Friday, February 17, 2017

Mount Pleasant's Very Own Music Man

Johannes Hasler - Mt. Pleasant's Very Own Music Man

· 26 January 2016 ·

This article was published in 1980 in Beehive History #6, by the Utah State Hisitorical Society, written by Marilyn Miller Smolka, a great granddaughter. 

Music Man -- Right Here in Mt. Pleasant City

 At the Liverpool dock, Louisa Hasler sat on the trunk containing her wedding trousseau and cried. The emigrant ship carrying the Mormon company to America had been overbooked and some of the luggage would have to be left. It wasn't fair, she wept, that the dozens of pillow cases, sheets, feather-bed covers, table linens, dresses, underclothes, and even shirts for the groom that she so carefully had sewn by hand (not to mention the raising and preparation of the flax and wool in the first place!) had to be left in preference to her husband's trunk of organ and band instrument parts, Preference for things musical, however, was an indication of things to come for the Haslers—newly converted to the Mormon church, newly married, newly departed from their native Switzerland, and about to set off for Utah. 

For John and Louisa Hasler the fourteen-day ocean voyage wasn't nearly as tedious as some of the earlier emigrant trips, and even the trek across the country from New York to Utah could be termed as almost enjoyable as they were among the first of the Mormon companies to travel on the newly completed transcontinental railroad. 

They arrived in the late summer or early fall of 1869 and were met by Louisa's sister and brother-in-law who drove them to Mt. Pleasant, which in itself was a four-day journey. 

The Haslers had been in Mt. Pleasant less than a week then they learned that there was to be a military drill for Governor Brigham Young held in the fields between Ephraim and Manti and that no less than a military band was needed to lead the procession. So John, who had literally taught himself to play the various band instruments in Switzerland, opened his trunk. In three weeks he was able to assemble the instruments, copy each of the musical parts by hand, round up a contingent of band members whom he rehearsed day and night, and put on a performance of rousing anthems to astound the local populace. 

His brass band continued to play and was always in demand for holiday celebrations, political meetings and theater performances. John eventually printed and bound an edition of band music, probably the first available in Sanpete County. But that was only the beginning. Shortly thereafter he was called to lead the choir in his ward* a position which he held for approximately seventeen years. 

At first the local bishop was dismayed to hear that John expected the ward meetinghouse to be lighted and heated the night of choir practice. Unheard of! Why, singing, like preaching, was supposed to be unrehearsed and only performed spontaneously according to the inspiration of the spirit! But John very politely put his foot down. Spirit or no spirit, his choir was going to rehearse, and rehearse they did. John also discovered that there was precious little musical talent available, so he set about instructing several ladies in the ward sufficiently that they could accompany the choir on the organ which he also kept in repair for all those long years. 

By 1882 the Haslers were firmly established in Sanpete County. After having lived five years in the two-room basement of their home, they had managed to finish constriction of their adobe home. John had survived a near-death bout with typhoid fever, pneumonia, and rheumatic fever which left him unable to walk without a cane for the rest of his life. He had served a mission for the church to Switzerland where he had organized a choir in every branch in the mission and also arranged the music and written a number of hymns for an LDS German hymnbook. He had taught music lessons in Sanpete County as his contribution to the United Order which the Haslers had joined in 1875, and seven of their nine children had been born to them (four of whom died in childhood). At this time John began a program of applied music which drew students from all over southern Utah. 

Three organs were installed in as many rooms in the Hasler house, and for $15 to $20, from four to six students would receive board and room for a six-week intensive music course, usually held during the summer months. John would teach group and individual lessons to students all day long, and each student was expected to practice what he had learned in each of his two or three daily lessons, which amounted to several hours of practicing as well. Mina Hasler Sorensen, the youngest daughter in the family, remembers vividly lessons beginning at six o clock in the morning and organ music coming from every room all day long, all summer long! Louisa for her part cooked, cooked, cooked! Besides her own family and the students, she often fed the families of the students who would come and stay for several days at the beginning and end of the sessions to deliver or reclaim their children, as well as numbers of other emigrant pioneers who always seemed to be a part of the Hasler household for various periods of time.

