The Word and Will of the Lord revealed to Brigham Young at Winter Quarters, contains this counsel, "If thou art merry, praise the Lord with singing, with music." (D&C 136:28.)
Early Latter-day Saints did just that. Almost from the beginning, music characterized their lifestyle and underscored the drama of the Restoration, the gathering of Israel, the epic westward movement and the establishment of Zion's headquarters in the Rocky Mountains.Music cheered them, bolstered their faith, expressed their grief and triumph. They left a lasting treasure, a collection of hymns, anthems, ballads and marches that have remarkable appeal today.
Popular tunes of the day were among the Saints' favorites; the Prophet Joseph Smith was fond of military music, and Brigham Young is said to have loved the songs of Stephen Foster.
In many cases, the Latter-day Saints simply put their own words to familiar melodies, as William Clayton did with "Come, Come, Ye Saints." Hence, H. S. Thompson's "Lily Dale" became "O Ye Mountains High." "The Last Rose of Summer," a popular Irish song, was transformed into "The Last War of Nations." The melody of "The Old Oaken Bucket" was adapted for "Ode to the Pioneers" and the hymn still popular today, "Do What Is Right."
"It was fascinating what they did, just fascinating," exclaimed Robert C. Bowden, conductor of the Mormon Symphony and Mormon Youth Chorus. "They would take these popular tunes and change the words to fit exactly what they wanted to express at the time."
Brother Bowden's research into the music of the LDS pioneers has resulted in "Nauvoo Brass Bands," an album available on compact disc or cassette tape of 16 pioneer favorites, a contribution to this year's Pioneer Sesquicentennial observance.
He chose 20-25 musicians from the orchestra to play the 1800s-style music, augmenting some selections with vocals from chorus members and soloist Larry Whipple. The group has performed live for a number of sesquicentennial occasions this year.
More than just a compilation of songs, the album is an effort to recreate as authentically as possible the music of the 19th Century Church and culture.
"I started doing research on it clear back in the early '80s," Brother Bowden said. "And you can't find any of the original arrangements today. You can find the solos, the piano/vocal sheet music, but you can't find any of the band arrangements. I guess they're all gone."
Thus, the project taxed the skill and creativity of Brother Bowden and the album's other arranger, Larry Bastian.
"Who knows how they arranged music back then?" he remarked. "They might have been very simple arrangements, straightforward, without frills. But then again, I thought, with a band, they had to have had some frills. I told Larry, when I gave him some of the songs to arrange: `Don't get into any modern-harmony chords, 20th Century sounds or jazz sounds. You've got to keep thinking in the period of time. Just try to keep in mind the minstrel music of the day. They probably played simple chords mostly."
Recreating the orchestration was another challenge.
Brother Bowden found through his research that the first full-fledged Mormon military band marched at the dedication of the temple site at Far West, Mo., on July 4, 1838. Later, in Nauvoo, Joseph Smith appointed Edward Duzette to enlist a band for the Nauvoo Legion. The band played from the newly completed tower of the Nauvoo Temple, regaling a congregation in the grove below.
"It was not even a typical band," Brother Bowden said. More like a fife-and-drum corps, it had five fifes, two cymbals, one bugle, a clarinet, a tambourine and a triangle.
Incorporating a bugle into band music is no simple task; only the component notes of one chord can be played on it.
"So on the album, in the arrangement of `The Spirit of God,' you'll sometimes hear the bugle come in and play certain notes," Brother Bowden explained. And piccolos are used in place of fifes.
Notably, Brother Bowden said, an entire band was converted to the Church in England and immigrated to Nauvoo. They refused to play with the Nauvoo Legion Band, thinking it beneath their caliber.
Later, as the Saints were crossing the plains of Iowa, an aggregation led by William Pitt entertained townspeople in exchange for cash and supplies, as well as cheering the pioneers during encampments. Journals and other historical writings reflect how well the band was received in the venues where it played. Among Iowans, Pitt's band enhanced the image of the Latter-day Saints, just as the Church's musical organizations do today.
By the time it was reorganized in Salt Lake City, the Nauvoo Legion band had evolved to include about 20 pieces, including clarinets, trumpets, a bass horn, a trombone, and the now-extinct ophicleide. A later, competing band led by Domenico Ballo was formed. Then the two band merged, adding strings and becoming a quasi-official Church "orchestra."
Checking music dictionaries and texts, Brother Bowden found that the ophicleide, used by the bands, was a serpentine-shaped instrument with a mouthpiece like a brass instrument and a bass range. He could only guess at its sound, which he approximated in his brass-band recreation by including a tuba.
"I wanted to get the exact flavor that these bands had," he said lamenting that recording technology had not been invented back then so one can only guess how the bands sounded.
"And to discover what these bands were used for was absolutely amazing," Brother Bowden noted. "In Nauvoo, and later, in Salt Lake City, when the convert-emigrants would come, the band would be there to meet them, would usher them into town. The bands would play for parties, they'd play at the command of Joseph Smith or Brigham Young for the slightest thing. They played for people going to church and after church and during meetings. And they didn't just play hymns. They played overtures, they played minstrel music. It was just amazing."
Through the medium of music, selections included on the album reflect pioneer sentiment as well or better than any journal or diary.
Among them, for example, is John Taylor's song, "The Upper California," a spirited tune meant to be a "Yankee Doodle" for the Saints, to buoy them up as they abandoned Nauvoo and set out for the West." (In 1846, what is today the western United States including the Rocky Mountain region, was known as "Upper California.") Here is an excerpt:
The Upper California, Oh that's the land for me!
It lies between the mountains and the great Pacific Sea.
The Saints can be supported there, And taste the sweets of liberty.
In Upper California, Oh that's the land for me!
The concluding verse includes the lines:
Our tow'rs and temples there shall rise
Along the great Pacific Sea.
That notion may have seemed grandiose at one time. But the presence today of five temples near the "Pacific Sea" demonstrates the accuracy of Elder Taylor's prediction.
Another John Taylor creation on the album is his fervent tribute to the prophet, "The Seer, Joseph, the Seer." Set to the melody of Barry Cornwall's "The Sea, the Deep Blue Sea," it premiered at the opening of the Nauvoo Music Hall in 1845. Over the years, it has been included in older versions of the LDS hymnbook.
A light-hearted selection, "Song of 1857" is a satirical jab at the Johnston's Army/Utah War fiasco and the prejudice that engendered it.
Included on the album are lively martial arrangements of two favorite pioneer hymns, "High on the Mountain Top" and "The Spirit of God."
"The bands played an important role in the establishment of Zion," Brother Bowden reflected. "When the Church got out west, every community formed its own band. I've told people that Salt Lake City has more musical organizations for its size than any place I know, and I think it all stems from way back then."