Persistence (Heber J. Grant Lesson 4)

It is the spirit that gives life and animation, and the main thing to seek in studying the Book of Mormon is the spirit of that very wonderful and remarkable book.
I can remember very distinctly when Uncle Anthony Ivins, brother of the father of Elder Anthony W. Ivins, said to me and to his son, Anthony C. Ivins:
"Heber, Anthony, have you read the Book of Mormon?"
We answered, "No."
He said, "I want you to read it. I want you to pledge to me that you will not skip a word, and to the one who reads it first, I will give a pair of ten dollar buckskin gloves with beaver tops."
Any boy of fourteen who had a pair of those gloves thought he was "it." I remember that my mother had urged me to read systematically the Book of Mormon, but I had not done it. I determined to read the book, say, twenty-five pages a day and get the benefit of its contents. I believed its contents were true because my mother and many others had told me so; and because of the testimony of the teacher of the class that Richard W. Young and I attended, I thought that to win the gloves I would have to read the book so rapidly that I would get no benefit; and therefore decided to let Anthony win the gloves.
I met my cousin, Anthony C., the next morning, and he asked, "How many pages have you read?"
I said: "I have read twenty-five pages."
He said: "I have read over one hundred and fifty. I sat up until after midnight.
I said: "Good-bye gloves."
I went on reading twenty-five pages a day and occasionally I got so interested that I read fifty or seventy-five pages, and, lo and behold, I got through first and got the gloves. He got such a good start he did not bother to read any more until after I got through with the book.—Private Journal and RSM, 6:500-501.
My mother tried to teach me when I was a small child to sing but failed because of my inability to carry a tune.
Upon joining a singing class taught by Professor Charles J. Thomas, he tried and tried in vain to teach me when ten years of age to run the scale or carry a simple tune and finally gave up in despair. He said that I could never, in this world, learn to sing. Perhaps he thought I might learn the divine art in another world. Ever since this attempt, I have frequently tried to sing when riding alone many miles from anyone who might hear me, but on such occasions could never succeed in carrying the tune of one of our familiar hymns for a single verse, and quite frequently not for a single line.
When I was about twenty-five years of age, Professor Sims informed me that I could sing, but added, "I would like to be at least forty miles away while you are doing it."
Nearly ten months ago, when listening to Brother Horace S. Ensign sing, I remarked that I would gladly give two or three months of my spare time if by so doing it would result in my being able to sing one or two hymns. He answered that any person could learn to sing who had a reasonably good voice, and who possessed perseverance, and was willing to do plenty of practicing. My response was that I had an abundance of voice, and considerable perseverance. He was in my employ at the time, and I jokingly remarked that while he had not been hired as a music teacher, however, right now I would take my first music lesson of two hours upon the hymn, "O My Father." Much to my surprise, at the end of four or five days, I was able to sing this hymn with Brother Ensign without any mistakes. At the end of two weeks, I could sing it alone, with the exception of being a little flat on some of the high notes. My ear, not being cultivated musically, did not detect this, and the only way I knew of it was by having Brother Ensign and other friends tell me of the error.
One of the leading Church officials, upon hearing me sing, when I first started to practice, remarked that my singing reminded him very much of the late Apostle Orson Pratt's poetry. He said Brother Pratt wrote only one piece of poetry, and this looked like it had been sawed out of boards, and sawed off straight.
Once, while practicing singing in Brother Ensign's office in the Templeton Building, (his rooms are next to a dentist's) some of the students of the Latter-day Saints' College who were in the hall, remarked that it sounded like somebody was having his teeth pulled.
One would think that the following item from a letter from one of my nearest and most intimate friends would be very discouraging, but, like the uncomplimentary remarks above referred to, it only increased my determination to learn to sing. Referring to my daughter, he says:
"I see Lutie is making quite a name as a singer. I don't think, though, that this fact need encourage you to try to become the George Goddard of the Church. I admit that your point is a good one, i. e., if you can learn to sing, nothing need discourage anybody. But the fact that success ultimately must be reached by traveling along the borderland of ridicule, makes the task a difficult and delicate one, particularly for an apostle, who, unlike the ordinary musical crank, cannot afford to cultivate his thorax at the expense of his reputation as a man of judgment."
One Sunday, at the close of a meeting in the Thirteenth Ward, upon telling Professor Charles J. Thomas that Brother Ensign informed me that I could sing, he said:
"Didn't you tell him I said no?"
I answered, "Yes."
He said, "Why, you can't even run the scale."
I said, "I am aware of that fact, having tried for half an hour this morning and failed."
