The last few days I've had to curb my music arranging appetite to spend more time finishing an informal research study I've been conducting as part of my graduate degree. It has yielded some rather fascinating aspects that have perked my interest being the father of an 18 month old. (Today is actually his 18 month birthday, Happy Birthday Daniel!)
Anyway, to make a long story short, I was struck by a book by Daniel N. Stern that was recommended to me by a fellow grad student. He did an in depth study on the unique relationship between a mother and her infant child. (It's titled, "The First Relationship" for those who want to read it). In it he focused on some of the most minute behaviors that both mothers and children exhibit in their interactions with each other. It got me thinking about the intimacy of that relationship. A relationship so strong that spouses often feel jealous or neglected. Fast forward to further in the study, I found in my own survey that while formal musical training predicted high levels of musical confidence, musical confidence did not predict how frequently a parent would musically interact with their child. At first I was rather disappointed as this result completely disproved my hypothesis I had written a few months before. Regardless, as I got to thinking about it, it made perfect sense.
Let me explain. We innately use music as part of various activities at home with our children. We sing them good night, we sing to them as we play, we sing to them to pass time in the car. It's an incredibly adaptive parenting skill that makes parenting a whole lot easier. (That's actually the main point of my entire paper). How lucky we are then, that we don't feel self conscious in front of our infant children. How could you feel self conscious singing in front of your two year old? Any parent that has held a newborn infant in their arms will acclaim to the sweet innocence they sense in their arms. One of the greatest things about working with children is their acceptance. They love you as you are, mistakes and all. And because of this we innately feel comfortable singing to them, no matter how horrible, off pitch, or off rhythm we are. They simply lie there, stare at you, and love you all the same. #PureMusic can't get much purer than that.
This got me thinking about the intimate nature of music. There are many, many songs composed that have been written for significant others. Most music out there is written about love. But more than the topics we choose to sing about, is when we use them. Music takes a part in so many intimate settings. Even if we are not performing the music ourselves, it is often been played by a musical device either electronic or nonelectronic creating romantic moods out of thin air. It adds to my personal testimony of the power in music. Christ loved people individually. He went to them in groups, but more especially one on one. This is how he healed, this is how he taught Nicodemus of the Sanhedrin. Recall also the story where he kicked out the "mourners" in the house of a so called deceased child, so it would be just him and the family of the child, just before he revived her. Christ was able to create intimate settings that enabled him to more powerfully minister to the people he served. So too can we use music to make for more intimate environments around us, helping us to more effectively bring those around us to Christ. I'd honestly like to see more singing done, not just at home, but in informal meetings across the church and the community. I know wards and congregations will find themselves being drawn together more closely and intimately as they share music in more of their meetings, both formal and informal. It will help all of us, individually, and as a church, to overcome all of the challenges that come our way.
I am one among many missionaries that will acclaim that my mission was one of the hardest things I've ever done in life. (Though not the hardest, maybe I'll post about that venture at some point). Among the things that I endured was going through a total of 5 bikes on my mission. Two of them were stolen, one of them brand new, the other still bloody from an accident (He literally stole a bloody bicycle... that would be more funny in the UK). I lost count of all the flat tires after the first month in a biking area. I had a few bike accidents, one of which resulting in 15 stitches across 3 layers (Thus the bloody bicycle), with a scar on my chin I have to this day. I endured heat over 110 degrees fahrenheit amidst going door to door, (one of the harder and inefficient methods of missionary work). As hard as it is for many that know me to imagine, I got in all sorts of arguments with my companions, and even with ward mission leaders and bishops. Of course, there was the rejection as well. A whole street with brass engraved plaques on their doorways saying "no mormons," many, many anti-mormons, (they seem to be a bit more frequent in California), the day after Mitt Romney lost the presidential election was particularly full of critics. This is just a small snapshot on the things I went through. Looking back after some courses in abnormal psychology, I'm quite certain of a few periods of working through a depressive episode. There were times there was literal darkness that I felt was closing in on my vision. Each night however, I eventually started listening to Mack Wilberg's arrangement of "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty." I had a copy of the song on CD and I would listen to it over and over, the words coming into my mind throughout each day. I'm surprised my companions didn't bring it up too much. I felt empowered through the triumphantly acclaimed music sung by the excellent choir. The words were especially uplifting. Here's the arrangement I would listen to performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square,
The words go thus,
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, praise him, for his is thy health and salvation!
Join the great throng,
Psaltery organ and song,
Sounding in glad adoration.
Praise to the Lord! Over all things he gloriously reigneth.
Borne as on eagle wings, safely his Saints he sustaineth.
Hast thou not seen
How all thou needest hath been
Granted in what he ordaineth?
Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy way and defend thee.
Surely his goodness and mercy shall ever attend thee.
what the Almighty can do,
Who with his love doth befriend thee.
Priase to the Lord! Oh let all that is in me adore him!
All that hath breath, join with Abraham's seed to adore him!
Let the amen
sum all our praises again
Now as we worship before him.
This song helps me to remember that God is in control of everything. He is aware of everything, and he has a specific plan for each one of us, each of us having a specific mission to accomplish on earth, each being a critical part of God's entire plan. The hymn states, "hast thou not seen how all (that) thou needest hath been granted in what he ordaineth?" (Verse 2). God is powerful, and as I reflect on my mission I remember powerfull moments when God's power literally made the right things happen despite mounting opposition. I still remember watching a woman's shoulders relax after giving her a blessing for chronic depression and recovery from severe surgery, having no man of the house to provide income as she recovered. I remember watching the excitement of a 12 year old autistic boy as he was finally able to fulfill his own desire to be baptized. I remember watching hope come into the eyes of people I taught in the slums of the crime ridden, downtown Longbeach, as I read Ether 12:4, "whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world." Above all, watching the last few members of two different families get baptized, their families later being sealed together in the temple of God. Their trials were far from over, but I have no doubt in the power of the temple ordinances in their lives. The feelings that come over me as I remember those experiences can't be put in words. Just watching the power of God be made manifest in those around me, knowing I was able to be an instrument in making that power become an active part in the lives of the people I loved. It was a thrilling experience I will never forget.
Thit is one of the things I am thankful for this coming Thanksgiving. Despite all the affliction, all the insecurities, and being unsure in the outcome of our futures, I know that God's power is real. As I make myself a part of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I become a part of God's work (Moses 1:39), and God's work never fails. "Remember, remember that it is not the work of God that is frustrated, but the work of men;" (Doctrine and Covenants 3:3). Therefore I will never fail. As my wife has said before, "if it doesn't end with a happy ending, that just means the end hasn't come yet."
This is some of the many things I think of as I play my own arrangement of Praise to the Lord the Almighty for solo piano. It's not so much a triumphal version like the one I enjoyed from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but a more meditative arrangement that I enjoy playing when I have a lot on my mind. I'm still working on getting a recording on soundcloud. I'll keep you in touch as that comes available. Meanwhile, you can also try playing through the sheet music I have available. It's a simple piece, accessible by more elementary level pianists, that I consider beautiful despite the simplicity. It has a more New Age ring to it. I hope the arrangement helps people ponder all those things that we have to be grateful for, although not always remember.
I would love to hear your comments on moments you have have felt God's power in your own lives. I'm all ears!
I'm a sacred music enthusiast. I'm one of those people that attends church for the music just as much as the sermon, one of those people that give an evil glare at the people who leave for the congregational hymns, (Ok no, not really).