"Make a Joyful Sound"
by Ruth Barrus
An address given at the Church Music Workshop, Brigham Young University - August 13, 1979
In the months that I have been conceiving this message to you today, I have tried to visualize you as an audience, and repeatedly a panorama of wonderful young Latter-day Saints whom I have been privileged to teach over a 43-year period at Ricks College have come to my vision. In all those years, I never approached a classroom for the first time that the realization didn't possess me that I would be guiding a choice people, a select people - - people with the blood of Ephraim in their veins, possessors of a great birthright. In Jeremiah 31:9, we are told that Ephraim is the Lord's firstborn, and that his people shall be caused to "walk by the rivers of waters in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble." The Prophet Joseph Smith, in the Doctrine and Covenants 132:30-33, has given us modern revelation regarding the seed of Abraham, that "out of the world they should continue as innumerable as the stars.... This promise is yours also, "because ye are of Abraham, . . . Go ye, therefore, and do the works of Abraham; enter ye into my law and ye shall be saved.."
What is the law, and what are the works peculiar to the blood of Ephraim that we must be aware of and pursue faithfully? In the great metaphors of Isaiah we find our answer (Isaiah 9:8-10): "The Lord sent a word into Jacob, and it hath lighted upon Israel, And all the people shall know, even Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria, that say in the pride and stoutness of heart, The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones; the sycamores are cut down, but we will change them unto cedars." In this great scripture we get the challenge of momentous vision and labor that must accompany our birthright.
What does it mean to have "pride of heart?" To me, it means joy and gratitude for our birthright and the great blessings that accompany it. It means to care about how I look, how I speak, how I conduct myself at all times, how I treat my neighbor and my family, and how I perform my Church callings - how I conduct myself before the Lord. It means having faith in myself in what I can do because I know the Lord is with me. All the prophets have counseled us to walk in the light and by the light. Isaiah tells us again: (Isaiah 8:20) "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." If we walk in the light, we will care how we are judged in the light, and if we are to be a light unto the world, to be the saviors of men, we will always care how we appear and labor before the world and before God.
What does it mean to have "stoutness of heart?" To me it means to be brave, courageous, dauntless in pursuing what we know to be right. We will diligently seek inspired counsel both in scripture and prayer. We will strive to become more selfless in our labors and goals, seeking ever to do the Lord's will, not ours. One of the great attributes that come with the birthright of the blood of Ephraim is rare sensitivity. If we did not have rare sensitivity, we would not be susceptible to the truths of the Gospel, or to the beauty of sound, color, and form. Musicians have a reputation for sensitivity, but it sometimes carries the wrong connotation, for many interpret it as license for behaving temperamentally - being moody, irritable or erratic in behavior. Sensitivity can be a great blessing if we use it to understand others and their needs; it can be a curse if we use it as license to air selfish grievance. To have stoutness of heart is to have a largeness and joy of spirit, to reach out with strong hands to give to all who will receive the fullness that is ours. To have stoutness of heart we must exemplify a steady course in our own fulfillment, seeking to improve our minds, our talents, our service, for too often we are too easily satisfied. Brigham Young counsels and challenges us: "Every accomplishment, every polished grace, every useful attainment in mathematics, music, in all science and art belong to the Saints ... All the knowledge, wisdom, power and glory that have been bestowed upon the nations of the earth, from the days of Adam till now, must be gathered home to Zion." (Quoted from treatise by Hugh Nibley on the Timely and the Timeless, "Educating the Saints," p.236 Journal of Discourses 10:224; 8:279). Brigham Young has also told us that if we have more than others, we should labor to make them equal to ourselves. (J.D. 15:9 p.248).
What does it mean to build of "hewn stone" and not of "brick"? One need only to visit the old countries to realize how quickly brick made of mud trodden by foot, will disintegrate by the forces of nature and time - they are fallen! To build of "hewn stone" implies going to high places and carving from the mountain, stone, using our own hands and special tools to shape and place it. It symbolizes lofty goals, diligent, patient labor, a sense of beauty and form - a building not for time, but for eternity.
