“After some careful prayer and thought, we’d like to call you as our ward organist.” Is your heart racing yet? “What about my own prayer and thought” you might ask, “I don’t consider myself proficient enough to play” you might think. Yet at the very core of your concerns is probably, “I don’t want to feel like I’m showing off.”
It is to no surprise that these concerns plague the thoughts of Latter-Day Saint musicians judging from the heavy number of scriptures that emphasize humility. Christ himself teaches, “blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” as well as, “and whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). At the very least is the chapter devoted to humility,
You’d be surprised at how many people share your concern. I’ve had it myself, especially as a young church organist newly called at just 16 years old. Since then I’ve had the opportunity to serve a mission and attain a music degree from Brigham Young University – Idaho, during which my thoughts have changed completely.
The scriptures are full of paradox’s, and in contrast to Christ’s teachings on humility he also teaches “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works…” (Matthew 5:16). Ironically, it’s in the same chapter in which he states that “the meek shall inherit the earth.” So what’s the secret then? How do you resolve the ambiguity between these two scriptures? Elder Uchtdorf gave some clarification in some words he addressed to priesthood holders in a general session of conference,
we discover humility by thinking less about ourselves. It comes as we go about our work with an attitude of serving God and our fellowman.”
And there it is, straight from a prophet of God. We are not serving anyone by downplaying ourselves. By continuing to downplay our talents and succumbing to our fear of our talents being exposed, we continue to dampen the power of the spirit who is ready and willing to uplift and support the members of our congregations. In comparison is a quote from my own grandmother, “burying your talent is a grave mistake.”
The key difference is exemplified by Christ himself. In the great war we all participated in during our premortal lives, Christ tells our Heavenly Father, “Thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever” (Moses 4:2). He performed the greatest act in the history of eternity, but he gives all the glory of that achievement to his Heavenly Father. It is up to us to follow Christ’s example and do the same. To finish Christ’s words
The work we have is pivotal. It is critical. We cannot afford to downplay ourselves and our musical prowess in turn. In Matthew 6, using Joseph Smith’s translation, Christ states “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single to the glory of God, thy whole body shall be full of light” (Matthew 6:24). Going back to Moses, remember that Heavenly Father’s entire work and glory is to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). As we bring out our best, we are participating, in a very real way, in God’s entire plan of salvation, in bringing his children closer to him.
“So what do I do?” You might ask. Bring out your best. There are plenty of resources out there to improve the musical prowess at church. Look over lds.org/music. If you are a church organist, don’t be afraid to use some of those brighter stops, yes, even the Mixture III or IV, even those reeds marked in red. Look into free accompaniments you can use from time to time. There are several available with a quick search online for free or cheap. Carsonhymns.com has plenty of information on them and even some excellent arrangements free to use as well. If you don’t have a church music calling, don’t think you’re out of the hook. Your ward music chairman would probably love to know of your talents. I challenge you to find them and tell of them of your willingness to help out. I can promise that as you participate musically both at home and at church, you will find a greater connection to Heavenly Father yourself, greater peace at home, and greater peace and joy in your associations in your local congregation as well.
We Need You... To Sing!
Yes, I mean you. There is a dearth spreading throughout Latter-Day Saint worship, especially in the United States. It is the fear of singing. It shows its ugly face more broadly in the simple task of any musical involvement at all. Every congregation is different, but there are many where the singing voice is barely audible above the organ, and many fear to make their talents known, for fear that they’ll be used. I find it curious. Western Civilization is known for its individualist culture. We push our children to be competitive, to be the best. We are one of few cultures where we DON’T co-sleep with our newborns, or even sleep in the same room. From the get-go we push them to be independent. While our hearts may do belly flips, we also push them out the door to go on missions, go to college, get jobs for themselves and be their own people. We praise the individual person. Yet at the same time, when it comes to expressing ourselves musically, our heart beats sky rocket, our palms get sweaty and we start puffing like we’ve run a marathon. How is it that the same culture that pushes its people to be themselves, is also afraid of the musical expression of the common man? In African cultures for example, music is a community event. When one person begins playing a rhythm, the whole community starts joining in song or dance. Music involvement in the United States means opening I-Tunes and plugging in our earphones. Let me be clear. This is NOT musical involvement. This is musical spectatorship.
