REXBURG, Idaho LDS composer Rob Gardner conducted the BYU-Idaho University Choir and an orchestra of students, alumni and local residents in two performances of his work "Joseph Smith, the Prophet" on Saturday, Nov. 12, in the Rexburg Tabernacle. The performance took shape even as the school is preparing to present the full-scale production of "The Savior of the World" this month.
"Joseph Smith, the Prophet" had its origins in a religion class at BYU in Provo focusing on the life and teachings of the Prophet. "I was really impressed with what I learned," Brother Gardner said. "I wished there were some way I could share what I learned and help people strengthen their testimonies."
He later came across some writings by John Taylor, a poetic lament called "O Give Me Back My Prophet Dear."
"I wrote a melody to it, and the whole storytelling aspect of the concert started to take shape," Brother Gardner said. "I finished the presentation a few months later. It premiered at BYU about five years ago and it's taken on a life of its own since then."
The concert is a combination of sacred music and narration that focuses on the life, suffering and martyrdom of the Prophet and the trials faced by early Church members. The music and narration place a powerful emphasis on the truth of the Restored Gospel and the testimony left by the Prophet and his followers. The score varies from the wistful, epic pioneer melody of "O Give Me Back My Prophet Dear," sung by a performer portraying John Taylor, to the comforting reassurances of the Lord to His servants as the choir sings "My Kindness Shall Not Depart From Thee."
At the point of the martyrdom, the soft melody of "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief" is underscored by the threatening echo of drums. The choir and orchestra then lead into a heartfelt rendition of "Praise of the Man."
"The songs are in the words of the people that knew Joseph, the testimonies of those who lived with him, augmented by the testimonies of those who are singing now," said Brother Gardner. "The song 'Savior, Redeemer of My Soul' comes from a text by Orson F. Whitney. A performer portraying Mary Fielding Smith sings this when Joseph and Hyrum are taken to Liberty Jail. Even at this time of trial, she sings praises to the Lord."
Much of the lyrical and narrative content come from existing hymns and scripture.
"It's a beautiful score with a lot of emotion to it, and it's appropriate emotion for the characters and the theme. You can tell Brother Gardner put his whole heart and soul into the music," said Byron Heath, the BYU-Idaho student who narrated the part of Joseph during the performance Nov. 12. "I have always had so much respect for Joseph Smith. Having the opportunity to play him was a very touching experience for me. We hear about the hardships and the things he had to face, but I have a much greater appreciation for it now."
Since founding Spire Music nearly five years ago, Brother Gardner has conducted at least 15 performances of "Joseph Smith, the Prophet" over the western U.S. and has been informed of many more, including productions in Australia, England and Canada.