It has been my privilege the past three years to work on a special project entitled THE MUSICAL HERITAGE OF THE UPPER SNAKE RIVER VALLEY AND ITS EFFECT ON HUMAN LIVES. It has been an exciting challenge to study the more than 5000 biographies and histories, and view the more than 5000 pictures that reveal nearly 100 years of musical history in our Upper Valley. Just this month I have completed 23 different video tapes that cover the musical history of over 35 different communities, and in the refining of my materials for this concentrated visual and oral history, the uniqueness of music in the LDS Church has become gloriously manifest. My experience verifies the statement of Brigham Young to his pioneers: "The world considers it very wicked for a Christian to hear music and to dance. Many preachers say that fiddling and music come from hell; but I say there is no music in hell. Music belongs to heaven, to cheer God, angels and men. If we would hear the music in heaven, it would overwhelm us mortals. We can't preach the Gospel unless we have good music". (From The Best From Brigham Young by Alice K. Chase). Good music does belongs to God, for he is the fountainhead for all that is good and beautiful. Our beautiful hymns, in word and music, do cheer, sustain, ennoble and challenge us. They synthesize and capsule the essence of the Gospel and fill us with exalted emotion. The spirit in man is sensitive to the holy emotions as expressed in our hymns and as we sing them, we are charged to overcome all things. The uniqueness of music in the LDS Church lies in the kind of music performed and the purpose of its use, not so much in uniqueness of original composition, for only recently have we bent serious effort in that direction. Whether crossing the plains or pioneering new settlements in Utah or Idaho, the saints immediately organized two musical groups, and they were both necessary and important to these bone-weary pioneers.
The first was a choir. It may have been comprised of several complete families, but young or old, they sang in the choir. It may have been first sung in a hastily constructed bowery, before dirt-floored and dirt-roofed cabins could be built, but there was a choir. The second musical group was always the band that brought cheer and entertainment. Let me illustrate.
The great exodus of the Saints from Nauvoo to Council Bluffs began as early as February 4, 1846. The intense cold accompanied by severe snow storms caused great suffering, even though it allowed them to cross the river on ice. In a few days, for those who left hastily, most food supplies and the teams were exhausted, and suffering was intense. A camp was made at Sugar Creek, and Orson Pratt in his Journal (Millennial Star, Vol. XI, p.362) writes:
"Notwithstanding the snow storms and the inclemency of the weather, our camp resounded with songs of joy and praise to God - all were cheerful and happy in the anticipation of finding a resting place from persecution in some of the lonely, solitary valleys of the great interior basin." (From B.H. Roberts, The History of the Church, Vol. III p.47). These weary saints became a great choir of gratitude, though they had left behind their homes, gardens, orchards, farms, and magnificent temple.
In The History of The Church by B.H. Roberts, we have this account:
With the advanced camp of the great exodus there had come a brass band, led by Captain Pitt. After encampment was made and the toils of the day were over, the snow would be scraped away, a huge fire or several of them kindled within the wagoned enclosure, and there to the inspiring music of Pitt's band, song and dance often beguiled the exiles into forgetfulness of their trials and discomforts. (Vol. III P.47).
Another account reads:
"Beyond Sugar Creek, after prayer, they held a dance, and as the men of Iowa looked on they wondered how these homeless outcasts from Christian civilization could thus praise and make merry in view of their abandoning themselves to the mercy of savages and wild beasts." (Quoted from Tullidge's Life of Brigham Young, p.33).
Another example in another time:
On a Saturday, June 5, 1976, a 20-foot wall of water surged down upon our helpless communities of Sugar City and Rexburg in southeastern Idaho, crushing, destroying, defiling all in its path. Where once were beautiful farms, homes, gardens, flowers, and clean air and bright sunshine, within hours, only stinking mud, twisted debris and defiled landscape remained. A thick pall hung in the air, dismal and smelling of corruption. So hasty had to be the exodus that most wore only the soiled clothes of Saturday's labor. The great welfare of Church and nation sprang into action to serve our needs. When cleanup started the Monday following as families returned to their crushed and mud-filled homes, it seemed a hopeless task, yet, wearing boots and with shovels, they set cheerfully to the task, joking with their neighbors. One lady described it as like "trying to clean a giant astrodome, filled with mud and debris, with a toothbrush." We were told by our bishops that the Prophet, Spencer W. Kimball, would speak to us on the second Sunday following the flood, and that we were to meet in the Ricks College Hart Auditorium. I will never forget the thrill I experienced as I saw the people coming into that meeting. All were poised, clean, happy to see each other again. Families were together, fathers and mothers were carrying little children, and other family members followed hand in hand. There was a great feeling of reunion. Like an electric charge, all knew when the Prophet entered the building, and all stood. In moments, we were singing together "We Thank Thee O God For a Prophet." Tears streamed our faces as we sang, not tears for personal loss, but tears of gratitude for our Prophet and the Church he represents. As we sang together, it became an unforgettable moment of spiritual emotion, and I thought of the words of the Lord when he told us "that the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me." How better can we unite heaven and earth than through song.
