The Tabernacle Choir Blog

Mormon Tabernacle Choir Mysteries

Everyone loves a good mystery, right? The joy of collecting evidence and gathering tidbits of information is akin to working on a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle. When you place the final piece you can finally rest—until you start the next puzzle. Here are some fun mysteries related to the Choir and its music.

Important Photo Discovery of First Choir Conductor Leads to a New Mystery

Recently, a photo of a man was found in an old leather case by Salt Lake City resident Glen Beckstead. The photo was taken in the 1850s and was later identified by historian Ron Fox as John Parry, the first music director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Although the man in the photo has been identified, there is still another mystery yet to be solved; Fox learned that a second photo of this same man exists and has not yet been found. While on a Church mission in England and Wales, Parry mentioned in his journal that he had his likeness (photo) taken. This second photo of Parry, which most likely would have been shipped home to Utah, has not yet been located. So the next time you’re cleaning out your attic or garage, take a close look around—you never know what you might find.

The History and Mystery of “How Firm a Foundation”

“How Firm a Foundation” is a hymn so well known and loved that it was sung during the funerals of U.S. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. It was sung by American troops engaged in the Spanish-American war on Christmas morning in 1898. It was a favorite of General Robert E. Lee and was also sung at his funeral. And yet, with all its notoriety, the author of the hymn is somewhat of a mystery—the hymn is attributed to “K” in its original publication.

First published in 1787 in a book titledA Selection of Hymns from the Best Authors, much of the hymn's text is straight from the Bible and includes phrases from Isaiah 41:10, Isaiah 43:2, 2 Corinthians 12:9, Hebrews 13:5, and other verses. John Rippon edited the book, and it is believed that the “K” might refer to John Keene, who was the cantor at Rippon’s church. Others have associated "K" with Kirkham or John Keith. The hymnbook for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints credits the text to Robert Keen.Click to watch the Choir perform “How Firm a Foundation.”

Who Wrote the Lyrics for “Called to Serve”?

The hymn “Called to Serve” is associated with missionary work in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Choir has performed this hymn numerous times over the years in general conference or during broadcasts of Music & the Spoken Word, as seen in the video below. When a young man or woman is called to serve a mission for the Church, the mission letter begins, “You are hereby called to serve . . .”

But who wrote the lyrics? The Church's official hymnbook attributes the text to Grace Gordon, which is true, but then who is Elsie Duncan Yale and why is the hymn sometimes attributed to her? Yale was a prolific poet and lyricist who used the name Grace Gordon as a pseudonym for writing. So as it turns out, they are one and the same. Mystery solved. Bring on the jigsaw puzzle.