My voice at ten years of age, must have made a very deep impression upon Brother Thomas, seeing that he had remembered it for thirty-three years. Noticing that he seemed quite skeptical, I asked him to walk over with me into the corner of the building, so as not to disturb the people who had not yet left the meetinghouse and I sang to him in a low voice, "God Moves in a Mysterious Way." At the close he said: "That's all right."
At the end of two or three months, I was able to sing not only, "O My Father," but "God Moves in a Mysterious Way," "Come, Come, Ye Saints," and two or three other hymns. Shortly after this, while taking a trip south, I sang one or more hymns in each of the Arizona stakes, and in Juarez, Mexico. Upon my return to Salt Lake City, I attempted to sing "O My Father," in the big Tabernacle, hoping to give an object lesson to the young people and to encourage them to learn to sing. I made a failure, getting off the key in nearly every verse, and instead of my effort encouraging the young people, I fear that it tended to discourage them.
When first starting to practice, if some person would join in and sing bass, tenor, or alto, I could not carry the tune. Neither could I sing, if anyone accompanied me on the piano or organ, as the variety of sounds confused me.
I am pleased to be able to say that I can now sing with piano or organ accompaniment, and can also sing the lead in "God Moves in a Mysterious Way," in a duet, a trio, or quartet. I have learned quite a number of songs, and have been assured by Brother Ensign, and several others well versed in music, to whom I have sung within the past few weeks, that I succeeded without making a mistake in a single note, which I fear would not be the case were the attempt to be made in public. However, I intend to continue trying to sing the hymn, "O My Father," in the assembly hall or big tabernacle until such time as I can sing it without an error.
How did I succeed so far? Brother Ensign adopted the plan of having me sing a line over and over again, trying to imitate his voice. He kept this up until the line was learned and could be "pronounced musically," on the same principle as learning the sound of a word. The child may be taught to pronounce correctly the word "incomprehensibility," notwithstanding the length, even if the child does not understand the phonetic sounds. I learned to sing upon the same principle, starting, figuratively speaking, in the eighth grade, with not even a knowledge of the contents of the primary. It required a vast amount of practice to learn, and my first hymn was sung many hundreds of times before I succeeded in getting it right.
Upon my recent trip to Arizona, I asked Elders Rudger Clawson and J. Golden Kimball if they had any objections to my singing one hundred hymns that day. They took it as a joke and assured me that they would be delighted. We were on the way from Holbrook to St. Johns, a distance of about sixty miles. After I had sung about forty tunes, they assured me that if I sang the remaining sixty they would be sure to have nervous prostration. I paid no attention whatever to their appeal, but held them to their bargain and sang the full one hundred. One hundred and fifteen songs in one day, and four hundred in four days, is the largest amount of practicing I ever did.
Today [1900] my musical deafness is disappearing, and by sitting down to a piano and playing the lead notes, I can learn a song in less than one-tenth the time required when I first commenced to practice.—Era, 3:886- 890.
I propose to sing the "Holy City" in the big tabernacle before I get through with it, and I propose to sing it without a mistake. I do not say this boastingly, because I believe what Alma of old said, in the twenty-ninth chapter of his book, that God granteth unto men according to their desires, whether they be for good or evil, for joy or remorse of conscience. I desire to sing, and I expect to work at it and stay right with it until I learn. The most I ever worked was to sing four hundred songs in four days; that is the heaviest work I have ever done in the singing line. There are a great many people who can learn to sing very easily. When I started to learn to sing, it took me four months to learn a couple of simple hymns and recently I learned one in three hours by the watch and then sang it without a mistake.
"That which we persist in doing becomes easier for us to do; not that the nature of the thing itself is changed, but that our power to do is increased." I propose to keep at it until my power to do is increased to the extent that I can sing the songs of Zion. Nobody knows the joy I have taken in standing up in the tabernacle and other places and joining in the singing, because it used to be a perfect annoyance to me to try and to fail, besides annoying those around me; because I would sing, because I loved the words of the songs of Zion.
I am very sorry now for having persecuted people as I used to. In our meetings in the temple, the brethren would say, "That is as impossible as it is for Brother Grant to carry a tune," and that settled it. Everybody acknowledged that was one of the impossibilities.
I believe what the Lord says: "For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads." (D. & C. 25:12) I desire to serve the Lord, and pray unto Him in the songs of Zion; and I know that it produces a good influence.—CR, April, 1901: 62-64.
(Heber J. Grant, Gospel Standards: Selections from the Sermons and Writings of Heber J. Grant, compiled by G. Homer Durham [Salt Lake City: Improvement Era, 1981], 354.)
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