] George Careless significantly shaped music in the early days of the Church. He composed more than eighty hymn settings. (Courtesy of the Utah State Historical Society.)

[photo] Given the title of “Chief Musician of the Church” by Brigham Young, George Careless led the Salt Lake Theatre Orchestra (pictured here; Careless is fourth from the left) and introduced the music of Haydn, Rossini, and Weber to the Saints in the Valley.

[photo] The first hymnal, pictured here, contained only texts. Not until 1889 did hymnals contain both hymn texts and music.

David Maxwell, a free-lance writer, musician, and composer, lives in the Northridge Second Ward, Chatsworth California Stake.

Show References


  1.   1.

    Church Immigration Records, 1858–1869, 3:28; Latter-day Saints Millennial Star, 26 (1864): 539–42.

  2.   2.

    George D. Pyper, “In Intimate Touch with Professor George Careless,” Juvenile Instructor 59 (1924): 116–17.

  3.   3.

    Ibid., p. 115.

  4.   4.

    Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, 25(1863):740; 26(1864):66.

  5.   5.

    Pyper, p. 116.

  6.   6.

    Ibid., 117–18.

  7.   7.

    William E. Purdy, “Music in Mormon Culture, 1830–1876,” Ph.d. diss., Northwestern University, 1960, pp. 51–53.

  8.   8.

    Pyper, p. 173.

  9.   9.

    Alfred Morris, Jr., “Music History of the Salt Lake Theatre, The Formative Years: 1862–1870,” M.A. thesis, Brigham Young University, 1957, pp. 32, 127.

  10.   10.

    Pyper, p. 233.

  11.   11.

    Dates from Millicent Cornwall, comp., “Chronological History of the Salt Lake Tabernacle Choir, 1847–1857,” p. 8.

  12.   12.

    Morris, p. 32.

  13.   13.

    Ibid., pp. 66–67, 70.

  14.   14.

    Pyper, p. 177.

  15.   15.

    Howard Hoggan Putnam, “George Edward Percy Careless: His Contributions to the Musical Culture of Utah and the Significance of His Life and Works,” M.A. thesis, Brigham Young University, 1957, pp. 46, 88.

  16.   16.

    Pyper, p. 287.

  17.   17.

    Kate B. Carter, comp., Our Pioneer Heritage (Salt Lake City: Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, 1967), 10:89.

  18.   18.

    Quoted in Putnam, p. 91.