This week, we’re going to start something different: survey reviews! My goal is to work through the several dozen most popular hymns and identify (as of writing) what your arrangement options are. As hymn number 1, “The Morning Breaks,” is popular enough, we’ll start there.
If you have a particular hymn you want me to survey (O, My Father? Master the Tempest is Raging?), let me know! These survey reviews don’t need to go in hymn book order. Also, don’t worry—I still also write in-depth reviews of specific arrangements.
So without further ado, these are your seven basic options for “The Morning Breaks.” The assortment is almost a who’s who of 20th-century LDS choral composers, including Merrill Bradshaw, Hal Campbell, A. Laurence Lyon, Robert Manookin, Ron Staheli, and Mack Wilberg. Here’s the run down:
Bradshaw’s arrangement opens his oratorio The Restoration. It’s a rousing, inspiration version. You can sample the first bit here. It’s also hard to come by. A choir and organ reduction exists if you’re willing to go to BYU’s special collections to procure it.
I cannot comment much on this specific arrangement as my copy of the Choirbook is currently 100 miles away, but what I can say though is that if you are not using the Choirbook at least once or twice a year, you’re missing out. It is probably the single best compendium of church choral music in existence, in terms of cost, quality, and performability. So check it out, if not for this hymn then for the other arrangements in the book.
A. Laurence Lyon
Wikipedia reports that A. Laurence Lyon wrote his arrangement of “The Morning Breaks” for the Oakland Temple and that it was performed at two other temple edications as well. You can purchase it in a book with five other hymn arrangements from Jackman Music, from which you can get a printable PDF, or from SheetMusicPlus, which offers a 5% discount if you order mulitple copies. Unfortunately, there is no preview for the piece.
Robert Manookin’s arrangement is inexpensive ($0.85 a copy) and easy to get from Jackman Music. Its harmony is a little dated-sounding, but it’s a good rendition and well within the ability of many ward choirs.
Cathy Neff has a medley of “The Morning Breaks” with “Now Let Us Rejoice.” If your taste in music leans Sally DeFord, you should check it out. Sister Neff provides practice mp3 tracks for a modest fee ($1) and will also transpose and re-voice the music upon request. I couldn’t get the audio to work on two browsers or my phone, though hopefully some of you readers will have more luck. At least on the opening page, the piano and choral parts are quite easy.
Ron Staheli’s arrangement of “The Morning Breaks” for a cappella choir is subtle and beautiful and pitched a little high for your average ward choir:
He seems to have another version of it, lower in pitch, that also includes light organ accompaniment:
If you’ve watched General Conference within the past decade, you’ve surely also heard Mack Wilberg’s version of “The Morning Breaks.” Like Bradshaw’s version, Wilberg’s take on the hymn is large and triumphant. It’s also difficult to obtain. It doesn’t seem to be published, so you’d have to work the network of Mormon musicians to get copies.
If you have a standard ward choir and want to perform “The Morning Breaks” soon, the arrangements by Hal Campbell and Robert Manookin are both strong options. If you want a composer of whom you can ask questions and request arrangement tweaks, look into Cathy Neff’s medley.
If you want to perform a big arrangement at a stake conference, I’d try the A. Laurence Lyon arrangement. If you live close to Utah County, I’d also go down to BYU and check out the Merrill Bradshaw version.
My favorite of the lot is probably the Staheli arrangement(s?), but these ones, like the Wilberg one, would take some networking to procure.