This article originally appeared in Vol.50, No.1 (2003) of Pioneer Magazine.
by Janet Peterson
Called the “tithing” child by his father, Evan Stephens was the tenth child of a Welsh family that had already embraced The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
He was born on June 28th, 1854, in Pencader, Wales. When Evan was five years old, the Stephens family made the journey to Zion and settled in Willard, Utah. Soon Evan joined the ward choir and was so thrilled with the experience that he asked to take a music book home with him. With this book in hand, he taught himself to read, play, and write music. Though as a young man he had to labor as a herd boy, farmhand, woodcutter, hod carrier, and railway section hand, Evan’s life was devoted to music.
When his older brother bought a four-octave organ, Evan eagerly learned to play it without instruction. With this instrument, he experimented with composing complicated works. He later studied organ with Joseph J, Baynes, the Tabernacle organist. A dream was realized for Evan when he enrolled at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. 4 A faculty member at the University of Deseret for seventeen years, Evan taught thousands of choral, vocal, opera, and organ students. He loved teaching young people and wrote a hymn, especially for the youth of the Church, the story of which is as follows. Evan hiked up City Creek Canyon and pondered what President Joseph F. Smith had said in his address on “The Third and Fourth Generations.” While sitting on a stream bank, he “observed how the rock he was resting on remained firm despite the pressure of the rushing waters.” Words came rapidly to his mind, and he wrote the lyrics of the stirring song ‘True to the Faith.” Then ruling off a few staves of music on a piece of paper, he composed the music. The song was first sung at the general Sunday School conference in 1905, and on the original copy was written ‘Lovingly dedicated to my 20,000 pupils of Zion.”
In 1890, Evan was named conductor of the tabernacle choir and served in that capacity for twenty-six years. Evan’s leadership garnered the choir second prize at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, for which they received $1,000, and he, a gold medal.6 During his tenure, he more than doubled the size of the choir and brought it into national prominence.
A prolific composer, Evan penned nearly ninety hymns, as well as writing anthems, cantatas, operas, vocal solos, duets, trios, and quartets.? He served on the General Church Music Committee which compiled The Latter-day Saints’ Psalmody. To help Utahans celebrate the long-awaited granting of statehood he composed “Utah, We Love Thee,” sung by a thousand children in a Tabernacle program.8
Evan loved spending time in the mountains, especially near Brighton. J, Spencer Cornwall recalls hiking with him to a certain spot, where Evan would lead an imaginary choir of pines. His many happy hours spent in the nearby canyons prompted him to write with Emmeline B. Wells the hymn “Our Mountain Home, So Dear.”
Never married, Evan Stephens died on 27 October 1930, in Salt Lake City.
Eighteen of Evan Stephens’s hymns are included in our current hymnal. He composed the following:
- “What Was Witnessed in the Heavens?”(music)
- “The Voice of God Again Is Heard”(text and music)
- “We Ever Pray for Thee” (text, musical adaptation)
- “Our Mountain Home, So Dear” (music)
- “For the Strength of the Hills” (music)
- “Lo, the Mighty God Appearing!” (music)
- “Raise Your Voices to the Lord” (text and music)
- “Praise Ye the Lord” (music)
- “Father, Thy Children to Thee Now Raise” (text and music)
- “Ye Simple Souls Who Stray” (music)
- “Lean on My Ample Arm” (music)
- “In Remembrance of Thy Suffering” (text and music)
- “Today, While the Sun Shines” (music)
- “Awake, Ye Saints of God, Awake!” (music)
- “Let Us All Press On” (text and music)
- “True to the Faith” (text and music)
- “See, the Mighty Angel Flying” (music)
- “O Home Beloved” (text)
- Spencer Cornwall Stories of Our Mormon Hymns (Salt Ltipe City: Deseret Book, 1975), 173.
- Carol Cornwall Madsen, “Our Heritage of Hymns, ” New Era, Noe. 1975, 12,
- Cornwall, 755.
- Wendell J. Ashton, “Evan Stephens: Monarch in Mormon Music, ” Pioneer, Winter 1995, 23.
- Madsen, 4.
- Pat Graham, “Maying Music for the Church, ” Friend, OcL 1987, 36.
- Gerald L. Homer, ”George Careless/ in Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint History, ed. Arnold K. Garr, Donald 0. Cannon, and Richard O. Cowan (Salt Lal(e City: Deseret Book, 2000), 1192.
- Ashton, 23.