Our Heritage of Hymns


“And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.” (Matt. 26:30.) From the Savior’s time to the dispensation begun through Joseph Smith, hymns have cheered sorrow and shouted praise. They are an important part of our heritage. Carol C. Madsen, daughter of J. Spencer Cornwall who was formerly a conductor of the Tabernacle Choir, wrote for June Conference a dramatic presentation entitled “Our Heritage of Hymns.” This production could be used throughout the Church as a fireside or activity night production.

The presentation is designed for a chorus with narration. It can be presented simply or more elaborately using slides and other visual effects. The production notes given after the script are suggestions to help you begin. Favorite hymns not included in this script can be added by adapting the narration. If performed as written, “Our Heritage of Hymns” takes about one hour.

SONG: “A Mighty Fortress” (Hymns, p. 3.)

NARRATOR: When Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses of protest on the door of the Wittenburg Castle Church, he not only brought religious services and the Bible to his people in their own language, but he took from the clergy and gave to the common people the right to use their most natural and universal form of worship—singing. With this hymn, “A Mighty Fortress,” he provided the prototype for all hymns to come. Few have surpassed its eloquent imagery and majestic music. It is one of the first and greatest contributions to our heritage of hymns. (See Albert Edward Bailey, The Gospel in Hymns [New York, 1950], p. 314.)

When the current edition of the LDS hymnbook was printed, the author of “There Is Beauty All Around” was unknown—neither composer nor author is listed. President David O. McKay, a great admirer of this hymn, asked J. Spencer Cornwall, who was then a member of the Church Music Committee, to find the name of its author.

Soon afterwards while Brother Cornwall was traveling on assignment to Montana, he heard on the car radio a male chorus singing “There Is Beauty All Around.” Reaching his destination he called the station to ask the name of the author and was referred to a station in New Jersey where the program had originated. He wrote that station and was promptly sent a pamphlet stating that John Hugh McNaughton was both the author and composer of “There Is Beauty All Around.”

This information was conveyed to President McKay who remarked that he was sorry it had not been written by a member of the Church but that he was very pleased to know, however, that those lovely words had been written by a Scotsman. (Personal reminiscence of J. Spencer Cornwall.)

SONG: “There Is Beauty All Around.” (Hymns, p. 169; male chorus and tenor solo.)

NARRATOR: Annie S. Hawks was a prolific hymn writer of the last century. Her hymns were published in various popular hymnbooks of her day. Just one of them, however, has found its way into our hymnbook: “I Need Thee Every Hour.”

Mrs. Hawks tells us that as she was busy at her usual housework one day, she became conscious of the joy that comes from a sense of divine companionship, and the words of the hymn began to well out of her heart. Dr. Robert Lowry, her pastor, set the text to music, and it became instantly popular. Only later, when her own husband died, did she realize how much those comforting words touch an inner need of us all as they supplicate the Lord for his abiding presence and spiritual strength. (See Bailey, p. 504.)

“I need thee; O I need thee;
Every hour I need thee!
O bless me now, my Savior;
I come to thee!”

SONG: “I Need Thee Every Hour” (Hymns, p. 79.)

NARRATOR: In July 1830, just three months after the Church was organized, Emma Smith, wife of the Prophet Joseph, received through her husband the following revelation:

“And it shall be given thee, also, to make a selection of sacred hymns, as it shall be given thee, which is pleasing unto me, to be had in my church.

“For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.” (D&C 25:11–12.)

Though the scriptures often refer to the worshipful nature of music and song, this is the only known instance where the Lord, by revelation, has directed the compilation of hymns for his church. Emma met the divine assignment to compile the first Latter-day Saint hymnbook. On May 1, 1832, the History of the Church records:

“It is ordered that W. W. Phelps correct and print the hymns which have been selected by Emma Smith in fulfillment of the revelation.” (1:270.)

A number of these hymns were printed in the Evening and Morning Star during 1832 and 1833. But in July 1833, the printing press was destroyed and many of the manuscripts were lost. Once again Emma Smith was directed to make a selection of hymns with the help of W. W. Phelps. Finally, in 1835, a book of 90 hymns was published. Brother Phelps wrote many of them and many were contributed by Eliza R. Snow, Parley P. Pratt, and others. This publication contained words only, and the Saints sang them to various hymn tunes in vogue at the time. Indeed, a number of the hymns were sung interchangeably to the same tune.

These hymns, with others added through the years, served the Church through many printings until 1886. In that year President John Taylor called together five prominent musicians of the Church: Thomas Griggs, Joseph J. Daynes, Ebenezer Beesley, Evan Stephens, and George Careless. Each had served or would yet serve as either Tabernacle Choir organist or conductor. He requested that they write original music for the hymn texts that then comprised the hymnbook. Each musician took one-fifth of the total hymns (several hundred by then) for which to compose melodies.

