Editor’s note: “The Spoken Word” is shared by Lloyd Newell each Sunday during the weekly Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square broadcast. This was previously recorded in Wales and will be given July 31, 2022.
Wales is known as the land of song, and the roots of The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square run deep here in this beautiful place. In 1849, a talented musician named John Parry, who had emigrated from Wales to the Salt Lake Valley in the American West, organized a group of 85 fellow Welsh singers to perform at a church service. That choir formed the foundation of today’s Tabernacle Choir, and John Parry was its first conductor.
Welsh emigrants were famous for their musical gifts. When one emigrant was asked where he learned to sing so well, he said, “The hills of Wales were the schoolhouse, and the Spirit of God was the teacher” (see “America’s Choir: A Commemorative Portrait of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir” by Heidi S. Swinton).
So today we pay tribute to the land, the rich musical legacy, and the people of Wales, to whom the Tabernacle Choir owes so much of its history.
Besides its first conductor and many of its original members, some of the Choir’s favorite songs are also Welsh. A perfect example is the beloved hymn “Guide Us, O Thou Great Jehovah.” The hymn tune, by Welsh composer John Hughes, was first performed here at the Capel Rhondda Welsh Baptist Church in Pontypridd in 1907. Its title in Welsh, “Cwm Rhondda,” means “valley” and “river,” bringing to mind the lovely landscape in this area of Wales. The lyrics were written by William Williams, a traveling minister known as the “Sweet Singer of Wales.” He composed more than 800 hymns during his lifetime in the 1700s, but “Guide Us, O Thou Great Jehovah” is his best-known hymn, and it has been a favorite of the Tabernacle Choir’s since its earliest days.
The lyrics speak of deliverance and hope. They recall the miracles God performed for His people in the Old Testament, when He “went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light” in the wilderness (Exodus 13:21). Today, from Wales, we praise God for such miracles in times past and humbly seek His ongoing guidance as we journey through our modern wilderness:
Guide us, O thou great Jehovah,
Guide us to the promised land.
We are weak, but thou art able;
Hold us with thy pow’rful hand, …
Songs of glory unto thee.
(See “Guide Us, O Thou Great Jehovah,” Hymns, no. 83.)
Tuning in …
The “Music & the Spoken Word” broadcast is available on KSL-TV, KSL Radio 1160AM/102.7FM, KSL.com, BYUtv, BYUradio, Dish and DirecTV, SiriusXM Radio (Ch. 143), the tabernaclechoir.org, youtube.com/TheTabernacleChoir and Amazon Alexa (must enable skill). The program is aired live on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. on many of these outlets. Look up broadcast information by state and city at musicandthespokenword.com/viewers-listeners/airing-schedules.