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Notes by Dr. Roger L Miller, Professor Emeritus
The University of Utah
"The Restoration: A Unique Introduction through Words and Music"
(Three Classics by Robert Cundick)
Remembering Joseph: We Who Press to the Path
The Song of Nephi
Retired Tabernacle Organist composer, Robert Cundick [b. 1926] -- educator, performer, family man, persuasive champion of worthy music, articulate advocate for the Restored Gospel -- is certainly one of its most important composers. This CD represents each of those interests in a very special way. It may be premature to see this collection of three of his most distinguished works as a swan song, given that "Bob," at age 87 is still going strong, but it is appropriate see and hear in them a vibrant testimony of our Lord Jesus Christ and the "marvelous work and wonder" wrought by Him in these latter days. In selecting these three works, the directors of the Heritage Series imagined a varied audience, each with a potentially unique interest in such a presentation. First, perhaps, would be music lovers -- those who simply find immense satisfaction in beautiful sound (in this case large choral/orchestral sound) well crafted and, may we say, inspired. Second might be those who love the Gospel of Christ and find works such as these personally uplifting, who might seek and be led to greater Gospel insights through hearing and re-hearing the messages. Finally, the collection might be of some value to those who are still searching for meaning in life, and may have found truths worth investigating in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If any of these characterizations represents who you are, we say Welcome! May you find unusual treasures here, even "hidden treasures," as you enjoy great music and profound poetry, spiritual nourishment eloquently combined.
* * *
Three crucial events in Latter-day Saint history, each marking a signal event or chapter in the Restoration of the Gospel. The first such "crucial point" was the marvelous revelation known as the "First Vision," upon which the entire premise of Mormonism rests: the appearance of God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, to an adolescent boy named Joseph Smith, in response to his fervent prayer in a woodland near the town of Palmyra, New York, in the Spring of 1820. With this revelation and subsequent angelic ministrations began "The Dispensation of the Fullness of Times," in which all the covenants and saving ordinances of the ancient church, as it existed in both the Old and New Testaments, were restored to the earth in preparation for the re-establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ in these "latter days" after long centuries of absence and apostasy and, ultimately, the second coming of Christ.
The second event refers to the "coming forth" of the Book of Mormon -- what might be termed the "American Gospel". Latter-day Saints regard the Book of Mormon as a scriptural account of several groups of people who originated in the ancient Near East and were guided to the Americas by the hand of the Lord. Mormon, one of the last of many ancient prophets among these peoples, compiled and redacted some two thousand years of their history as recorded on indestructible plates of metal. His son, Moroni, completed Mormon's work and, after witnessing the terrible wars that finally destroyed their civilization, buried the record. This same Moroni appeared as a resurrected person multiple times to Joseph, starting in 1823, showing him where the records lay buried in a hillside near Palmyra, subsequently called the Hill Cumorah, the name given anciently to their original resting place. While the Book of Mormon histories extend several thousands of years, the most significant event was the appearance and ministry of Christ to them shortly after his crucifixion.
The miraculous translation and subsequent publication of the Book of Mormon in 1829 led to the founding of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1830. Under the leadership of Joseph Smith, the new Church grew rapidly. Quickly gaining either notoriety or eager acceptance, depending on one's point of view, "Mormonism" attracted converts from throughout the United States and, eventually, Europe, eager to gather to this new American Zion. Several gathering places were attempted, first in northern Ohio, then western Missouri, and finally Nauvoo, Illinois -- a successful city by 19th-century standards built from swampland on the banks of the Mississippi River. There, disaster overtook the Church and its people. After years of prejudice and persecution, Joseph Smith was murdered by an angry mob while in the supposed protective custody of the State of Illinois. Forced to abandon their beloved Nauvoo, the "Mormons" sought yet another place of refuge, this time, "far away in the West." A new leader, Brigham Young, organized the migration of tens of thousands of people by covered wagon and handcart to a new home in the Rocky Mountains -- one of the great epics of American history, often compared to the exodus of Moses and the Israelites from Egypt. The first company of pioneers arrived in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake in the summer of 1847. Fifty years later, after monumental effort and set back after set back, this new Zion would at last become the State of Utah in 1896. Thus, the third event in this commemorative trilogy.
I. Remembering Joseph: We Who Press to the Path
Text by Robb Cundick; Music by Robert Cundick
Shane Warby, baritone; Julie Bevan, cello; BYU Singers; Ronald Staheli, conductor
Remembering Joseph: We Who Press to the Path was commissioned by BYU's Barlow Endowment to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Prophet Joseph Smith. The first and only performance was given on 18 November, 2005, at Brigham Young University's de Jong Concert Hall, with cellist Julie Bevan, baritone Shane Warby, and Professor Ronald Staheli conducting the BYU Singers.
The following "Composer's Note" by Robert Cundick appears as a preface in the score:
"In Autumn of 2003 I was awarded a Barlow Endowment commission to compose a work for Ron Staheli's BYU Singers to commemorate the Prophet Joseph Smith's birth in 1805.
I envisioned a work for a cappella chorus, baritone solo and cello. The chorus would represent the present-day Church; the soloist, the Prophet Joseph Smith; and the cello, the Voice of Revelation. With Ron's approval I asked my eldest son, Robb, to write a suitable text. He began by extracting Joseph's own words from his 1832 written account of the First Vision. I began composition during Thanksgiving 2003. Working intermittently I completed the score on January 13, 2004.
A striking and evocative full-sized limited edition of Warren Luch's linoleum cut block print titled Forces of Light and Dark hangs at the entrance of our Salt Lake City residence. It provided constant inspiration during the composition process."
The result of these efforts was a unique quasi-drama, composed in a single, continuous movement. In conception it resembles the manner of a Greek tragedy. There is a central character (Joseph Smith, portrayed by the baritone soloist in recitative and arioso), an a cappella chorus (the exterior commentator representing Joseph's followers, the present-day Church) and a kind of wordless narrator (the solo cello, also serving at times as accompanist to the recitatives).
