This daily feature is an introduction to a full book review by George L. Mitton. To read the full text of this review, follow the link below.
Michael Hicks has written what is surely the most complete history and discussion of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Hicks is a professor of music at Brigham Young University and the author of a notable earlier book that provided a general history of music in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The first study may be seen as an informative backdrop to this one. It included a concise and insightful chapter on the Choir and its place in Mormon music, which is greatly magnified by the present work. Hicks has an engaging style to be appreciated both by the specialist and general reader. Writing from a vantage point where much historical documentation is available on the subject, he shows skill also in finding obscure sources that offer enriching detail. His notes provide a very full bibliography.
Hicks begins his study with a survey of early Mormon efforts at forming choirs, first in Kirtland. Ohio, and later in Nauvoo, Illinois. These were organized under difficult circumstances and from small populations. That effort reflected the intense religious environment and excitement in which they were formed. It occurred at a time, Hicks explains, when there was great disagreement among other churches as to whether music was appropriate at all. Amid this reluctance came the Prophet Joseph Smith and Mormon scripture, declaring that music was integral to worship. An early revelation to the Prophet directed his wife, Emma Smith, to compile a book of hymns to be used by the Church, in which the Lord declared that "the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads" (D&C 25:12). Hicks notes that the Book of Mormon opens with a prophetic vision in which God was seen on his throne "surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God," while elsewhere the righteous are promised that they will "dwell in the presence of God...to sing ceaseless praises with the choirs above". It is not much of a leap then for Latter-day Saints to regard the reverent earthly choir as now literally joining the angels in their worshipful singing.