Some time ago while singing Christmas carols at a non-Mormon event, I suggested that the group sing “Far, Far Away on Judea’s Plains.” I was greeted with blank stares and questions. “What song?” “Never heard of it.” It turns out I was so immersed in Mormon culture (I still am to a large degree) that I didn’t know that “Far, Far Away on Judea’s Plains” is an LDS hymn by a 19th century Utah author, and is therefore unknown to most non-Mormon audiences, even though its doctrine is universal enough for most of them.
Category: Music and Poetry
I’m a big fan of religious music. Some, at least.
An Immodest Proposal
As Sarah noted, Saturday and Sunday bring us our Fall semiannual General Conference.
As part of our twice-yearly ritual, we’ll hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir up to three times: one session of Conference Saturday, one session Sunday, and the Music and the Spoken Word broadcast before the first Sunday session.
Literary BMGD #35: The Savior is Coming
Spiritual history is replete with types and shadows. The similarities that appear between events in widely-separated places and times lead to the conclusion that the Lord is trying to point out some truth to us, something we need to understand. I see a kind of repetition in this week’s Gospel Doctrine lesson, in which Samuel the Lamanite tries to call the Nephites to repentance (Helaman 13-16). Samuel preached just a few years before the birth of Christ, and he prophesied about the destruction in the Americas that would accompany Christ’s crucifixion soon afterward. But somehow his prophecies don’t sound very different from those that we hear concerning Christ’s second coming.
Literary BMGD #30: The Saddest Death
As Alma talks with his son Corianton in Alma 40-42, he realizes that Corianton does not understand some basic elements of the Plan of Salvation. From what Alma teaches him, we can surmise that Corianton doesn’t understand that all will be resurrected, that each person will be resurrected according to their words in this life (the righteous to happiness and the wicked to misery), and the roles that justice and mercy play in the great plan of happiness. From the context, it is clear that all these teachings were in response to Corianton’s misdeeds while serving a mission, a similar situation to that described in this week’s poem.
Literary BMGD #29: Two poems — Oh taste not of the cup; Be Slow to Condemn
Alma 36 to 39 contain Alma’s advice to his three sons, Helaman, Shiblon and Corianton, which led me to the idea of parental advice—something that usually accumulates bit by bit over years rather than all in one block as Alma seems to have done with his sons. Of this advice, perhaps the most famous, especially when it comes to Mormon literature, is the advice given to Corianton and the reason for that advice. Corianton’s story has been the source for dozens of literary works — so much so that encountering a character in a Mormon story named “Cory” should automatically make you think of Alma 39.
Literary BMGD #25: To Elder L. Snow
Among the most beloved figures in the Book of Mormon are the four sons of Mosiah, who, after their conversion, take leave of their native land and homes and serve missions among the Lamanites. Where missionaries today serve for just a couple of years or less, the sons of Mosiah served a total of 14 years which I assume (the record doesn’t say exactly) was much longer than anyone expected. Instead, I suspect, they and their friends and family must have wondered if they would even return alive, for, after all, the Lamanites were the enemies of the people of Nephi.
Internet Radio and the Church
I recently bought a couple wireless speakers so that I could listen to my music collection away from my computer, without earphones. It turns out that these speakers not only play music off my computer, though: they’ll also allow me to listen to, among other things, podcasts, Pandora, and any number of radio stations, as long as the radio station broadcasts online.
Literary BMGD #10: An angel came down from the mansions of glory
Perhaps the most common theme in early Mormon poetry is the restoration. But while the Book of Mormon itself prophesies about the restoration (as it does in the 10th Book of Mormon lesson), it wasn’t until this hymn was published in 1833 that Mormon poetry addressed the subject. Of course, soon after the Restoration became a very common theme in Mormon poetry from many authors. William Wines Phelps, the author of this hymn was also one of the first and most prolific of Mormon poets, although unlike his contemporaries Parley P. Pratt, Eliza R. Snow and John Lyon, Phelps never published a volume of his own poetry. He is also unique because he is likely the author of the only poem, outside of scripture, attributed to Joseph Smith (The Vision, a paraphrase of D&C 76). If I recall correctly, he is still the Mormon author with the most hymns in the current hymnal.
Literary BMGD #9: A Paraphrase of Isaiah 60
Scripture is often repeated in scripture, and poets have rarely been shy about re-using lines of poetry, often without attribution. Plagiarism is everywhere, and our view of it as a faux pas is really relatively recent—this view is certainly more recent than the mid 19th century, when Mormon newspapers started churning out poetry and other forms of Mormon literature. The 9th Book of Mormon lesson is also about repeated scripture, specifically Nephi’s use of the early chapters of Isaiah which seem to make up the bulk of 2nd Nephi. Perhaps Nephi served as an example for the poetry I’ve chosen for this lesson.
Literary BMGD #8: Twas on that dark, that solemn night
Active Mormons hear poetry about the atonement each Sunday in the sacrament hymn, so finding a poem to go with Jacob’s discourse on the atonement in 2 Nephi 9 isn’t too much of a burden. The hard part is finding something that isn’t already well known and is unique to Mormonism, which I’ve generally tried to do in this series. There are 28 sacrament hymns in the current hymnal, most of which are probably familiar. However, there have been a number of other sacrament hymns that are no longer in our current hymnal. Most of those are not by Mormons. And, while I have not been able to identify the author of this hymn, I have so far only found it in Mormon hymnals, starting with the Manchester Hymnal put together by Brigham Young, John Taylor and Parley P. Pratt in 1840.