The work begins with a brief prologue initiated, like the famous introduction to Gounod's O Divine Redeemer, by a cello arioso, arising from the instrument's beautifully resonant low register. Like a gentle whisper, it seems to project a far-away echo of the name "Joseph," as if, from the depths of eternity, summoning the boy-prophet to his urgent task. Responding with reverence, the chorus takes up the call, tenderly imploring Joseph to tell his story.
Through a series of exchanges between chorus, cello, and solo, the miraculous history gradually unfolds. Joseph recalls how, as a thoughtful youth, he had pondered the problems of a world beset with wickedness and apostasy, causing him to mourn for his own sins as well those about him. Led on by empathetic responses from the chorus, he begins to take stock of his life, at first finding some comfort in nature -- the beauty and order of the celestial orbs and the marvelous terrestrial life forms of the earth, as if catching a glimpse Eden through the eyes of Adam and Eve in the primordial garden. Observing that mankind was made in the Divine Image, he recalls the words of the Psalmist: "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God."
Now, his musings center upon that very Being. How, eventually, he sought answers in the quiet stillness of his own Eden, the "Sacred Grove," where, in response to his fervent prayer, the heavens opened and the Lord descended in a pillar of light. Through this personal manifestation, the undeniable assurance comes to him that the Lord of Glory lives, and by the voice of His Son, Joseph learns that his sins are forgiven, for God has a great work for him to do. Joseph's heart is overcome with love, and he continues for many days to bask in the Spirit. Here, his story rests, not in ending but in beginning: "The Lord's work and glory [will] roll forth to fill the earth," and "Millions [will] learn of you, Brother Joseph."
With heart-felt love and affection for this great man, the chorus responds to each unfolding episode with the affirmation and insight that comes from a knowledge of the future. Knowing that all the promises given to Joseph have been fulfilled and that he has borne his prophetic mantle with honor, those who have truly "pressed to the path" can attest to the truth of this latter-day work. They "extol your name for good" and rejoice in the incalculable wonder of the "light you received from the Savior," for they, too, can testify of the reality of the way that leads us onward to our "eternal home."
II. The Song of Nephi
Text Adapted from 2 Nephi 4:16-35, The Book of Mormon: Music by Robert Cundick
Michael Belnap, tenor; Ricks College A Capella Choir
Concert Chorale, and Symphony Orchestra; Kevin Call, conductor
In the glowing aftermath of Joseph Smith's glorious encounter with the Divine, the coming forth of The Book of Mormon is certainly one of the most powerful chapters, represented here in The Song of Nephi. Following that First Vision by several years, the appearance of the Angel Moroni to the maturing Joseph was a second affirmation of his prophetic calling. Angelic messengers, Joseph was to learn, are individuals who have lived, or will live upon the earth and are therefore closely connected to its ultimate purpose. Moroni was such a being, having once lived as a mortal man among the Book of Mormon people known as the Nephites. Moroni appeared to Joseph on numerous occasions, each time instructing him further on the "marvelous work" that the Father was about to initiate in these "last days," including the importance of the Book of Mormon as a new scriptural witness to the divinity of Christ and the "restoration of the gospel."
After several years of preparation, Joseph was finally given access to the sacred record kept by ancient prophets, including Moroni himself. With divine assistance, Joseph successfully translated the record, which he found to include the writings of Nephi, a great prophet-leader who had guided his father Lehi's family from Jerusalem to a new home somewhere in the New World approximately 600 years before Christ.
The lengthy and hazardous journey involved crossing the vast Arabian desert southeastward to a fertile strip of land on the shores of the Arabian Sea, where, with great difficulty, they built a ship and set sail, eventually landing (as they supposed) on "an island of the sea," not realizing that they had reached a continental landmass heretofore unknown. Attempts to establish a new civilization began, but the hardships of the long and tedious exodus had caused serious stresses between Nephi and his brothers Laman and Lemuel -- so severe in fact that, shortly after arriving in the New World, the family was permanently split into two opposing factions: Nephi and his followers versus those of his older brother Laman.
Before the final split, however, a weary Father Lehi, sensing his approaching death, called his now extensive family together to give them his final blessing. Included was an exhortation for the family to reconcile and recognize Nephi as their leader. In this, however, Lehi knew that his hopes were in vain, and that the troubles, now only embryonic, would eventually lead to disaster and final destruction. As expected, Lehi soon died, and Nephi -- the faithful son -- was overwhelmed with remorse. He sought to assuage his anguish in a lengthy poetic psalm known to generations of Book of Mormon readers as the song of Nephi.
Cundick's composition sets this text exactly. Before considering his work in detail, it may be worthwhile to give some consideration to the text, along with the elements of the language in which, it is assumed, Nephi composed his thoughts.
It has often been noted that the Book of Mormon reads like translated Hebrew, which had no system of punctuation. Hebrew narrative uses only two "tenses" (in modern grammatical terms), expressing "perfect" (completed) action, and "imperfect" (ongoing past or future) action. In order to express the many nuances of a complex narrative, this limited verbal system often requires extended chains of clauses or phrases. Because ancient Hebrew had no system of punctuation, it was necessary to join these "narrative sequences" using various word markers, such as "and," "but," "for," "now," behold," "yea," "it came to pass," "it shall come to pass," "nevertheless," "wherefore/therefore," "thus," etc. Foremost among these is the ubiquitous "and it came to pass" which so annoyed Mark Twain and many another Book of Mormon critic. In that regard it is worth noting that the phrase "it came to pass," expressed by a single word in Hebrew, occurs with much greater frequency in the Hebrew Bible than in modern translations. Presumably, then, a Hebrew based text such as the Book of Mormon, should make use of these throughout the text, and that is exactly what happens. If we examine from a Hebrew perspective those three chapters of Second Nephi leading up to Nephi's "Song," we can see how carefully the text is composed.
