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Tad Walch: Original 'Poor Wayfaring Man' had different tune

Published: Saturday, Oct. 11 2008 12:05 a.m. MDT

PROVO, Utah — New research has recovered the more upbeat tune John Taylor

used when he sang "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief" to Joseph Smith just before

the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was murdered on

June 27, 1844.

The tune had been lost to history. For 140 years, church members have

sung the song to a different tune, one commissioned by Taylor

himself.A year before President Taylor died in 1887, he sang the song for

composer Ebenezer Beesley the way he sang it at Carthage jail in Illinois before

a mob stormed the jail and shot and killed Smith and his brother Hyrum and

wounded Taylor and Willard Richards.Beesley recorded the tune in his choir book. Then he composed a

different one for the song for a new hymn book commissioned for the church by

Taylor, and Beesley's arrangement is the only one known to generations of

Latter-day Saints.A Taylor descendant recently uncovered the Beesley choir book, and

historian Jeffrey N. Walker presented his arrangement of the song at a church history symposium on Taylor held

Friday at Brigham Young University.

A quartet that included Walker's son performed the song at the

conference. Taylor's tune wouldn't be completely unfamiliar to Latter-day

Saints, but it is more upbeat and some notes have a distinct Irish-Celtic

sound."We heard a hymn that changed us a bit," Walker said after the

performance, "that transported us back to a day in Carthage, amongst the leaders

of the church as they contemplated the role that the church would have through

the world, and while that day (the mob) may have taken two of the greatest who

have ever lived, John was there (as) more than just a recorder, he was there to

capture the essence of the day."The Smiths were in jail on a charge of treason based on the affidavit

of two men whose word, according to Taylor, wasn't worth 5 cents. Taylor and

Richards joined them for support, and on the afternoon the brothers died, Taylor

sang "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief."Hyrum Smith so liked the song that he asked Taylor to sing it a second

time. Taylor tried to decline because of the gloomy mood — he later called it "a

remarkable depression of spirits" — in the second-story room of the jail but

Hyrum Smith insisted, telling Taylor he'd get the spirit of it once he began.

Those facts endear the recovered tune to Walker.

"I like it because John Taylor sang it that way," Walker said. "I like

it also that Hyrum liked it."The song began as a poem written by English poet James Montgomery

during two chilly, dreary trips in horse-drawn carriages in England in December

1826. Titled "The Stranger and His Friend," Montgomery didn't expect the poem to

become a hymn.A New York preacher named George Coles set the poem to music, to a tune

he named Duane Street after the address of one of his churches. Taylor learned

the hymn in England on a mission and included it in a Mormon hymnal published

there in 1840 under his direction and that of Brigham Young and Parley P. Pratt.

Pratt was the missionary who converted Taylor. Young would succeed Joseph Smith

as church president, and Taylor would follow Young as the church's third

president.

The hymnal didn't include music or even the name of a tune, only

Montgomery's lyrics. Taylor sang it to a different tune than Duane Street. The

new song with Taylor's tune had been introduced in Nauvoo, Ill., before the

martyrdom of the Smiths. The hymnal included all seven verses of the song, which

settles the question for Walker of whether Taylor sang all seven verses at

Carthage.

Taylor apparently thought the hymn's tune needed to be more

elegant."He'd write he didn't like the tune," Walker said. "He thought it was

quite plain."Taylor asked Beesley to compose a new tune at the same time he launched

a committee to create a new hymnbook for the church. The result was the Psalmody, completed in 1889, two years after Taylor's death."The one we have in our hymnbook now is a little more elegant, a little

more formal, a little more memorial," Walker said.The church is celebrating the 200th anniversary of Taylor's birth next

month, and Taylor descendants lauded Walker for presenting the song at Friday's

conference."It's wonderful we now have that tune," Mark H. Taylor said. "We now

have the tune as sung in Carthage jail."


E-mail: twalch@desnews.com

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