BYU professor Marvin K. Gardner and music educator Vanja Y. Watkins were recently featured in a video posted to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's YouTube channel on April 4.
Gardner, the lyricist of the LDS hymn "Press Forward, Saints," and Watkins, the composer, came together to discuss the inspiration behind their work.
This feature is a part of a Mormon Tabernacle Choir blog series exploring the stories behind the creation of the hymns.
Gardner explained that the idea for the words came to him during a 1984 session of stake conference after a speaker quoted 2 Nephi 31:20.
"I instantly recognized it as one of my favorite scriptures from my teenage years as a seminary student and also as a missionary," Gardner said in the video.
"Something just kind of went through my mind like, 'Wow, that's the Book of Mormon verse that you've been looking for.' "
As a member of the Hymnbook Executive Committee, Gardner had the opportunity to review many of the submissions for the new edition of the LDS hymnbook. It was during this time that he noticed few of the submissions were based on scripture.
When Gardner heard the familiar verse of scripture, he knew it could be the foundation for a hymn.
"I'll have to admit, I didn't hear a whole lot of the stake conference talk because it was going through my mind," Gardner said in the video.
Continuing to work on the lyrics for the next few days, Gardner used the scripture to create three verses, each including an Alleluia chorus.
"Writing the text for 'Press Forward, Saints' was a spiritually rewarding experience for me," Gardner said in an interview on the Mormon Tabernacle Choir blog.
"Like everyone else, I struggle while trying to endure 'days of mortal strife.' On many occasions, the words and music of this hymn have entered my mind and have given me encouragement, hope, reassurance and comfort in our Savior Jesus Christ.”
The process of composing the music for "Press Forward, Saints" was also filled with inspiration, Watkins explains in the video. Although a composition had already been chosen for the hymn, Watkins explained that a melody came to her one night that she couldn't disregard.
"It was like being in my theory class for dictation, but I didn't have anything to write it down on," Watkins said in the video. "By the time I left the dinner, I had the entire hymn in my head, but I had to write it down, and that's what I did when I got home — just the melody — all the time asking, 'What is going on here?'"3 comments on this story
Watkins' arrangement would later be called upon when permissions were not granted to use the original composition that had been selected.
"I never had an experience like writing 'Press Forward, Saints,' where it just came to me," Watkins said in the video. "I used my pencil to write it down, but I really know the source of where it came."
Both Gardner and Watkins have made additional contributions to the LDS hymnbook and the Children's Songbook. Gardner wrote lyrics for "Thy Holy Word" and "This Is My Beloved Son." Watkins wrote words and music for "Families Can Be Together Forever," "I Will Follow God's Plan," "I Will Be Valiant" and several others.
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