The Book of Second Nephi begins with the virtually obligatory "And now, it came to pass." Thereafter, the form of the poem is indicated by various word markers, strategically placed to signal to the reader various changes in mood and situation crucial to understanding the text (the markers are shown in the passages below in italics).
Nephi introduces his father's words of prophecy and blessing by briefly rehearsing what Lehi has said about their many trials. With the emphatic "For, behold," the narrative takes a crucial turn: Lehi has had a vision in which he has seen the destruction of Jerusalem. The vision vindicates his prophetic insistence to leave while there is still time and makes all the tribulation of the journey worthwhile, especially since they have now reached the "promised land" safely and can look forward to their new life with optimism, according to the covenant of the Lord.
Lehi can now elaborate with three conditional promises from the Lord, each depending on the righteousness of the people:
"Wherefore," only those brought by the Lord will come to this land;
"Wherefore," the land will be "an inheritance" and will not be given to others
"Wherefore," whoever is brought here will prosper, but only if they live righteously.
Another emphatic marker stresses the point that if the conditions upon which these promises rest are ignored or dishonored the promises become invalid:
"But, behold," if they do not live righteously, the judgments of God will come upon them,
"Yea," the land will be given to others who will scatter and smite them,
"Yea," there shall be bloodshed from generation to generation.
Thus, Lehi's plea for his sons to obey:
"Wherefore," listen to my words.
This last wherefore serves to introduce a more poetic form of address in which Lehi references a formula from the prophet Isaiah. Each of the three phrases introduces a new segment of text allowing Lehi to re-focus the message and re-energize the urgency of his counsel, as he sorrows for his children, who, he fears, will depart from the way of the Lord:
"O that ye would awake;
" Awake from a deep sleep, yea, even the sleep of hell . . .
"Awake! and arise from the dust, and hear the words of a trembling parent . . .
"Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness . . ."
All this serves as a prelude to individual blessings given to each of his sons and sons-in-law. Each blessing is introduced in turn by the formulaic "And now . . .".
"And now, my son Laman, and also . . .", etc.
Nephi's is the only blessing not recorded (perhaps, as the faithful narrator, modesty forbids him).
In the early verses of the fourth chapter, Nephi summarizes Lehi's last thoughts concerning his family, and then, with touching brevity, he concludes with a single sentence (note that the narrative is renewed by the necessary marker): "And it came to pass that [Lehi] died, and was buried."
Lehi's passing would surely have left Nephi feeling even more isolated and alone, with the great burden of leading his fractious family now resting entirely upon his shoulders. Retiring to the inward reaches of his heart, he first gives place to the understandably human emotions of regret and perhaps even self pity; but then, great man that he was, he turns in faith to his God for comfort and assurance. What a poignant testimony to the reality of his life is borne in these eloquent words!
The Song begins in first-person: a man engulfed in agonized remorse: "My soul, My heart, O wretched man that I am, I am encompassed about, I know in whom I have trusted," climaxing with a profound utterance, "My God hath been my support."
The focus now shifts momentarily to third-person, as Nephi contemplates God's goodness to him in a series of past participles: "He hath led, preserved, filled," etc.
But very subtly, it shifts back to first-person: "By day, have I waxed bold … My voice have I sent up on high."
Suddenly, a whole new realization overwhelms him, and the lament assumes the form of a hymn of praise: "O then," he cries (again in first-person), "if I have seen so great things," and "if the Lord" has been so merciful, "Why?" -- Why should I, Nephi, respond negatively to the trials the Lord has seen fit to impose? Nephi begins to grasp the inherent danger of his ingratitude. Recognizing that he has allowed "the enemy of his soul" to gain control of his emotions, he experiences a complete change of heart. The words of Isaiah (so recently invoked by his father) come to him and he exclaims, "Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin." Phrases he had previously used negatively are now cast in a positive light: "Do not anger again because of mine enemies. Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions." New energy impels him, as he pleads for the redemption of his soul.
Once again, there is a crucial change from first-person to second-person, as a series of prayers, beginning "Wilt thou," changes the focus from Nephi, as sentence subject, to the Lord.
Then, as his poem comes to an end, Nephi asks the Lord to accept his grateful praise. His concluding song of praise reverts all the way back to the poem's beginning, "my heart" and "my soul," refocusing Nephi himself as subject: "I will trust, I know, I will lift, I will cry." The phrase, "rock of my salvation," by which he addresses the Lord at the beginning of this segment is echoed in the final lines of the psalm: "the rock of my righteousness" and "my rock and mine everlasting God," enclosing his newfound strength in a cohesive prayer for forgiveness and courage.
As shown in the preceding six paragraphs, the poem's carefully conceived structure becomes clear: the pronouns of its two halves divide the entire poem into two symmetrical halves, each with three subsections balancing Nephi those in which he is the grammatical subject with those in which the Lord is the grammatical subject (I, Lord, I : I, Lord, I).
In the text below, the format reflects the analysis given above. Italics now represent, not the connecting markers, but instead some of the consistent patterns and relationships between the ideas and imagery of the poem. Of course, there are other connections that could and should be noticed. The reader may see many ways in which the text could be organized. One of the marks of a great work of art is constant positive tension and interfacing, like a great constellation, refracting intellectual light, sometimes consciously, but often without conscious intent on the part of the poet or artist.
Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord; and
My heart pondereth continually upon the things
Which I have seen and heard.
Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord,
In showing me his great and marvelous works,
My heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am!
Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh;
My soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.
I am encompassed about, because of the temptations
And the sins which do so easily beset me.
And when I desire to rejoice, My heart groaneth because of my sins.
Nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.
My God hath been my support.
He hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness;
And he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep.
He hath filled me with his love,
Even unto the consuming of my flesh.