President Monson specifically speaks of priesthood service here, but the same rule applies to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are all invited to come “feel and see” the gospel for ourselves. And no, musical involvement isn’t a far stretch from the gospel of Jesus Christ. Many are familiar with the scripture in the Doctrine & Covenants saying, “The song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.”
We can’t get the promised blessing if we don’t perform the indicated commandment.
Many years before the restoration of the gospel, a man named Charles Wesley wrote seven rules for congregational singing at church. He stated,
“Sing lustily and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, than when you sung the songs of Satan.”
The term “songs of Satan” is a bit strong. But to put it in a modern perspective, how loud are we singing when we’re in the shower? Or on our own in the car? And yet in the middle of a congregation with everywhere from 150 to 300 people drowning us out we suddenly clam up. Wesley continues,
Congregational singing is a community event, and as I’ve said, and will keep saying, those that sing together stay together. As you participate in congregational hymns, and music throughout the meeting, you will find yourself growing in your bond with your congregational family, find yourself growing more passionate about the gospel of Jesus Christ, and find yourself with that much more energy to perform your calling, to reach out to the people you’ve always wanted to say hi to but couldn’t muster the courage, to take that extra ministering visit for your assignment, to go the extra mile in whatever your church responsibilities are. In the words of a childhood classic,
Sing, sing a song
Make it simple, to last your whole life long.
Don't worry that it's not good enough
For anyone else to hear
Just sing, sing a song.
- "Sing" from Sesame Street
Many of you may be thinking “It’s hard enough to get the family together to read scriptures, now you want us to sing?” To this my answer is a resounding YES. I have implemented it into my own family’s scripture time and it has had many, many benefits. But besides my own word, you can take the first presidency’s too. Here’s a statement directly from them on the topic in the preface to the hymnbook. "Ours is a hymnbook for the home as well as for the meetinghouse. We hope the hymnbook will make a prominent place among the scriptures and other religious books in our homes. The hymns can bring families a spirit of beauty and peace and can inspire love and unity among family members.”
- LDS hymnal, Preface
Having said this, I understand that many do not consider themselves to be very musical and would use that as a reason to not include singing in a daily family scripture study. I would invite you to reconsider. Here are seven reasons why:
1. You’re already doing it
You do not need to be musical to sing in front of your family. These are people that hear you sing in the shower, with the radio in the car, and are sitting right beside you when you sing congregational hymns at church. They know what you sound like, and they love you anyway.
2. There’s technological help
You don’t need a pianist in your home. Even if you don’t want to sing a cappella, the LDS Library app has recorded hymns you can play right from your phone to accompany you and your family’s singing. There’s also an LDS music app provided by the church that provides all the hymns, children’s songs, and more. To be honest, this was the only way I was able to get my own family in on this idea. Now that it’s been done though, my family has insisted on singing each day even when I’ve been reluctant to do so.
3. Hymns establish a routine
If there’s anything I’ve learned as I study child development, it’s how critical routine is. Positive routines create a sense of consistency and security that children become accustomed to. This is one reason that family scripture study is so important in and of itself, let alone their exposure to the scriptures. Music has always been a very important part of culture and religious rituals as a means of unifying the participants. It’s actually been backed by research as well. The family that sings together, stays together.
4. They offer fast spiritual impact.
I will admit that in my own family, there are many days that we are so exhausted by the end of the day that we have to push really hard to get some scripture reading in as a family. Hymns offer a great way to offer a big spiritual impact in a very short amount of time. Most hymns are only about 2 minutes long when you sing all the verses. Singing a single verse (heaven forbid) can take less than 15 seconds (go ahead, time it). Even when you’re exhausted it doesn’t take much to whisper through a quick hymn and offer a short family prayer before hitting the sack.
