Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The True Story of the White Pilgrim

See the sheet music here!

No, "Turn White Pilgrim" (Benjamin's Song) is not a racist song!  In fact, my personal opinion is that the title is probably meant to have a comma in it, which changes the meaning a little... "Turn, White Pilgrim". 

When Linda Brown gave me Benjamin's Song, we were all a little perplexed about the meaning of the title, being that those three words were never used in the lyrics.  After some research, Linda came up with the true story of the White Pilgrim. 

Basically, Joseph Thomas, the "White Pilgrim" was a traveling revival minister in the Eastern States in the early 1800s.  He rode from town to town on his white horse, wearing all white, instead of the customary black minister frock coat.  You can read all about it here.

Other fascinating Benjamin Brown reads:

His journal can be found online.
A short online biography.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Benjamin's Song - Part 3 LAST ONE!

See the sheet music here!

The conclusion (finally, I KNOW!) to the story of how I REALLY started arranging music.

That RS function was the first time that Linda had heard Benjamin's Song performed.  It is my understanding that she loved it.  So much that she wanted to take it to a professional recording studio to have it recorded for posterity.  Linda scheduled it for Spring Break, when Rebecca would be in town visiting for Easter.  Rebecca was to play the piano for the recording, her being the one who started this whole thing in the first place, and the one who is Benjamin's posterity.  Bob was invited to come sing for the recording as well.  I was thrilled to be asked to come along and help Rebecca and Bob rehearse, being as Rebecca had never worked with Bob or the arrangement before.

It was just 2 weeks before the recording studio date when Bob and I decided to rehearse again just to make sure we had it.  It was then that I realized that I didn't know that Linda and Rebecca intended to have all 10 verses recorded in lieu of the version we did for the Stake RS function which was only 4 out of the 10 verses. 

This posed an ENORMOUS new set of challenges...HOLY COW!!  If they did 10 verses like that over and over again....that would get pretty redundant.  That's when I urged Linda and Rebecca to consider making the hymn a 5 verse hymn like I had originally heard it in my head.  They immediately agreed.

I told Rebecca to come up with the complete melody for the whole hymn and get it to me ASAP...I mean seriously!!  The recording studio date was looming only 2 weeks away...less, even, I think.  Linda showed up at my doorstep the next morning, melody in hand.  I was worried that the accompaniment wouldn't come as easily as it had before, but I sat down with it immediately and the same amazing experience happened yet again.  I heard exactly how it was supposed to sound and it was childishly easy.  This time, I was prepared and I wrote it down immediately.  

We went to the recording studio on April 8, 2010.  This place in Stockton,
Studio C was AWESOME!!  The studio had a large room with a GORGEOUS black Steinway grand piano.  The whole process took about 2.5 hours.  It was amazing what Sam, our recording engineer was able to do with his fancy-schmancy equipment. 
We all joked in the studio that everyone involved in this project is now family.  I, however was feeling something less than joking.  That whole day, I felt a weird something connecting me to this Benjamin Brown...something more than just a really cool song.  Something more than these wonderful friends Linda, Rebecca, Rex, and Bob. 

I decided to dig further the next day to see if there is any connection in our family trees that would make us even remotely related.  It was a longshot because I wasn't aware of any early Latter-Day Saint heritage on either side of my family, what with both of my parents having joined the Church together as newlyweds in the early 1970s. 

Sure enough, I received word from
my favorite Uncle Kent that, through marriage, Benjamin Brown IS related to me!!  I mean...NO WAY!!  Benjamin's great-grandfather John Brown married a woman named Abigail Randall who is my first cousin 10 times removed.  So if we do the math right, then Benjamin Brown...through my first cousin 7 times removed.  I KNEW IT!!! 

But on a serious note...this whole experience has had an unimaginable impact on me and my family.  I never before thought that I would be able to arrange music like this.  It has been an honor and a privilege to be able to work with the Brown family on such an inspiring project so dear to their family...and now mine!

A photo of Benjamin (can you see the family resemblance?!?!):

I don't think Rex and Linda have put me in their will yet... 

Benjamin's Song - Part 2

See the sheet music here!

The continuing story of how I REALLY started arranging music.  

Let's pick up at the part where Linda Brown asked if I (who had never, to date, ever considered the idea of arranging/composing) would help arrange an original song written by both a beloved daughter and great-grandfather.

