THE MUSICAL MORMON: Evan Stephens of Pencader
By Steve Dube (of Pencader)
[As you are reading this article, you will note that some dates do not agree with those found in our family records. We will not know the exact dates until one of us finds them in original records. I believe that the dates and place names we have came from Wales with D.P. and Jane Stephens or other family. I have never heard from anyone in Idaho, etc. that actually conducted original research in Wales or among microfilmed Welsh records. Reading the language is so challenging. Please do not change dates in your genealogy or temple records to agree with any author's article as such until someone in the family confirms to us by primary record. You will also note that Mr. Dube states that Brigham Young did not assume leadership in the Church until after 1863. Keep in mind that, while the family appreciates the fact that he has in the following article linked our family to the context of Welsh history, he may not have all the facts. Likewise, clearly understanding the LDS Church's position on moral issues, we can question his comments about the personal lifestyle/ethics of our ancestor Evan Stephens, and therefore I chose to leave those few paragraphs out of this transcription. Keep in mind, this is just an article. If you are very interested in that part of the article, I will be happy to e-mail you a copy. The author communicated his apologies to our family for having included them. I don't believe that his intent was to offend. The only other things I have changed are the names of a couple of places. For example, the author spoke of the Weaver River. I believe it is the Weber River. The reader must understand that the article was mostly written for people in Wales, and likely has never traveled to the U.S. I will also provide a list of references upon request. In no way should this transcription be interpreted as a publication. Steve Dube is the author, as cited below. Steven F. Illum, transcriber from a printed copy received from the author in 2003.]
An offprint of THE CARMARTHENSHIRE ANTIQUARY, Volume XXXVIII, 2002
A few stones half-hidden by undergrowth on the hillside overlooking Pencader show the birthplace in 1854 of the man who put the pioneer spirit of the Mormons to music and gave it to the world. (This means that the author, a resident of Pencader, is saying that the Stephens home was demolished some years ago. There is a row of houses still standing from that period of time, and the owners of the house on the south end claims that theirs was the Stephens home.)
Evan Stephens of Alltfechan, Pencader became the most important musical figure in the Church of the Latter-day Saints of Salt Lake City, Utah. By the time of his death in 1931, he had written about one-fifth of the hymn tunes in the Mormon hymnbook, and many of the words. He also composed the official Utah State Anthem, played for the first time at the state's inauguration ceremony in 1896.
He is now almost as unnoticed by younger Mormons as the stones of his birthplace. This account is drawn from published and unpublished sources including the 'official' biography, The Children Sang, by Ray L. Bergman.(1) The book was a conscious attempt to assemble the tale to fellow Mormons before it was lost. This article, which also makes use of Mormon archives published on the Internet, will hopefully achieve a similar aim in Evan's native county.
Evan Stephens was born on June 28, 1854, in the tenanted cottage of Alltfechan, whose stones lie behind a short terrace of the same name (built after the arrival ten years later of the railway). This labourer's cottage of rough stone and thatch stood at the side of the road leading westwards up the hill from the old village of Pencader clustered near the church. Evan's father, David Phillips Stephens, known as Deio, was a farm labourer who was also born at Alltfechan in December 1811. His mother Jane was born at Felin Llyswen in 1813, daughter of Thomas Evans and Elinor Jones, who both came from near
Cardigan, according to one account. The 1851 census records her as born in the parish of Llanarth, Cardiganshire.
The family tradition is that Jane Stephens had to leave her work in a potato field on a hot summer day in June, 1854 when she felt her baby coming. She hurried home and told her 12-year-old daughter Mary to fetch a relative, Aunt Rachel. But Evan was born before Rachel could arrive, his birth assisted by 14-year-old Ann (who was also looking after David, aged four). Ann would later play another key role in shaping Evan's destiny.
Evan was the youngest of ten children (although two sisters, Jane and Rachel, died as children) and occasionally referred to himself as the "tithe" of his father's family. His use of the term may indicate how large the actual tithes loomed in the folk memory, long after the family had escaped the tax-burdened poverty and unrewarding drudgery that characterised the life of the post-Rebecca countryside.
