Happy Pioneer Day

You can't properly honor the pioneers without including music in your celebration. Music and pioneer life were inseparable.

Music was always mentioned in pioneer journals. It was such a re-occuring theme that one might think an audition was required before joining the church. Why did the church seem to attract so many musicians? Perhaps people sensitive to the beauty of music were the type that were also spiritually sensitive and receptive to the gospel message. Perhaps there are other explanations.

Why was music so important to the pioneers? One author quipped, “every time those Mormons dig an irrigation ditch they write a song about it.”

Another person who encountered many Mormon pioneers recorded, “In every Mormon train there are usually some musicians, for they seem to be very fond of song and dance, and as soon as the camp work is done the younger element gather in groups and 'trip the light fantastic toe' (hmmm, interesting vernacular!) with as much vim as if they had not had a twenty mile march that day.”

For the pioneers, it provided the blessing of entertainment and simply a way to pass the time. It was therapy and a coping mechanism. For many, music was their refuge and often marched away their woes. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said it perfectly:

And the night shall be filled with music
And the cares that infest the day

Shall fold their tents like the Arabs

And as silently steal away

Another of the blessings of music was comfort. Still another was protection. In many respects, you might say music figuratively saved lives. But in a few instances, music literally saved lives:

A group of Latter-day Saint pioneers, led by Brigham Young, were near the Rocky Mountains. One night they camped in a small valley. After supper they built a big bonfire. They sang and danced around the bonfire to help them forget their fears and worries.

Before they went to bed in their wagons, leaving a single guard on duty, they sang “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” a song they used to encourage each other and show their dedication to the Lord.

That night there were a thousand unfriendly Indians hiding around the camp, ready to attack the pioneers. But after the Indians heard the pioneers sing “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” they were unable to attack. They knew the Great Spirit (their name for Heavenly Father) was watching over the pioneers, so they got on their horses and rode away, leaving the pioneers alone.

Some time later, the man who had been chief over the group of Indians told this story to some Latter-day Saint missionaries. When he finished the story, he took out a violin and began to play “Come, Come, Ye Saints.” He explained to the missionaries, “This is your song, but it is my song, too. I play it every night before I go to bed. It brings the Great Spirit here to me and makes me and my people calm and happy.” (See Lucile C. Reading, “Song of the Pioneers,” Children’s Friend, July 1965, p. 37.)

A fourth blessing was that it served as a means of spiritual worship and became a mediator between their spiritual and secular life. Lucy Mack Smith, mother of prophet Joseph led a group of Saints from NYC to Ohio. Part of journey included a boat voyage along the Erie Canal. Lucy writes:

"At evening we seated ourselves and sang a hymn, and the solemn music rose in such sweet melancholy on the clear air and died away so beautifully upon the water, that it melted every heart that heard it. And when we bowed down before the Lord in prayer, our souls burned within us with love.”

Have you ever had that experience? Where music burned your soul with love? Music softens hearts. Certain songs can pull an inner curtain aside, and bring people closer to God than almost any other medium.

There are few original pioneers songs. Come, Come Ye Saints is one of the them. It was written during a particularly difficult time on the pioneer trail in a company led by Brigham Young. William Clayton, a great singer and member of that company, was concerned about his wife back home giving birth. Born out of Clayton’s desire to bouy up himself and the Saints, he wrote the great ballad Come, Come Ye Saints, which became the iconic pioneer prayer. In my opinion, that song is THE Latter Day Saint anthem, as meaningful to the history of the Church of Latter Day Saints as the national Anthem is to America. It was such a beacon of strength to the pioneers. And can be to us as well.

But with joy, wend your way. This is my song!

Enjoy the 24th with your family.

And hopefully enjoy some good food! As for me and my house, we are making ice cream.

1 comment:

Amanda Borden said...

I agree. I loved your talk on Sunday BTW!!
great job. See you Tonight!


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