One of the hymns I heard often as a child captured my imagination as the beautiful hymn text of George Manwaring created a vivid picture in my mind:
Oh, how lovely was the morning!
Radiant beamed the sun above.
Bees were humming, sweet birds singing,
Music ringing through the grove.
How I loved to sing the story of young Joseph Smith and the first vision. The act of singing those words allowed the spirit to testify to me of the reality of this event. For many decades “Oh, How Lovely Was the Morning” was one of my favorite hymns. (In the 1985 LDS hymnal, the original title “Joseph Smith’s First Prayer” was restored.) Years later, it occurred to me that our congregations didn’t sing this hymn nearly as often as before, and even when it was sung it seemed that we hurriedly marched through it without taking time to feel the words and the truth of the story, much to my disappointment.
In time, I was fortunate to be the choir director in a ward with an unusually large group of strong female singers, so I decided to arrange a hymn with four women’s parts, to be sung in Sacrament meeting. One Sunday as I sat on my piano bench, thumbing through the pages of our hymnal to select a song to arrange. When I came to “Joseph Smith’s First Prayer” I felt a sudden strong desire—not to merely arrange the existing hymn, but to write completely new music for the text. I chose to call my version of the song “Oh How Lovely Was the Morning” in order to distinguish it from the original hymn.
To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with the music of the original version. As I indicated above, I always loved that song. My hope in writing new music to a familiar hymn text is that, perhaps, hearing the familiar words set to different music, we’ll come to appreciate the beauty of the story once again. This version is certainly not meant to replace an old, beloved hymn. Rather, I pray that it will help us hear the story of the Joseph’s first vision in a fresh new way, increasing our appreciation of the restoration of the gospel as we celebrate the 200th year of that glorious event.
*This song is part of “Let the Morning Come,” a musical celebration of Joseph Smith and the restoration, by Janice Kapp Perry, Steven Kapp Perry, and Lynne Perry Christofferson. Songbook, script, and recording available at janicekappperry.com.
You may also enjoy the following article and song by the same author: https://latterdaysaintmag.com/hallowed-ground-the-sacred-path-of-the-prophet-joseph/