The Story of "Come unto Him" by Daniel Carter
Come unto Him Performed by The Mormon Tabernacle Choir
The Story of How It Came to Be
On a very hot summer July Friday night in 1978, I wrote a song called, Come unto Him. I was living with my long time friend and former high school Spanish teacher, Eric Bjarnson and his family. I was in college, and Eric was a doctoral candidate working out of Indiana University. Eric and I were both employed at a factory, while trying to stay in school.
On this hot night, exhausted from work and school, I read the words from Matthew 11:28–30:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
A few weeks previously, Eric and his wife, Dianne bought a new piano. It was a beautiful five foot upright with an ebony finish. They sacrificed to buy it. The piano was moved to the room I stayed in, not in the living room. I protested, but Dianne was firm about it remaining in my room, so that I would focus on my studies and composing.
Despite the hour being late, and all of us completely worn out, I needed to write this piece. I played as quietly as I could so I wouldn’t wake the others. After working on the piece well into the night, Eric came in the next morning and asked, “Is it finished?” I blurted out apologies for making noise and he stopped me and asked again, “But is it finished?” I said “Yes.” He asked if I would play it for him. Eric has a beautiful tenor voice. Some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard has been sung by Eric and his sister, Anna, a coloratura soprano. I played as Eric sang. There in a little yellow shack where the paint was peeling off, next to a rural road surrounded by green pastures, cattle, flies, and the bleating of goats came the sound of a tired, overworked tenor singing, “Come unto him, all ye who labor...” and we were both rejuvenated.
My First Meeting with a Publisher
The following year I met my publisher, Jerry Jackman. I showed Jerry a tenor solo version of the piece, and he seemed impressed, but didn't choose to publish it. I arranged a choral version of the piece the following year and showed it to Jerry. He liked it, but his only doubt was that it might be "too artistic" and he wasn't sure it would catch on. Initially he was right. It was published for three or four years before a conductor, Ron Staheli of Brigham Young University found it and performed it all over the world. From there, it gained steady recognition and now enjoys a continued life of its own, and is performed frequently throughout the English speaking world. On the 12th of December 1991 (a day after my birthday), I received a call from Donald Ripplinger who was then Associate Conductor of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. He told me that the Choir would perform Come unto Him during the Choir's weekly broadcast of Music and the Spoken Word in February of 1992.
Since then, Come unto Him has been performed by numerous choirs and choral groups around the world. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir has performed it several times through the years.
In 2011, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir recorded it, and it was included as the 4th track on their This Is the Christ CD. Within two weeks of its release, the CD climbed to #1 position in Billboard's Top 100, Classical list.
The Painting for the Book Cover, by Dan Freed
In 2003 I commissioned a painting from Dan Freed to use as a cover design of a book of music I published. Lead, Kindly Light is the result of that commission.
Dan Freed is a prolific artist. For more information about his art works, click here.
Come unto Him Is Part of a Large Choral Oratorio
Come unto Him was actually written as a tenor solo for a large 40 piece oratorio called Alpha and Omega. The oratorio was started in 1976 while I was in England serving as a missionary for the Mormon Church. Alpha and Omega is about the second coming of Christ. Most of the pieces are composed in the late 1970s and '80s. The work was never finished for various reasons, although I have considered completing it. Without a performance to look forward to, I seem to lack the drive to finish it at this point. A few other larger choral works I have written are also unfinished for similar reasons.
More by this Author
The Story of the Hymn, "As Now We Take the Sacrament" by Daniel Carter. Seven different versions of the hymn were rejected from the LDS Hymnbook, but finally the seventh was accepted.
Music video of beloved Christmas song by Daniel Carter and Sherri Otteson Bird. Story of how the song came to be. Sheet music available. Links included.
Diagrams and easy to follow text that will help musicians learn to read music whether as a singer or instrumentalist.