Murray man brought the town together every holiday seasonDec 03, 2020 01:57PM ● By Shaun Delliskave
William F. Robinson conducted Murray Christmas concerts for nearly a half-century. (Photo Courtesy University of Utah Marriott Library)
By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]
Christmas caroling in Murray is a cherished tradition that owes its influence to William F. Robinson, sometimes called the “Father of Christmas Caroling.” After nearly a half-century of directing choirs and composing music for Murray and Granite School Districts, Robinson established the annual holiday concerts that still take place today.
Robinson was made the music supervisor of the Murray City School District in 1907. During the early years of his teaching career, he walked from one end of the district to another, making the rounds to each of the schools to conduct youth choirs and especially teach Christmas hymns.
Music piqued Robinson’s interest at an early age while growing up in Derbyshire, England. His father died in a coal mining accident when he was young, and Robinson took up small jobs to help support the family. In the 1880s, his local Methodist church paid him a few shillings to keep the air blowing in the bellows of their pipe organ.
While working the organ’s bellows, Robinson began to sing with the choir, and, one day, the conductor stopped the singing to find out what the racket was he was hearing. In a short biography, he wrote, “I was very scared when the tenor singing in front of me said it was ‘Binny’ at the back of the organ. I was brought out to the front of the choir. Of course, I had to cry, for I was only about 11 or 12 years old.”
From that day forward, Robinson knew he had a love for singing and it became his life’s profession. When his mother remarried, his family moved to Wyoming, and he taught himself to play the cornet, baritone, and trombone, later leading a band. He joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints there and moved to Utah, where he got his first teaching gig in Mercur.
Once in Utah, he trained at the LDS School of Music in Salt Lake City, then went to Lake Forrest College in Chicago. After a slight detour working in the Murray Co-op store, he returned to his passion and was hired to teach music in the Murray School District; this also allowed him to have a stint singing with the Tabernacle Choir.
While he taught everything from orchestras to marching bands, his enthusiasm to spread the holiday spirit made him a beloved community member. He conducted caroling programs at the then junior high, senior high, and three elementary schools in the Murray district with the high school orchestra.
Robinson’s concerts were noted for old English melodies, which he brought with him from England only in memory. The Murray Eagle pointed out, “One of his most popular is ‘Merry Christmas,’ which he set to memories in his native England. Although the melody was popular in many English homes, it had never been penned, and today he is known as its composer.”
His free Christmas concerts endeared him to many during World War I and the Great Depression. So renowned were his Christmas Eve sing-alongs at Murray City Hall that they were broadcast over the radio.
He also sought out new Christmas music to bring to his concerts, and his choir was among the first in Utah to perform “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” when it came out in 1949. He also penned numerous Christmas songs, most notably “Set a Candle in the Window” and “Chime and Carol.”
Due to his health, Robinson retired from Murray School District in 1940, only to be called back to work by Granite School District to cover teaching vacancies during World War II.
Still, Robinson could always be counted on to conduct a Christmas sing-along in Murray well into his retirement. Robinson passed away in 1960 at the age of 88.
Former sing-along participants still gather to remember Robinson and pull out his booklet of hymns to remember the music conductor that brought the holiday spirit to Murray.