Meeting each Sunday after the Tabernacle services, these men played to one another their respective tunes for approval and criticism. Finally, three years later, their work was completed and published. Known as the Latter-day Saint Psalmody, the book included both words and music—the first of its kind in the Church. (From an address by Joseph J. Daynes, Jr., on the life of his father delivered on Nov. 20, 1952, as included in an unpublished master’s thesis, Joseph J. Daynes, First Tabernacle Organist, BYU, 1954, by M. Peter Overson.)

Though only three of his hymns were included, Thomas Griggs has been immortalized by one of them: “Gently raise the sacred strain, For the Sabbath’s come again.”

SONG: “Gently Raise the Sacred Strain” (Hymns, p. 92; sing first two lines; hum second two lines as narrator reads.)

NARRATOR: The theme song of the Tabernacle Choir broadcasts, this hymn is heard around the world each week. For many thousands of people it introduces the only religious service in their lives. Though other hymns have been written celebrating the Sabbath day, none other seems to fit the Sunday broadcasts quite as well as does this one.

Thomas Griggs joined the Church in England and emigrated to America in 1857. He sang under five leaders of the Tabernacle Choir, and in 1880, while he was on a mission to Great Britain, he was appointed choir conductor. After he returned he graciously suggested that Brother Beesley, who had conducted in his absence, continue as director with himself as assistant. (See George D. Pyper, Stories of Our Latter-day Saint Hymns [Deseret News Press, 1939], p. 130. See also J. Spencer Cornwall, Stories of Our Mormon Hymns, 4th ed. [Deseret Book Co., 1971].)

While the great Tabernacle organ was being built, Brigham Young was often asked, “Who will play the organ?” Knowing of no organist in the Church, he would reply, “The Lord will provide.” During this time a young boy of 11, Joseph J. Daynes, came to the Salt Lake Valley with his family. They brought with them a folding melodeon that young Joseph had played each night at the campfire during their journey.

When they reached the valley, they camped in the Eighth Ward square where Brigham Young visited and welcomed them. They sang as usual that evening while President Young was there. When he heard Joseph play the melodeon, he exclaimed: “There is our organist for the great Tabernacle organ.” Five years later, at the age of 16, Joseph J. Daynes became the first Tabernacle organist and held that position for 33 years. (L. W. Snow [half-sister of J. J. Daynes], “History of Joseph J. Daynes, Pioneer 1862,” paper written for the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, reprinted in Oversons’ master’s thesis.)

It is fitting that his most popular composition in the LDS Psalmody has been used as the closing theme song for the organ on the Tabernacle Choir broadcasts: “As the Dew from Heaven Distilling.”

SONG: “As the Dew from Heaven Distilling” (Hymns, p. 232; organ solo.)

NARRATOR: Besides serving as conductor of the Tabernacle Choir and contributing to the LDS Psalmody, Ebenezer Beesley assisted in compiling the first songbooks used by the auxiliaries of the Church, thus preserving the works of many early Church composers.

Composer of the well-known hymns, “High on the Mountain Top” and “Let Us Oft Speak Kind Words,” Brother Beesley wrote the music to a lovely poem by Joseph L. Townsend entitled “Reverently and Meekly Now.” Brother Townsend records that his purpose in writing the poem was to impress upon the congregation the sacredness of the sacrament service. (See Pyper, pp. 111–12.)

SONG: “Reverently and Meekly Now” (Hymns, p. 280.)

NARRATOR: At the age of 12, Evan Stephens crossed the ocean with his parents, walked across the plains, and settled with them in Willard, Utah, where his desire to become a musician took root. While he was still 12, Evan attended his first choir rehearsal. Though he loved music and intended to become a musician, he had not learned to play or read music. The choir sang from some expensive anthem books, and young Evan dared to ask to take one home. At first he was most emphatically refused, but after much pleading from Evan the choir leader relented and young Evan had the book for a night. And it was an eventful night. From that one book he learned the meaning of key signatures, time signatures, note values, the staves, and marks of expression. Rising rapidly in the world of music, Brother Stephens eventually became an outstanding conductor of the Tabernacle Choir. He was a prolific composer and author, publishing several songbooks. Twenty-six of his compositions appear in our hymnbook. (Personal reminiscence of J. Spencer Cornwall.)

On one occasion he attended a meeting where President Joseph F. Smith spoke on the subject, “The Third and Fourth Generations.” Brother Stephens had taught music to youth nearly all of his life and was impressed with the counsel given by President Smith to these third and fourth generation Latter-day Saints.

At the close of the service, Brother Stephens, a great lover of nature, strolled alone up City Creek Canyon, pondering the inspired words of President Smith. Sitting by the banks of a stream, he observed how the rock he was resting on remained firm despite the pressure of the rushing waters. As they came rapidly to his mind, he wrote the words of the stirring song “True to the Faith.”

