A Heritage of Faith – The Story Behind the Song

A Heritage of Faith – The Story Behind the Song

In 2010, the Nephi, Utah Stake announced plans to take the youth of the stake ages 14 to 18 on an unprecedented youth conference to multiple church history sites in multiple states.  The plan included chartered tour buses, hotel stays, baptisms for the dead in the Nauvoo Temple, authentic pioneer garb, custom event t-shirts, devotionals and firesides, many adult chaperones, and lots and lots of food.  It goes without saying that there was more than a little excitement in the air! Plans for the trip began a year in advance.   Here’s a list of the historic locations they would visit:

  • Liberty Jail, Liberty, Missouri

  • Independence, Missouri62a6a7ed795af827a10befcd3a106bb7

  • Far West, Missouri

  • Adam-ondi Ahman

  • Nauvoo, Illinois

  • Carthage, Illinois

  • Winter Quarters, Nebraska

  • Chimney Rock, Guernsey Ruts & Register Cliff, Wyoming

  • Martin’s Cove

At the time, I had three children who were eligible to be a part of this youth conference, so I heard about it a lot as they were briefed and prepared and their pioneer clothes were constructed by women in our ward.  The conference was planned for the first week of June 2011.

I got the idea for a youth conference theme song in November of 2010 when I was planning the years’ worth of musical numbers and choir performances for my ward’s sacrament meetings (I was the ward music chairman at the time).  I noticed the topic on the second Sunday in June was “Youth Conference report.”  I thought it would be nice for the youth to sing the musical number that day, and that would be a way for all those who went to youth conference to participate, since they probably couldn’t all be fit in as speakers.  The leaders could sing it as well.

My first reaction was to email some of my musician friends to see if they had a song that would fit the objectives.   I began an exchange with Janice Kapp Perry, and she sent me several songs of hers, but we both agreed that they didn’t quite fit.  She said she knew someone who could write it, and that would be me!  I told her I doubted my ability to come through in time, and she agreed to mentor me through the process.

I then began to “fill my well” in an effort to come up with a title, which is usually one of the first steps in songwriting.  I read texts on songwriting, read articles on creativity, listened to conference talks, prayed, read church history, firstvisionread articles on the Holy Ghost in the creative process, went to the temple, and basically did a lot of “homework.”  On my way back from taking my oldest daughter back to college after Christmas, I was driving home by myself, pondering the Personal Progress I was working on.  I was thinking about the Faith value.  It occurred to me that faith was the common thread among Joseph Smith, the early members of the church, and the handcart pioneers. iowaCityArticle1 As I drove down the canyon toward Nephi, I got an impression for a title–“A Heritage of Faith”.  My first thought was that it wasn’t a knock-your-socks-off spectacular title, but after a while I realized that I shouldn’t dismiss an impression.  I later ran it by Sister Perry, and she said she felt it was just right and that if she were writing the song, she felt as if she would have chosen the same title.

From there, I went through a series of events to humble and try me, which included my back going out in a serious way, a horrible sinus infection, and the hugest and only cold sore I had ever gotten in my life (my whole upper lip and nose swelled to an embarrassing size).  I can’t really put that whole trial period into words, but looking back on it, I know the Lord needed me to be in a very specific place of humility so that he could really work with me.  I also know I was buffeted like crazy by the adversary for about six weeks because there was such a potential for good in what I was trying to do.  Though I was “not yet as Job” (D&C 121:10), I felt a little bit like it!

Our stake conference in January gave me a boost to keep me going—partly because I finally committed to writing the song by voicing my intentions out loud to the stake presidency counselor and the stake Young Women president.  They both seemed slightly confused about the idea but cautiously enthusiastic.  Honestly, I don’t think they comprehended completely what I was proposing.  Miraculously, the talks that the stake presidency gave at stake conference were exactly what I needed.  One stake presidency counselor’s remarks gave me reminders about being an instrument in the Lord’s hands, being worthy and tuning in to the Holy Ghost, and praying specifically in order to receive specific blessings.  The talks that the other counselor and stake president gave had material for the song.

