Orson Scott Card: Songs affirm our heritage

Published: Thursday, Jan. 29 2009 12:07 a.m. MST

One night last week, my wife was preparing her seminary lesson for the morning. "In all your thousands of MP3s," she asked me, "do you happen to have a recording of 'In My Father's House Are Many Mansions'?"

Obviously, she was teaching from the 14th chapter of John: "In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you."

Well, it wasn't going to be a problem. I have hundreds and hundreds of recordings by the Tabernacle Choir and various soloists — not to mention hundreds more MP3s of sacred music by non-Mormon groups.

Five minutes later, I was at Amazon.com, looking for a recording we might download. At first I was pleased to find dozens of MP3s — including one by Elvis.

Then I was not so pleased — it was the wrong song. Well, it's hardly a surprise that somebody else had set that scripture to music — but this other version was mostly written by a lyricist, with very little of the scripture in it.

What surprised me and my wife was that it was the only recorded version of the song that we could find — on Amazon or by Googling. Not even the Deseret Book Web site seemed to recognize the existence of the song.

This despite the fact that when we Googled "Many Mansions," one of the listings that came up was a recording by George Dyer, citing Deseret Book and saying that Dyer had "recently" recorded the song with the Tabernacle Choir.

Unfortunately, the quotation that Google had found was from an old listing and referred to his debut album; now when you click on the link from LDS Music World (www.ldsmusicworld.com/artists/george_dyer.html), you get taken to his most recent album, which does not have that song. And Deseret Book does not offer any of the earlier albums on its Web site.

So I went back to Amazon, searched on George Dyer's name and came up with three albums I could buy through third-party sellers. Alas, none of them listed the songs they contained, so I gave up and ordered all of them. I sure hope I like his voice.

This is a song my wife and I grew up with. We're both in our 50s, and when we were young, choirs and soloists sang it all the time.

In fact, I grew up in the home of a church soloist — my mother. Operatically trained, her only musical performances were at church events, mostly sacrament meetings.

"In My Father's House Are Many Mansions" was in her repertoire, along with demanding solo pieces like "O Divine Redeemer," "The Lost Chord," "The Holy City" and, at Christmastime, "O Holy Night."

From earliest childhood I remember standing beside the piano, joining my voice to hers (it went more smoothly after I learned how to read). It was thrilling to feel as if I was part of the glorious sound when, in "The Holy City," her voice soared during the chorus of "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, lift up your gates and sing!"

My mother stopped singing years ago, without enough warning for us to make sure we had recordings of her voice. Her standards were so high that when, with age, her vocal cords could no longer produce a sound that she could be proud of, she wouldn't sing at all.

It broke my heart. In vain did I remind her of the career of Rosemary Clooney.

"Yes, she's still singing," my mom said, "but she sounds awful."

"No," I said, "she still understands how to find the heart of a song."

"Not good enough," came the answer.

So all I have are memories — which is, I suppose, what my mother wanted: to make sure we only remembered a voice that could fill a room and lift up the roof — just a little — to make sure the song could be heard in heaven.

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