Cover of album “Homeward Bound” by Deutsche Grammophon
This past Sunday afternoon I came across a piece of music that moved me to tears. I don’t get emotional often, so I was struck by the overwhelming power this song has, which I believe is the result of an exquisitely crafted resonance of lyric, melody, arrangement, and vocal talent combined in perfect harmony. It’s one of those songs that seems to reach down into the deepest parts of my experience and speak to me on a level usually untapped. I immediately took a closer look at the song, trying to unpack its meaning, and why it moves me so. I hope to share some of the beauty that I found.
The song’s title is “Homeward Bound.” No, not that one, by Simon & Garfunkel. While a good song, it’s not that kind of song. Rather, the song I heard is by the composer Marta Keen Thompson, who currently lives in Las Vegas. She wrote the lyrics and music to this song, and this seems to be her most well-known composition. Marta wrote some about her song, and who has performed it, on a Facebook page dedicated to the song: [Read more…]
San Joaquin Delta College Hellenic Dancers doing the Greek Syrtos dance at the school's new campus dedication in 1977. They wear the traditional Greek folk dance costume. A musician is playing a Thracian gaida in the center of the circle, leading the dance. Used with permission.
The ancient choruses, dances, and songs of the dithyramb of Greece displayed the familiar pattern of a dignified, circular dance around the altar of Dionysus in the theater’s orchestra. In fact, the term orchestra originally meant the circular dancing place of the theater. In addition, the terms carole and chorus, also originally Greek, meant a sacred ring dance, men and women holding each others hands [other related English words are chorale, choir, and choreography]. LDS scholar, Dr. Hugh Nibley, reminds us that the creation was often acted out in these Greek dance dramas:
The Greek play has a chorus. Well what does chorus mean? It’s a ring dance; it’s a circle. Same as our word curve; Latin: curvus; going around. The chorus sings, and the chorus of the muses sings the poiema, the creation song . . . When they sing together, it’s the poiema, the song of the creation. It’s a glorious thing. It’s a round dance like the Egyptian maypole.
Nibley takes it one step further to explain that all the arts originated from the ancient temple dramas. “So poetry, music, and dance,” he tells us, “go out to the world from the temple-called by the Greeks the Mouseion, the shrine of the Muses.” Again he states that, “All the arts and sciences began at the temple. Dance, music, architecture, sculpture, drama, and so forth-they all go back to the temple.” Kraus supports this claim of a ritualistic connection between the arts when he informs us that Native American ceremonies and sacred dances are “part of an elaborate drama which embraces all the arts.”
The more one learns about the arts, the more one is convinced of Nibley’s stunning summation.
I want to expand a bit more on the traditional Greek dance forms, and share some more interesting details I’ve learned about these ancient practices that still are continued today. [Read more…]
Hezekiah Reopens the Temple, by T. C. Ducdale. From the Ensign, March 1982, 81 (inside back cover)
A friend of mine passed along this intriguing painting found in the Ensign of March 1982 (pg. 81, inside back cover). It is entitled “Hezediah Reopens the Temple” by T. C. Ducdale.
It depicts the scene from 2 Chronicles 29 when King Hezekiah gathered together the Levites, told them to sanctify themselves, and commissioned them to cleanse the temple and restore it, and remove all idolatry from it. When this was done, a celebration occurred in which burnt offerings were made on the altar, and different instruments were given to the Levites to make song and praise to the Lord. All rejoiced. The Levites are wearing the sacred garments prescribed to them for service in the temple (Ex. 28:39–40). The High Priest also wore these same garments on the Day of Atonement, when he made an offering in the Holy of Holies (Lev. 16:4).
Most people in the Church by now are probably familiar with the hymn that Janice Kapp Perry wrote a couple of months ago to accompany a poem written by President Hinckley. President Hinckley published his poem in the May 1988 Ensign article entitled, “The Empty Tomb Bore Testimony,” but he notes that he penned the words many years previous to that at a friend’s funeral.
If you’ve received an email about the hymn you might already know the story behind it. If not, head over to Meridian Magazine which has an article posted detailing the creation of this hymn, including links to the sheet music. The circumstances surrounding the production of the hymn are certainly a “tender mercy” of the Lord, as Janice Kapp Perry describes it. She received official approval of the arranged hymn in the mail from President Hinckley the day after his death.
I think this hymn epitomizes the LDS belief and feelings surrounding mortal death. To members of the LDS Church death is nothing to fear, but a passing into and a beginning of a different stage of our existence. It is progression. Death is not the end, but a beginning of greater things! These doctrines and principles could not be taught more clearly and purely than in the Lord’s temples which dot the earth today. President Hinckley was pivotal in nearly tripling the number of these sacred edifices around the world.
This hymn was sung by the Tabernacle Choir at President Hinckley’s funeral (video link). Since then, Janice Kapp Perry has just recently produced vocal and instrumental recordings of the song with Prime Recordings, Inc. These recordings are very well done. She has made them freely available for all, so I have posted the vocal here for your listening:
What Is This Thing That Men Call Death?
Words by Gordon B. Hinckley, Music by Janice Kapp Perry
What is this thing that men call death,
This quiet passing in the night?
’Tis not the end, but genesis
Of better worlds and greater light.
O God, touch Thou my aching heart,
And calm my troubled, haunting fears.
Let hope and faith, transcendent, pure,
Give strength and peace beyond my tears.
There is no death, but only change
With recompense for victory won;
The gift of Him who loved all men,
The Son of God, the Holy One.