He hath confounded mine enemies,
Unto the causing of them to quake before me.
Behold, he hath heard my cry by day
And he hath given me knowledge by visions in the nighttime.
And by day have I waxed bold in might prayer before him.
Yea, my voice have I sent up on high;
And angels came down and ministered unto me.
And upon the wings of his Spirit hath my body
Been carried away upon exceedingly high mountains.
And mine eyes have beheld great things, yea, even too great for man.
Therefore, I was bidden that I should not write them.
O then, if I have seen so great things,
If the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men
Hath visited men in so much mercy,
Why should my heart weep and my soul linger
In the valley of sorrow,
And my flesh waste away,
And my strength slacken,
Because of mine afflictions?
And why should I yield to sin because of my flesh?
Yea, why should I give way to temptations,
That the evil one have place in my heart
To destroy my peace and afflict my soul?
Why am I angry because of mine enemy?
Awake, my soul!
No longer droop in sin.
Rejoice, O my heart,
And give place no more to the enemy of my soul.
Do not anger again because of mine enemies.
Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions.
Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say:
O Lord, I will praise thee forever.
Yea, my soul will rejoice in thee,
My God, and the rock of my salvation.
O Lord, wilt thou redeem my soul?
Wilt thou deliver me out of the hands of mine enemies?
Wilt thou make me that I may shake at the appearance of sin?
May the gates of hell be shut continually before me,
Because that my heart is broken
And my spirit is contrite!
O Lord, wilt thou not shut the gates
Of thy righteousness before me,
That I may walk in the path of the low valley,
That I may be strict in the plain road!
O Lord, Wilt thou encircle me around
In the robe of thy righteousness!
Wilt thou make my path straight before me!
Wilt thou not place a stumbling block in my way --
But that thou wouldst clear my way before me,
And hedge not up my way,
But the ways of mine enemy.
O Lord, I have trusted in thee,
And I will trust in thee forever.
I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh,
for I know that cursed is he
That putteth his trust in the arm of flesh.
Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man
Or maketh flesh his arm.
Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh.
Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss;
Therefore, I will lift up my voice unto thee;
Yea, I will cry unto thee, my God,
The rock of my righteousness.
Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee,
My rock and mine everlasting God
Musically, the cantata captures all of this pathos with energy and insight. Its six parts generally reflect the poetic structure:
I. Behold, My Soul Delighteth (Solo)
II. My God Hath Been My Support (Chorus)
III. O Then, If I Have Seen Such Things (Solo)
IV. Awake, My Soul (Chorus)
V. O Lord, Wilt Thou Redeem My Soul (Solo)
VI. O Lord, I Have Trusted In Thee (Solo and Chorus)
It begins with an orchestral prelude setting the scene for Nephi's grief and remorseful reflection on the course of his life. An accompanied tenor arioso gives vent to his feelings: "O wretched man that I am."
The immediate choral response, "My God hath been my support," is cast in a ternary form reflecting the two aspects of his dependence upon God:
(1) "He hath led me," etc., set with hymn-like simplcity, and
(2) "By day have I waxed bold in mighty prayer," set more actively.
Particularly memorable are the ascending treble voices in the passages referencing the ministering of angels and Nephi's being carried away on "the wings of his [the Lord's] Spirit." The climactic nature of these beautiful passages is followed by a reprise of the hymn, ending in profound silence.
The silence is broken by the return of the tenor soloist ("O then, if I have seen such things"), whose singing poses the series of "why" questions -- at first agitated, then subsiding into greater resignation and peace -- to conclude what is, in the poetic structure, the first half.
In the music, however, there is no rest. Without pause, the chorus springs back into action: "Awake my soul!" is the most animated segment of the work, with dramatic imitation among the voices accompanied by a restless, assertive orchestra.
The following recitative, "O Lord, wilt thou redeem my soul," is cast as another ternary structure, appropriately plaintive and pleading in its first and third parts, but assuming the role of a symphonic scherzo in the second part (complete with a lilting triplet rhythm and brass fanfares), instigated, perhaps by the text, "Wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteouness."
The finale, for solo and chorus, consists initially of an echo-dialogue between these two opposing musical forces, while the orchestra pursues a swirling course in the background. Eventually all forces come together in a gigantic conclusion, singing fortissimo, "my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God."
III. To Utah
Poem by Edward L. Hart; Music by Robert Cundick
Utah Chamber Artists; Barlow Bradford, conductor
At the request of conductor Barlow Bradford, Dr. Cundick added orchestra and revisions to the original a cappella work. The Utah Chamber Artists then performed it for a Sesquicentennial Concert commemorating the arrival of the pioneers at the Valley of the Great Salt Lake. The late poet, Edward L Hart, wrote the vivid, concise and inspirational poetry.
The following program notes are taken from the original album: A Sesquicentennial Musical Tribute.
There have been many events to mark the Sesquicentennial of the arrival of the Mormon Pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley, each in its own way contributing to a joyful year-long celebration made memorable by the touching ways in which so many people have engaged their heritage. The idea for this concert evolved in the minds of several members of the community who felt that thoughtful artistic reflection could add a dimension thus far missing from the otherwise comprehensive calendar. Through the enthusiastic support of the Sesquicentennial Committee, Senator Orrin Hatch and the Utah Families Foundation, and other generous sponsors, this special commemorative concert featuring music inspired by, or in the spirit of the pioneers of 1847 and those came after them, has become a reality. It seems appropriate that the works to be performed on this program were written by Utah composers, that many of the performers are artists with deep roots in Utah soil, and that the setting is this beautiful hall [Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City] named for another of our great pioneers.
Who can take the measure of such a people as settled this remote country 150 years ago? Outcasts, moving an entire community 1400 miles across the continent, armed only with fortitude, faith and whatever skills they could muster or learn along the way, they came with "Zion" on their lips and in their hearts. And they came singing.