 Luckily a bounteous garden was able to supply produce, and the Haslers also raised chickens and some pigs and cows. Mina also relates that by the end of the day, the students had more than enough energy stored up after sitting at their organs all day and that it was a real trick to invent meaningful activities to keep them out of trouble. This intensive group method, however, proved to be very effective and was used by a number of succeeding music educators within Utah and throughout the country. Among John Hasler's students were J. J. McClellan and Anthony D. Lund, who were associated with the Tabernacle Choir for many years. 

In 1890 as a salesman for the Crown Piano Company, John began travelling around an eight- or nine-county area with horse and buggy selling pianos and organs door-to-door. As part of the sales contract he would agree to teach one member of the family twelve tunes with the purchase of an organ, or twenty-four for a piano. The lessons were conducted on his regular monthly trips, and often he would be seen returning home with payment "in kind" — cans of molasses or honey, cheeses, or sometimes even a horse or cow tied behind his buggy. 

C. W. Reid, one of his pupils who became a music instructor at Brigham Young University, once said of him that no other man had made it possible for music to get into the homes of so many people and over so wide a territory as did John Hasler. He continued to sell musical instruments until he was about seventy years old, at which time he retired to his small farm in Mt. Pleasant. Even then he tried to organize a male chorus in his High Priest’s Quorum, an experience which was a test of his patience and musicianship because as he said, "Those old men had no ear for music!" 

John Hasler died on January 10, 1914, at the age of 75. Coincidentally the cuckoo clock which he had brought with him from Switzerland} like the grandfather clock in the song, stopped short the morning he died, and it seemed that no repairman could make it work again. 

He left a musical legacy in southern Utah that undoubtedly justified the trunk of musical instruments brought so many years before from Switzerland. — 

Marilyn M. Smolka References: Unpublished, undated personal histories written by Johannes (John) Hasler, Louisa Thalmann Hasler, Mina Hasler Sorensen, and Walter Thalmann Hasler in the possession of Marilyn M. Smolka and also deposited with the Utah Historical Society and the LDS Church Historical Department.


"Mt. Pleasant, March 21, 1910.-Yesterday was Pioneer Day in this City, but the Pioneers and their descendants held their celebration Saturday. A program was given at the North Ward Meeting House. An interesting feature of the day was a collection of Pioneer relics, displayed at the Opera House. There were old spinning wheels, wooden shoes, flint-lock guns of over a hundred years ago, Indian millstones, pewter ware brought across the plains in the handcart companies, and many other things. The day's festivities closed with a grand ball in the evening at the Madsen Opera House." p. 195

In 1913-14, the old "meeting house" was remodeled and new benches purchased. At this time, the gallery was taken out, and a vestibule was built on the west. The building was dedicated by President Anthon H. Lund, and then became known as the North Ward Chapel. p. 198

Later (John Hasler) took the leadership of the ward choir; George Farnsworth, the former leader had resigned. At that time, no printed
music was arranged to the Church Hymn books, he wrote all the notes and arranged them to the Latter-day Saints' Hymns, until the Psalmody was edited. No heated rooms were provided for their practices, a leader had to make his own fires, and bring his own coal oil for their lights. Later, when an organ was pro­vided for the meeting house, the leader had to teach the organists before the practices. Entertainments had to be arranged to en­courage the members as well as the public. In this capacity, Mr. Hastler labored for over twenty years. . . . He was greatly thankful to be able to enjoy his work. He was noted for his punctuality, he never was known to have been late to meet an ap­pointment where duty called.
He was an organizer in this line of work, not only in Mt. Pleasant, but in many other towns he organized choirs and bands. p. 243

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