5. The hymns will stay in your thoughts
We all hate those songs that stay in our minds and play over and over incessantly. If those songs are hymns though, think of the positive impact that would have on your day. The fact that music helps us memorize and learn concepts has been backed by research too. When a list of words are spoken to an individual, and another list of words were sung, the words that were sung are more consistently remembered. It helps us learn the ABC’s, so too it can help us learn and remember important principles of the gospel.
6. You’ll learn more hymns
There are more than three hundred hymns in our hymn book alone, let alone the children’s songbook. Of these three hundred, we probably only sing fifty of them on a regular basis, and that’s a high estimate with sacrament hymns included. It’s beginning to be termed the “sealed portion” of the hymnbook. If you’re up to a good challenge, you can take on the venture of learning and singing through all of them. Having the LDS library app is a great help to this, as you can have it played for you to help you and your family learn the melody. Again, you don’t need to be a seasoned musician to learn the hymns. Also, there are many that are very applicable to a family routine, such as “Come, Let us Sing an Evening Hymn” and even the classic “God Be With You till we Meet Again.” The first was used as Sacrament meeting used to be done in the evenings before the three-hour block. Now that evening Sacrament meetings aren’t a thing anymore, it can still be a thing in our families.
7. It will increase your music skills
It’s true, and you don’t even need to put any extra practice time in. As part of my degree in music I was tasked with four semesters of testing on my sight singing skills, my ability to look at a melodic line on paper and sing the correct pitches without any assistance from an accompaniment of any sort. I can undoubtedly say that I barely scraped through them, and my past teachers will attest. Since implementing hymns in our daily scripture study though, my sight-reading skills have soared, as attested by myself and some of my current professors in graduate school. It has been an invaluable asset in pursuing my music therapy degree. As for you, who knows? You may find yourself joining the ward choir someday. They could certainly use you!
All in all, modern prophets have promised an added sense of love and unity in the home when the hymns are sung, and I can testify to that effect myself. Singing hymns has been a great experience for me and my family and I would encourage you to make it a part of your own family scripture study. In our time, Satan is constantly bombarding us with things that invite and entice us to do evil (Moroni 7), in contrast, the hymns of the church are available to invite and even entice us to do good. As you implement this in your own home, you will find for yourself that, “a hymn a day keeps contention away.”
Mark's Top 10
Most people have a short list of music they listen to again and again that gives them motivation and energy. These are the top 10 LDS songs that I keep coming back to. Mind you, it's a quality list. I worked hard to edit it down to the top 10. It wasn't easy.
1. Praise to the Lord, the Almighty by The Mormon Tabernacle Choir
This made the top of my list. I'd talk about why, but then I already have in another blog post.
2. Savior Redeemer of My Soul by Rob Gardner
I could write a whole different blog post about this one. Reading the lyrics alone gives a sense of it's personal and intimate nature. It's written in first person, as an individual in a personal prayer with their Heavenly Father. Here's a version performed by Jenny Oaks Baker, Dallin Vail Bayles and the American Heritage Lyceum Philharmonic
3. Nearer My God to Thee by Vocal Point
This particular arrangement came out when I was serving a mission and it's motivating power immediately struck me. The hymn itself became a favorite when I sung it in church choir as a young priest. It was that point I learned in a powerful way that pain and grief can be turned around as a stepping stone to draw closer to Heavenly Father and feel of his true and very real love for you.
4. Glorious by David Archuleta
This song is cheating, as it was originally written and sung by Russ Dixon, but later performed by David Archuleta for the I'm a Mormon campaign. This song reminds me that even though I am one, single person of many, I still have gifts and talents unique to me, and that those gifts will continue to weave into a beautiful life as I continue to grow and nurture them. We each have unique gifts and talents given to us, and there is no individual that is ever replaceable.