What was at work here? Manifest Destiny? Adventure? Desperation? Or was it, as they firmly believed, the hand of God? President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke recently of Brigham Young:
"I marvel at his boldness. No plow had ever broken the soil of this valley. He and his people knew nothing of the seasons, of the insects, of the certainty of water, of the frosts and the storms. Thousands were coming behind him. But there was no doubt in his mind. He stated that Joseph Smith had seen this valley in vision, and that he knew it as the place to locate his people. All of us are the beneficiaries of that bold insight and vision."
This was not a time for the fainthearted. These were real people, not larger than life, but caught up in something larger than themselves. They believed, they trusted, they followed, they survived. And so did their hopes, and so did the fire that has kept their faith alive to the seventh and eighth generations.
The land lay ready for them. At its heart, a great salten sea shimmering with the sunsets of a thousand, thousand years. On its skirts, the snowcapped mountains, forests and grasslands, yawning canyons and arid deserts. But here, at the sacred center, a land preserved by the hand of Him who knew beforehand their "times and seasons" and the places of their habitation. Here were streams of living water. Here, for a season, at least, they would find peace.
They were not the first. Others before them had come from lands unknown, across the ice caps, across uncharted seas. They came to hunt and fish and move freely across the land. They came by kayak and canoe, by moccasined and booted feet along the old trails that crisscrossed the mountains and the prairies, and snaked through the uncut trees. They came for adventure, for gold, for beaver pelts and lost cities. They came on the heels of discovery, to teach explore, or to escape, perchance, to the other end of the sky. It was a remote land, to begin with. But not for long.
In his classic memoir Two Years before the Mast, Richard H. Dana, Jr. describes the California coast around San Francisco Bay sometime between 1834 and 1836:
"Our place of destination had been Monterey, but as we were to northward of it when the wind hauled ahead, we made a fair wind for San Francisco. This large bay, which lies in latitude 37°58', was discovered by Sir Francis Drake, and by him represented to be (as indeed it is) a magnificent bay, containing several good harbors, great depth of water, and surrounded by a fertile and finely-wooded country. About thirty miles from the mouth of the bay, and on the south-east side, is a high point, upon which the presidio is built. Behind this, is the harbor in which trading vessels anchor, and near it, the mission of San Francisco, and a newly begun settlement, mostly of Yankee Californians, called Yerba Buena, which promises well."
Young Dana was among the last to know a California so remote that few had ever reached it overland. Just ten years later, on February 4, 1846--the very day that Brigham Young and the first group of pioneers left Nauvoo -- Sam Brannan and another group of Latter-day Saints left New York in the ship Brooklyn. Having read with interest the exploration reports of John C. Fremont (1841-44) they hoped by sailing around Cape Horn, to reach the Great Basin from the West. Their arrival at San Francisco Bay in the summer of 1846 turned Yerba Buena virtually overnight into a "largely Mormon town" and Brannan was determined that this was the "right place" for the Saints to settle. As soon as practicable the following spring, he set out to meet Brigham Young and the oncoming wagon trains. Passionately, he pleaded for the Saints not to stop in the Great Basin, but to continue on to the California Coast where their co-religionists had already established themselves and laid claim to large tracts of land that were ready and waiting. Astonished and angered by Brigham's refusal, he returned to San Francisco, never again to have a voice of leadership in the church.
The wisdom of Brigham Young's policy is illustrated by an excerpt from the editor's introduction to a recent edition of Dana's book:
"Few writers of classic travel narratives have had the chance to revisit later the scene of their adventures, but Dana managed this in 1859, twenty years on, in ' the superb steamship Golden Gate, brilliant with lighted saloons and staterooms'. On his first visit there had not been a single lighthouse, beacon or buoy along the whole coast of California, and the only available charts had been scraps of disconnected surveys from British, Russian, and Mexican sources. In 1859 he found San Francisco grown from an Indian mission station of 450 inhabitants to a city of 100,000. The cause was the gold rush of 1848, which had also seen the rise of the Pueblo de Los Angeles from a village to a flourishing town of 20,000 inhabitants...."
Great Salt Lake City was also flourishing in 1859, but here, instead of finding themselves once again in the middle of a land that everybody wanted, the Saints found ample room to expand in the vast intermountain interior. They tried, with much success, to assimilate peacefully with the Native Americans. And in due time, as others arrived (soldiers, railroaders, miners, missionaries, government officials, passers-by), they tried to accommodate all who wanted a place with them. It was not easy to bring many factions together; old wounds and deep suspicions lingered, and new hatreds flickered from time to time. But step by step divisions were conquered and differences put aside.
In the arts, Salt Lake City was unlike any other city in America. One author commented that Brigham Young had his Theater before he had his Temple. And, indeed, he did. Completed in 1862, the Salt Lake Theater bespoke something fundamental: that man does not live by bread alone, and neither will a people survive whose thirst for beauty goes unsatisfied. Nauvoo had had its Music Hall, and Brigham Young himself was a veteran of the Nauvoo stage. Nor were all those Londoners and Welsh immigrants the leas bit willing to forego their Handel and Shakespeare. The arts in Zion flourished. Choirs sprang up in every town, and towns openly competed for the best musicians. Painters painted, "opera houses" and "social halls" sprang to life with orators and thespians and poets. Bands played and fiddlers tuned, dulcimers vibrated with hornpipes and reels. Music stores were among the first and most successful commercial enterprises. At first, it was all "home" music and "home" theater, but then came the Army with its camp followers, and entertainers on their way to California. And, finally, the age of the railroad, with Salt Lake City at the "crossroads of the West," brought professionals from around the world. When word of the marvelous Mormon city spread, everybody came to see Brigham Young's "cathedral in the desert" (the Salt Lake Theater) and the ingenious Tabernacle, with its magnificent pipe organ. Mining brought new wealth, attracting an even more diverse population.
