WANDA RAE WEST PALMER
Wanda Rae West Palmer was born January 22, 1930, in the small town of Lakeside Arizona. Her Parents, Karl Bates West and Irma Hansen West owned a grocery store in Lakeside, located on main street highway. She lived in a little brick home just South of the store that is still there today. Wanda married Melvin Artimus Palmer in 1949, and in 2014 they celebrated their 64th Wedding Anniversary. They have 8 children Melvin Dennis, Larkin Artimus, Ricky West, Kevin Earl, Wanda Lynette, Brenda Rae, Darin Preston and Ronda LaDawn (Deceased), 40 grandchildren, 60 great grandchildren and still counting!
Her love for music was inspired by her parents who were very musical and encouraged her to sing and play piano. “My daddy, when he would have businessmen come in and I was in the room, would have me sing a song, then excuse me and have the meeting. We always were not asked, but expected, to perform at the drop of a hat.” (Church News Aug.25th, 2012 R. Scott Lloyd) It was a rule in their home that if you were sitting at the piano, you were not to be disturbed, as a result she was given time to create and dream. It was during her precious childhood years that her testimony and gift for hearing music began.
“At the age of 5½, I attended a little four-room schoolhouse that was surrounded with pine trees. There was a little stream of water (a ditch) that ran north and south along the far-east side of the schoolyard. I would go and sit alone at the ditch bank, and I would sing. I would sing about the little stream of water as it rippled along. I would sing about the water spiders, darting here and there on top of the water and the pollywogs and minnows hiding in the rocks under the water. I would sing about the grass growing on either side of the ditch bank, and the dandelions and the trees and the birds in the sky, the clouds and the wind and sometimes the rain. And I would sing to my Heavenly Father. I could hear melodies all around me and I was soon lost in a heavenly world of music.”
“I realized that when I was a child, sitting on that ditch bank, I was being taught by my Heavenly Father to listen to the spirit and to hear the melodies that were all around me.”
WHEN I WAS A CHILD SO FAIR
Dear Father in Heaven, remember
When I was a child so fair
The day I sang in a meadow
And felt thy presence there?
I sang of the birds and the flowers,
I sang of Thy love divine,
I felt your arms around me,
And I felt my hand in Thine.
In High School, Wanda appeared in 3 Gilbert and Sullivan Operettas. She played Tessa in the “Gondoliers”, Pitti Sing in the “Mikado” and the Soprano lead as Mabel in the “Pirates of Penzance”. It was in her first Operetta that she met a cute boy named, Melvin. Shortly after High school she and Melvin were married for Time and All Eternity in The Mesa Arizona Temple.
It was while serving as Stake Primary Music Director, Primary Music Director, and Ward Choir Director that Wanda wrote her first song in the Fall of 1958, “Ole Jack Frost”.
“As I was doing dishes and thinking about fun songs for October, I thought about Jack Frost. And —– I sang, Ole Jack Frost is a funny old man. He paints the leaves red and orange and tan, then he shakes the trees till the leaves fall down on Ole Jack Frost. Ole Jack Frost likes to whisper in your ear, but never a word can you ever hear. He tickles your toes and bites at you nose, Ole Jack Frost. Etc…… I sang it just as though it had already been written. I was amazed. I called my mother and sang the song to her, and asked her, “Is this a song?” She answered, “Yes, it is a song.” I couldn’t believe that I had actually just sung an original song.” I went outside where my four boys were playing on the swing set on the north side of the house. I sang the song to them and their little eyes brightened and they smiled. With a little prompting, they sand the song back with me. I thought, if my little boys liked the song, maybe all the children in the Stake would like it also.”
The following year Wanda wrote “Lynette” for her first little girl after having 4 boys! Lynette was followed by, “I Did and I Does and I Do”, “Four Dirty Faced Angels”, ”Brenda Rae”, “From this day on”, “Enthusiasm”, “Trouble in the Sky”,” and many other original titles.
In 1962 Wanda wrote “Oh That I Were An Angel”. This amazing and beautiful piece has inspired and touched the hearts of millions around the world for over 50 years!
“It was 1962 in a sacrament meeting. I was the Choir Director for Mesa First Ward, and it was a Missionary Farewell. When the Missionary spoke, Alma, Chapter29, Verse 1 as a theme for his talk. As he spoke the scripture. “ Oh that I were an Angel, and could have the wish of my heart, that I might go forth and speak with a trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!” I could feel the power of those words surge through my body and it seemed that I could hear it’s music all around me. I turned to my Organist and said, “ Can’t you just hear the music in those words?” She answered, “ No.” I was almost shocked. The music was there, all around me, why couldn’t she hear it? There was a familiar spirit there, almost like I was meeting an old friend. I wanted to someday be able to sing the music that I could hear to those words. Now, “Oh That I Were An Angel” has been translated into several languages, and I have received special testimonies from all over the world! I never dreamed that it would be sung outside of my Mesa First Ward, Maricopa Stake, City of Mesa, or the State of Arizona.”
In 1976, after directing a community production and writing original music for “Our Town Mesa” for 2 years, which had casts of 600 to 2,000 people, Wanda was awarded the “Outstanding Citizen of the Year” for the City of Mesa, Arizona.
“One of the greatest blessings of my life is to have music that I was requested to write sung in the Mesa Arizona Temple Easter Pageant” said Wanda. The Mesa Temple Easter Pageant is the largest continual Easter Pageant in the World and is now acknowledged as the largest Pageant in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The original selections included are “Glory to God”, “Mary’s Lullaby”, “I Must Be About My Father’s Business”, “Blessed are They”, “Suffer Them to Come Unto Me”, “Triumphal Entry”, “My Master Lives”, “Feed My Sheep” and the Finale “I Know He Lives”. Wanda had the priviledge of recording many of these songs with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Mormon Youth Symphony, and members of the Utah Symphony, as directed by Robert Bowden.
She has written and directed many Road Shows, Melodramas and musical programs. It was a great joy for Wanda and Melvin to work with their son Kevin Palmer and other family members in writing a Pageant about the Mormon Battalion called “A Ram in the Thicket”. Wanda has also composed original songs for the St Johns Pageant “Take Me Home”, written about the pioneer trek of Jedidiah Grant to the Salt Lake Valley, and the Pageant “Chariots of Hope”, written about the Martin Handcart Company.
She currently has 4 CD’s, “Wanda West Palmer’s Favorites” performed by the Mormon Youth Symphony and Chorus, “Oh, That I Were An Angel” performed by Michael Ballam, “Mary’s Lullaby” featuring the songs recorded by members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and “This Christmas Let Bells of Freedom Ring”, a patriotic Christmas song.
On August 16, 2012, in honor of Wanda and in celebration of the 50th year since the creation of “Oh That I Were An Angel”, a special Recital was performed in the Salt Lake Tabernacle. Under the direction of Richard Elliott, Primary Tabernacle Organist, several of Wanda’s songs were presented. Richard Elliott, along with Andrea Paulsen, Tabernacle Choir Member, performed “Oh That I Were An Angel”, “Rejoice, Oh My Heart”, and “Mary’s Lullaby”. A choir with Wanda’s children, grandchildren, family & friends sang “For We Saw Him” and “Behold Your Little Ones”. Several hundred people were in attendance…a great tribute to a great woman. Shortly after the Recital, R. Scott Lloyd, Church News Staff Writer, published an article in the Church News on August 25, 2012: (Link Goes Here)
‘Angel’ song written 50 years ago
By R. Scott Lloyd
Church News staff writer
Published: Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012
Wanda West Palmer grew up in a home filled with both the gospel and music.
That background influenced her composition 50 years ago of one of the most popular standards in
Latter-day Saint culture, the missionary anthem “Oh That I Were an Angel.”
“In our home it was a rule that if we were sitting at the piano, we were not to be disturbed,” Sister Palmer recalled in a Church News interview Aug. 16. “I sat at the piano a lot, so I was not disturbed. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have to wash my dishes later.”
But Sister Palmer, now 82, did more than just sit. Largely self-taught, with some instruction from her elder sister Roxie, she learned enough to play, sing and eventually write her own music.
Her father, Karl, conducted music at Church and, while working in sheep camps, had fashioned his own fiddle from a baking powder box and used horse hair to make a bow. With his wife, Irma, chording along on the piano, he would play for dances. “My daddy, when he would have businessmen come in and I was in the room, would have me sing a song, then excuse me and have the meeting. We always were not asked, but expected, to perform at the drop of a hat.”
But it was a joy, not a chore, an integral element in her life. Attending Mesa High School in Arizona, she met future husband, Melvin Palmer, while performing in operettas. They have reared five sons and three daughters.
“Daddy and Mother were not only musical, but were missionaries,” Sister Palmer recalled. “I heard the gospel taught nearly every day of my life.”
Whether selling groceries or pumping gas, her father would teach the gospel to customers. He brought hundreds into the Church through his direct efforts and perhaps thousands through referrals. On a six-month mission to Karlsbad, N.M., during World War II, he never knocked on a single door, yet influenced the conversion of 65 souls.
Thus it was that Wanda, sitting in sacrament meeting in 1964 when a young man about to depart on a mission was speaking, felt overcome with emotion as he read the words of Alma 29:1, “O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!”
“Can’t you hear the music in those words?” she asked the organist who accompanied the choir she was directing. “She said, ‘No.’ But I could hear music all around me when he spoke those words.”
One day at home, while the children were across the street at their grandmother’s house, Sister Palmer felt the presence of angels. She opened her scriptures to the passage in Alma and placed the book on her piano like a piece of sheet music. She then knelt by her piano bench and pleaded with the Lord. “I asked for the privilege of being able to put music to those words, and that this music might be used for missionary work throughout the world,” she said. “At the time, I didn’t know why I would even dare to say those words.”
But with her husband in a stake seventies quorum and four sons as prospective missionaries, she felt an urge to do her part to further the work. She sat at the piano and, within 10 minutes, had the basic melody in mind.
“I know without a doubt it was a melody that had been written before,” she said. “I would put my hands on the keyboard, but wouldn’t dare touch anything for fear I might hit the wrong note and make the melody go away.” It would take her six months to get the piano accompaniment right.
Son Rick, 8 years old at the time, recalls being in bed late at night while his mother, laboring on the other side of the wall, struggled to arrange “Oh That I Were an Angel.”
“I pounded on the wall and said, ‘Mom, I have to go to school in the morning. Can’t you do this later?’
“She said, ‘Ricky boy, I almost have it. I’ll be done in just a minute.’ Sure enough, a little bit later, I heard her yell, ‘I found it!’ She’d found the chord change she was looking for, and that was it. She went to bed.”
A “special trio” of high school girls began performing the song at missionary farewells in the Mesa area. It spread by word of mouth. In those days before computers and photo copy machines, she set the first copies of the sheet music by hand using rub-on characters and lettering for the musical notation. When Rick returned from his mission to Oregon and Idaho in 1974, he became her publisher, and they distributed the music as best they could. Later, Jackman Music took over the publishing role.
Sister Palmer recalls many “sweet testimonies” in connection with the song. Operatic tenor Michael Ballam, who has recorded an album with Sister Palmer’s composition as the title song, reflected, “Wanda, your music is so familiar to me; I think it’s because I’ve sung it before.”
Her music today comprises much of the annual Mesa Arizona Temple Easter Pageant, including a favorite, “Mary’s Lullaby.” With the help of orchestrator Robert C. Bowden, former director of the Mormon Youth Chorus and Symphony, she has had the London Philharmonic Orchestra record an album of her selections. Rick and his wife, Elaine, currently are missionaries serving on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. Elaine asked organist Richard Elliott to perform one of Sister Palmer’s pieces in the regular Salt Lake Tabernacle organ recital. Brother Elliott thought that not good enough. So he organized a special recital that was held Aug. 16 in the Tabernacle, in which he and guest soloist Andrea Paulsen of the Tabernacle Choir performed “Oh That I Were an Angel” and “Mary’s Lullaby.” A choir of family members performed two of Sister Palmer’s selections. In a life sketch, Sister Palmer wrote: “Anyone can accomplish the desires of their heart, if they first ask the Lord for help and then TRY. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. The Lord will not condemn you for trying, but He may ask you to account for the talents He gave to you, if you do not try, or you do not seek, or knock, or ask.”
© 2014 Deseret News Publishing Company
Wandas life has been dedicated to the service of the Lord. She has served in many capacities including Ward Choir Director, Ward/Stake Primary, Ward/Stake Youth, Cub Scouts, and Relief Society. During several years Wanda served in three or more callings at a time and with a baby on her hip! Currenlty She and Melvin are members of the Christopher Creek Branch in the Payson Stake where she has served 6 years as Relief Society President, and over 25 years as the Music Chairman. She believes that because she has always been actively engaged in church service, she has been blessed to be able share her God given gifts and talents.
Wanda has never written a song without first getting a testimony of the song. She considers every song, ‘a gift’, for suddenly there it is, as if it had been written before. She believes music cannot be given to you without effort on your part. You must first ‘seek’, ‘knock’ and prayerfully and humbly ‘ask’, before it can be received. The music she has published is only a small portion of the music she has written. It is her goal to record and publish them all, which with all of her fun songs and children’s songs she estimates to be over 250. Wanda and Melvin’s greatest joy is watching their children and grandchildren develop their own talents and to see them achieve. Many of their children, their spouses and their grandchildren have composed and are composing music.
Wanda testifies: “Anyone can accomplish the desires of their heart, if they first ask the Lord for help, and then TRY. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. The Lord will not condemn you for trying, but He may ask you to account for the talents He gave to you, if you do not try, or you do not seek, or knock, or ask. I have a testimony of the scripture, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all things shall be added unto you.” I know that I would not have been able to receive any of the ‘gifts’ given to me, had I not been actively engaged in the service of the Lord.”