During January and a majority of February,  I continued to do my “homework” in gathering information and pondering possible directions for the song.   I got two priesthood blessings and kept reading my scriptures and praying regularly, but I didn’t make any progress because of a heaviness that had settled on me.  I can’t explain the oppression that I felt, only I know it’s real.  I was corresponding with another friend who had been involved in a big musical project involving the Book of Mormon.  She had experienced the same thing for over two months at the beginning of the previous year.  It was as if the adversary was pouring on his efforts to stop her from creating something virtuous, lovely, and of good report.  For me, that feeling of oppression only lifted finally on Friday, February 18th.

downloadOn Sunday, February 20th in sacrament meeting, they announced a kick-off fireside with renowned church historian, Susan Easton Black in Nephi for the following week.  It was the first I had heard of it.  I thought, “This song needs to be introduced at that fireside, but I don’t know if I can possibly have it done by then!”  At that point, I only had a title and a whole bunch of studying and several pages of unorganized notes in my notebook.  I knew from experience that anything is possible with the Lord’s help, but I also knew I was going to have to pour it on and really work hard, not only to come up with words, but to be my best self in order to allow the Spirit to work with me.

On Tuesday, February 22nd, I had to go to Utah County, so I emailed Sister Perry and arranged to visit with her at her home. She and I talked for an hour and forty-five minutes and hashed over all my thoughts and notes, and we talked about the creative process, our experiences with writing, and the importance of the youth remembering what they feel at youth conference.  Scientifically speaking, music is proven to create a 90% retention rate, much better than if someone is just told or shown, or even if they have a feeling.  If music is present with a feeling, then every time that music is sung or heard, the feeling will come back.  THAT is why this was so important.  Music gives the Spirit a chance to testify of truthfulness and sink the principles deep into our hearts.

For two days after my visit with Sister Perry, I  worked and prayed.  I had to make a determined and deliberate effort to keep the adversary and his discouraging minions at bay.  With Sister Perry’s coaxing and coaching and her wisdom helping me through the process, I solidified the chorus by Thursday, February 24th.  The verses were still a mass of unorganized matter at this point, but I was working hard and exercising my faith.  That night I got up my courage to email the stake presidency counselor who was over the conference.  I related to him all that had led up to that point, including how I had come up with the title, the encouragement of Sister Perry, and the period of oppression I had just been through.  The letter read in part:

Dear President Sevy,

I spoke to you at stake conference about writing a theme song for youth conference.  I wanted to update you on my efforts in that regard.

I know that it may seem strange for me to take on an assignment without having been asked to do so, but I have learned from experience that when it comes to music, a lot of times no one thinks of it because they don’t think it is even a possibility.  That happened with the Handcart Pageant.  When I first met the directors, they were looking for someone to get music for the pageant that was already in existence–off of CD’s and soundtracks from films like Legacy.  I knew immediately that they wouldn’t have to do that because I had the ability to custom-write a soundtrack.  The directors said later that they never even imagined that it could happen.  I guess my point in sharing that is to “convince” you that having a custom-written theme song for youth conference is not only possible, but it could be of benefit in ways that probably none of us yet realize.

My vision of this song is that it will sum up the objectives of the conference, that it will be learned by all the youth, andhandcart-pioneers-by-cca-christensen that it will be sung and performed multiple times during the process and at the some of the locations you will be visiting.  I have the resources to get a nice accompaniment recording done, maybe even with some orchestration.  That could be used when a piano is not available during the conference.  This song would be ideal for testimony meetings, in sacrament meeting before or after the youth go, and like I said, during the trip.

Again, I know that I wasn’t given this assignment, and that therefore I don’t really have any authority.  But I hope that you can feel from what I have shared with you that the Lord has a deep concern for the youth of our stake, and this is just one more element that will help accomplish His purposes.  President Stowell’s remark at stake conference stunned me:  “They will rise above every other generation of youth in this stake because of what they feel when they go to youth conference.”  I hope that this song will contribute to that.  I hope that you will ponder this and maybe utter a prayer and ask Heavenly Father if it’s his will, and if it is, please say a prayer for me that I will be able to finish it in time. 