Deio listed his occupation in the 1841 census as an agricultural labourer, one small step up from complete destitution. The children were put to work as soon as possible. None of the eldest children listed in the 1841 census --- Daniel aged 7, Thomas 5, and Anne (The author seems to use the name spelling 'Ann' and 'Anne' interchangeably. It could be that her name was spelled 'Anne' by a census taker. This is the person we know as 'Ann Stephens Deschamps'.) aged one --- were still living at home ten years later. Even Deio was absent from the house on the night of the 1851 census, and none of his older children are recorded anywhere else in the parish. We may assume they had already found work through family contacts or a hiring fair.
Deio became a Mormon in the wake of a mission by the charismatic Captain Dan Jones, who preached the doctrines of the Latter-day Saints across southern Wales from his base in Merthyr Tydfil during the mid 19th century. By 1848 more than 3,600 had converted and Jones led 250 to America in the first organised emigration of Mormons in 1849.(2) The first recorded Seion y Mormoniaid in Pencader was held at Alltfechan in July, 1847. Deio became president of the Pencader branck of the Church of Latter-day Saints and his home was the regular meeting place for members. Some of Evan's earliest memories would have been of people praying and singing in his home, bowing their heads or stretching their arms to the sky. He grew up learning about the gospel and the messianic, apocalyptic message of the Latter-day Saints.
The family talks of his mother laying him in the shade while she gleaned corn from the fields. Towards the end of his life he talked nostalgically of his childhood in Pencader, particularly his "mound castle", the motte and bailey just below his home built 700 years before by the Norman lord Gilbert de Clare. Another favourite spot was a hillside where primroses, snowdrops and narcissus grew. He later planted these flowers around his own home in America.
Evan's mother taught him to read from the Bible by the time he was six. He also went to school, probably to the little schoolroom attached to the Independent Chapel just down the road from his home, where he first heard the English language. But we have no way of knowing how regularly he was able to go and by the age of ten he had started work as a shepherd.
Carmarthenshire at the time was beginning to change after decades of economic collapse, food shortages, inflation and uncertainty but unrelenting poverty and the heavy burden of rent and taxes still conditioned everyday life for most people. By the end of the Hungry Forties more than 100 of the old, orphaned, disabled or illegitimate in and around Pencader depended on hand-outs from the parish vestry. The completely destitute were in the workhouse at Newcastle Emlyn.(3)
The Rebecca Riots remained alive in the common memory and left a legacy in the form of a professional police constable based in the village and constantly on the beat until his dark blue frock coat and tall top hat. Woolen mills were beginning to provide an alternative source of income to the uncertainties of farming, but the biggest engine of change was the railway.
Work began on the tunnel at Alltwalis in August 1857 and Pencader was reached on March 28, 1864. In that year a total of 700 men, most imported from outside the area, were employed between Pencader and Lampeter. These hard-working, hard-drinking gangs of English and Irish men brought trade and trouble, but above all a first direct experience of the outside world. People heard English spoken regularly for the first time and the centre of commerce in the parish began to shift from New Inn, the post and droving village three miles away, to the new railway station being built just below the Stephens home.
The vicar at this time was Evan Jones. In his memoirs he described the railway as widening perspectives but bringing more drunkenness and bad language. He noticed that younger women, and some older ones, stopped wearing the old-fashioned Welsh costume.(4)
Evan Stephens was ten when the first train pulled into Pencader Station. His brother David was fourteen and David's short undated autobiography sheds further light on those days in Pencader and the family's journey to Salt Lake City.(5)
David was the eighth child of the family, born at Alltfechan on July 31, 1850. He says his father was 22 and his mother 19 when they married and their ancestors were quite noted authors. They included Independent ministers on his father's side, while his mother's ancestors "nearly always took first prise (sic) at the Eisteddfod". It is reasonable to assume that they married in 1831 or 1832.
David Stephens wrote:
"I was a good healthy child and started to work in the garden when I was three years old. I lived at home, as most children do, until I was 9 years old just doing chores, then I was put to work in the Carding Mill for two years, was paid 36 cents per week for my work. I lost my job there on account of the Civil War. The reason was that no cotton could be shipped from the Southern States, from where England got its supply, thereby throwing all the men engaged in weaving out of work and many starved to death."
This may be a slice of autobiographical license. There is clear evidence of a blip in 1861 in the otherwise steady increase in the number of mills and weaving workshops in the Pencader area, but the parish vestry, however stern and parsimonious, seldom let local residents die of starvation.