5. Gethsemane by Claire Ryann and the Crossbys
Hearing and feeling of God's love for you cannot be communicated more innocently than from the mouth of a young child, and the music makes it that much more powerful. I admit I start to tear up as I hear "Gethsemane, Jesus loves me." It just simply cannot get any purer than that. #PureMusic
6. What Shall we Give? by The Mormon Tabernacle Choir
This one is cheating too, as it's the movie gets me in this one just as much as the music. Still, as I watch this I am filled with desire to raise a family that becomes very good at being late for family dinner because of some simple act of service they performed on their way home. No one has followed Christ's example in that regard better than Thomas S. Monson who passed away this past week. Think of how much a better place the world would be if we made this principle a fundamental part of who we are.
7. Primary Medley by The King Singers (arr. by Ryan Murphy)
For those of you who are not of the LDS faith, primary is the LDS church's version of children's Sunday school. The pieces included in this medley are songs that are often sung in these classes. They were strung together by Ryan Murphy for the funeral of a child who had passed away. I never realized how touching the words of He Sent His Son would be in a funeral setting before I heard this piece: "How could the Father tell the world of sacrifice? of death? He sent his son to die for us, and rise with living breath."
8. Be Still, My Soul by Gentri
I grew to love this hymn when I performed the piano solo arrangement by Larry R. Beebe. It was a trying time in my life when I was practicing it, and whenever I've played it since all those memories of the time come rushing back. I enjoy this particular arrangement because firstly, it's a very touching story and you can't help but tear up as you hear it. Second, you can tell from the arrangement and the performance that each phrase and each word is being carefully thought out as they sing it. The words combined with the piercing harmonies have a way of validating all of your personal and present trials as you listen.
9. O Savior, Thou Who Wearest by Sally Deford
Sally Deford is such a wonderful composer and arranger, all of her many pieces are magnificent. This lesser known arrangement in particular is no different. The hymn is more commonly sung around Easter, though even then, it's difficult to play on the organ, so it isn't sung that often. Here Sally Deford took the words and set them to the tune of KINGSFOLD, (More commonly known in LDS culture as If I Could Hie to Kolob). It's a genius setting, as KINGSFOLD is already a favorite tune among many Latter-Day Saints. They make the words sink into your heart so much the more effectively.
10. Silent Night by Peter Anglea Beckenhorst
There is no Youtube video for this arrangement. I fell in love with it when singing with the Civic Choir at Illinois State University. It steers away from the commonly known melody, though it keeps the same rhythmic structure. The effect leads to a reflection on a personal yearning in the soul. At some point, I look forward to using the arrangement in some sort of church Christmas program. It's not a matter of "if," so much as "when."
Click on the following link to find all these videos on a Youtube playlist! I wasn't able to get Silent Night on there, so I added a bonus video.
Since leaving for my mission more than six years ago, I have never been in the same ward for longer than a year. Each area in the mission only lasted months, after the mission came singles wards both outside and within BYU-Idaho that changed from semester to semester. Even after getting married we ended up moving to various apartments, and then completely out of state, and now in graduate school I anticipate having to move at some point for an internship, and to wherever I may find a steady job.
While the instability has brought some challenges, it has been interesting to get the broad perspective of musical contribution in each ward. I’ve been in wards that wouldn’t even try to form a choir, wards that would give a respectable attempt to put together a choir for a Christmas number each year, as well as a remarkable ward that would put on a musical number every week, some by a choir, others by smaller ensembles. In many of the wards I've attended there have been music leaders that were frustrated by a lack of participation in their ward choir, congregational singing, or the like. One choir leader in particular would show up faithfully every week, even though her and the choir pianist were the only people who would show up. (It was about the same time my wife was working with a difficult pregnancy, so I was struggling to participate as well). All this is to say, there are many wards and congregations that struggle to maintain an adequate music program. This is a bit of a heart breaker for those passionate about the monumental influence that music can provide for ward functionality. Surely in a church run by Jesus Christ himself, the music program would not be neglected as it is?
the church is growing faster than the musical education of its members. This is not to say that music education is lacking, rather, it's a testament to the remarkable growth of the church. Imagine a ward that has one good organist that has been playing for years, and perhaps enjoys doing so. If she needs she could possibly call on one other person to sub for her, although that individual may not particularly desire to play the organ each week as a regular calling, or have other callings that prevents him from doing so. Then the ward splits into three. Now there are three wards that need a qualified organist, and only two of them has one who is able to do so. The solution? We need members and music leaders who will think outside the box, challenge social norms, and figure out solutions to the challenges that the growing church has to offer.