Within twenty years of its settlement, the city was transformed, and one of the tragedies of "progress" is that in the process of development so much of that beautiful 19th-century city has been lost. We note with irony, for example, that the Salt Lake Theater, modeled after London's Drury Lane Theater, was one of a very few great American theaters to survive for more than a few decades in the age before electric lighting. It survived fire, but it could not survive the wrecker's ball.
Nevertheless, those who, from afar, saw Utah as benighted and deprived could not have suspected what an artistic oasis it was. We heard Gilmore and Susa, the Barrymores and the "Swedish Nightingale," Ole Bull and Tom Thumb. But we also heard Maude Adams, our local actress who went on to charm the world, and Mrs. George Careless, the gifted wife of the Tabernacle Choir's famous conductor, sing Messiah arias that would rival those of any London soprano. In time, Brigham Young's own children and grandchildren went to the East and Europe to study music and art and architecture. Others did the same. Many Utah families can trace five or more generations of active musicians, and a few, such as the Daynes and Durham families, can point to at least five generations of professional involvement with music. We can look at the lives of such greats as Leroy Robertson and Arthur Shepherd ... and marvel at the heights they attained and the impact they had. . . . Yet they, and all of us, are indebted to the family who dragged a piano or a melodeon across the plains, or the immigrant musician who nearly starved to death teaching violin lessons for payment "in kind." Places of far greater means have provided far less than the legacy we have received from our founders. Out of virtually nothing has come so much. From our modern vantage point, we can see the struggles of the past as the unfolding of a miracle. Yes, let us say without equivocation: Utah is a miracle. Her legacy of faith and courageous pioneering in the arts, as in other aspects of her culture, is the universal heritage of all her people. Let us keep the faith.
[Taken from the original program notes of the CD.]
The following discussion examines Hart's poetry in terms of structure, content, and idea.
Poetry is more than beautiful words, elegant phrasing, rhythms and rhyme schemes. It is the use of language in all its potent, evocative richness to capture images and ideas in concise forms. Assonance, consonance, alliteration and dissonance are among the ways to unify the myriad of expressive possibilities, as thoughts and images are brought together and then again dispersed to yield a host of new associations in constellations of refracted light. Meaning is revealed not only through semantic significance, but through the very color and sound of words and their component parts, both aurally and visually. Denotation and connotation combine in connected spheres of insight as multiple as the mind can conceive. Imagination is the function and the fascination of poetry. By this definition, Edward Hart is a powerful poet.
The best poetry assumes a well read, intellectually prepared audience. Those immersed in Mormon history and committed to the faith will recognize in the thread of allusions in To Utah the masterful reflection of a "Zion bound" people, enlightened and earnest in their desire to live the Restored Gospel. Others may find in this collection of poems an emotional and sympathetic recounting of the trials and triumphs of a great people with an epic story, told by means of seven glimpses into the making of the Mormon people, "far away in the West." Ranging from a masterful reflection on the geological origins of the granite spires of the Salt Lake Temple to the loneliness and anxiety of families called to pioneer the vast reaches of the western wilderness, Hart's images draw upon the power of words to recreate the heartaches and healing faith of the honest in heart, gathered "to Utah" from the four corners of the earth to play their part in the unfolding of a "marvelous work and a wonder."
Cundick's setting of To Utah was first performed in 1947 as a centennial tribute to the Utah pioneers of 1847. A seventh poem, Centennial, was written especially for that occasion, however, it has been omitted here as extraneous to Hart's original conception. The cycle of six short poems is symmetrical, with the first poem, Arrival, as a prelude and the fourth poem, Preparing for Fire, as the keystone of the arch:
Laying out the City
Preparing for Fire
Arrival sets the stage for establishing a civilization in a hostile, uncompromising wilderness. Laying out the City and Temple effectively frame the symmetry, focusing symbolically on the cosmic aspects of the Lord's grand design for the creation of the earth and the real purpose undergirding the willingness, even eagerness of people to risk everything in order to build the Kingdom of God. The two poems forming the interior pair of the symmetry are cast in more specifically human terms. The Gathering speaks to the suffering that accompanied the journey, as the Saints heeded the call to Zion, while Expansion describes the continuing sacrifice required of them once they arrived. As the centerpiece, Preparing for Fire reflects with point-blank directness upon the diabolical power that continues to threaten wherever they go, and to overwhelm all their efforts to live in peace, out of reach of their past troubles. Simultaneously, the cycle is through-composed, culminating in the Temple spires as a prophetic metaphor for mankind's highest hope: exaltation in Celestial Heaven.
In the following paragraphs the several poems of the cycle are discussed individually.
Most members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were delighted, after the hard journey, to finally reach their new mountain home. But some had misgivings. Of the three pioneer women who made the journey, Harriet Young, the eldest, said: "Weak and weary as I am, I would rather go a thousand miles farther than remain in such a forsaken place as this!" Ellen Kimball echoed her sentiments, while Harriet's daughter, Clarissa D. Young, seemed satisfied. "My poor mother was almost brokenhearted; terribly disappointed because there were no trees. I don't remember a tree that could be called a tree."
Arrival leaves the reader poised at the brink. Others had rejected this barren land with its desert wastes and salten sea, and it is an open question whether the Saints can make a go of it here. But the sure, unequivocal promise of the Lord's prophet gives hope, when Brigham Young declares: "This is the right place. Drive on." Later, it begins to dawn on the people that "the place" where the Lord has brought them is a type and a symbol of the Holy Land, itself -- a testimony in the very landscape and its physical features that this is, indeed, the place "which God for us prepared, far away in the West."
The layout of this poem can be seen in the rondo-like structure of the rhyme scheme, dividing the poem into two halves:
Go by e
[*This rhyme works if it is remembered that, especially in folk poetry, the state's name has sometimes been rendered Californ - I - A.]