Back to Stephens:
"The next job I got was on a farm, herding sheep through the summer and went to school for about four months in the winter, for only one winter, which was all the schooling I ever had in Wales. Welch (sic) was not taught as they were trying to wipe out the Welch (sic) language.
"The next summer I got my same job back herding sheep and dary (sic) cattle. I brought the milch cows home at night and helped with the chores. I was 12 years old at this time.
"When I was 13 I took a job of general hand of the farm, hired out for the whole year. I worked on that farm for the biggest part of four years. The whole family were Mormons and their main belief was that they should all emigrate to Utah to get away from the bad times that were coming to the world."
It was another brother, Thomas, born in 1836, and his sister Ann, born in 1840, who made the substance of the dream. Thomas went to work in the coal mines of south Wales to earn enough money to emigrate to America. He returned to the family home when Evan was eight, in 1862, but only had earned enough for a single passage and was reluctant to make the trip alone. Ann, who was then 22 years old, persuaded him to give her the money so that she could go in his place and prepare the way for the rest. She sailed out of Liverpool bound for America on May 30, 1863, and was soon employed in the household of Brigham Young, who would later succeed Joseph Smith as Mormon leader. Tom went back to the mines to earn his own passage and was able to follow her one year later and together they worked for two years in America, saving money to send back to Pencader.
Back in Pencader the family recalls that their neighbours thought nothing good would come of it. Evan, who was baptised in December 1863, probably in the river Tyweli just below his home, had been told for as long as he could remember that the whole family was going to Zion as soon as the Lord would make it possible. He was taunted by other children, who called him "the little saint". He said he would reply, "Better saint than sinner". He grew up with a stutter. When Anne and Tom sent back most of the money needed for the family to join them in America, Evan proudly reminded his friends that he had always known that the Lord would provide.
David Stephens, who was by now 16, wrote later in his journal:
"They sent enough money back to bring my father, mother and younger brother, Evan, out in 1866. Mother felt very bad because she'd have to leave me behind, so she borrowed enough money from a friend to bring me along with them."
In April 1866 the family began their long journey at the new railway station in Pencader. The group consisted of Deio and Janie, their sons David and Evan, their daughter Mary and her husband David (known as "Davey" in St. John) Jones --- also known as "Saer" --- and their two children [Ann ("Annie") J. Jones and David Stephens Jones], together with Deio's sister Nani (Anne Daniels . . . of whom I have no record . . . Steven F. Illum, transcriber), then aged 54, and her two boys Daniel and James. Other members of the family would follow later.
They traveled via Carmarthen and Llanelli to Liverpool, where a wide-eyed Evan remembered being terrified of its "babble of confusion and noise".(6)
There were some frustrating delays before they left Liverpool on May 30, 1866 on the sailing ship Arkwright with 400 other Mormon emigrants for a journey that lasted more than five weeks. They enjoyed better conditions than most of the passengers crowded in unhealthy conditions below deck because they had no booking for the voyage. The crew made space for them among their quarters in the upper deck, where they enjoyed relative comfort and, importantly, fresh air.(7)
Evan Stephens later spoke of the journey in an interview with The Children's Friend magazine:
". . . the wind would rise and the great ocean heave up into great mountain-like ridges or waves rolling wildly one after the other and carrying and tossing the big ship as it were but a chip. Sometimes a great gust of wind would rush into what sails were still spread until the great ship would be thrown so far over on one side that the tops of the masts would almost touch the water. And often a great wave would dash against the ship and breaking into a flood of spray on the deck would swirl madly over its floor and rush through the port holes . . . Sometimes all the doors and hatches which were used as entrances to the compartments below the deck would have to be closed right lest the ship should fill and sink, drowning everybody. At other times not a breath of a breeze would be stirring and the ship would lie perfectly still like a big lazy bird on a great ocean of glass."(8)
David Stephens wrote:
"We left Old Wales about the last of May, 1866, were on the ocean 38 days in a sailing vessel, getting into New York on the 4th of July. We had to stay on the boat in the bay over night. A storm came up in the evening and that combined with the fireworks was one of the prettiest sights I ever saw."
There can hardly have ever been a more exciting time to arrive in America that the middle of the Fourth of July celebrations, but there was still a very long way to go. David Stephens describes the tortuous route they made to reach their heavenly city deep in the desert. The family took a boat from New York to New Haven, Connecticut and from there to Montreal. They had to go through Canada because the Mormon Church had contracted with the railway company to transport all emigrants and they were able to connect from there with the Grand Trunk Railroad to Chicago.