I wanted to ask if you would tentatively save a spot for this song at the fireside on Sunday—either a musical number if you don’t have one, or the closing song, sung as a solo or a group, which I would arrange for.600x331xHandcart.jpg.pagespeed.ic.l2_pPX6mPj

The song I am creating is about the faith of Joseph Smith and the restoration, and the faith of those pioneers who left their homes and gave their all in sacrifice and faith because they believed in the restoration. As members of the church that is our heritage, and it strengthens us and our faith, and in turn, we should leave our own lives of sacrifice and faith for the next generation–passing the torch, so to speak.

I sent him the chorus I had come up with in the context of a rough outline of the song with the verse ideas, and I gave him a chance to decline my efforts if they were not welcome.  His response was very encouraging:

Dear Sister Goates,

 Thank you so much for this detailed letter on your efforts to provide our Youth with something that will help prolong the memory of this special Youth Conference. Your insight and inspiration is above my ability to comprehend. I want you to know how much your suggestion for a song to commemorate this Conference means to me and I know for sure I can speak for the entire Stake Presidency. What’s more amazing is the excitement this activity has brought to the entire Stake and for that reason I feel that you are as entitled to receive inspiration as anyone of the Stake Presidency. You have been blessed with a wonderful gift of music and the ability to know and understand the power of music and how it can influence the lives of the Saints and especially our youth. I know the Lord knows that, and I know the Lord knows that he couldn’t rely on a member of the Stake Presidency to come up with an idea like you have, because we do not posses that ability and you do. I learned that lesson well as a Bishop and I learned to rely heavily on the inspiration of those I was serving with to make it work.

 I very much appreciate you sharing this experience you have had with me. It is very touching as well as a testimony builder for myself.  Thank you. It has been made known to the Presidency and the Young Women and Young Men presidencies the importance of this undertaking. The planning and organization 36481_all_00-09-NauvooTempleof this event has fallen in place much too easily to make it just an ordinary event. We strongly know that this Conference is the right thing to do with the youth of our Stake this year. We know that there are lives that will be touched and testimonies strengthened to prepare our youth for the trials they will be facing in the future. We know that there are young men in our Stake that are unsure of serving missions and that this single event will strengthen them to make the commitment to serve and that our Stake will see the greatest missionary force ever witnessed. All of this has been confirmed in our minds. You’re contribution will only intensify this experience.

 I will let the YW and YM Presidents know of your desire to share this at the fireside Sunday night. From this point on, you will have many praying for your success. I know you will be able to accomplish your heart’s desire in completing this song. God will bless you in this effort as well as many other aspects of your life where you are seeking his help. With your permission, may I forward this to the others involved? I know it will boost the testimonies of the others just as it has mine. Thank you, thank you, thank you.


 President Sevy

 The next couple of days I spent working hard, praying on my knees many many times each day, and thanking Heavenly Father for every little drop of progress. And it seemed to come just that way—one drop at a time.  That kind of progress requires a lot of patience and faith!  I realized that I didn’t have time to entertain any thoughts of failure.  I just didn’t have time.  So if I started to hear the “what if’s” coming into my mind or the “you’re crazy’s”, I immediately dismissed them.  At some point during the week, I called my friend in our stake who is an amazing pianist, Margaret Thomson, and asked her if she would be willing to play a song at a fireside, and told her  that she would only see the music a short time before it was to be performed.  She is great at sight reading, and she consented.

Through the entire process I was emailing Sister Perry, and in these last days and hours it was multiple times a day.  She was very prompt to answer my questions and give her opinion on alternate word choices and whether I was getting my meaning across well or not.  She constantly cheered me on.   It was so very helpful to have her there encouraging me.  I treasure that email exchange now and love to read back over it.

 Saturday night came, and I had made a lot of progress, but I was still missing one of the verses, and I hadn’t even begun to work on music.  Late that night I was exhausted, very discouraged, and I wanted to go to bed.  I pouted my way up the stairs and said out loud with a tear in my eye, “I guess it wasn’t the Lord’s will after all.”  I stopped in passing by my piano, and then a miracle happened.  I put my fingers down somewhat randomly and played the opening notes of what would become the introduction to the song.  It sounded good!  It infused me with hope!  I was humbled and filled with gratitude at this little “message” from above.  I determined not to give up.  I remembered hearing more than once from our apostles that inspiration comes in the early hours of the morning, so I decided I would get up at 4:30 the next morning, the Sunday of the kick-off fireside, to work on finishing the song.

