Monday, July 12, 2010

Before the Tabernacle....there was a Choir (John Parry)

John Parry (Grandma Virginia's great-grandfather) was born in Wales in 1789. He was a master stone mason and lay preacher in the Baptist, and later the Campbellite religion. He and his wife were converted and baptized in 1846 by missionaries under the direction of Dan Jones.

From 1845-1848 these missionaries baptized over 3600 people in Wales. (that's 1 out of every 268 people living in Wales at that time!) John, his wife and son Caleb (Grandma Virginia's grandfather) were in the first group of converts to immigrate, sailing on The Buena Vista, captained by Jones.

Reaching New Orleans, they were towed up the Mississippi to St. Louis, but many died of cholera, including John's wife. She was buried at Council Bluffs. Check out Welsh Mormon History for more details of many of our Welsh ancestors. (Go on Immigrants and do a search for Parry).

John and Caleb, along with many of their countrymen, continued on to Utah on 13 July 1849, with the George A Smith Company. They arrived on 26 October.

John's son, Joseph Hyrum Parry, writes of his father:

....he was a poet, singer and musician of some note, playing the harp and flute. He came from a long line of churchmen and singers. The melodious voices of the new arrivals were noticed by everyone, including Brigham Young, for....

When this group of approximately 85 Welshmen reached the valley, President Brigham Young asked John Parry, their leader, to organize a choir to sing at General Conference in the Bowery. Brother Parry, a former Campbellite minister and a first-rate musician, responded with enthusiasm. The choir that he directed was the nucleus of what would become the world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
As conductor of a group of singers who lived a thousand miles from the nearest music store, Brother Parry had to overcome numerous obstacles in preparing his vocalists for their performances.
Printed music was simply not available; consequently, part of each rehearsal had to be devoted to just memorizing the words of the songs. Until they learned the lyrics those who had no books “mumbled” the tune in their respective parts.
Another complication was that many Welshmen could not sing in English, and no one but the Welsh could sing in that ancient Celtic tongue.
At a time when cultural events were practically non-existent among pioneers who longed for the finer things of life, the choir was received with great appreciation. Its fame grew, as did its numbers, and the result is a choir now known and esteemed all over the world.

More interesting stories about these valiant pioneers can be read in The Call to Zion; The Story of the First Welsh Mormon Immigration.

Here is John Parry.


  1. Cool mom, I've always known about this connection but knew nothing about it... thanks.

  2. I just found this post while searching Google. Thank you for posting this as it gives me some greater connection and insight to my family.

    Chad Parry

  3. I assume that you have seen the wonderful Christmas video of the choir singing and a famous actor telling the story of your ancestor. It is truly inspiring.