Making music: Composers and writers carry forward the legacy of 19th Century stalwarts

They are the cultural heirs of a legacy established early in this dispensation by the likes of Eliza R. Snow, William W. Phelps, Parley P. Pratt, John Taylor and William Clayton.

They are faithful Latter-day Saints who compose music.They are those whom the Almighty has endowed with talent, a gift enabling them to express their testimonies of the gospel in verse and/or melody.

Most are non-professional, non-academic, and pursue their labor of love with no thought of receiving wealth or even widespread acclaim. Many do it for their own fulfillment and satisfaction.

Some gain a measure of exposure for their work through the annual Church Music Submission (formerly the Church Music Contest), administered by the General Music Committee of the Church. (Please see accompanying article about the annual submission.)

Often, their efforts are motivated by needs in connection with ward or stake callings or activities. Sometimes, they simply want to leave a gift for posterity.

Following are brief profiles of five such Latter-day Saint artists, representative of many who, over the years, have given musical expression to sacred and sublime emotions. Four of the five are past winners of the Church Music Contest, while one had her work showcased last year in a stake jubilee and Pioneer Sesquicentennial event.

Annette W. Dickman


A desire to teach the principle of fasting to her children, who were prone to become irritable on Fast Sunday, prompted Annette W. Dickman to compose "Fasting," a 1996 award winner in the Church Music Contest.

"I wanted them to see that it is a joyful thing and not just a painful thing," she said. "And we've had some sweet experiences with fasting, certainly."

Primary music leader in the Kays Creek 2nd Ward, Layton Utah Kays Creek Stake, she had a friend who was teaching a Relief Society lesson on fasting. "And that was a good motivation to get the song finished and put together," she said.

Words and music came together in under 15 minutes. She said that often happens "when I have a reason directed by the Spirit and when I'm working with a purpose. What takes time is the actual handwriting of the music, setting everything down and making sure it's correct and the way you want it to be."

Her text reads:

When I want to feel close to Heavenly Father, there is something wonderful to do.

He always hears my prayers, but I can show that I love Him when I join in fasting too.

Fasting is more than just going without food. It's worshipping with all my heart.

It's giving to the poor and needy what I do without, and bearing my testimony without any doubt.

. . . It's seeking and serving the Lord and humbly preparing my heart to feel the blessings of His love.

With approval from local priesthood leaders and the general Primary leaders, Sister Dickman taught the song to the Primary children of her ward to sing during the 1996 Primary program in sacrament meeting.

"That was a wonderful experience; it was really fun to see them respond," she said.

Marcia Thompson


Inspiration came to Marcia Thompson between songs as she sat at the piano to accompany the singing in Primary at Thanksgiving time.

Realizing there are no songs in the Children's Songbook specifically about the Thanksgiving Day observance, she began to think of bits and pieces of music and words about Thanksgiving.

"I took out a scrap of paper and wrote down notes for what I was hearing, just two or three measures at a time," she remembered.

Over the next two years, she worked on the composition off and on. Then, last spring, her Salt Lake Jordan North Stake announced that a concert would be held in the fall in connection with the stake's 50 year Jubilee and the Pioneer Sesquicentennial. Members were invited to submit original compositions to be included in the concert.

As music director in the Jordan North 6th Ward, she observed that there were no entries coming from her own ward members. "Finally I realized if our ward would be represented, it would be up to me," she said.

She finished her Thanksgiving piece "A Sabbath Prayer," and submitted it for the concert. A women's trio from the stake performed it. She was pleased that night as Barbara Winder, former Relief Society general president, attended the concert and afterward asked Sister Thompson for a copy of the hymn.

"It didn't end up being a children's song," Sister Thompson noted, but she was pleased with the result nevertheless and is pondering submitting it for the general Church Music Submission. The words read in part:

In Thy house we reverently thank Thee for all gifts from Thee.

While we humbly bow our heads, in our hearts a prayer is said.

For the blessings of each day that sustain us on our way.

Father keep us near Thy side.

Let us in Thy love abide.

From Thy bounty we receive

All things for our daily needs.

Lettice O. Rich


Through a lifetime of Church service, Lettice O. Rich (whose first name is pronounced "La-TEES") has composed many poetic and musical works reflecting her love for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

A while back, she gathered them together and bound them in copies for her four children and 17 grandchildren.

"Music has always been an important part of my life, from the time I learned how to play simple pieces on our old pump organ," she wrote in a preface to the volume. "Through the years music has given me a way to express inner feelings, a way to bring joy to my life. These musical expressions have been written through many years for many occasions: programs, lessons, weddings, funerals, just to express my feelings about the importance of home, family and heritage, about being a child of God and knowing that His Spirit is always with me."

