Attending LDS General Conference this weekend and feeling the absence of President Monson who watched from home, being ill, reminded me how much I owe him.
When I first arrived in Poland in the fall of 2011, I was pretty messed up emotionally. I had made a wildly difficult decision to go on a Fulbright scholarship overseas without my family, as money wouldn't stretch to support us all abroad. The guilt I felt was overwhelming.
I had the thought one day to start listening to all of President Monson's talks dating back to the very beginning of his Apostleship in 1963. That's over 200 talks in all. What started out as a helpful distraction to help me feel less lonely and guilty became a daily and sometimes twice daily soothing balm. It sounds strange, but I felt like I got to know him somehow from spending so many hours over a 9 month period listening to him. I went full tilt conference geek and started listening to all of President Hinckley's talks as well as several others. But it was President Monson who was my favorite daily dose.
Towards the end of my time, I felt so thankful for all the many times he had lifted my spirits that I wanted to give back. But how? I wasn't sure.
Of course, the first thought that would come to a composer's mind would be, "I should write him a piece of music." But how on earth would I ever get it to him or find a way that he could hear and appreciate it? I wasn't sure, but I knew exactly which text I should set, one of his most often quoted texts and a text that describes him and his life of selfless service down to a T.
Matthew 25:34-40, the story of feeding the Lord when he was "an hungered."
So, I worked and worked, wanting to make this a very special piece. I set it for mixed choir SATB and Organ.
My time in Poland came to an end, I went back to the states, and we moved the family back to the Cincinnati/Northern-Kentucky area we had left the year before.
I became composer-in-residence at the lovely St. Thomas Episcopal Church that fall and the first piece I wanted to finish and prepare for performance was this piece for President Monson.
I did finally finish it and we performed it multiple times in the Episcopalian services. For me, the greatest test of hitting the mark with this piece was in the final passage, the summing up, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." I don't know exactly how it works or what I did, but I simply cannot sing that part of the piece without choking up. It's a very special 45 seconds for me, perhaps the most special I've ever been able to put down in notes on a page. All the balm and doses of help from President Monson that came when I was in a very challenging situation come back in full force. It means so much to me.
So, I printed out a nice copy of the score, wrote a letter explaining why I had written the piece, and sent it off to Church Headquarters in SLC, not expecting anything in return. About 3 months letter I received a very nice note from President Monson, surely dictated to a secretary or something of that nature. He was so kind and generous and thanked me for my kind gift. I wish I could have played it through for him, but it seems like the gesture was well received.
To my great delight, the choir and conductor at St. Thomas liked the piece so much that we took in on tour to the National Cathedral in Washington DC a couple years later. It was a real treat to sing it in this beautiful space.
Here's is a live recording of our Parish choir performing "For I Was An Hungered" in DC.
If you'd like to get a copy of the sheet music, click the link below:
I doubt President Monson will ever get a chance to hear this piece before he passes away, but I'm so thankful. What an example he is of selfless service and devotion. I hope I can be a tenth as dedicated as he has been.