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Read the Story and Listen to "Adam-ondi-Ahman" by Daniel Carter
An Unusual Christian Hymn
I have always been fascinated with the message of this hymn, and often look for unusual hymns and gospel songs throughout the Christian world. The melody by itself is almost plain until you realize the tradition it came from is rich and alive and filled with movement, dance, and spontaneity. Thus, the melody, once it becomes dance-like, can become a delight when improvisatory elements are included. I had the idea in my head to combine the hymn tune with J. S. Bach's Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring which is virtually known in any Christian circle. However, I added it as a fiddle obbligato, performed in a fiddle style. Combined with the tempo in a dance-like movement, the piece has taken on a whole new meaning to me, and I began to see how this hymn could have influenced early Mormons in singing in a very free and celebratory style. That's quite a different take than the stuffy High Church, European tradition that proliferates many churches, including much of Mormon hymn tradition.
When Eric Hanson, soloist in the recording, approached me about recording my arrangement, he completely understood the dance-like nature of the arrangement and made it joyful experience.
Music Video of Adam-ondi-Ahman
Photograph of Adam-ondi-Ahman
Adam-ondi-Ahman, according to Mormons, is the place that Adam and Eve dwelt after they were expelled from the garden of Eden. It is located along the east bluffs above the Grand River in Daviess County, Missouri. It is the place where righteous people and leaders will meet prior to the second coming of Jesus Christ. Most of the site is owned by the Mormon church and is predominantly farm land.
The Hymn "Adam-ondi-Ahman"
Text to the Hymn
The earth was once a garden place,
With all her glories common,
And men did live a holy race,
And worship Jesus face to face,
We read that Enoch walked with God
Above the power of mammon,
While Zion spread herself abroad,
And Saints and an-gels sang aloud,
Her land was good and great-ly blest,
Beyond all Is-rael's Canaan;
Her fame was known from east to west,
Her peace was great, and pure the rest
Hosanna to such days to come,
The Savior's second coming,
When all the earth in glorious bloom
Affords the Saints a holy home,
Ordering Information for Sheet Music of This Arrangement
Sheet music of this arrangement, along with several other hymns, including some from the Appalachian tradition, is in Hyms for Solo Voice 3.
William W. Phelps, Author of the Text
About Phelps' Life and Times
William W. Phelps, author of the text of Adam-ondi-Ahman, was born in Hanover, New Jersey but then the family moved to Homer, New York in 1800. Phelps was well educated and hoped to become lieutenant governor of New York at the time when he purchased a copy of The Book of Mormon. In December of 1830 he met Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church and was convinced he was a prophet. He was imprisoned by "couple of Presbyterian traders, for a small debt, for the purpose, as I was informed, of keeping me from joining the Mormons."
Phelps joined the Mormon church in 1831 and established a printing business in Independence, Missouri. However, the early days of the Mormon church were tumultuous, filled with persecution from nearly all outside communities, and Phelps faced destruction of his business, papers he published, and had his family and furniture thrown out of their home. This was a scenario that repeated itself among nearly all early Mormon church members. Those who were not murdered outright, were considered lucky.
Phelps became Joseph Smith's scribe for quite some time, but was excommunicated for turning against Smith and other leaders, contributing to their imprisonment. However, he plead for forgiveness, and was reinstated into the church. Phelps' association with Smith seemed to be rocky even at the best of times, Smith often calling Phelps prideful, sometimes arrogant.
It is thought, but not concluded that among Phelps' voluminous writings and poems, that he penned a poetic paraphrase of Mormon scripture in a book known as The Book of Commandments, in which Smith claimed to have a vision of the three degrees of heaven. The poem was published in a church periodical and attributed to Smith. However, there is evidence that Phelps refused credit for the poem to try to regain Smith's favor and as an act of selfless pennance.
Phelps made the trek west with other Mormon pioneers under the direction of Brigham Young. He was again excommunicated for entering into an unauthorized polygamous marriage, but was rebaptized two days later. He also served on the Utah territorial legislature and on the board of regents for the University of Deseret (now the University of Utah).
Phelps was a prolific writer, and exemplified American writing style of religious themes in his time, but with the perspective of unique Mormon doctrines. In this regard, they continue to generate great interest from a historical and sociological standpoint.
He died March 7, 1872 in Salt Lake City, Utah Territory.
The Origin of the Hymn Tune
The hymn tune is named PROSPECT OF HEAVEN and originates from Sacred Harp tradition of hymn singing. It was included in The Southern Harmony, and Musical Companion.
Sacred Harp and Southern Harmony Tradition
In 1835 William Walker published a shape note hymn and tune book titled The Southern Harmony, and Musical Companion. Shape note singing is part of the solfege singing system, which most will recognize as do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do. Shape note singing uses a triangle for fa, a circle for sol, a square for la, and a diamond, for mi. To avoid overusing shapes to the point of distracting the singer, each shape except mi was assigned to two notes of the musical scale. Major scales are fa-sol-la-fa-sol-la-mi-fa, and minor scales are la-mi-fa-sol-la-fa-sol-la.
Shape note singing was instituted to teach music reading to singers, with shapes added as memory aids. The shape note tradition is primarily based in Appalachia and southern United States, and has a very distinctive sound and flavor that is unique from most other types of hymn singing traditions. Based primarily in folk music and gospel tunes, harmonies were preserved by the shape note tradition which departs from the rigid harmonization rules and traditions of European based Christian churches. Much of the harmony in shape note tradition was improvised and is also a part of the Sacred Harp tradition founded in the American colonial era.
In the 1800's there were many new Christian movements in restless America and its citizens yearned for more fulfilling lives as they reached further and further west. An age of spiritual "rebirth," new interpretations on ideas nearly 2000 years old gave pioneer Americans courage to trek onward in pursuit of their own utopia. Folk songs and hymn tunes were borrowed and redistributed freely in each new congregation as new texts were created to promote the new "enlightened" ideas of charismatic leaders of new flocks. The Mormons were a part of this thrust and "new vision" west. Church members were encouraged to write poems and hymns that would help to preserve the singularity and uniqueness of their faith. William W. Phelps was one of many such writers and poets.
As new Mormon converts collected in frontier America, members were sent on missions to gather other new converts from around the world. Converts were encouraged to immigrate to America. However, persecution of the swiftly growing church steadily increased which seemd to only foster more writings, poetry and music. Many of the tunes used in early worship service originated from many European countries, but also at least one hymn tune from the Sacred Harp tradition.