I'll give an example. In the midst of participating with the struggling ward I mentioned earlier I was also tasked with writing a research paper on the size of Bach’s church choir. Interesting topic right? Bach, uncelebrated in his time as he is now, was a Lutheran Church organist. His works span the simplest of songs for the beginning keyboardist to some of the most complex and chromatic masterpieces. I’ve played some of his works for piano, though also admit to avoiding them as well. They are well worth the effort, but demand a lot of it. Anyway, part of the assignment incorporated a letter in which Bach vents to a comrade about the sparsity of the choir he had to work with. (Sounds familiar doesn’t it?) I can provide the source for anyone who may want to read it themselves. In this letter Bach states that he could manage a decent performance if he had regular attendance by two people of each voice part. This was interesting for me. While there are many wards struggling on a musical level, in Bach’s opinion, all we’d need for a good functioning ward choir is two people per part. That’s a total of eight people in a choir.
difficult, you might thing about arranging a meeting with a bishopbric to call eight people as section leaders, two per voice part, which would provide for a great core for a choir that could be filled out by other volunteers from there.
Anyway, there are many solutions one can come up with if you're committed to finding a solution and are willing to pray for guidance. In my ward I’ve had the great experience of being a ward music chairman. The new ward I’ve been in, from what I hear, has had their own struggles with musical output in the past, along with the other two wards that meet in the same building. Yet as I’ve worked with the other members with music callings I’ve been coming to the sense that the only thing preventing a ward from participating confidently in ward music, is having a music leader that is able to draw out the musical skills from the members. I am of the firm opinion that every human being has musical capacities within them. (I’m sure some of you readers may disagree, we should chat). What a successful ward music leader must do is have the skill and confidence to draw all those musical capacities out of them. We may have to think creatively, work with weird ensemble groups, or with all sorts of setbacks, weird harmonies or slow accompanists. Regardless, I know it is both worth it, and possible. John Rutter, who writes for choir ensembles, has said, “a church without a choir is like a body without a soul.” So for those in struggling wards, don’t give up hope. Keep fighting. Keep thinking outside the box and challenging local norms. For those in musically successful wards, I would encourage you to reach out to others who are not so lucky to give feedback, encouragement and instruction. There is a lot of need out there. Music can knit our hearts together and soften the hardest of hearts. As musical output grows across the church, so too will the spiritual power in every ward and congregation.
I came across this video today, I think it has great meaning for Ward choirs:
Finding Hope through Cicadas
A RECENT music composition caught my attention last week. It was written by a former colleague of mine, David Jones, who is currently a pursuing a doctorate degree in composition at Rice University. The piece is called Soliloquy for Violin. Here is a recording performed by Lauren Anderson, who will be performing the piece for her own graduate violin recital this coming January. Just a warning, it isn't for the musically faint of heart (...or ear rather).
QUITE THE piece isn't it? As I said, it may be difficult to grasp by the everyday listener. I myself am no musicologist, but I'll offer some bits of explanation that may help in the process of appreciating the music.
FIRST OF all, in the description under the YouTube video, David Jones says the inspiration for the music began when he saw the empty cicada shells near his home in Houston, Texas. It was funny to me to read this. I grew up in the Midwest area where cicadas are an everyday thing. I often forget they're out there, regardless of how loud they can become during the day. It caught my wife off guard the first time she came out to see my family. Due to the humidity in addition to the screaming cicadas I seem to remember her saying she felt like she was in the middle of some South American jungle. For those who haven't heard a cicada, here is a video with a good depiction of what they sound like. Their call can be heard for miles around.