“Shall the youth of Zion falter in defending truth and right? … No! True to the faith … Soul, heart, and hand, Faithful and true we will ever stand.”

Then ruling off a few staves of music on a piece of paper, he composed the music. The song was first sung at the general Sunday School conference in 1905, and on the original copy was written, “Lovingly dedicated to my 20,000 pupils of Zion. Evan Stephens.” (Pyper, p. 118; Cornwall, p. 173.)

SONG: “Shall the Youth of Zion Falter?” (Hymns, p. 157.)

NARRATOR: When inspiring words unite with noble and stirring music, art is raised to worship. There is perhaps no better blending of artistic talent in LDS hymns than in those created by Eliza R. Snow and George Careless. Five times the products of their combined pens appear in our hymnbook. Of these, none excels the hymn “Though Deepening Trials.”

Written in 1838 or 39 when the Saints were being driven from their homes in Missouri, the poem offers strength, encouragement, and hope. Having experienced persecution, first in Kirtland and then Missouri, Eliza R. Snow understood the need for comfort, assurance, and hope for better times. From the depths of anguish and despair rose the lofty expression of hope and courage:

“Press on, press on, ye Saints …
The time at longest is not long …
Though tribulations rage abroad,
Christ says, ‘In me ye shall have peace.’”

Just as these noble thoughts found life in the midst of despair, so too did the music. George Careless had endured a long illness that had gradually sapped his physical as well as his spiritual strength.

In a mood of great despondency, he went first to the scriptures and then to his beloved hymnbook in an attempt to find some comfort and hope. As he read through the familiar words of the hymns he knew so well, he came at length to one of Eliza R. Snow’s that she called “Be Not Discouraged.” As he read through the words, they inspired him to write the music that has made this hymn one of our most popular. His spirits rose, his despair left, and when he was once again well, he called on his good friend, Horace K. Whitney, to suggest a title for it. Brother Whitney gave it the name, “Reliance.” (See Pyper, p. 140; Cornwall, p. 278.)

SONG: “Though Deepening Trials.” (Hymns, p. 285.)

NARRATOR: No hymn bears quite the same significance to Latter-day Saints as “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief.” An adopted hymn, it might never have gained prominence among our hymns had it not been so closely identified with the most tragic scene in Mormon history.

June 27, 1844. The day dawned hot and humid. By afternoon the small room on the upper floor in Carthage Jail was sultry and close. Four men sat together in silence, each struggling with his own thoughts. At length, Joseph broke the silence and asked to hear one of his favorite hymns. John Taylor knew it well, and verse by verse he sang it through. At Hyrum’s request, he reluctantly sang it once again.

SONG: “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief” (Hymns, p. 153; tenor solo, unaccompanied.)

NARRATOR: A month after the martyrdom at Carthage, there appeared in the Times and Seasons the words of the hymn “Praise to the Man.” Originally entitled “Joseph Smith,” this is probably one of the only hymns written in tribute to, and in praise of, a man. In the trauma of loss and dismay following the martyrdom of the Prophet and his brother, these words affirmed to all the world the continuing conviction of the bereaved Saints in the divine calling of their prophet, who did in very deed “commune with Jehovah,” who opened this last dispensation, who died a martyr in order to seal his testimony with his blood. “Great is his glory and endless his priesthood. Millions shall know Brother Joseph again.”

SONG: “Praise to the Man” (Hymns, p. 147.)

NARRATOR: Though Mormon hymnody looks to many from the Christian world for its great hymns of faith and praise, some names that we can claim as our own have given us a particularly meaningful musical heritage, because their words and music were born of the pangs that brought forth the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Their hymns are the stirring by-products of the refiner’s fire, and they bear record of those valiant ones whose faith never wavered and whose hope never failed.

In 1845, a year after the Prophet’s death, Eliza R. Snow penned her immortal hymn “O My Father.” This song, perhaps more than any other, capsulizes in poetic form the whole framework of the plan of salvation. Second only to “Come, Come, Ye Saints” as the Church’s most widely known and loved hymn, it elicits hundreds of letters from all over the world each time it is sung by the Tabernacle Choir. Through the years it has been sung to a number of familiar tunes, but ironically, this great hymn has never had music of its own.

SONG: “O My Father” (Hymns, p. 139.)