From Chicago they took the Illinois Central Railroad to St. Louis, Missouri where they boarded a three-decked steamboat that took them up the Missouri River to Wyoming, Nebraska, a cluster of scattered farms seven miles from Nebraska City. They had to camp there for ten days before they were able to join up with a group of Danes for the dangerous journey across the plains.
Now 400 strong and with 65 wagons, the group left the banks of the Missouri on August 1: "We had a nice trip, no excitement to speak of until we were crossing the South Platte," wrote David Stephens.
"The river at the ford was 2-1/2 miles wide. They had to double the teams on account of the river bed being so sandy. All that were able had to ford the river. I walked across the river and in places the water was up to my arm pits. We were all ordered to keep above the teams so that if we should strike deep water we would float down against the teams. It took all day to get all the wagons and people across the river but we had good luck and no bad accidents."
They were lucky. A total of 3,126 settlers in 350 wagons using more than 3,000 oxen are recorded as crossing the plains to Salt Lake City in 1866. They used more than 3,000 oxen and 397 wagons.(9) Only nine of the Stephens group died on the journey, but other wagon trains were decimated by cholera and some were attacked and robbed of their oxen by Indians or other Europeans. The Stephens family suffered two major scares. Evan suffered food poisoning after scrounging amongst rubbish scraps when he was hungry and his sister Mary was sick for weeks and nearly died from what was called mountain fever.
The prairie wagon trains were organised with military precision, with a leader and an average of between 50 and 60 teamsters. As the teamsters yoked the oxen two to each wagon every morning the able-bodied men, women and children would set off ahead to avoid the clouds of dust. Scouts rode further ahead to look out for any possible dangers. They stopped for lunch at noon, when the animals were also watered. At night the train would form semi-circles on either side of the track or a complete circle alongside it.
David Stephens compiled a fairly comprehensive account of the long arduous journey across the plains, including the night some thieves from another camp nearby tried to steal some oxen:
"The three night herders went after the other camp and made them bring the oxen back. The next day we had to cross the prairie, 20 miles, to the North Platte. That night on the North Platte they tried again to steal the cattle. The night herder gave the signal of trouble, which was three shots, and half of the teamsters, according to rules, went out to help, while the other half and all the emigrants were to stay and guard the camp. There was one little Danishman who didn't understand the rules and when he saw the boys rushing out he grabbed a hatchet, the only instrument of war he could find and went out to help. This gave the rest of the crowd a good laugh.
That was the only trouble we had during the whole trip. We had good weather and a good time. There were 50 wagons with which they formed a circle every night. The emigrants were supposed to stay inside of the circle. For amusement we had a dance nearly every night."
An encounter with Indians proved entertaining rather than threatening. One day Evan and David had wandered off picking wild berries and grapes when they had to hurry back to camp at the approach of a group of Indians painted for war. The encounter developed into a friendly exchange of gifts and a peace pipe.(10) The Stephens family reached Laramie, Wyoming on August 26.
David Stephens wrote:
"The next day we camped about ten miles from Laramie and I sneaked away from camp to climb the side hills to look for choke cherries and wild currants. I took a sample of them down to camp and the captain had the train lay over that afternoon to pick fruit. That was also where we saw the first sagebrush. It took us about fifteen days from there to the Green River over a high level country. That night after crossing the Green River we had about four inches of snow. We used to sleep under the wagons and we had to shovel the snow away before we could make our beds. The country from there to Salt Lake was very mountainous. We went through Echo Canyon. The sound echoes so that the noise of one wagon sounds like a dozen. From Echo Canyon we went up to Weber River, up the Weber River to Coalville, the only settlement we passed through until we got to Salt Lake City.
When we got to Salt Lake City we drove into what was called the tithing yeard (sic), the teams were all released to go home, and our names were all taken. We were supposed to pay our emigration fee to the Emigration Fund, which was a church fund used to help more emigrants to come to this country. Those who could not pay at the time were to pay 10% interest until it was paid. I paid mine three years later and it amounted to $72.00."
