The Tabernacle Choir Blog

February 2014 Articles

A Brief History of “Down to the River to Pray”

While it is hard to pinpoint the exact origins of the song, “Down to the River to Pray” has been referred to as a hymn, a spiritual and an Appalachian song. Some believe it was a Native American Tribal song that was adapted to include Christian lyrics. It is attributed to George H. Allan in the Slave Songbook of 1867, and Alison Krauss popularized it in the 2000 film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? The song also is known by alternate titles such as “Down in the Valley to Pray,” “Come, Let Us All Go Down” and “The Good Old Way.” Whatever the title might truly be, the deeply spiritual song is about keeping the faith in a time of darkness.

The History and Lyrics to “God Be With You Till We Meet Again”

Many of the popular songs we know and love have a special story behind them. That being said, “God Be With You Till We Meet Again”, which was written by Jeremiah Rankin, was simply composed so his church choir could have something to sing when they parted each week. Rankin was the minister for the First Congregational Church in Washington, D.C. and said this about the hymn, “Written…as a Christian goodbye, it was called forth by no person or occasion, but was deliberately composed as a Christian hymn on basis of the etymology of “goodbye,” which is “God be with you.” He got the idea for the first stanza of the song when he saw the dictionary definition of "good-bye" was short for "God be with you." The song was written in 1882 when Rankin was 54 years old.

Music & the Spoken Word this week on Choir’s Website, KBYU and BYUtv

NBC network coverage of the Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia will preempt Music & the Spoken Word on KSL Sunday, February 23. Instead, the live broadcast will be shown on KBYU Channel 11 and BYUtv at the usual 9:30 a.m. MST. For the first time this week and continuing each week in the future, you can watch the live stream of the broadcast on the Choir’s website, at the 9:30 a.m. MST time.

A History of Awards and Recognition for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

It’s “awards season” in Hollywood. That means lights, parties, glamour and glitz, and, of course, awards. To some, award shows are their lifeblood; to others, they are the bane of their existence. Whatever way you choose to look at it, award shows are an important part of our culture. Behind all of the Hollywood hype, the true purpose of an award is to recognize outstanding achievement in an individual’s specific field.

Frank W. Asper Performed Approximately 5,000 Organ Recitals for Temple Square Visitors During His 40-Year Career

Frank W. Asper was a Tabernacle organist for more than 40 years. During his impressive career, Asper performed approximately 5,000 organ recitals for Temple Square visitors and played for more than 1,000 network Choir broadcasts, plus he had his own weekly organ broadcast. Additionally, he published many volumes of organ compositions and, for more than 30 years, conducted the McCune Symphony Orchestra, which he founded.

Watch Lindsey Stirling Welcome the Choir to YouTube

Lindsey Stirling began studying the violin at the age of five. After taking lessons for 12 years, she joined a rock band in high school and also won the Spirit Award in the America’s Junior Miss finals competition. She then enrolled at Brigham Young University in Provo, followed by a mission to New York City for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

On this day in 1987, the Choir Marked its 3,000th Broadcast

3,000 can be a high or low number depending on what it pertains to. If it’s in reference to the attendance of a major sporting event, this is a disappointingly low number. If it’s in reference to a continuous radio broadcast, this is anything but low. In fact, it was on this date in 1987, that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir reached the milestone of its 3,000th continuous broadcast. In an article from the Schenectady Gazette in February 1987, the former president of the Choir, Wendell Smoot spoke of the broadcast saying, “(It) will be much the same as the other 2,999.” Over the years, people have continued to tune in to hear the familiar and comforting sound of the Choir in a way they have come to know and trust. Each broadcast opens with “Gently Raise the Sacred Strain,” as it has from the beginning.

Choir’s Singing of “Call of the Champions” Resonates Today

When John Williams, one of America’s greatest film composers of all time, conceived the idea of using a nineteenth-century Olympic motto for the words of the 2002 XIX Winter Games tribute, he imagined a celebratory feeling. Who better to sing the three Latin words that constituted the lyrics – Citius, Altius, Fortius – than the Mormon Tabernacle Choir? The Choir’s performance in the opening ceremonies touched hearts around the world, an estimated audience of 3.5 billion, as they sang with great spirit Williams’s composition “The Call of the Champions.”

Composer John Williams: From Superman to Champion, and Everything in Between

John Williams is a living legend. Whether you are aware of it or not, you’ve probably heard his music. He is considered to be one of the greatest film composers of all time and has won numerous awards, including 63 GRAMMY Awards. His most popular film scores include those of the movies Jaws, Star Wars, Superman, E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Home Alone, Jurassic Park, Harry Potter, and Lincoln, to name a few. If you happened to miss all of those films, he also composed the music for NBC Sunday Night Football and NBC Nightly News and the original theme song for Gilligan’s Island. He has also written theme music for four Olympic games, including the instantly recognizable “Olympic Fanfare and Theme” from the 1984 Summer Olympics.