Literary BMGD #7: Joseph, From Out of the Dust
Lehi’s final counsel in the Book of Mormon is to his son Joseph makes an interesting literary link between Joseph in Egypt, Joseph the son of Lehi and Joseph Smith, Jr. But, LDS authors have largely ignored this link, especially before 1900, when any mention of Joseph was usually a reference to Joseph Smith, Jr. But I did manage to find an exception in Orson F. Whitney’s epic, Elias. As far as I can tell, other than general righteousness, the only real link between these three is that they happen to have the same name. Their histories aren’t really comparable in any way that I can see. Still, Whitney at least mentions the prophecy of Joseph’s name, and connects it to Joseph in Egypt. While perhaps overly turgid in his prose, Whitney is as or more sophisticated in his imagery than any of his poetic Mormon predecessors that I’ve read. To me the oblique references made to biblical, book of Mormon and mythological elements are fascinating. The six stanzas I’ve chosen below (starting with the 30th stanza in Canto six) cover the Book of Mormon from its beginning to Lehi’s death, although the vast majority of the story is left out in favor of examining Lehi’s family’s importance to the overall narrative. I’ve left in Whitney’s explanatory footnotes verbatim. Joseph from Canto Six, Out of the Dust, from Elias, An Epic of the Ages by Orson F. Whitney Again, athwart…
Books of Interest to the LDS Nerd
A few of these are forthcoming, a few have appeared recently. I am compelled to read them all, as soon as I can get to them. Now Available Charles Harrel,“This Is My Doctrine”: The Development of Mormon Theology (Kofford Books) “In this first-of-its-kind comprehensive treatment of the development of Mormon theology, Charles Harrell traces the history of Latter-day Saint doctrines from the times of the Old Testament to the present.” I have my doubts that someone who does not equally control original Biblical sources and LDS history, as well as the vast amounts of secondary literature on historiography, exegesis, etc. can give LDS doctrine a truly comprehensive diachronic treatment, and compress it into 597 pages. Nevertheless, I’m grateful to Harrel, an engineering professor, for making the attempt and I look forward to reading it. Too many LDS labor under the assumption that the status quo sprang fully formed from Joseph Smith. I don’t recall which of my friends said, but it’s in my Evernote file, “If there’s one thing Mormons excel at, it’s enshrining the status quo and assuming that if we do anything, there must be a good reason for it, and if there’s a good reason, it must have been revealed as the only way to do it, and if so, then it must have always been that way in all dispensations. And a lot of people’s faith can be shaken when it turns out not to always…
Church + Music = Fun
Music is a wonderfully enriching part of church life, both in worship services themselves and in church culture generally. It’s a blessing in many, many ways—including ways that are light-hearted and fun. Forgive me, then, for sharing the following not-so-serious and rather random stories with a musical twist. (1) The ward where I grew up was blessed with a strong number of musically talented individuals, including organists, choristers, and singers. One of those in the chorister rotation was an older gentleman who was a retired professional musician. I’ll always be grateful to him for giving me one of my favorite church memories. Here’s the situation: the sacrament meeting went long, and the bishop announced that we would only sing one verse of the closing hymn. We sang the first verse of said hymn and everyone—bishopric, congregation, and organist—stopped and prepared for the closing prayer. Rather unfortunately, however, the chorister himself didn’t get the message. He loudly belted out the first word of the second verse entirely by himself. The split second it took for him to realize he was singing solo was probably one of the most awkward of my young life. He stopped singing with a horrified look on his face, that lonely note just hanging in the air. The poor man took his seat, crestfallen, as the congregation crackled with laughter. I would swear that even the bishop was chuckling during the closing prayer. (2) During a stake…
Recently my husband and I came across a set of rather old LDS song books. As my ward’s primary chorister my favorite was The Primary Song Book: Including Marches and Voluntaries. The edition is missing the title page and so I’m not sure when it was published (and am at a loss as to how I would find out). Let’s just say that it’s really old. Among the very few songs that have survived from this edition to the current one are, “Give said the little Stream”, “I Thank Thee Dear Father”, “Can a Little Child Like Me”, and “Tell Me Dear Lord.” The most interesting songs, though, are the ones that didn’t make the cut. My personal favorite among these songs is #148 Tooth Bugs, by Ivy W. Stone and N. Lorenzo Mitchell:
“Let us walk through the door”
In honor of this holy day, I offer a favorite poem: “Seven Stanzas for Easter.” John Updike wrote it in 1960 as a university student, as I understand, and published it in a periodical called The Lutheran. ___ Make no mistake: if He rose at all it was as His body; if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules reknit, the amino acids rekindle, the Church will fall.
In the Cultural Hall
The danger in telling people you write a little bit is that they then assume you can. Last week a friend from my ward called and asked me to write the libretto for a musical show she has been called to coordinate for the stake; a few of the creative decisions had already been made, she told me, but she needed me to write lyrics and a narrative frame for the story. The show is meant to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of our stake, headquartered at the Butler Hill meetinghouse; the stake presidency had designated a “Sound of Music” theme, and the show had been titled, naturally, “Butler Hill Is Alive with the Sound of Music.”
We Haiku. How ’bout you??
No one writes enough haiku. And we want to know why? Haiku are like the potato chip of poetryâ€”you canâ€™t have just one. Theyâ€™re clean, simple, economic, easy to read, and easy to write, provided you donâ€™t take yourself too seriously.
I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.
It has been over a month since we’ve had a post mentioning Bob Dylan. I’ll happily fix that problem.
Reading Poetry Aloud
Now that I finally have a child, one of my enjoyable activities with him is to read to him before bed. The one problem I face is not in selecting poetry I want to read, but learning how to read it properly aloud. I’ve scanned Google for some suggestions. They all tell me what I already know. Don’t put too much emotion in it (over acting). Don’t pause at the line breaks – it makes it choppy. Basically they tell me not to do the thing I can’t seem to keep from doing!