The little family group arrived in Salt Lake City, the capital of the Church of the Latter-day Saints, on October 2, 1866. It had taken them just over two months to walk the 1,000 miles from the Missouri River. Evan Stephens recalled later:
"The journey across the plains was such an experience of pleasure to me that I found it difficult to sympathise with the pioneers who found it a hardship. I find my mind wandering off now, and I can see myself . . . the first day I started across the rolling country, I was too elated to walk so I would run ahead, and then would stop and wait for the crowd."(11)
The family ate their first meal in the city at the home of Henry Harries (or Harris), formerly of Talog Mill, Abernant. He was a son of John Harries who was one of the leaders of the Rebecca demonstration that degenerated into an attack on Carmarthen Workhouse and the last cavalry charge on mainland Britain by the dragoons that broke it up.(12) Harris had emigrated to Utah ten years earlier but met the family during a mission back to Wales in 1859, and may even have known them before. Next they stayed for a week at the home of Thomas Jeremy, who had joined the first Mormon emigration in 1849. Jeremy was born at Cerbynau, Brechfa, was baptised by Captain Dan Jones in 1846 and became president of the Llanybydder branch of the church --- his brother David was president of the Brechfa branch. He too returned to the area as a missionary during 1853 and 1854 and the two families must have known each other very well.(13)
At the end of their first week in Salt Lake, Tom Stephens arrived with a team of horses and took the family 50 miles north to the newly settled town of Willard alongside Lake Bonneville and at the foot of the Rockies. Everyone lived inside a fort protected with an earth wall from possible attack by native Indians and worked on developing cultivated fields and pasture in the surrounding countryside. The Stephens family occupied an abandoned one-room log cabin facing the lake. Evan slept on a straw bed at night and did whatever jobs he could find during the day, herding sheep and cattle and hauling timber, working a 15-hour day in summer, and all the time learning to speak English. The rudimentary settlement of Willard was a rude shock after the comforts of Salt Lake City for this shy stuttering 12-year-old who could barely speak English. He was terrified of snakes and fearful of wild animals in a countryside that was full of them.(14)
Evan later wrote that in the early spring of 1867 he was still "as untouched by the divine fire" as if he had come from a land where music was unknown.(15) He cannot have avoided being touched in some way by the dance music the teamsters made most evenings on the prairie, but it was the singing he heard at the first Sunday school he attended in Willard that really reached him. He joined the choir and became attached to the choir leader, fellow Welshman 23-year-old Daniel Tobey (Tovey). Older choir members called Evan the Boy Alto.
He now devoted his spare time to music. He borrowed choir books and studied melody, metre and rhythm. He fell in love with the classical composers and works like the Hallelujah Chorus, which he would later lead his huge choirs in performing. He joined a singing class and paid for it with a gallon of molasses he had received in pay for some work. He bought a small organ for sixty bushels of wheat, which he raised and hauled fifteen miles by oxen.
He also learned to play the accordion and flute and at the age of 17, he succeeded Tobey (Tovey) the choir leader. He was prodigiously busy, rehearsing the choir once a week and conducting at two church meetings every Sunday with extra rehearsals for occasional concerts. He also played the organ for hymn singing in Sunday school, led the singing at the weekly men's Priesthood meetings, taught a music reading class and conducted the Willard Glee Club once or twice a week. When he took his singers to the Mormon Conference in the 1870s, he taught them 24 hymns and anthems without any sheet music. By now he was also composing music, and his first pieces were published in a Mormon Sunday School magazine in 1873.
He later wrote of his time in Willard:
"It was like suddenly finding oneself deeply in love. The world became a new creation and rhythm began to manifest itself in everything. I walked in rhythmic motion through the fields and behind the cows and music was felt everywhere."
By now the Pencader contingent had grown with the arrival of more relatives including Evan's eldest sister, the widowed Nellie (Helenor) Stephens Thomas and her three children (David Stephen, Margaret and Morris), and his 64-year-old aunt Rachel Daniel Stephens Jones in 1869. They traveled by the new railway to Ogden within ten miles of Willard. After four years in Willard the Stephens family moved again to a fertile valley being cleared for immigrant farmers in the southern part of Idaho, about 125 miles north of Salt Lake. This new settlement was Malad (now Malad City) and it was here that Deio and his relatives each took up a quarter section of land, 160 acres, for the nominal price of $1.25 per acre, paid to the U.S. government (five miles west of Malad in St. John).