NARRATOR: Colonel Thomas L. Kane, a friend of the Mormons, visited Illinois in the fall of 1846. As he rode along the banks of the Mississippi, he noted the countryside, marred and neglected by idle settlers. Descending the last hillside of his journey, however, he saw half-encircled by the bend of the river a beautiful city, its new dwellings gleaming in the sun, all surrounded by cool, green gardens and well-tended farmlands. The unmistakable marks of industry were everywhere, making the scene one of singular and striking beauty. Rowing across the river he landed at the wharf, but strangely, no one was there to greet him. All was silent and empty. Years later, he recorded his impression of that day:

“I walked through the solitary streets. The town lay as in a dream, under some deadening spell of loneliness from which I almost feared to wake it. For plainly it had not slept long. There was no grass growing up in the paved ways. Rains had not entirely washed away the prints of dusty footsteps. Yet I went about unchecked. I went into empty workshops, ropewalks and smithies. The spinner’s wheel was idle; the carpenter had gone from his work-bench. Fresh bark was in the tanner’s vat, and the fresh-chopped tightwood stood piled against the baker’s oven. The blacksmith’s shop was cold, but his tools were all there, just as if he had gone off for a holiday. No one called out to me from any opened window. I could have supposed the people hidden in the houses, but the doors were unfastened; and when at last I timidly entered them, I found dead ashes white upon the hearths. On the outskirts of the town I saw fields upon fields of heavy-headed yellow grain, wasting ungathered upon the ground. No one was at hand to take in their rich harvest. As far as the eye could reach, they stretched away, sleeping in the hazy air of autumn.

“Only two portions of the city seemed to suggest the import of this mysterious solitude. On the southern suburb, the houses looking out upon the country showed, by their splintered woodwork and walls battered to the foundation, that they had lately been the mark of a destructive cannonade. And in and around the splendid Temple, armed men were barracked, surrounded by their stacks of musketry and pieces of heavy ordinance. They boasted that they had driven out 20,000 inhabitants from that city at the point of the sword. And who were these people driven from their beautiful city into a wilderness beyond? They were the Mormons. … And where were they now? They had last been seen moving in mournful trains across the river, to disappear behind the western horizon, pursuing the phantom of yet another home. They had begun their march in midwinter and by the end of February nearly all of them were on the road, many of their wagons having crossed the Mississippi on the ice.” (Richard Cracroft and Neal Lambert, A Believing People [BYU Press, 1974], pp. 27–29.)

Among the band of homeless refugees was William Clayton. On April 15, 1846, 47 days and 300 miles from Nauvoo, he recorded in his journal:

“Last night I got up to watch, there being no guard. This morning Ellen Kimball came to me and wished me much joy. She said Diantha [William Clayton’s wife who had not yet left Nauvoo] has a son. I told her I was afraid it was not so, but she said Brother Pond had received a letter. I went over to Pond’s and he read that she had a fine boy on the 30th. Truly I feel to rejoice at this intelligence. Spent the day chiefly reading. In the afternoon President Young came over and found some fault about our wagons. In the evening the band played, and after we dismissed we retired to my tent to have a social christening. We had a very pleasant time playing and singing until about 12:00 and drank health to my new son. We named him William Adriel Benoni Clayton.”

And then, without a comment of any kind, Clayton next records:

“This morning I composed a new song, ‘All Is Well.’ I feel to thank my Heavenly Father for my boy. I hope that my wife will soon be well.” That is all that William Clayton ever wrote about his hymn.

When Brother Clayton first presented his hymn to the Saints as they gathered around the campfire at the end of a long, arduous day of travel, he undoubtedly had only his manuscript and was thus obliged to teach the song by rote—one line at a time—until they learned it. (Demonstration of rote method, 1/2 verse of “Come, Come, Ye Saints.”)

There was little joy among that band of weary outcasts, but the strength and hope of those words must have kindled the fire of faith within their souls and given them the courage to face yet another day.

“Come come, ye Saints, no toil nor labor fear;
But with joy wend your way.
Though hard to you this journey may appear,
Grace shall be as your day. …
And should we die before our journey’s through,
Happy Day! all is well!”

SONG: “Come, Come, Ye Saints” (Hymns, p. 13; audience joins choir on last chorus, “But if our lives are spared again. …”)

Closing prayer.

SONG: “Now the Day Is Over” (Hymns, p. 122.)

Production notes:

“Our Heritage of Hymns” is suitable for performance in the chapel.

Three narrators were used in the June Conference presentation. The program can be effectively presented using one or several narrators.

All hymns can be found in Hymns, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If desired, special arrangements of hymns can be used. Not all verses of each hymn need be sung; the conductor should select those he feels are most meaningful.

The June Conference production alternated choir numbers with solos and arrangements for mens and womens’ voices. Especially effective were an unaccompanied tenor solo of “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief” and an organ solo of “As the Dew from Heaven Distilling.” Solos and special arrangements can be used according to the strengths and weaknesses of individual choirs.

Slides were used to illustrate the exodus from Nauvoo and the trek across the plains during the “Come, Come, Ye Saints” sequence. Individual productions may expand the use of slides or delete them entirely.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Ralph Reynolds