A few years ago Brother Barrus and I visited friends who were caring for an aged mother that did not have long to live. We visited for a few moments with this beautiful mother, who was looking up at us from her bed, her head crowned in the softness of white hair, her face wrinkled and wearied with long illness, yet there was a light in her eyes; and she asked us if she could sing us a song. "Please do," we responded. In a clear, child-like voice she softly commenced singing "Oh, How Lovely Was The Morning (Joseph Smith's First Prayer)." She sang every verse, and her voice strengthened as she did. Literally, I felt the veil push aside, and the great spirit of this noble women ascend to sublime heights. In her song she had expressed the essence of her gratitude and faith, and I know that it was an acceptable offering.
Let me tell you about Fred Mason, who came to the Egin Bench area west of what is now St. Anthony, Idaho in the 1880's. At that time Egin was the settlement furthest north in the Upper Snake River Valley. Fred Mason was a friend of Evan Stephens, notable director of the Tabernacle Choir. In the rustic environment of sagebrush and log cabins, Fred Mason set to work to build a choir, and before many years he had a 50-voice choir. The fact that there were no hymn books available didn't deter him. Twice each week he invited choir members to his home and parts were learned by rote and words memorized. Even before there was a building adequate for Church, the choir was ready to sing for Sunday Sacrament meeting, singing, if necessary on a dirt floor.
This spring I went to a distant community on assignment, and I visited with a talented, well-trained musician. I inquired about a choir in her ward, and she wearily responded: "Oh, we have one occasionally, but it is such a labor. I get so tired of pounding out all the parts so people not trained in music can learn them. Wouldn't it be nice to have a choir that could just read quickly all their parts?"
I am sure we can all agree that that would be nice! But the unique musical heritage of the Church was created by those who did not wait until everyone could read music "right off" to form their choirs. They drilled out each note for each part until all was learned, and found joy in it. The Church was not made for the musician, but music was made for the Church, and the level of music in the Church is dependent upon the involvement of all membership in it. We are a lay Church, and the role of the musician is to reach out to all, not just a few.
In 1956, a young missionary with remarkable musical training, commenced his labors in Salzburg, Austria. A small branch of the church existed there of approximately 60 members, and this missionary felt that Salzburg, with its traditional musical background, for it was the birthplace of Mozart, should have a choir. With enthusiasm and love he began to develop a choir, and members would stay for an hour rehearsal each week after sacrament meeting. They love to sing and accepted happily the drill that helped them learn their parts. Investigators were also invited to sing in the choir, and six families were fellowshipped into the church through that activity. At Sacrament meeting, when time came for the choir to sing, only a handful was left in the audience to hear the choir, the rest of the membership was singing. The choir gave special Christmas and Tuesday night cultural programs which also involved the talents of investigators in both solo and choral renditions. Through the choir, everyone could participate in a meaningful way, and this small branch became united in spirit and love for each other and the Lord and his work.
The missionary was transferred to Basel, Switzerland in 1957, where the church had a long history of choirs, supported and strengthened by its leaders. As he worked with the Basel choir, he sought to improve the quality of music they sang, and, as he improved the quality, choir membership grew, involving investigators. Sometimes people would come in off the street to hear the choir, and end with investigating and joining the church. We cannot preach the Gospel unless we have good music. Are you involving your people in the music of the Gospel?
Annie Mary Harris was born in 1872, and when a small girl moved with her parents to Salem, Idaho. Until their two-room log cabin was completed, their home was a covered wagon. The cabin seemed like a mansion to young Annie, and she swept the dirt floor each day with sagebrush, and with the other children, hunted sego roots to help provide food for the family. Shoes were a luxury and could be worn only on special occasions. The fear of Indians and wild animals was real to this young girl. In 1888, she attended Bannock Stake Academy (Ricks College). Cultural needs were critical on this frontier, and at age 17, Annie began involving young and old in singing in choirs and ensembles as well as congregational singing. She often invited young boys to her home to learn to sing quartets. She knew if her people were to have the cultural arts, it was up to her to pave the way, and in her lifetime she directed over 63 dramas and pageants.