Each family built a log house and the group formed the nucleus for a village or colony of people from Pencader. They were joined by other families from Scotland and Denmark and set up a branch of the Mormon Church, which they named St. John after an old man of that name, the first to be buried in a cemetery set up on a plot of land donated by Deio Alltfechan. Evan Stephens went to work building the railway but he continued with his music and his reputation spread.
News of this rough country lad with a passion for music reached Alexander Lewis in Logan. Lewis, who was born in Merthyr Tydfil, was choir leader of the Logan Tabernacle Choir, which performed and won prizes in many cities and provided the music at the dedication of the Salt Lake City Temple. Lewis needed a new organist for the Tabernacle Choir and contacted Evan Stephens who was then 24 years old, to offer him the position. Evan accepted and lived at the Lewis home for three years. They would sit together for hours arranging the different parts for the singers.
Lewis' wife, Margaret Hopkins Lewis, who was born in 'Gillidge', south Wales, found Evan delightful and was a great practical joker, according to her granddaughter Lois Lewis Peterson. When Evan Stephens lived with them he had a habit of staying out late at night. She would always ask in the morning what time he had got home and the answer would always be a monosyllabic, "Early". One day she decided to find out for herself and stacked all her milk buckets against the door. When Evan came home that night at 2 a.m., he carefully removed his shoes as usual and quietly pushed the door open. The buckets and pans went flying:
"Margaret jumped out of bed and said in her thick Welsh brogue, 'Now I caught you Evan, early eh? It's two o-clock in the morning!' They both had a good laugh over this. Margaret adored this young man, as did Alexander. They enjoyed his fun loving personality. He was almost like a son to them. When he left to carry on his work in Salt Lake, they missed him very, very much."(16)
In 1880 Stephens presented his own operetta, The May Queen, the first to be produced in Utah. He started singing classes for children in Logan and presented selections from Gilbert and Sullivan's HMS Pinafore, with 110 children on stage. On top of this, he gave voice and organ lessons. In doing so he was able to save enough money to study in Salt Lake City under Joseph J. Daynes, a well-known pioneer musician of the period. He also for a year at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston under George Whitfield Chadwick, who became one of America's most distinguished composers and teachers.
They enjoyed a good working relationship until one day when Chadwick walked into a class drunk. Mormon code forbids the use of alcohol for anything except medicinal purposes and Evan Stephens was shocked. He left Boston immediately, vowing that he could never learn anything from such a man.
It was 1889 and he moved now to Salt Lake City where he organised the Stephens Opera Company, which later became the Salt Lake Choral Society. There were 400 members drawn from all faiths and occupations --- and there was a strict ban on discussions of either politics or religion. It became a huge success, and led directly to an invitation in 1890 to direct the Salt Lake Tabernacle Choir, which had become somewhat overshadowed by the success of his own choir. He also became a central figure in the annual Salt Lake City Eisteddfod.
Within six months Evan had increased membership of the Tabernacle Choir from 125 to more than 600 and the interior of the Tabernacle was redesigned to accommodate everyone. His leadership revived the choir, which sang outside the state of Utah for the first time in 1893, taking second place to a Scranton Welsh choir at the Columbian Exposition (the Chicago World's Fair, where the first National Eisteddfod outside Wales took place). The achievement raised the profile of the Latter-day Saints Church and from now on attendance at choir practice became an important public service, having priority for Mormon choir members over other duties. From 1885 to 1900 Evan directed the study of vocal music at the University of Utah also instructing the same subject at the LDS University. He had earned the title of Professor.
He remained leader and conductor of the Tabernacle Choir for twenty-six years during which time he led many trips and concert tours and sang for the President at the White House. He became supervisor of music of the University of Deseret, the school system and eventually of the state of Utah.
The shy country lad who began life in America in the grey moleskin suit and no shoes became a strong personality with a forthright manner that made for occasionally tempestuous relationships with colleagues and choir members. But he was also inspirational, and the 1893 World's Fair success led to five more American tours and first place at the Denver Eisteddfod of 1896. In 1909 the choir planned a tour through Idaho, Washington and Oregon to finish in the Alaska-Yukon Pacific Exposition Eisteddfod in Seattle. But when they arrived Evan and his choir refused to take part in the competition after learning that it would cost every choir member 75 cents just to file in, sing one number, and leave. Instead they sang a full concert in the exposition's amphitheatre to enthusiastic applause and rave press reviews.