 I did get up early, and I did work hard.  But I still didn’t finish!  When it was time to get ready for church or be late, I got down on my knees and started laying things on the alter and making promises to Heavenly Father of things that I would do or give up if he would help me finish the song.  I told him that it wouldn’t be about me and that I would give him ALL the glory.  I have to say that when one gets to this point, it is very interesting to what extent other things fall into the background and what is really important at that moment comes into focus.  I wanted so desperately for the youth of my stake and my own children to have this song to help them recall these experiences for the rest of their lives, and I wanted it so badly that I was willing to make personal sacrifices for it.  Heavenly Father honored my request, and I wrote the last lines of the lyrics during Relief Society, which was in the third hour of the block. (Yes, I was songwriting during church.  Heavenly Father and I are okay on this point.  🙂 )  A sister in my ward who knew what I was doing asked me if she could help, so I took her up on it and sent my younger children to her house for a little while after we had some dinner.  I had about three hours to get the music composed and down on paper.

 Honestly, I don’t remember how it happened.  I really don’t.  But I printed the music out and got in the car with my daughter, Hannah, sometime after 5:00pm.  I handed the music to her and sang it with her several times over the twelve-minute drive to our stake center for the fireside, which was set to start at 6:00.  We went in the Relief Society room with Margaret, and she and Hannah ran through the song two or three times.  I was greeted as we went into the chapel with a big smile from our stake Young Men president who was very excited to hear what I had come up with.  He said had been praying for me and said the story of how it came about was inspiring to him.  He told me we were on the program as the closing song.

 When it was time, I sat on the piano bench with Margaret to turn pages.  It was a little bit rough, but when Hannah sang, the room was filled with an electricity and spirit that is hard to describe.  Here is the recording of that first performance:

After the fireside was over, many people came to tell us how they were touched by the song.  I heard some of the youth singing it quietly as they went to get refreshments, and I thought it was a good sign that it was catchy enough to stick with them.  But the best part was when one of my very dearest friends who had been going through some very serious challenges came to me, sobbing, and told me how beautiful it was and that it was just what she needed to hear. That made it ALL worth it!

I had sent Sister Perry a last email that morning before church when I still didn’t have the lyrics finished, and then I wasn’t able to get back to her until the evening after all was said and done.  She said the whole thing had been quite a “nail-biter”, and all day Sunday she was dying to know how things had turned out!  On Monday morning I went early to the Provo Temple and then went to her home.  We had breakfast and spent some time talking about the whole amazing experience, and I played her the recording from the fireside.  I was filled with a combination of amazement at Heavenly Father’s kindness, humility at having been an instrument for Him, gratitude for the growth of the experience, and just general happiness and peace.

 The stake presidency made “A Heritage of Faith” the title of the entire youth conference trip, and it was printed on the t-shirts and in their itinerary.  (I got a t-shirt for Sister Perry as a souvenir!)  The stake youth and leaders sang it at several points during the trip, and the youth and leaders of my ward sang it in our sacrament meeting on the second Sunday in June when they reported about their trip.

Writing this song was a very inspiring, instructive, and precious experience for me, and I have referred back to it many times in my subsequent composing efforts.  I am deeply grateful for the privilege of writing music to help further our Heavenly Father’s plan.  It is such a humbling and beautiful thing to be involved in!  It is my hope that this song will continue to edify and inspire others who hear and use it.

 ~Rachel Mecham Goates

 samp_A_Heritage_of_Faith-sheet-page-0“A Heritage of Faith” is available in sheet music for Vocal Solo or Youth Chorus.

 For minus tracks or recordings of this song, please contact us.

 Watch the original YouTube video here.

About The Author

Rachel Mecham Goates is partner and Director of Marketing at Music for Worship and musicforworship.net. She is an award-winning composer, arranger, and songwriter, whose works have been widely performed in the United States and internationally. Rachel is the mother of seven children and resides in a rural town in central Utah.

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