Laying the City
A quick comparison of poem two with poem six will clarify their paired relationship. Both depend upon technical and scientific knowledge for their imagery, with an emphasis upon the temple and the cosmic aspects of Creation: the great planning that undergirds the very existence of this earth and the purpose for which it was made. Such ideas are basic to the spiritual essence of Zion and of temple worship.
Again, the rhyme scheme divides the poem into clearly recognizable halves:
Starting at *c
A new *c
[*The scheme makes sense only if this pairing is considered a "rhyme of meaning."]
The Gathering scores an emotional homerun with its two-word climax: "Zion bound."
Wherever the journey began and by whatever means it was conducted -- ship, wagon, handcart -- the goal in every mind and heart was Zion, the Lord's land of promise. On the crest of every threatening wave, at the top of every rocky ridge or steep, terrifying descent, the faith of every footstep, set of the sail, or turning of the wheel was wrapped in the hope expressed in this single word. Starting with the exodus from Nauvoo in February 1846 and ending with the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, the "pioneer period" lasted for some twenty-three years (1846-1869). During that time, people gathered to Zion by the tens of thousands, an epic often compared to that of the deliverance of Moses and the Children of Israel. During that time, an entire civilization materialized in the Great Basin as Mormons colonized virtually every corner of the vast American West. The audacity of this daunting effort is still a powerful motivation among the Mormon people, today, especially the handcart movement, in which thousands -- old and young, poor but resolute and filled with faith -- trudged across the vast prairies and into the rugged mountains to find small settlements nestled in the most unlikely creases of the harsh desert. Or so it was at first, but amazingly soon, newcomers were greeted by thriving villages and a spacious Mormon capital cradled in a valley that others had passed by in their eager pursuit of the good life in Oregon or California.
The rhyme scheme used here is, once again dividing the poem into halves:
Preparing for Fire
Preparing for Fire commemorates the so-called Utah War -- a potential disaster for the Mormon people only ten years after their arrival in the Great Basin. In 1856, after several reports that the Mormons in Utah Territory were in open rebellion against the United States, President James Buchanan, acting on the biased information of disgruntled men, deployed a unit of the United States Army to suppress the supposed "rebellion." With the alleged purpose of installing a new governor to replace Brigham Young, the army expected to reach Great Salt Lake City before the onset of winter. With little opportunity to present a more rational solution to the alleged problems, Mormon leaders resorted to a plan of passive resistance in order to delay the army's arrival. Grass along the way was burned, supply wagons were torched, army livestock herds were driven off, Native Americans were recruited to the Mormon cause -- anything short of physical harm to the soldiers to delay the march was undertaken by the Mormon defenders. So effective were these tactics that the Army, under the command of General Albert Sydney Johnston, was forced to winter over in the high Wyoming plateau, far short of its intended goal. This gift of time allowed highly-placed and sympathetic friends to argue the Mormon cause in Washington, D.C. A successful end was negotiated in which the Army was allowed to enter the Salt Lake Valley the following spring, but with severe restrictions. They were to march non-stop through the city to a bivouac well south of the main settlement; there was to be no occupation, as such, the Army's only mission to escort the new governor into the Territory and make sure that he was safely installed and protected in his duties. However, before the successful implementation of this negotiated compromise, the Saints had prepared to leave the city and, if necessary, flee the Territory in search of yet another destination where they could peacefully practice their religion. The foundations of the new temple were covered over and the site prepared to look like a plowed field, houses and buildings were strawed, ready to be torched at the slightest sign of disobedience by even a single soldier, and all the citizens, except the torchbearers and a minimum of Territorial officials, had already departed temporarily (or permanently, if need be) to other settlements south of Salt Lake City to await the outcome. In the end, all parties lived up to their part of the bargain; the Army set up camp far outside the reaches of the City, and the citizens returned to their untorched homes. The Eastern press referred to the whole costly and unnecessary military adventure as Buchanan's Blunder. Only five short years would pass before the United States would find itself responding to a real rebellion at the beginning of the Civil War, with many of the original soldiers, including General Johnston, himself, taking sides against one another in that bloody and tragic conflict. Far removed from those horrible scenes, Utah Territory remained largely unaffected, having already paid its price.
This poem, in three parts -- Leaving the City, The Torchbearers, and General Albert Sidney Johnston Marches through Salt Lake City -- forms the pivotal centerpiece of the cycle. Here, Hart abandons end-rhyme, choosing, instead, a special form of free verse for each. Leaving the City is the brief, melancholic account of an eye-witness, reflecting in disbelief as the scene unfolds. Instructing the Torchbearers is steel-hard in its raw, drill-sergeant directness. General Albert Sydney Johnston resumes the melancholy mood. Now, however, it assumes an almost triumphant air, a desolate, yet unconquered acceptance of the inevitable.
Leaving the City
You build a city and leave it, maybe to burn.
All morning wagons piled full have gone by to the south.
And now we leave our house with straw stacked in the doorway, ready for fire.
Where we go next, who knows?
Sonora, maybe; it's a long way.
Instructing the Torchbearers
Then it's settled; you know the signal.
The city burns if only one soldier steps out of line
or raises his hand as a vandal
or takes for his own use one spoon
or disturbs a stick of kindling.
Soldiers will not tie our hands here and hold us tamely for mobs to rub in the dust again: never.
Joseph's body was propped by a pump as a target for soldiers sent
to protect him from themselves.
Before that happens here we'll level the city with fire and leave them the ashes of our past.
General Albert Sidney Johnston Marches through Salt Lake City
The naked bayonets of the Fifth Infantry flash in the van of the Union Army in morning sunshine.
Baggage wagons and caissons
still rumbling at dusk
through deserted streets
send echoes rattling
from locked and hollow houses
to the valley walls
while crickets shrill in cadence
from the hills.