He returned to Pencader twice and wanted to return again but could not secure a passport for the trip. The first time was a romantic homecoming during a solo tour of Europe in 1900. "How like and yet unlike what I remembered! It seemed crushed together into a little play garden, places that I thought a long distance to be sent on an errand were all within a few steps," he wrote in a letter back to his choir members in Salt Lake City. He met relatives who had stayed behind and took sessions with the village's male voice choir.(17)
He was back again in 1907, when he visited Pencader Board School, which had opened in 1878, 14 years after his departure. The school log book for July 4 records, "Professor Stephens, Salty Lake City, Utah called here this afternoon and took the First Class in Singing. He gave a short lecture on the Larynx.(18)
Following his retirement in 1916 he composed two cantatas, "The Vision" and "The Martyrs", based on the life of Joseph Smith. In total he published more than 150 pieces, and many more were left unfinished. He also composed "Utah, We Love Thee", which Utah chose as its state song when it was admitted to the United States in 1896.
Evan was a solidly built and powerful man with a ready smile and a sense of fun. All contemporary reports speak of his delight in the open air and in people, especially children. Music and literature were the two great loves of his life, and he added more hymns to the Church's hymnbook than any other.
The Tabernacle Choir was his life for 26 years. The official Mormon chronicler of the Tabernacle Choir, Charles Jeffrey Calman, said he had "an almost manic intensity" about his work, and often used unorthodox methods to solve problems.(19)
"A man of action and indomitable will, Stephens was able to grasp the difficulties he faced and give them a thorough shaking," wrote Calman. He said Evan always maintained that his music reflected his pioneer origins and the pioneer life, having "a pinch of sagebrush in it." Perhaps remembering the dance tunes he heard every night on the long trek across the plains.
Another contemporary view of Evan Stephens comes from Joseph Spencer Cornwall, who was appointed the tenth director of the Tabernacle Choir in 1935, and who began his musical studies in Evan's singing classes. He recalled:
"Evan Stephens was my idol, and I used to go hear his choir sing. I went to Stephens and asked him if he wouldn't give me some lessons on conducting. So I went to his home and he went over a great many things, in a completely illogical way. That was his way of doing things. He never had a downbeat. All of Evan Stephens' beats were up. When I got through with my first lesson, he said, "Well, come back again next week sometime." He wouldn't indicate a date. I didn't get along with that, but he remained my idol."(20)
Evan's leadership of the famous Tabernacle Choir brought him wide recognition, but another family member, Sarah Daniels of Ffwrndy, Pencader, who arrived in Utah on June 18, 1906, said it was just one of many achievements.
"While it's true that he made this choir the largest children's choir in the world, he had become chief musician of the west before he was appointed to this position as a composer, both poet and musician. As conductor of great musical festivals, as teacher, trainer of thousands of children, he had won his place when the Mormon Church set him the task of organising and training the great Tabernacle Choir. Of over 500 enrolled members, less than half went to the World's Fair to compete in the World Choral Contest in 1893, winning second place in the first contest they had ever attended. Evan now is exclusively engaged by the Church to write choral music, cantatas, etc. on church historical subjects. His first cantata, The Vision, brought out at the great Tabernacle by a chorus of 450 select voices before a vast audience crowded in every corner of the building, who accorded the composer and conductor ovation after ovation many times all rising to their feet during the performance to show their appreciation of the work. He has five others in hand partly completed. These cantatas being strictly Mormon topics or subjects are published by the church are not expected to be taken up by musical organisations at large though of course no on would be prevented from performing them if they so desire."(21)
Sarah Mary Daniels was Evan's live-in housekeeper from the early 1900s until his death on October 27, 1930. She was ten years younger, born in February 1864, two years before the Stephens family emigrated. She was the daughter of Daniel Davies and Elizabeth Daniel Stephens, who was Evan's father's niece. Sarah may have met Evan when he visited Pencader in 1900, when she was a faithful chapel member who worked with children and directed the chapel choir. She left Pencader for Utah in May 1902, and became Evan's housekeeper in 1903. They had a close relationship that included frequent debates about religion --- Sarah only converted to the Latter-day Saints after his death. She enjoyed cooking, and Evan enjoyed eating it. Bergman describes their relationship as one of good-natured antagonism.(22) They traveled together to Pencader in the summer of 1907. She nursed him through his final illness and was one of the main beneficiaries of his will. In a letter to her friend Samuel Mitton in November, 1931 Sarah said she had been "sealed to Evan Stephens for Time and all Eternity" in a ceremony in the Salt Lake Temple earlier that month. The ceremony was authorised by the LDS Church President, who was a personal friend of Evan Stephens, and was in line with Church belief that people who have been close will be reunited after the Day of Judgement.(23)
Sarah Daniel wrote:
"I remained single to be there with him, and had a good chance to marry a wealthy man (not Evan), but the Church stood between us and Stephens (did), too. Now I also refused a good home to be with Stephens. So I feel that I deserve it."