In late December, 1898, a young bride, Retta Hale Hammond, and her school-teacher husband stepped off a train at Market Lake, Idaho (now called Roberts) into a blinding snowstorm. A covered sleigh met them, and they pressed through the deep snow to Marysville, a 50-mile journey to what was then the last outpost of civilization north in Idaho. The snow was so heavy that even the horses' heads were out of vision to the driver, but the horses knew the way and were able to stay in the frozen ruts. Two days later they arrived at the bride's new home which was typical to the area - a one-roomed log cabin containing a bed, a crude table, two chairs, a range which burned sagebrush, boxes for cupboards, and a barrel for water which had to be hauled some distance from the river. Snow was melted for washings. A lonely and dreary picture? Not necessarily, for this young woman was filled with song and music, having just graduated from the Brigham Young College in Logan, Utah, majoring in art and music. It wasn't long before she was involving the whole community in musical activity, singing in choirs and vocal groups, and teaching young girls to play the old treadle organ in the church. Retta often looked back on this experience as a most happy time in her life.
Our people today often live in a cultural wilderness as extreme as that of our pioneer ancestors. Are we bringing the light of culture to our own wilderness?
In 1918, after World War I, Clifford C. Clive came into the Upper Snake River Valley from Salt Lake City. Professor Clive (born March 26, 1891) didn't need to come to this pioneer valley, for he had many musical opportunities in Utah. At age 13 he was pianist in the Grand Theater in Salt Lake City, and before that he had played many concerts, even at age 10. His father was William Claude Clive, a concert violinist, who had taught his son well on piano and violin. Clifford had studied music six years in Berlin, Germany, with the musical master Heinrich Mach, and later at the Paris Conservatory of Music, the Boston Conservatory and the Juilliard School of Music in New York. For forty years Clifford Clive traveled each week to different Upper Valley communities by train and later by car from St. Anthony, Idaho, to give piano and violin lessons in a home in each community. He often stayed overnight in a hotel before returning home the next day. He traveled by horseback from Sugar City to Teton City to give music lessons, and in the winter time would be covered with frost and snow upon arrival. His students knew that no matter what the condition, Professor Clive would arrive at the appointed time. His teaching included spiritual truths as well as musical truths, and his students revered him. Each year in each community the studies would climax in a recital. Minimum time for practice each day was two hours, and the recitalist's piece must be polished in performance. It was a time of great anticipation and some fear. And it was also a time of learning, for Professor Clive would invite his father, concert violinist William C. Clive, and his brother Joseph, a cellist, to come from Salt Lake, and with Clifford at the piano, they would perform string trios during the recital, all in concert dress. Probably for the first time, the pioneer folks of Idaho were hearing the chamber masterpieces of Mozart, Beethoven and Hayden, and loving it. Professor Clive would form string quartets with his string students, and they often performed for church, playing special hymn arrangements and even accompanying the congregational singing. He retired in 1956, but his masterpieces sing in the lives of his musical posterity. Remember - "all the knowledge, wisdom, power and glory that have been bestowed upon the nations of the earth, from the days of Adam till now must be gathered home to Zion." Our heritage must be born anew with each generation. How many are doing the work of Clifford Clive in your own communities?