MANY APOLOGIES for those who have a disliking for bugs. They're also known to be quite large. They're several inches long, and larger around than your thumb (and completely harmless at the same time... I promise). Anyway, their song is something I grew up with that I've even grown quite fond of, similar to the beating rain of the summer storms that would pound on our ceiling as I would fall asleep at night. The shimmering of the violin brought back many memories of my childhood. It's a shockingly similar sound to the cicada.
WHAT DAVID mentions specifically is their shells they would find in their yard. They can be slightly alarming, especially for a mother who's children bring them inside, eagerly showing off their prizes. Here's a pic below.
DON'T WORRY, it's just an empty shell. They're even more harmless than the cicadas that come out of them. In the picture you can see the hole along the back where the cicada pulled itself out, complete with wings, ready to fly up to the tops of the trees to find a mate.
THIS IS where David Jones' story becomes touching and personal. The piece is called a "soliloquy." A soliloquy, per dictionary.com, is "an act of speaking one's thoughts aloud when by oneself or regardless of any hearers, especially by a character in a play." This happens a lot in drama. For a Disney example, think of all the characters taking a few moments to sing a song about their dilemma. "Let it Go" from Disney's Frozen is actually a pretty good example. During the song, Elsa sings through her thought process as she decides to quit hiding her "icy" gifts. In the case for Soliloquy for Violin, the character of the play is the composer himself, with no words involved. The description he gave with the YouTube video describes the thoughts he transcribed into the music,
our home and belongings destroyed by floodwaters was devastating. In the time that followed, many hands reached out to help us as we salvaged what we could from our old place, found a new apartment, and began rebuilding our lives. We couldn’t be more grateful."
"DURING THIS difficult time for my family, this piece became more deeply personal. It became an opportunity for me to express some of the frustration and pain I felt during the ordeal of the flood and the process of rebuilding. What began as a simple exploration of cicada shells transformed into a journey of loss, grief, recovery, and new beginnings."
THE LAST line I find especially meaningful, "What began as simple exploration of cicada shells transformed into a journey of loss, grief, recover, and new beginnings." What a great fact of life we all receive opportunities to receive at varying times in our lives. Even now, forest fires are continuing to rampage California, leaving many people homeless, their belongings consumed by fire. I can't imagine what it would be like to lose everything you own to a natural disaster. In David's piece I particularly get a sense of the pain involved as it becomes more dramatic as it goes a long.
YET THE prospect of a new beginning brings hope. One of my favorite scriptures is found in Ether 12:4 "Whosoever believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world." For many people, we can be the means of bringing that hope to life. David Jones mentioned many people who came in to help them recover their home after hurricane Harvey. As a part of this holiday season we all have some way or another to reach out and restore hope and confidence in those in less fortunate than us. I think that as we reach out in fulfilling others' hopes, our own desires for new beginnings and fresh starts can be made even more real. More, just as the Cicada loses its shell to become a more perfect version of itself (complete with wings and musical functions) so too we, as we serve others and work through our new beginnings, find more perfect versions of ourselves that are more like our Heavenly Father, and more like the person he wants us to become.
Creating Christlike Intimacy
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.
The Reality of God's Power
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!
Music, a Means to Love despite Hate
HONESTLY, AT the beginning of the activity I was at a bit of a loss for what could be made with the different materials. The attempt above was one of several. Not too bad, if I do say so myself, but yet really not too much when compared to what all the other kids did. There were varying types of "towers," kids making miniature playgrounds, moats around their favorite stuffed animals. What particularly struck me is how creative the kids were with harder to use materials. There were paper clips included in the materials I was given and I was pretty clueless as to how we were expected to use them in combination with everything else we had. The kids were naturals. My attention wasn't just drawn to the kids' ingenuity either, I was struck by the ingenuity of the various different races that were represented as well. Everyone had some good ideas at different ways to use the materials.
CLICK HERE for the whole talk. He talked about the need for humility and its parallels with gender and economic circumstances. Every race has an important contribution in society. Not only that, but there are unique contributions that society will not have, until it is given through specific races and nationalities.
