News Release

Hillcrest Supports the Long-Standing Tradition of Music in the Mormon Church

There was much suffering during the pioneer treks of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but there was also much joy and celebration.  Some of the happy times tell us much about the spirit of those pioneers, as do the trials.  Many of them had a love of music, and found release and solace in singing and dancing.

On 13 October 2012, the Hillcrest Stake (congregation) of the Church in Durban followed that example of the love music as it entertained an enthusiastic audience with music and song.  Shannon de Bruin organised the event and her great love for music showed as she was not only the “sound crew” with her husband, Darrell, but she also sang a beautiful rendition of “Songbird” by Eva Cassidy.

Music has been an important part of the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as The Mormons).  Emma Smith, wife of the first Prophet of the Church, Joseph Smith, was asked in 1830 by revelation to compile a book of hymns for the early Church.  Doctrine and Covenants 25:11-12 reads, “And it shall be given thee, also, to make a selection of sacred hymns, as it shall be given thee, which is pleasing unto me, to be had in my church.  For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.”

Leonard Hardy was a captain over a hundred people during the time when the Mormons were crossing the plains in North America in 1850 to escape persecution.  The following was written about a family in his care:  “In Capt. Hardy’s camp there was a family by the name of Goodridge, father, mother, several young girls and an 11-year-od boy.  They were a musical family, full of fun and possessing the happy faculty of making the best and most of every situation.  The girls sang and danced; gathering berries on the way . . .” (Our Pioneer Heritage 15:226-67)

Brigham Young (second President and Prophet of the Church) and others of the leaders were particularly fond of dancing, and many evenings were spent enjoying that pastime.  In Winter Quarters, Brigham Young taught the people “how to go forth in the dance in an acceptable manner before the Lord.”  He considered dancing as a way to worship God.

“Umba Dumba,” a quartet of young women in the Hillcrest Stake, showed their rhythm in dance as they sang wonderful songs rich in the Zulu culture of South Africa.  The meaning of their song was singing to Heavenly Father, asking Him to guide us.  The fun enthusiasm of dance was also displayed by Raynor Boram and the Cunninghams, in the song “Twist and Shout” that not only showed off their singing skills, but also their dance style.  The smiles and cheers from the audience after these numbers were all part of the long culture of music that Brigham Young so dearly loved.

Brigham’s daughter, Clarissa Young Decker, recorded:  “One of father’s most outstanding qualities as a leader was the manner in which he looked after the temporal and social welfare of his people, along with guiding them in their spiritual needs.  On the great trek across the plains when everyone but the most feeble walked the greater part of the way, the Saints would be gathered around the campfire for evening entertainment . . .   Then songs would be sung, music played by the fiddlers, and the men and women would forget the weariness of walking fifteen miles or so over a trackless desert  . . .  It was a way of keeping up ‘morale’ before such a word was ever coined.”  (Quoted in BYU Studies, 16:1:126)

The rich heritage of the western United States was presented to the Hillcrest Stake Music Program by James C. Von Stetten, President of the South Africa Durban Mission, as he played a tranquil melody on the Native American Flute.  President Von Stetten quoted an old Cherokee (Native American) saying, “We have not inherited the earth from our ancestors, we have borrowed it from our children.”  Elder Jerry Murdock, Senior Missionary for the Church, added an American flavour by singing old cowboy tunes, and reciting cowboy poetry, which has always been known to cheer an audience.  

The Church’s dedication to good music is demonstrated through their commitment to the world famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  The early Saints were undeniably a musical people.  But the hardships of pioneer life meant that music had to come after the necessary activities of conquering an arid land.  In addition, music materials such as books and sheet music were scarce.  Although there were a number of bands and choirs in the Salt Lake area, most were led and manned by amateurs who made their living at other professions.

By 1865 George Careless had established himself as a professional music teacher.  His success did not escape the eye of President Brigham Young.  President Young called George into his office.  “Brother George,” he said, “I have a mission for you.  I want you to be Chief Musician for the Church.  I want you to take the Tabernacle Choir and the Theatre Orchestra and lay a foundation for good music.” 

The entertainment at the Hillcrest Music Program continued with songs from Hirum Austin, Reynor Boreham, Gareth Hill, Vernon Cunningham and daughter, and Amanda Austin.  The talent that these participants showed was just as amazing as the Emcee for the program, Basil Smith, who kept the audience laughing with jokes and stories between each number.

Even before the Mormon Pioneers migrated to Utah, they staged plays and elaborate pageants in Nauvoo, Illinois, USA, in the early 1840’s.  As soon as the Mormons felt comfortably settled in Salt Lake City they again turned to drama for entertainment.  Entertainment was so important to the early members of the Church that in 1862 the Salt Lake Theatre was completed, and was the largest structure yet built by the Saints. 

The Church has been putting on amateur programs, such as the one done by the Hillcrest congregation, since the 1870’s.  It gives members of the Church and their friends an opportunity to “find release and solace in singing and dancing” as did the early members of the Church.

If thou art merry, praise the Lord with singing, with music, with dancing, and with a prayer of praise and thanksgiving” (Doctrine and Covenants 136:28)



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