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Evan Stephens

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Evan Stephens (June 28, 1854 – October 27, 1930) was a Latter-day Saint composer and hymn writer. He was the director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for 16 years.

Early life and family

Stephens was born at Pencader, Wales. Shortly after his birth his mother carried him on her back as she went out to earn money to send to Utah to help build the Salt Lake Temple. He moved with his family to Utah Territory when he was twelve.[1]

Brother Stephens never married due to complicated events in his life. However, he was however sealed to two women. The first was his fiancée, but she died in a freak accident while in a stage performance. It appears that on her death bed she made Brother Stephens promise to commit his whole heart to his musical work. To understand his actions on this regard, we need to remember his Welsh background, and that devoting yourself wholeheartedly to art in memory of a departed love is a common Welsh practice.

Some of Brother Stephens poems clearly reflect the depth to which this loss of the woman he loved so deeply hurt him. His poem "Seek to Forget" reflects this, a view that is supported by his friend George Pyper.[2]

The second sealing of Evan Stephens was to Sarah Daniels. Brother Stephens had wanted to marry Sarah but she was not willing to join the Church and he wanted to serve as a good example of marrying in the faith to the youth of the church. Sarah worked as Brother Stephens housekeeper, but they made sure to always maintain proper distance and normally had other relatives living in the house so no one would ever accuse them of inproper relations. After Brother Stephens' death she did join the church, and was sealed to Brother Stephens with the approval of Heber J. Grant who was at that point president of the church.

Teaching music

From 1885 to 1900 Stephens directed the teaching of music at the University of Utah.[3] Stephens also served as the first public school music supervisor in Utah.

Musical writings

In 1899 the Missionary Song Book edited by Stephens was distributed in the Southern States Mission.[4]

In the 1927 English LDS Hymnbook there were 84 hymns written by Evan Stephens.[5]

His works in the 1985 English language edition of the Latter-day Saint hymnal are:

  • #11 "What Was Witnessed in the Heavens" (music),
  • #17 "Awake, Ye Saints of God, Awake!" (music),
  • #18 "The Voice of God Again is Heard" (words and music),
  • #23 "We Ever Pray for Thee" (adaptation of text and music by H. A. Tuckett),
  • #33 "Our Mountain Home So Dear" (music),
  • #35 "For the Strength of the Hills" (music),
  • #55 "Lo, the Mighty God Appearing!" (music),
  • #61 "Raise Your Voices to the Lord'" (words and music),
  • #74 "Praise Ye the Lord" (music),
  • #91 "Father thy Children to Thee Now Raise" (words and music),
  • #118 "Ye Simple Souls who Stray" (music),
  • #120 "Lean on My Ample Arm" (music),
  • #183 "In Remembrance of Thy Suffering" (words and music),
  • #243 "Let Us All Press On" (words and music),
  • #254 "True to the Faith" (words and music),
  • #330 "See The Mighty Angel Flying" (music), and
  • #337 "O Home Beloved" (words).

He wrote several other hymns that have never been published.

Included among his works is Utah, We Love Thee (also sometimes referred to as Land of the Mountains High) which became the official State Song of Utah in 1937. In 2003 it was designated the official State Hymn, and a new state song was named.

Directing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Under Evan Stephens' direction the size of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir increased from 125 members to over 300.[6]

Stephens was also the director of the choir who moved it into the field of performing concerts and not just for religious celebrations.[7]

It was under Stephens' direction that the choir made its first tours outside of Utah. It also gave its first concert for the President of the United States.

For part of the time that Stephens was director of the Tabernacle Choir, he held the title of president with two counselors.[8]

Stephens was also the first man employed as full time choir director. This occurred in 1895. Prior to this the director of the choir had been viewed as a part time office, who although given a stipend for his service, was expected to earn his main employ by other methods. At this time the leaders of the church decided to make the position of choir director full time and doubled Stephens' salary.[9]

Sources

  1. Cornwall, J. Spencer. "The Story of Our Mormon Hymns" Enlarged Fourth Edition, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1975) p. 155.
  2. [http://farms.byu.edu/publications/review/?vol=10&num=1&id=280 Rhett S. James and George L. Milton A Response to D. Michale Quinn's Homosexual Distortion of Latter-day Saint History in FARMS Review Vol. 10, Issue 1]
  3. Wales on Britannia: Facts About Wales & the Welsh
  4. Hicks, Michael. Mormonism and Music. p. 129
  5. Bergman, Ray L. The Children Sang: The Life and Music of Evan Stephens with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. (Salt Lake City: Northwest Publishing Inc., 1992) p. v
  6. LDS Newsroom - Timeline, lds.org, accessed 2008-03-29.
  7. Mark David Porcaro, p. 20 "The Secularization of the Repertoire of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, 1949–1992", Ph.D. dissertation, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2006.
  8. Conference Report, April 1904, p. 75.
  9. Bergman, Ray L. The Children Sang: The Life and Music of Evan Stepens with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. (Salt Lake City: Northwest Publishing Incorporated, 1992) p. 135.

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