NOT ON YOUR LIFE, LINDA!  I think I laughed at her.  This conversation happened over two years ago so the details are a little fuzzy, but I'm certain there was laughing.  Followed, of course, by my explaining my incompetence to her and assuring her she had the wrong gal for the job. ..something about barking up the wrong tree..

I told her I'd give it ONE shot (that was generous)...for two reasons.  #1: Linda is one of my dearest friends.  #2: I'm a sucker for cool family history stories, so something about this account piqued my interest.

I took her daughter's handwritten music home with me and didn't look at it until the following Sunday morning when I had a few free moments to sit at the piano.  I played through Rebecca's creation and decided that, while the melody was good, and clearly inspired, it needed a little something for an accompaniment. 

LINDA, this is your ONE shot...don't tell me I didn't try.  Not knowing what to do, I simply put my fingers on the keyboard and started...playing...

What happened next was totally indescribable. 

I started to play, and even before I played each note, I could hear in my head what was supposed to happen next...maybe a full measure ahead of time.  And it was GORGEOUS!  Of course, I've heard way better stuff come out of the famous greats like Mack Wilberg, but coming from me...I knew there was no way that actually came from my brain. 

Also, I heard more to the song that Rebecca hadn't included.  When Rebecca copied down Benjamin's lyrics, she figured it was a 10-verse hymn that is very short; like a 2-liner like "Upon the Cross of Calvary"...but the way I heard it was really a 5-verse hymn in the traditional format with 4 lines.  But I didn't have the heart to mention it to Linda when I went to call would seem ungracious and presumptuous of me, so I left that info out...besides, what do I know?!  I'm not a professional composer/arranger!  Nonetheless, I finished the song totally overcome and immediately ran to the phone to call Linda.

"WHO IS THIS BENJAMIN BROWN CHARACTER?!"  I had to know.  I had an urgent need to get to know this man.  Linda related a few things they had learned about him from his journal.  Later that day, Rex (Benjamin's great-great grandson) brought with him to church, my own personal copy of Benjamin's journal.  Over the next couple days, I marvelled at what an amazing man Benjamin was.  I felt incredibly honored to have been asked to participate in this journey with the Browns.

The biggest task was to get what I heard in my head written down on paper so I could rehearse it with my singer and perform it, less than 2 weeks away!  It's one thing to hear music in your head and spit it out onto the piano, but ENTIRELY another to remember what it is that you did a day or two later and write it down. 

It was enormously taxing trying to figure out how to actually write stuff down...all that music theory I never really paid attention to taking piano lessons all those years ago, and cutting all those Music Theory classes at Ricks College...nope, not helping too much.  Which way do the stems go?  Incomplete measures, eighth note bars, tied notes, just to mention a few.  Key changes?  How in the world am I going to come up with a keychange that sounds anything close to Mack Wilberg's amazing keychanges?? 

In just a couple days, I came up with my finished product and was ready to rehearse it with our singer, Bob Green, a member of our ward...who only recently discovered that he is related to Linda Brown by marriage through one of his cousins.  Kind of a family project...except for me.  But I did think it pretty amazing that I was able to finish this arrangement in only a couple days and still take care of the kids, teach piano lessons all afternoon, etc.  It really was nothing short of a miracle. 

Bob and I rehearsed and then performed Benjamin's Song, "Turn White Pilgrim" at our Stake Relief Society function on Saturday, January 23, 2010.  Listening to Bob sing, I could see in my mind's eye, Benjamin Brown singing...pleading with his family to go with him to Zion.  

Turn White Pilgrim - by Benjamin Brown

Will you go to the land where Patriarch died,
Where the souls of the blessed are free?
Will you go with saints to the house of the Lord,
To Zion's bright mansions with me?
Where prophets, apostles, and high priests rejoice,
Where the pillar of glory shall stand;
Where the sons and daughters of God shall rejoice
In a perfectly glorious band.

Where the cloud rests by day and the pillar by night,
And its glory shall be a defense;
Where the righteous shall gather and greatly rejoice
For in Zion salvation is strength;
Her walls are salvation her gates are all praise,
For judgement her prophets all stand;
Her priests are exactors of sweet righteousness,
At the courts of fair Zion they stand.

Where the cause of the widow and orphan is heard,
And they execute truth in their gates;
For deception is fallen and truth takes her stand,
And the poor in their rights they instate;
Then come, O my people, thus saith the Lord;
Come forth from confusion and strife;
Embrace the pure Gospel of Jesus your Lord,
Escape ye and flee for your life.

