First Vision retold through music


    By Robert Roxburgh

    Oh, how lovely was that spring morning in early 1820 when young Joseph Smith uttered his first prayer.

    But the beautiful, clear day suddenly gave way to destructive darkness, and Joseph found himself enshrouded with despair.

    At the very moment of sheer hopelessness, pure light pierced darkness and truth was restored as Joseph spoke face to face with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ in a glorious vision.

    “Where was room for doubt? Nowhere,” Oliver Cowdery wrote. “Uncertainty had fled, doubt had sunk no more to rise, while fiction and deception had fled forever!”

    Students from BYU-Idaho will share the power of this vision in song Thursday March 13 as they perform a sacred work using scriptures and music to portray the First Vision.

    “Visions of Light and Truth” is the seventh oratorio to be commissioned as part of the BYU-Idaho Sacred Music Series, a biennial series for the performing and recording of major religious works. The work tells the story of Joseph”s vision in the Sacred Grove as well as the visions of other prophets of old.

    More than 300 BYU-Idaho musicians will travel to Utah to perform the oratorio after touring both Arizona and Nevada.

    The oratorio will feature the BYU-Idaho Symphony Orchestra, Collegiate Singers, Men”s Choir and Women”s Choir.

    Kevin Brower, a BYU graduate and director of choral activities at BYU-Idaho, conducts the oratorio written by A. Laurence Lyon.

    Lyon, a professor emeritus from Western Oregon University, said he knew the oratorio needed to present the First Vision when BYU-Idaho President David A. Bednar first commissioned him.

    The commission requires that scripture be used as the only source of text. Lyon quickly realized the short account found in Joseph Smith History was not long enough to present a full-length, 70-minute oratorio. He then decided to use other similar visions found in the scriptures to support the First Vision.

    “Such a text would strengthen the First Vision account by showing it on a continuum of one of the most visible ways in which God communicates with man and has done so since the beginning,” Lyon said.

    Lyon said the oratorio reveals a pattern of the Lord”s dealings with his prophets throughout all dispensations of time and reaffirms the truthfulness of continuing revelation in the latter days.

    The oratorio is written for chorus and orchestra as well as soprano, mezzo-soprano, baritone and tenor solos. Lyon wrote the parts to be sung by university-level singers.

    Lyon said that complexity for the sake of being complex is not a path he decided to take.

    “A work such as this oratorio should be challenging, yes, but should also be accessible to both performer and listener,” Lyon said. “Why write music performers don”t care to perform and music that listeners either can”t or don”t want to fathom?”

    Some criticize Lyon for the amount of darkness he writes into his music, but the composer said he feels the passages of light gather meaning and clarity when juxtaposed with passages of darkness.

    “Light shines more brightly next to darkness,” Lyon said.

    Lyon has worked continuously on “Visions of Light and Truth” for almost two years. He took almost eight months to create the text for the oratorio then began composition of the piano score, the vocal score and the orchestration.

    The final copy of the oratorio was given to performers on Thursday in preparation for its first performance at a multi-stake fireside on the BYU-Idaho campus last Saturday.

    After the Provo concert, the musicians will travel north to perform at Weber State University in Ogden on Friday and at the Tabernacle on Temple Square on Saturday.

    The tour”s purpose is to expand the opportunities for alumni and friends to attend these premiere performances of “Visions of Light and Truth.”

    Additional performances and recording sessions will be in Rexburg, Idaho, on March 20 and 21.

    Tonight”s concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the de Jong Concert Hall. Tickets are nine dollars and three dollars off with a student ID. They can be purchased at the Fine Arts Ticket Office or online at

    Recordings of the work may be ordered by calling (208) 496-1260 or online at

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