Singing the Distance

“Singing the Distance,” New Era, Jan. 2000, 12

Singing the Distance

Here was a marathon everyone could participate in—sitting down!

With hymnbooks in their hands, a group of bleary-eyed seminary students packed pillows and quilts with them. They were barely awake as they gathered at the church on an early Saturday morning. But with the first chords of hymn number one, “The Morning Breaks,” the seminary students from Pleasant Grove, Utah, started a marathon. It would take them more than 13 hours to complete. There was no running involved—just singing. Lots and lots of singing. The seminary students were attempting to sing every hymn in the hymnbook in a single day.

The idea started two years ago when Mike Laudie and his older brother Jim were waiting to be interviewed for temple recommends. They started playing the piano and singing hymns. “We just thought, Wouldn’t it be cool to sing all the hymns in one sitting,” said Mike. At that time, Jim organized and held the first hymn marathon at the Pleasant Grove seminary. Then, this year, Mike was on the seminary council and proposed that the seminary try it again.

First, the seminary council asked the 1,200 seminary students to vote on their favorite hymns. After every 20 hymns, the group would sing a hymn from their top 25 choices. The plan was to save the top-10 vote getters for the last hour of the marathon. Fortified with plenty of doughnuts and juice, they started singing. A few students like David Anson stayed the whole 13 hours. He said, “Music means so much to my life. It has touched me for good.” Others had to come and go as their work schedules allowed. With some talented accompanists spelling each other, the number of singers fluctuated throughout the day between a few dozen to nearly 200. Even if they had come earlier in the day, most who participated came back for the last hour.

The message of the hymns came across strongly for some. They felt the power of beautiful words combined with pleasing melodies. Tyson Peery noted one meaningful line. “There are a lot of hymns we don’t know. But when we sang, ‘There Is Sunshine in My Soul Today,’ one of the lines says, ‘And Jesus listening can hear, the songs I cannot sing.’ That really hit me.”

Another meaningful hymn to the group was “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief.” Brett Munden said, “I love that song because when I sing it I think of Joseph Smith in Carthage Jail. He asked John Taylor to sing that song for him. It’s my favorite hymn because it was Joseph’s favorite.”

For many, the hymn marathon became more than just an endurance feat. Sarah Overson said, “I thought of the hymn that says, ‘Angels above us are silent notes taking’ (see Hymns, no. 237). I know that God was pleased with us singing praises to Him all day long. Singing hymns is like praying. It was to show Heavenly Father that I was willing to sacrifice my time to ‘pray’ to Him. I want Him to know that I’m willing and trying to improve my habits and keep the commandments.”

10 Favorite Hymns

These are the 10 hymns the Pleasant Grove seminary students voted as their favorites:

  • The Spirit of God

  • A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief

  • Praise to the Man

  • I Stand All Amazed

  • How Great Thou Art

  • If You Could Hie to Kolob

  • Called to Serve

  • True to the Faith

  • We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet

  • Come, Come, Ye Saints

Temple Singing

Since the Mount Timpanogos Temple is in their community, students at the Pleasant Grove seminary join with other seminary students from other high schools on Sunday evenings at the temple grounds. It’s an informal gathering where young people sit on the grass and sing hymns. John Fisher’s favorite hymn is now “I Need Thee Every Hour,” because of an experience that happened to him while singing at the temple grounds. He said, “When I first read through the Book of Mormon, I fasted and prayed to know if it was true. I was singing at the Mount Timpanogos Temple. During “I Need Thee Every Hour,” I looked up at the temple, and I got my answer right there. The temple just seemed to be glowing about three times brighter. I just knew.”

Photography by Janet Thomas

All day long, seminary students came and went, though a few stayed the whole time. The camera caught them smiling between verses (above). Other than that, the singing didn’t stop until they had sung every hymn in the book.