O why will you tarry, o why will you stay,
What comfort in Babylons found?
She sinks like a millstone cast into the sea,
The decree is she must be cast down;
Then why my relations, o why not believe?
Repent ye and then be baptized,
For remission of sins as old Peter has said
And the spirit you then shall receive.

These signs then shall follow saith Jesus my Lord,
And to this the apostles respond;
And the former day Saints with the latter accord,
And in witness and spirit abound
The banner in Zion is waving for you,
And the Elders proclaiming abroad;
These are the last days as the signs plainly show,
Come obey your Redeemer and Lord.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Benjamin's Song - Part 1

Check out the song itself here!

This is the story of how I REALLY started arranging music. 

First, let me introduce you to the FABULOUS Rex and Linda Brown. 

When we moved into the Hidden Lake Ward in 2002, I became acquainted with Rex and Linda's daughter, Rebecca, who was still in high school at the time.  I didn't really get to know her until just recently when Linda asked if I would help her and her now grown-up daughter arrange an original song.  In order to properly tell this amazing story, I have invited Rebecca Brown Wright to tell the beginning.  My part of the story doesn't start until halfway through... heeeeere's REBECCA!!!....

"Benjamin Brown, my great-great-great grandfather, is a bit of a legend in our family history.  My dad would occasionally read to us from his copy of Benjamin's account of his life.  Benjamin experienced all sorts of miracles and suffered all kinds of physical, emotional, and spiritual hardships. 

The one experience that seemed to impress my brothers and me the most was when Benjamin was attacked by a mob for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.  A mob of men were angry with him for preaching in their town, and they followed him with the intent to kill.  They beat him, and one man even broke his ribs by jumping on his chest with his knees.  I am certain he would have died, as that seemed to be the mob's intention, had he not thought smart.  After struggling to get away, he thought to act as if he were dead.  He lay as still as possible, and in the darkness of the night, the men believed him to be dead.  Satisfied, they left him alone.  Knowing this story of such bravery for sharing truth, even when an actual life is in danger, I have always admired Benjamin. 

One day, my mom and I visited the LDS Church History Library in downtown Salt Lake City.  On a whim, I typed Benjamin's name into the database.  Many results came up.  Some -- like the journal my dad had a copy of -- I expected.  But there was one entry that intrigued me.  It was titled "Song."

I asked if I could see the song, and after storing all my belongings in a locker and signing my name and information, I was able to sit down and hold a poem written in Benjamin's own hand.  I wasn't sure why it was categorized as a song because there was no music anywhere to be seen -- just a poem written to his relatives.  The document was too fragile to be photocopied, so I sat down and began to copy the words onto a piece of paper.

Several verses into the song, my hand writing at a somewhat steady tempo, I started to hear a melody.  "That's interesting," I thought, and continued copying.  The melody became louder and louder until I realized, "Hey!  I should write this down!"  I have never composed music, and I do not sing, but from my years of piano teaching, I had developed an ear for the intervals of (or distance between) notes.  I didn't know on what note the melody should begin, but I knew the intervals that needed to be between each note.

I came home, found the correct starting note on the piano, and wrote the melody.

And then I was done.  I didn't know what else to do with it.  I couldn't make it pretty or presentable.  My mom wanted the song to be performed at a church meeting in California, so she asked me to do what I could with the arrangement, and she would find somebody to play it.  I knew my work on the song was done, however.  I threw out a really awful accompaniment, and gave it to my mom, knowing with a sure knowledge that whoever she found to play the song was going to be inspired to arrange it to the beauty it needed to be arranged.

When she told me she had found Elizabeth to play the song, I told her to give Elizabeth free license with the piece.  Her only instruction was to leave the melody as is, since I believe it was a direct inspiration.  Elizabeth told my mom she wouldn't dare touch any of it, but I wanted her to arrange the piece.  She seemed to have little confidence in her abilities, but without even knowing her all that well, I had complete trust that she was the right person for the job.  I was stunned -- blown away -- by the arrangement Elizabeth was able to put together.  And as time went on and she polished the arrangement up, it became more and more beautiful. 

Any time people have heard it, they have been moved.  The piece is beautiful, the words are powerful, and for some reason it was meant to come together at this time and place."