In 2005 a Colorado woman, Bonnie Hart Murray, felt the inspiration to write the text for a new Book of Mormon hymn entitled “The Book of Mormon Has Come Forth”. Though she had never before written a hymn text, this one was completed in two hours. Also, an idea for the flavor of the musical accompaniment came to her mind and though she was not yet skilled in writing music she managed, over a three month period, to get a rough representation of her musical idea down on manuscript paper. At this point she decided to seek some expert help from one of the established composers of the Church in bringing her idea to fruition and took the bold step of calling Diane Bastian in the Church Music Department in Salt Lake City to ask if she knew of any hymn writers in the Church who might be willing to help her. Diane read the text, liked it and because she knew I had been concentrating on hymn writing for the past few years, she called to ask if I might be interesting in seeing it.
I was frankly somewhat wary, having received many hymn texts that, although heartfelt, fell short of the exacting parameters required of a hymn. But as Diane read the text over the phone I felt that I wanted to have her send it to me and also to introduce me to Bonnie Hart Murray.
A Collaboration Begins
My email and telephone conversations with Bonnie were most congenial. You might say she came by her musical instincts naturally as she was the niece of early church composer, Mickey Hart, and had also learned much from her poet-father Mark Hart. At age 48 she had returned to school to pursue a Bachelor of Artsdegree in Music at Metropolitan State College of Denver Colorado.
As we worked through a little give-and-take on both the text and the music, we both felt that a significant new hymn was emerging. I experimented with different melodies but came to feel that her original idea for both melody and harmony was exactly right for the hymn and I just arranged it in four-part hymn form. We entered our hymn in the yearly Church Music Submissions and won the Award of Merit in the Hymn Division. I arranged it for choir and it was performed as the finale number on the Music Submissions concert in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square. Bonnie and I met for the first time before the concert and felt a special joy at hearing our hymn performed by a wonderful choir.
The Book of Mormon Has Come Forth
(Bonnie Hart Murray)
The Book of Mormon has come forth
From precious plates of gold.
The records, hidden long ago,
An ancient story told.
A tale of mighty nations
A message of great worth.
The gospel in its fullness now
Rolls forth to fill the earth.
The Book of Mormon teaches truth
From prophets wise and just--
Moroni, Alma, Nephi too,
Who spoke as from the dust.
O, come and hear ye nations,
The message now revealed:
A witness of our Savior, Lord,
A prophecy fulfilled.
To those with faith in Jesus Christ,
The Holy Spirit guides,
And manifests the truth and light
That in this book abides.
Moroni made this promise;
A message heaven-sent,
To all who will sincerely ask
And pray with real intent.
Another witness now proclaims
That Christ was born on earth,
And came unto His other sheep
To show their priceless worth.
We love the Book of Mormon,
It testifies with might.
O, come you Jew, and Gentile too,
And learn of Jesus Christ.
Continuing the Collaboration
I was pretty sure that if Bonnie could write one hymn, she could probably write others and I strongly encouraged her to try it. She hedged at first, feeling that her inspiration might have been a one-time experience, but I think she felt in her heart that she wanted to try. Feeling a lack of hymns in the church specifically about the Book of Mormon, she eventually made the commitment to proceed with our collaboration and chose to focus on writing narrative hymns.
I had heard Elder Boyd K. Packer say, in an address at BYU in 1976: “If I had my way there would be many more hymns with lyrics near scriptural [italics added] in their power, bonded to music that would inspire people to worship.” His words became our mantra as we began to work together on a series of Book of Mormon hymns. We even dared dream that one day we would produce a Book of Mormon musical fireside presentation that could be sung by choirs throughout the Church. To that end we made a tentative outline of which people and events we would write about, and our quest began.
“Hymns Near-Scriptural in Their Power”
Whenever possible Bonnie used the exact words from the scriptures in writing her texts. She would read every scripture on the subject we were writing about, sometimes handwriting as many as sixty pages of notes from which she would craft her hymn texts. For example, when she sent me her finished text about “Alma, the Younger,” she said, “You will notice that essentially all the important words in this text are direct words and phrases from the two chapter resources. (Mosiah 27 & Alma 36) If the word was a form of the actual word in the scriptures, I also counted it.” To demonstrate her faithfulness to the scriptural words I will show one of her texts with actual hymn words bolded:
Alma the Younger
When Alma the younger rebelled against God
And sought to lead others astray,
An angel appeared as it were in a cloud
And Alma was stopped by the way.
His voice was as thunder, earth trembled and shook,
And Alma fell down to the earth.
The Lord heard the words that his father had prayed:
That his son might be brought to the truth.
Young Alma was struck with amazement and fear,
And horror that none could express.
He longed for extinction, both body and soul;
His repentance was nigh unto death.
Then rememb’ringthe words that his father had taught,
Of Christ, who atoned for all
Although most exquisite and bitter his pains—
Though racked with a torment so deep—
When he turned to the Lord in repentance sincere,
His joy was exquisite and sweet!
From the darkest abyss, he saw marvelous light,
For angels were worshiping God.
“I will praise Him forever,” young Alma explained
“And forever I’ll trust in my Lord.”
Several Years of Toiling Together
We worked on our Book of Mormon hymns for several years at the same time as Bonnie was finishing her degree at Metro State College in Denver. Her Senior Project, perhaps influenced by her involvement in hymn writing was titled, “A Study of the History and Function of Selected Hymns that are Unique to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
” I attended her graduation in 2008.
Our collaboration became very comfortable and our friendship deepened.