NOW WHAT does this have to do with music? As a piano teacher one of the hardest things to teach a kid is rhythm and pacing. Some students rush the eighth notes. Others keep them steady but get bored with half and whole notes and like to skip or rush through the last few beats. It can get rather frustrating sometimes, especially in collaboration projects. In contrast, I've been teaching a student that's part Tahitian. Rhythmic music is everywhere in those cultures. (Jazz is purportedly from African roots). She's always right on the dot on all her rhythms and there is very little that phases her.
THIS GOT me thinking. Actual music participation is a very important part of just about every culture. I'm not talking about just putting on a set of earphones and jamming out. I'm talking about actually singing, playing instruments, and being an active part of actual music making. In African cultures, music making is a community event. Everyone has a part to play.
YOU'RE PROBABLY thinking, "so what?" Let me tell you. Studies have found that people who participate in music making actually increase their emotional bond with each other. (I'll include a reference to the study below). It also increases our emotional intelligence. Literally, those who sing together, stay together. These benefits don't come from only listening to music, we have to participate in music to get these benefits. There is a need for more music making in the United States, and across the Caucasian cultures. More, I think interracial music groups and activities are needed. Some of those already exist, including Women of the World, (find them on Facebook here). How does this apply to you? I'd encourage you to get musically involved. There is something out there for everyone. At the very least, learn how to sing a melody and keep a beat. The younger the better, but it's never too late. I have no doubt that as we make music together, we will grow together across cultures and races. Our society and economy will be better than it ever has before.
Here's the study I mentioned:
Ko, E., Seidl, A., Cristia, A., & Reimchen, M., (2016). Entrainment of prosody in the interaction of mothers with their young children. Journal of Child Language 43(2), 284-309. doi:10.1017/S0305000915000203
Coming to grips with goodbye's
AS I WAS pursuing my degree in music at BYU-Idaho I became a bit of a nerd for music theory. From the first semester we were tasked with building chord progressions and learning counterpoint. Eventually, we were tasked with making a hymn setting, though not particularly for a specific lyrics. The moment I made these connections I began to get a craving for analyzing the hymns in the hymnbook and figuring out how they made all those "cool" moments work in all my favorites.
I was intrigued by his story, being the oldest person in the Richins line to become a member of the LDS church. (Technically, Charles Richins was the first). This all happened in the 1800's, and they eventually chose to emigrate to Utah, the home of the LDS church at the time. Little is said about their experience going through with this journey, but among what we have is this text that is purportedly written by William Richins.
The Last Farewell
My friends the time is growing nigh
When I to you must say goodbye
Twill be my last farewell.
I soon shall join a noble band
And journey from my native land
Far in the West to dwell.
Do you not know the time has come
For scattered saints to gather home?
My God I must obey;
Then gladly will I say adieu
To all my friends and country too
I have no wish to stay.
How gladly I will hasten there,
Those blessings how I long to share
With the saints I long to dwell;
But when I am in Deseret
My absent friends I'll not forget
Though now I say farewell.
The words are stirring. William was said to have loved his homeland is Gloucestershire. He had thought about leaving for the United States before joining the church, but chose not to due to the community of friends he had in England. I've found myself pondering on his sacrifice in traveling to the unknown United States.
Myself, I have moved across the United States several times. Between traveling from where I grew up, my mission, and two different colleges, I've come to know a number of people that is still growing steadily. There have been many times, I will admit, that I've been brought to tears at the prospect of leaving one area to go to another, (especially on my mission), not knowing when I would ever come across certain people again. Luckily for me, there's social media, which I can use to stay in touch with many of the people I've grown to love. William Richins was not so fortunate. Even a physical letter must have taken months to travel across the ocean. His goodbye was likely for good, not expecting to ever see or even contact any of them ever again. This goodbye was final. It would be the "last farewell" he would ever give to his friends in England.
We face our own challenges today, and we can often find strength in the words and stories of our ancestors. I have found much strength and understanding in reading and singing these words. I hope those who choose to learn this song for themselves will find the same thing.
I've provided a free copy of the music and a recording below. Feel free to print, copy and share for personal and church use.
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).