Mormon Tabernacle Choir Blog

“The Morning Breaks” Was Written on a Ship Sailing from England to the United States 

The 1985 hymnal begins with the Restoration-themed “The Morning Breaks,” which sets the Latter-day Saint tone for the rest of the hymnal.

The text was written by early Apostle Parley P. Pratt, who was nicknamed the “Poet Apostle.” Pratt’s opening line, “The morning breaks, the shadows flee” is said to have come from a poem by Charles Wesley titled “Wresting Jacob” (based on Genesis 32). To Pratt, those words provoked feelings of the dawning of the Restoration of the gospel.

Although the words to “The Morning Breaks” were sung to several tunes throughout its early years, the music we are familiar with was composed by George Careless, who became the sixth music director for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. According to the book Stories of the Latter-day Saint Hymns, Their Authors, and Composers, by George D. Pyper, Careless composed the hymn tune while he was sailing to the United States from England on the Hudson in 1864. Here’s an account of the tune’s origin:

“When the ship neared Castle Garden, New York, the captain came to George and said he had admired the singing of the Mormon group so much that he wanted on of the professor’s hymn tunes,” explained Pyper. Careless explained he had no music [staff] paper, but the captain insisted. “So young Careless took a piece of writing paper out of his barrel, in a corner of the vessel, he sat down and wrote the tune called ‘Hudson’ in honor of the boat upon which he had sailed and also of the Hudson River into which they were gliding. The tune he put to ‘The Morning Breaks, the Shadows Flee (as it was called at the time).’ After writing the music, Brother Careless assembled his choir (made up of emigrating Latter-day Saints) and sang it for the captain, giving him the rough copy of the music, over which the captain seemed much delighted” (Stories of the Latter-day Saint Hymns, Their Authors, and Composers, 41–42).

Watch the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square perform “The Morning Breaks.”