In my opinion, this is one of the most fun songs to sing with its melody, constantly moving parts. I sometimes would get bored by the "chord-chord-chord" nature of most typical hymns. This is may be composed of chords, but it also has so much movement. And I love it! Of course, that credit cannot be given to the early Saints since it is based on a Scottish folk song (yay heritage!) and is one I often hear bagpipe bands play. Then again, the majority of bagpipe bands I listen to are here in Utah. I wonder if ones outside of Utah play this tune as much. Hmmmm... Well, whatever the case, I love this tune.
I also love the words. This hymn shows how we praise and honor Joseph Smith, but we do not worship him. We acknowledge what amazing things he did as an instrument in God's hands to restore the fulness of the Gospel, the priesthood keys, and enable salvation for the living and the dead. To have endured so much suffering and do so overall with an optimistic, upbeat attitude about life. His cheerful disposition. His love for people and life. His tireless work ethic. As a man, he was pretty amazing. And then to be the main instrument to help us--the world!--again fully access the Lord's Atonement and promised blessings of exaltation, my joy is great that Joseph the Prophet sacrificed so much for me and all of mankind. So I find the greatest joy in singing his praises with this song--in the most fun, upbeat way possible!
I am excited for this coming Sunday because this year the Primary (the children's organization) learned two of the verses to sing in their program. I actually was substituting as the Primary chorister during the month they were to learn it. Teaching it to them was interesting and hilarious. I always like to teach actions in songs to little kids, which the majority of our Primary is quite young. And we came up with the actions on the spot. Absolutely hilarious. I think the adult leaders' favorite was the action for "mingling with gods." I aim to please. :-)
Favorite line: "Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven." I remember a talk given on that and it really resonated with me.
From the history book
Another hymn by the talented William W. Phelps, a close friend of the Prophet Joseph--who had his own forgiveness story with him which has always touched me. Phelps wrote this to express grief and admiration for his lost prophet and friend. This song is described as having a "joyful sadness." Agreed. For it has always been a huge sorrow to me for how Joseph Smith died, yet it set him free from the mobs and hypocrites.
The second verse originally was more specific to where he was martyred, but in 1927 they changed the wording to fir the "good neighbor" policy of the Church. The original text was first printed in 1844. Though it was Brother Phelps hymn, the first verse seems to be based on Sir Walter Scott's Lady of the Lake. They think it was likely that in the early days of the hymn, it was sung to the "Hail to the Chief" tune, and moved to the current "Scotland the Brave" tune after they moved to Utah. And thank goodness for that!!!