I Know That My Redeemer Lives

Samuel Medley, the author of the lyrics to “I Know That My Redeemer Lives,” was born in England, just north of London, in 1738. Although he was raised by a family of faithful Christians, Medley chose not to practice religion during much of his youth. However, in 1759 he witnessed a miracle, and it changed the course of his life.

Abide with Me; ’Tis Eventide: A Product of the American Civil War

The lyrics and music to the hymn “Abide with Me; ’Tis Eventide” were heavily influenced by the American Civil War. Both the writer of the lyrics, Martin Lowrie Hofford, and the composer of the music, Harrison Millard, held positions in the Union forces and felt the widespread loss and sorrow that the war brought.

Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee: a Famous Hymn with a Famous Author

Bernard of Clairvaux wrote the lyrics to “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee.” He was also one of the most influential spiritual leaders of his time, a man who kings and dignitaries turned to for counsel and advice. His sermons and writings impacted Europe’s religious landscape for centuries and remain relevant to this day. In addition to making contributions through the written and spoken word, Bernard was integral in the establishment of several monasteries across Europe.

“Call of the Champions” Kicks Off the Most Viewed Opening Ceremonies

“Citius, Altius, Fortius!” That was the soaring sound that was heard during the Salt Lake 2002 Winter Olympic Games. Those three Latin words, meaning “Faster, Higher, Stronger,” echoed throughout millions of homes as people around the world tuned in to watch those games. “Call of the Champions” was a spectacular collaboration that inspired hearts and lifted spirits of a nation still reeling from the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed the national anthem at the opening ceremonies, which included a tribute using the flag that was flown at Ground Zero.

Orchestra and Chorale to Present Combined Spring Concert

The Orchestra at Temple Square and the Temple Square Chorale will combine forces for a spring concert March 21-22 at 7:30 p.m. The concert will be directed by Ryan Murphy, Mormon Tabernacle Choir Associate Music Director. The Orchestra is an all-volunteer companion ensemble to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The Chorale is made up of singers currently completing the Choir audition process.

Orchestra and Chorale to Present a Combined Spring Concert

The Orchestra at Temple Square and the Temple Square Chorale will combine in a spring concert March 21–22 at 7:30 p.m. The concert will be directed by Ryan Murphy, Mormon Tabernacle Choir Associate Music Director. The Orchestra is an all-volunteer companion ensemble to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The Chorale is made up of singers currently completing the Choir audition process.

The Author of “Come, Come, Ye Saints” Invented an Odometer

William Clayton, a member of the first company of Mormon pioneers to trek westward out of Nauvoo, wrote the lyrics to “Come, Come, Ye Saints.” The song quickly became a favorite among the Saints traveling west. In fact, in many camps, it was a rule that when anybody started singing the hymn, everyone in the camp should join in.

The Lyrics to “All Creatures of Our God and King” Are Almost 800 Years Old

St. Francis of Assisi, who was born in 1181 in what is now Italy, is credited with the lyrics to “All Creatures of Our God and King.” The lyrics are adapted from “The Canticle of the Sun” (Canticum Solis), a poem he wrote during the last year of his life. Written at a time when he was weak and struggled with periods of temporary blindness, St. Francis wished to express the unity he felt with nature and the feelings of peace he experienced as his earthly life drew to a close.

The Story Behind “God Bless America”

From Kate Smith to Celine Dion to New York City’s “singing cop,” Daniel Rodriguez, “God Bless America” has had its fair share of renditions over the years. Irving Berlin originally wrote the song in 1918 while he served in the U.S. Army, but he revised it in 1938 to become a song about peace rather than victory.

The Original Title of “Praise to the Man” Was Simply “Joseph Smith”

William W. Phelps contributed to several hymns we sing today. Among others, he wrote “Now Let Us Rejoice,” “The Spirit of God,” and “If You Could Hie to Kolob.” He published the first newspaper of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which included the lyrics to “Redeemer of Israel,” and he contributed in many other ways to the early establishment of the Church.

The Piano Guys Welcome the Choir to YouTube

If you haven’t heard of The Piano Guys, you probably haven’t spent much time on YouTube. They are a four-member musical group best classified as orchestral pop. Their members are Jon Schmidt, Steven Sharp Nelson, Paul Anderson, and Al Van Der Beek. Their YouTube channel has over 2.4 million subscribers and roughly 334 million views.

Before The Super Bowl Renee Fleming Performed In Another Big Arena

With parents who were both music teachers, Renée Fleming was born to sing. On February 2, 2014, Fleming will become the first opera singer ever to sing the national anthem at the Super Bowl. However, singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” is no easy feat. It is known for being a difficult song to sing because of its one-and-a-half octave range. The song is based on a poem by Francis Scott Key and set to a popular British tune by John Stafford Smith.