The last several years I have developed a pet peeve that may surprise you. It concerns the one of the most beloved scriptures that speak of the role of music in church: Section 25:12 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Whenever the topic for sacrament meeting speakers is centered on music, this scripture is cited. It is usually always followed by ten to fifteen more minutes of something akin to “I’m just so thankful for the hymns we sing” or “I always enjoy singing the hymns at church” with little variation. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad you all enjoy singing the hymns. Singing the hymns is very important. But there is SO much more to church music then we realize. In fact, singing is vital, and a central component to our becoming a Zion community. If there is no singing, there will be no Zion. When we sing, we ARE Zion.
For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads." - Doctrine and Covenants 25:12
To illustrate, some research that has become somewhat popular among church musicians has found that when choirs sing together, their heartbeats sync with each other. Music therapists are aware of this fact. Medical music therapists specifically use this technique to assist in the recovery of cardiovascular patients, especially children in the NICU. They sing to the beat of the patient’s heartbeat, and then change the tempo of their singing to the rate at which the heartbeat should be. (Note: Please don’t try this yourself. There’s a reason music therapy is a board certified profession). This isn’t just a physical thing that occurs though. As the first study points out, part of the reason our hearts fall into sync when we sing is because we are breathing in the same way. We all breathe in at the beginning of phrases, and then exhale at the same rate as we sing the phrase. As the research previously mentioned states, this not only effects our physical heart rates, but our emotions as well. When we sing together, or pray in song, our physical and emotional hearts become one with those singing with us.
That still isn’t all. Cognitively speaking, when we sing, our cognitive attention is drawn to the music as well as the messages being expressed through the music. Everyone singing is then thinking of the very same thing. This isn’t just supported on the cognitive level. Neurological research published in just the last few years has found that when we sing, the neurons activating in our minds sync with each other. This line of research is just barely starting to emerge. But even today, music therapists use this information to model the neuroplasticity of our minds. Through the relationship between music, the mind, and something we call neuroplasticity, music therapists teach stroke survivors how to walk and talk again, and even more. A single blog post isn’t even enough space to scratch the surface of what music therapists can do with this understanding. My point is, when we sing together, or pray in song rather, our cognitive and neurological minds become one with those singing with us.
That isn’t all either, recall that Doctrine and Covenants 25:12 states that “the song of the righteous IS a prayer unto me.” The sacred music we sing is a prayer to our Heavenly Father. Therefore, what we know about prayer informs what we know about church music. The Bible Dictionary published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches us that, “Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other.” We know that in Gethsemane, Christ prayed in desperation that the “cup” would pass from him, which then progressed to “not my will, but thine be done.” The Bible Dictionary further teaches us that prayer, “secure[s] for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant but that are made conditional on our asking for them.” As we pray, our hearts are softened, and we become willing to accomplish whatever it is that the Lord asks of us. When we sing together, or pray in song rather, our mind and will aligns with God’s will, and we become a righteous people with those singing with us.
Have you caught where I’m leading this yet? When we engage in community singing, such as congregational singing, we become of one heart, one mind, and become a righteous people. Do I even need to mention Moses 7:18? When we sing with others, we literally become a Zion people. Unity is a powerful thing. The power of congregational singing is a force that we need desperately as we pilot ourselves and our families through the complex issues we have to deal with in today’s day. In the April 2018 conference, President Russel M. Nelson stated that “when we convene as a Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, our meeting rooms become rooms of revelation. The Spirit is palpably present. As we wrestle with complex matters, a thrilling process unfolds as each Apostle freely expresses his thoughts and point of view. Though we may differ in our initial perspectives, the love we feel for each other is constant. Our unity helps us to discern the Lord’s will for His Church.” By extension, when we sing and become one in the process. When we become one we invite the spirit to dwell with us. When the spirit is with us we can receive the revelation we need to tackle the complex issues we face on a daily basis. I hope you can understand now when I say that our frequent testimonies of music in church and “the song of the righteous” only begins to scratch the surface. When a stake is organized in the restored church, it is organized as a “stake of Zion.” We sometimes speak of Zion as something that will happen at some point in the future, but it’s already here. We are already seeing the blessings of it. We are so excited when we see the rapidly increasing church announcements. For me it is exciting to know not just that “the future is now,” but also that “Zion is now,” and the music we sing at church is at the center of it.
And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them." - Moses 7:18
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).