She died of a heart attack on July 24, 1936.
Evan died on October 27, 1930. He never married but Sarah Daniels said that 50,000 people claimed him as their musical father. . . . . His success made him a wealthy man, and he was able to build his own home in Salt Lake City. Pine Lodge was a two-storey frame house with a view of Mount Olympus from every room (This was impossible. Steven F. Illum, transcriber), surrounded by grounds with two artificial lakes and gardens filled with primroses, pansies and daisies brought from Wales. It was demolished in 1966 to make way for a motel car park.
Evan was able to indulge his love of the countryside with expeditions in wilderness such as Yellowstone Park and live in comfort above all on his own terms. LDS church leaders had to struggle constantly to persuade him that evening dress or tuxedo were the proper clothes for a choir leader, not overalls. He frequently indulged his love of dressing in drag and playing party pieces at concerts, accompanying his comical falsetto on the piano. He made sure the choir financed itself, but otherwise displayed a relaxed attitude to wealth, without ever appearing profligate of indulgent. His will established a small trust for music in the LDS Church.
"Stephens was wealthy but he spent it as he made it. Used to take a boy every year or so and educate him. Five or six of them he sent to university and let them take anything they wanted and he would pay for it," said Mary Woozley Jensen, the granddaughter of his friend Edward Woozley.(25) He gave one student a home as a wedding present and regularly bought organs for his students.
In a keynote address to an LDS workshop of church music in August 1996, the composer and musician Vanja Y. Watkins summed him up as a man "who loved children and spent much of his time imparting his love of the gospel to them as he taught them about music and singing."
She went on:
"He had a devout and a cheerful spirit. You can tell that as you sing his hymns. He often wrote his own words and then set them to music that conveyed the proper spirit. His energetic hymns are easily recognised by the long-short rhythms in triplets or dotted 8th and 16th notes.
"Can you see why this optimistic, energetic man worked so well with young people? Perhaps there was always something of the child that remained in him. His enthusiasm for music, for the gospel and for children just can't be hidden. How many children felt his influence? Well, when "True to the Faith" was first published in The Juvenile Instructor in 1905, Professor Stephens wrote on the copy, "Lovingly dedicated to my 20,000 pupils of Zion." I have come to love the spirited songs and hymns of Evan Stephens. They do breathe optimism and freshness. They are a distinct part of our Mormon music and culture. I have had experiences with them that make them precious to me."
And Harold H. Bennett, who was closely associated with Stephens from his childhood, spoke about him in a series of broadcasts on KSL Radio in 1953:
"Among my earliest recollections was a weekly visit we used to make to Stephens' class that was held each Saturday morning in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square. Incidentally, my mother tells me that she, likewise, attended a similar class when she was six years old. My brother and I used to climb to the balcony of the Assembly Hall and crowd in with what must have been several hundred children, and there under Evan Stephens' magic baton, we would sing the songs of Zion with a fervor that left us breathless, but exhilarated. We always sand lustily! He liked spirited singing."
A glimpse of that spirit can be seen in the titles of the 19 hymns in the Mormon hymn book for which Stephens provided the words, and/or the music. They include "What Was
Witnessed in the Heavens"; "Awake, Ye Saints of God, Awake"; "The Voice of God Again is Heard"; "Our Mountain Home So Dear"; "For the Strength of the Hills"; "Lo, the Mighty God Appearing"; "O Home Beloved" and "Let the Mountains Sing for Joy".
But much as he loved his new home in the mountains of Utah, Evan Stephens never forgot the place where he was born. Concerts by his 1,200-strong children's choir often ended with Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, in Welsh. When the composer and musician Joseph Parry visited Stephens during the second Mormon Eisteddfod in 1898, he described it as. "like a week of Wales in the Rockies."(26)