A member of the North Ogden 1st Ward, North Ogden Utah Stake, Sister Rich began composing many years ago. "When we would have to do a program in Church, sometimes it was a lot easier to write some music than to find what I needed for the program."

She does not fancy herself a great public speaker, she said, "so it had to come from my typewriter and my piano if I was going to bear my testimony."

Music has been her gift to others, she added. "I don't do craft work; I don't make crocheted things to give away. If I give anything away, it's often simply a little poetry or something."

One piece she has shared often was written following an experience she had while she and her husband, Erroll, now deceased, were serving a mission at the Washington D.C. Temple. He had heart trouble and had a particularly bad reaction one night from medication, from which he recovered. She wrote "To Adversity":

I knew you not, and life was sweet.

I prayed that we would never meet, but we did.

I felt your sting, your heavy hand, and prayed that I could understand, and I did.

I did not see, I could not hear a quiet strength replace my fear. I know you now.

You were the price I had to pay to grow in God's most holy way.

Through you, I became acquainted with God.

Sister Rich submitted her composition "Encircled in Our Savior's Love," several times to the Church Music Contest. Finally, she submitted it in the text-only category and it was selected as a 1996 award winner.

Martin Green


From age 5, when he sat at the piano and composed a little song called "Rocking Horse," Martin Green has been writing music. He grew up to receive a master's degree in choral conducting and has taught choral music for eight years at Citrus Community College in California.

Among the most prolific entrants in the Church Music Contest, he has been recognized for his submissions nine different years. It was the contest in fact, formerly promoted through the Ensign magazine, that motivated him to begin composing sacred works while at BYU.

"I feel the Spirit very strongly when I compose," said Brother Green of the Corona 3rd Ward, Corona California Stake. "The ideas I'm most pleased with come very quickly. I think that's a good sign, especially in view of the fact that when I go back to look at the pieces I have written, they almost seem unfamiliar to me."

Brother Green's goal is to increase the music available for ward choirs to sing. His texts are taken mostly from the scriptures. An example is D&C 50:41, "Fear not, little children, for you are mine, and I have overcome the world, and you are of them that my Father hath given me."

He has also written a musical setting for Nephi's words, "Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul." (2 Ne. 4:28.)

Prominent LDS vocalist Michael Ballam has recorded one of Brother Green's songs, "Open Your Heart," which expresses his thoughts on the vision Brigham Young had of Joseph Smith shortly after the martyrdom in which the Prophet gave Brigham Young direction on how to direct the Church and said to tell the Saints to keep their hearts open.

Sally DeFord


The old adage that necessity is the mother of invention has no keener application than when writing music in the Church, according to Sally DeFord.

Just released as first counselor in the Mountain Shadows Ward Primary presidency, Colorado Springs Colorado North Stake, she is now engaged in putting together an annual five-stake Easter cantata.

In fact, it was such a cantata she composed, "In Him We Live," that gave rise to a 1996 award-winning entry in the general Church Music Contest, "Come Lord Jesus." Written under assignment from the stake presidency, the cantata is a "missionary discussion set to music," she said. "It outlines the Plan of Salvation in a program of about an hour and five minutes."

Sometimes, she finds the inspiration to be not at all what she expects. " `Come, Lord Jesus' was supposed to be about the Second Coming," she said."I expected it to be bombastic, evoking clouds of glory; what I got was a lullaby. And the message does talk so much about the events of the Second Coming, but rather is centered more in a personal plea to the Lord to hasten His coming, and talks about how when He comes, He will wipe away tears and there will be no more pain or death or suffering. I realized as I wrote it that those are things we are all hoping for and looking for."

Like the cantata, much of what she has written over the years has been in response to a Church assignment. Usually her texts come from the scriptures, particularly Isaiah and the Book of Mormon.

"I think it is impossible to write without basing your work on your own insights," she said. "They creep in whether you intend them to or not. I tend to base things not so much on my own experiences as on the experiences or needs of others. I find myself a rather boring person."

Sister DeFord's first love is choral music. "The unity of voices can bring me to tears," she said. Her composition, "Make Us One," written as a prayer to the Lord, was sung at the 1997 General Relief Society Meeting. The text reads in part:

Make us one, that our burdens may be light.

Make us one as we seek eternal life.

Unite our hands to serve thy children well.

Unite us in obedience to thy will.

Make us one.

Teach us, Lord, to be of one faith,

Of one heart,

One in thee.

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed