(by Susan McCloud deseretnews.com 6-27-16)
The young convert from England walked off the boat at Nauvoo, Illinois, with his fiddle and flute in his satchel and music in his heart.
William Pitt was a left-handed fiddler, but he could also play the flute and clarinet (see "They Marched Their Way West: The Nauvoo Brass Band," Ensign, July 1980). As Daniel H. Wells commented, “I have thought he had more music in him than any man I have ever known. If there was a musical instrument he could not play, I do not know what it is” (see Journal of Discourses, vol. 15: 44, p. 350).
Pitt was a natural for being selected as leader of Joseph’s City Band, which was formed in 1842, according to "They Marched Their Way West: The Nauvoo Brass Band." The main purpose of this band, in the beginning, was to lend music and spirit to the drills of the Nauvoo Legion on the public parade grounds.
But the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were great lovers of music in all its forms. Indeed, the Prophet Joseph had encouraged the establishment of a singing school as early as the Kirtland, Ohio, years (see josephsmithpapers.org). And it was a common entertainment to sing around a piano — families, neighbors and friends. The Saints had a delightful custom of serenading the prominent men in Nauvoo. On the first New Year’s Eve after the Prophet’s family had moved into the Mansion House, Brother Stephen Goddard’s choir came to serenade. In his journal, the Prophet noted: “At midnight, about fifty musicians and singers sang Phelps’ New Year’s Hymn under my window” (see History of the Church 6:153 and "Early Nauvoo festivities simple: Christmas subdued compared to today," LDS Church News, Dec. 16, 1995). The following evening Joseph hosted a party at his home, which ended with music and dancing until morning, according got "early Nauvoo festivities simple."
So the functions of Joseph’s City Band quite naturally grew into performing concerts, playing for patriotic events, socials and even in theatricals given by Phillip Margetts “Deseret Musical and Dramatic Association,” according to "They Marched Their Way West." These energetic players of fiddles, fifes, drums and horns filled the air as the band welcomed important people upon their arrival in the city — and as they welcomed weary travelers from all parts of the world who had embraced the gospel and worked their long way to Nauvoo, according to "They Marched Their Way West."
What had now become Pitt’s Band contained many interesting members, among them: Horace K. Whitney, William Clayton, Robert Burton and Levi W. Hancock. Hancock, who was made the chief musician in the Legion, and who wrote a 12-verse song for the placing of the cornerstones of the Far West Temple in 1838, as Brigham Young University music professor Michael Hicks included in "Mormonism and Music: A History" (University of Illinois Press, 1989). Hancock also signed the testimony to the truthfulness of the Book of Commandments — in pencil, but added the words: “never to be erased” (see "Lost 'Book of Commandments' witnesses found," Deseret News, Oct. 27, 2009).
Interestingly, Hancock with his drum and Brother Whitney with his fife played for a Fourth of July celebration in Carthage, Illinois, one year, when the citizens were unable to provide a band of their own. (see "They Marched Their Way West").
When Joseph and his brother Hyrum Smith rode off to Carthage and did not return, the Saints prayed — in silence — until word came that the brothers had been killed by the mob.
Naturally, reverently, the band members were part of the throng of people who walked out of the city a ways to greet the wagon carrying the bodies of their beloved prophet on June 28, 1844.
And when the heart-broken Saints filed into the Mansion House on June 29, 1844 — one at a time, thousands upon thousands — Pitt’s Band played reverently outside the open doors (see "They Marched Their Way West"). It's comforting to think that its music was like a pillar of strength and a testimony to the stricken men, women and children who entered to take one last view of the prophet they loved.
Still, the temple needed to be completed and plans made for the Saints to go West. In December 1844, six months after the martyrdom, the Seventies’ Hall was dedicated with the choir on the left, and Pitt’s Brass Band in front. John Taylor in his "Nauvoo Journal" said the contribution of the choir and band had an “excellent melody” (see "John Taylor Nauvoo Journal,” BYU Studies, Vol. 23, 1983)
New challenges arose on every hand. As the began their trek west, the band members generally remained together in the wagon company of Brigham Young, Joseph Smith's successor. The band played to encourage the Saints and performed concerts in the Iowa settlements to raise money for the peoples’ needs. They were well-received. They left a spirit of happiness and hope wherever they went. They worked splitting rails as well as making tunes. They shared with one another. William Clayton, who played the violin, noted in his journal of May 6, 1846: “That he had given other band members some twelve hundred pounds of flour, about four or five hundred pounds of bacon, and other supplies,” according to "They Marched Their Way West."
Once in the Salt Lake Valley the band reorganized with 19 previous members and four new ones, according to "They Marched Their Way West." They repeated the patterns of Nauvoo: meeting new wagon trains of Saints as they entered the Salt Lake Valley, playing for celebrations of the Fourth and now the 24th of July — playing for community and theatrical events.
Pitt's Band was part of the people — part now of their history — part of the sacred memory of all they had been, and of all they, together, had overcome.
What Wells said of Pitt at his funeral in February 1873, could likely be said of the entire membership of this delightful and dedicated organization, who had blessed the Saints with their talents and love: “He was always faithful and cheerful under the most trying circumstances, and no matter what blast blew of difficulty or persecution, brother Pitt was there on hand at a moment’s notice, full of life and music — ready to cheer the hearts of the people” (see Journal of Discourses, vol. 15: 44, p. 350).