Obsessive combinations of alliteration and assonance echo throughout the three parts:
bayonets, baggage wagons
rumbling, rattling, kindling
caissons, crickets, cadence
straw, stacked, streets, steps, stick
still, shrills, walls, hills
doorway, long way
propped, pump, protect, locked
A familiar image links parts one and three: the monotonous rhythm of turning wheels -- Mormon wagons fleeing the city, army caissons entering it. Not far to seek are other points of reference: the memory of pioneer wagons streaming westward out of the tormented past, handcarts mired in mud or stalled in the deep snows of another unsuspected and ill-deserved disaster. Closing the poem, the shrill chirping of the desert's ubiquitous crickets seems to imitate the maddening tedium of the relentless creaking and churning, meanwhile uncovering another surreal image of looming disaster from the past.
At first glance, Expansion seems to be the most pedestrian of the poems. Hart wants us to experience, perhaps, the bone-deep weariness of being asked, yet again, to move on -- to leave another home and hard-earned rest to help colonize new ground in some remote, unsettled corner. Mormon leaders soon recognized that a single valley or even region would not be sufficient to provide space for the gathering of Saints that was in progress. Colonists were sent off in all directions, establishing settlements in almost every state in the Western U. S.: California, Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, and even far-flung colonies in Mexico and Canada. The original Territory of Deseret, as proposed by Brigham Young, encompassed a huge region including parts of all these states as well as all of Utah. Much of this area was unexplored, and those who were sent to colonize often found the land uninhabitable or so remote as to be impractical. In some cases the colonies were officially disbanded; in others, they were simply abandoned to discouragement and failure -- ghost towns, their modest monuments left to rot and crumble. More often than not, however, the colonists simply toughed it out, forging lasting bonds among themselves and their neighbors who suffered and struggled together in remote outposts, or, as happened in parts of California, places far more welcoming than the Great Basin. During the Utah War, Mormon settlements in such places as San Bernardino, California and Carson Valley, Nevada, were called back to support the Mormon cause.
Cast in unpretentious jargon ("name it, claim it"), the poem turns on the heart-wrenching last line which captures the essence of the sacrifice involved by suddenly jerking our emotions to attention:
"Try, for instance, going south to Pipe Spring,* in the northern strip of Arizona** above the ripped rock at Grand Canyon and stay for years, two hundred miles away from a boy who'd asked your boy to play."
[*Pipe Spring, now a National Monument, consisted of a small enclosed fort with a few residential rooms attached to the outer walls of the fort. A lonely desert outpost, it served almost entirely as home for a few cowboys tasked with guarding the Mormon herds grazing the sparse forage of the desert south of St. George, Utah.
**The so-called Arizona Strip is a rather large area of land between the Grand Canyon and the southern border of Utah, extending almost the entire length of the border between the two states. Because of this geographical oddity (resulting from the arbitrary and often illogical boundary divisions between the states of the West), the area was settled mostly by Mormons, and residents still find that their life is much more conveniently connected to that of Southern Utah than to Arizona.]
By now a familiar device, the rhyme scheme divides the poem into two halves:
Name it e
Claim it e
Of the many ways the poet might approach such a profound topic, in Temple Hart has made a truly inspired choice. Instead of dwelling on its sacred character and function directly, or glorying in its majestic, monumental architecture, Hart introduces his reader to the very material (granite quarried from the nearby Wasatch Mountains) from which the Salt Lake Temple was constructed, appealing to images of buried timelessness, of cold and dark, to signify a world caught in ignorance, unenlightened by the temple ordinances and the knowledge they impart.
We see, first, the fire-formed igneous stone buried in the "world-weighted darkness" of the mountain depths as the volcanism of the primordial world subsides. Geological properties of granite are properly identified and described: the composite nature of the stone, with flecks of mica, pods of quartz, feldspar [the most common form of rock in the earth's surface and a major component of granite] and hornblende [not a separate mineral but a combination of three different silicate components, commonly found in granite]. Hart's imagery -- the light-refracting particles embedded in the granite -- invokes the complexity and richness of celestial knowledge as explained and digested in the temple ordinances.
Of course, the reference to frost recalls one means by which monoliths of granite are broken down: water enters the porous stone, then freezes, causing it to crack and fragment, thus "prying free" blocks of stone fit for various building purposes, the ultimate one being the temple capstone. This, again, is a subtle temple analogy: as the stone has been rescued from cavernous darkness to reach the heights of the capstone, so the ordinances of the temple through the power of the priesthood can raise lost and fallen man from hopelessness to the heights of celestial glory.
Once again, the poem divides neatly into two halves, the first built upon scientific description of the characteristics of granite, with the beginnings of the analogy, the second completing the analogy by moving from the primordial stone to its use in the temple structure. What appears to be free verse, without obvious patterns of interior or end-rhyme is united through other means. Note how "world-weighted" in the first half resonates with "weathering winds" in the second half. See, also, the effective use of alliteration and assonance in the subtle sequence of "cradled, core cooled, quickly, cut, cover, orthoclastic, quarrying, capstone, crest. Beginning with "cradled" (suggesting infancy, protective care) and ending with "crest" (suggesting height, maturity, freedom), this wonderful sequence forms another element in the temple analogy.
Cradled in a
world-weighted darkness the
core cooled quickly. And
granite grew into
flecks of mica and pods of quartz around
flowering feldspar and hornblende.
Weathering winds and rains
Cut off small cover,
Light glinted from orthoclastic* patterns as
Quarrying frost pried free a block at last
To stand capstone at the temple crest.
[*Orthoclastic: referring to patterns of fracture in stone; feldspar, a vitreous silicate of potassium and aluminium, or potash occurring in monoclinic patterns (molecular alignment causing granite to fracture in rectangular patterns); hornblende, a sometimes regular, sometimes irregular chrystalline component of various types of granite.]
Other Recordings featuring the compositions of Robert Cundick