In 1919 a fine young violinist, Ronald Wayne Bitton, moved to Riverside, Idaho, just out of Blackfoot, which was famous in those early days for a high anti-Mormon spirit. The LDS were rapidly settling on the rich farmland surrounding Blackfoot. The anti-Mormon spirit didn't deter young Ronald, and he continued with his music, studied at Idaho State University, and started promoting music in the Blackfoot area, both choirs and instrumental. It was in 1941 that the First Presidency of the Church issued an invitation to Blackfoot Stake Choir leader, Ronald Bitton, to bring a choir to Salt Lake City to perform for two sessions in General Conference in April of 1941 - the first time a stake without a church school had been invited to furnish music in General Conference. Three hundred and seventy-one people answered the call to sing in this special choir, and at one rehearsal they were visited by J. Spencer Cornwall, director of the Salt Lake Tabernacle Choir, who complimented them on the fine balance of parts, interpretation, tone quality and harmony. The Blackfoot Chamber of Commerce responded by publicly advertising that great honor and prestige had come to the community of Blackfoot because of the efforts of Ronald Bitton and his choir. The local paper printed this tribute: "The organization brings great credit to this community when it lifts its great voice in the incomparable harmonies of Bach, Gounod, Handel and sacred hymns to the accompaniment of the mighty Tabernacle organ . . . The LDS Church furthers its mission to the fullest degree by its work in music, because music speaks to the soul in universal language, and he who praises God in song is understood everywhere. (The Blackfoot News, April 2, 1941). There are now three stakes in the Blackfoot area. Could music have been part of that motivation?
Do these illustrations out of our musical heritage impart a dimension of the uniqueness of music in the church? Are we sensing that when we strive with all our might to glorify God and to serve others with music, we too are blessed immeasurable? Remember, the Lord has said, "My Soul delighteth in a song of the heart, yea a song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads." (D&C 25:12). We all need music to cheer us, sustain us in our trials, exalt and inspire us. We need it to bring refreshment and beauty into our lives. Pablo Casals, at 90, spoke of this urgency for beauty that is in us all, saying: "Every day I spend an hour or so looking at the flowers - and weep!" Marion Hanks has challenged us to "festoon our lives with poetry we can repeat under our breath," and "Make me exalt in the presence of beauty." Boyd K. Packer has challenged us to seek music that builds understanding of people: "Music that inspires courage; music that awakens feelings of spirituality and reverence and happiness, as awareness of beauty."
How can we today meet the challenge of our birthright, our heritage, our callings? Is the future less urgent than the past? Are the problems we are facing today less critical than those of the past? I am sure that we are all trembling at the ominous clouds that darken our future - spiritually, morally, economically and physically. I think we are all walking a little bit sacred. Each generation will be tested to its capacity, for the Lord wants only a proven people to do his eternal work. We will be measured by the spirit with which we meet these tests. Those who have gone before have set the pattern, for "notwithstanding snow storms and the inclemency of the weather, our camp resounded with songs of joy and praise to God..."
We, as musicians in the Church, must be leaders in making a joyful sound to the Lord. It isn't enough to learn to beat time correctly so that we can stand in front of a congregation to lead it in singing; nor is it enough to learn to accompany hymns correctly and to be able to sensitively follow the directions of the choir leader - it is taken for granted that we will do that, exerting time, means and travel to do so over a long period of time. That should be only the beginning of our labors. Some way, through our priesthood leaders, we must reach into the lives of all the members of our wards or stakes to bring the vitalizing force of good music into their lives. Persuade families to run off the demoralizing influence of TV and raucous music on tape, record and radio, and to gather their children around the piano to sing together. Of the 5000 musical biographies I studied for my project, rarely did I find one that did not say, "Each morning or evening our parents would gather us children around the piano or organ and we would sing together. That was the beginning of my interest in music." When the children are young, let them be taught the beautiful songs of faith and virtue so vitally a part of our primary songs. But don't stop there, let them next be taught to sing together the great hymns and anthems of the church. But don't stop there, for all that is good and beautiful throughout the ages, "must be gathered home to Zion." The Lord has inspired man throughout time to create spiritual masterpieces of music that are literally musical temples. Enthusiastically, lovingly, diligently open the doors and windows of such spiritual musical architecture to our people. Open the treasures of the ages that all might find joy in life and endure all things.
Our birthright tells us that the "precious and chief things of heaven and earth shall be our inheritance." Our modern prophets tell us that all that is true, good and beautiful "must be gathered home to Zion." Isaiah, looking at us in our time, tells us we can do this because of our faith in God and "stoutness of heart." We will not build our musical architecture of mud bricks that are fallen as the world is now doing, nor of sycamore that quickly become worm eaten and are cut down, but we will build with the cedars of Lebanon and of hewn stone. We will go to the mountain of the Lord for our stone, and through inspiration we will shape it with our own hands, and we will build a musical temple which resounds with the songs of eternal fulfillment, making a joyful sound unto the Lord! This the Lord expects us to do, and this we can do. This is my prayer.