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Joseph Henry Dean, Harry A. Dean, and the Samoan hymn book

Harry A. Dean and the Samoan Hymn Book

Father (Joseph H. Dean) opened this Samoan mission in 1888.  He insisted on absolute Order, and punctuality.

When I (Harry A. Dean) first arrived in Samoa, January 1914, the Mission was using a small compilation of hymns, with words only, and no music.  They were hymns written by former missionaries, few of them were translations, but were original words, put to the music settings of our familiar hymns.  The thought came to me (I call it INSPIRATION, for it has proven to be just that) that the Mission could just as well have the translations of many more of our Latter Day Saint hymns, arranged of course With The Music.  With that thought in mind, I approached Mission President John A. Nelson about it.  His reaction was immediate and favorable.

I made known to Mission President John A. Nelson today the thing which has been on my mind ever since I came to Samoa—the translation of our hymns and putting them to music.  I have thought much and prayed about it, hoping that I would be able to do the work before returning home.  So today I made my desire known to the President.  He said that he had often wondered why we could not have music in our songs.  He seemed favorably impressed with the idea, and asked just how I would go about he work, etc.  He said that it would be entirely in my hands and that when the time came when it was necessary for me to have an organ, that I could be transferred.   It as on Savaii where I approached Mission President John A. Nelson regarding the work of translating the hymns into Samoan and arranging them to music.  He looked with favor on the proposal and later transferred me to island of Upolu where conditions were more favorable for the work of translation.

I wrote my thoughts regarding the translations, and President Nelson’s reaction to father, who at that time was living in Shelley Idaho.  He was immediately “fired” with a desire to go to Samoa and help with the work of translations, which he did. Joseph H. Dean was sent back to Samoa by the First Presidency, Joseph F. Smith and Anthon H. Lund.  Set apart by Anthon H. Lund who said: I go with their best wishes, could stay as long as I liked and return when I pleased.

This book of 267 Latter Day Saint hymns was the first book of music and words ever used in the Samoan Islands.  It filled the needs of the mission for a period of forty-six years, when the new revised edition was printed in 1964.  This book was enthusiastically received in Samoa by saints and missionaries.  It was even used by some of the other religious denominations until they had a book of their own published.  The name of the book was the same as that of the first book of words, O PESE A SIONA (Songs of Zion).  The name of the new Revised edition was changed to O Pese Ma Viiga I le Atua (Songs of Praises to God).

Joseph H. to Son Harry:

‘There is one point in your letter which sticks out in my memory, and that is the labor of setting music to the words in the Samoan hymn book.  I would make that the big objective of your mission if I were you.  I BELIEVE THAT IS THE MAIN THING THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD HAD IN VIEW WHEN YOU WERE CHOSEN FOR THAT FIELD OF LABOR.   I had nothing to do with suggesting Samoa for you.  In fact, I felt a little disappointed.  YOU HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE A LASTING IMPRESSION ON THAT MISSION AND I ADVISE YOU TO MAKE EVERTHING ELSE SECONDARY TO IT.

The above is only part of the long letter, but it is literally prophetic.  I did make the music work (translating) the main part of my mission, and father did visit Samoa where we worked together for nine months on the translations of English hymns into Samoan.  I had worked on it for a year before father arrived.  And our work did leave a lasting impression on the Mission, because the Samoan saints have been singing our translations for the past 45 years, and will continue to do so as long as the mission lasts.  And the mark on the mission father spoke about will be bigger when, with the help of the Lord I can see the consummation of the REVISION OF THE SAMON HYMN BOOK, which I have been working on for three years and which will be off the press in 1964.  And I have the same conviction in my heart that father had in the above letter when he wrote: “I BELIEVE THAT IS THE MAIN THING THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD HAD IN VIEW WHEN YOU WERE CHOSEN FOR THAT FIELD OF LABOR”  If the above letter was not a prophesy, I don’t know what prophesy is.  So I am happier and more thankful tonight than I have been since coming to Samoa, I realize that there will be difficulties which I do not see at present, but with the help of the Lord I will realize my desires in that line.  I know the time is ripe for this Mission to have MUSIC along with their WORDS.

Today is one of the happiest days of my life because I have seen the fruits of part of my mission, in the form of a Printed Samoan Hymn book, 267 hymns in all, 106 of them being mine and father translations, and hymns with original words.  Father has 50 translations and I have 56.  Kipeni has between thirty and forty.  The work has taken a lot of work, perseverance, faith and prayers to accomplish.  It will last as long as the Samoan Mission lasts and will do untold good in helping spread the gospel to the Samoan people.  The Lord blessed us greatly in the work and to Him be the honor and glory.  The First Presidency sent father a check for payment in full ($1,925.50) for the printing of the Samoan Hymn book, which father turned over to the Paradise of the Pacific Press in Honolulu.  The First Presidency also asked that Father store the translations of the anthems and the plates of the Samoan Hymns in the Hawaiian Temple, which was done.

“Your communication of the 20th of May reached us on the 20th of June, along with three bound copies of the Samoan Hymn Book, which we were glad to receive, and take this opportunity to congratulate you and your son Harry A. Dean on the production of this hymnbook, believing it will be highly esteemed by the Samoan saints and be a means of doing much good.  Please forward the whole edition of 2500 copies to President Willard R. Keith at Apia.  We are writing him to expect the books on the first steamer leaving Honolulu after this letter reaches you.  We feel that your visit to Samoa and Hawaii is going to result in great good and we shall be glad to welcome you home again.

We are, with kindest regards, your brethren,  Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund Charles W. Penrose, First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

I have the strong conviction that it was Inspiration which prompted me to write President David O. McKay in regards to the Revision of our First edition.  And it was also Inspiration, which prompted me to approach Mission President John A. Nelson in Samoa in 1915 to get his consent to translate and compile the First Edition into the first book of WORDS AND MUSIC ever used in the Samoan Mission.

Excerpts taken from journal of Harry A. Dean

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