The Joy of Pioneer Music

This article originally appeared in Vol.50, No.1 (2003) of Pioneer Magazine.

by Louis Pickett

As the year’s pass, I often think back on the happy times of my youth. In doing so I recall one of the fondest memories I have of my father. As the family would travel, whether in a horse-drawn wagon to and from the fields or in the family automobile, he would spontaneously break forth in singing some of his favorite songs. One of these would invariably be “Barney Google.” Even though I haven’t heard the song for many years, I can still recall the nonsensical lyrics;

Barney Google with the goo, goo, googly eye.
Barney Google with a wife three times his size.
She sued Barney for divorce, Now he’s living with his horse!
Barney Google with the goo, goo, googly eye.

The songs my father sang were favorites from his youth and some that were probably sung by his father. Those songs have been passed down to my children with additional ones that were popular as I was growing up. Because we were a church-going family, it was natural that hymns were among the songs we sang as well. The practice of singing as a family as we work, play, and travel is consistent with the direction given by the First Presidency in the preface to the current Church hymnbook. They instruct us that “Ours is a hymnbook for the home as well as for the meetinghouse. We hope the hymnbook will take a prominent place among the scriptures and other religious books in our homes. The hymns can bring families a spirit of beauty and peace and can inspire love and unity among family members.”

It is recorded that was often present when the pioneers finished their labors of a long and arduous day on the trail. The song “Come, Come, Ye Saints” by William Clayton became a favorite that lifted their spirits, inspired them, and urged them on.

Several of the early members of the LDS church were prolific composers. Songs written by Parley P Pratt, William W Phelps, Eliza R. Snow, and others were also sung on the way to Zion. Some of those hymns such as “O My Father,” “Now Let Us Rejoice,” and “The Spirit of God” are among my favorites.

Music is one of the most effective ways to teach and inspire. Hymns in particular deliver a powerful message and invite the Spirit. A well-remembered talk given by Elder Boyd K. Packer and published in the January 1974 Ensign gives a formula for removing bad or evil thoughts from our minds. He suggested that we memorize a favorite hymn that has uplifting words and reverent music. This hymn can be called forth any time a bad thought introduces itself in our minds. The lyrics of the hymn will push away and replace the bad thought.

Confucius believed that music and government go hand in hand and that music rises from the human heart. When the emotions are touched, they are often expressed in sounds, and when the sounds take definite forms, we have music. He believed that the country (and perhaps here we could add church and family) that develops the finest music, the grandest poetry, and the noblest moral ideals will always yield the greatest power in the world.

As the Sons of Utah Pioneers, we honor those noble men and women who, in addition to their many other contributions, left a legacy of fine music and high moral ideals to bless our lives today.

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