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:
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.
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!
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
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.
MY ENTIRE LIFE I've had a bit of a ravenous craving to discover how the power of music works. One day, after a particularly successful day practicing piano while pursuing my music degree, I lay in bed unable to sleep as I felt so energized from the music I'd been practicing. I'm a sucker for deep thought, and I found myself thinking on how it came to be that I felt so energized. Words began to form in my mind, and I felt particularly prompted to get up and write the words down. I eventually managed to make myself crawl out of bed to put them on paper, (this was probably well after midnight). The next day I did my best to discern what it was I had written in the dark, and continued to edit the words until I came up with this poem...
It fills the air
It fills the soul
And awakens it
It energizes an element so small
No human eye or ear can conceive it.
Is something that is felt
The ear is only a passageway.
© 2015 Mark Richins Music
This is extremely applicable to music, and I won't bother with the over taught sermon. The same scripture continued to give an insight that floored me. "that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good."
NOW WHEN I think of the word "entice" I tend to give it a negative connotation. The devil entices. I personally don't want to be anywhere near like him. But yet it says in this scripture that good things entice us too. This is partly what inspired me to start this whole venture in Mark Richins Music. There is so much music out there enticing us for bad, but yet music has such a huge power to entice us to do good.
THIS BLOG and everything else on this website seeks to spread the use of Pure music. Pure music in that it brings us closer to Christ, but pure music in that it it masters the elements of musical artistry so much that it energizes and motivates us to do good as well. I encourage everyone to continue reading the other posts that will be included in this blog to make music a part of your daily discipleship, and therefore that much closer to Christ. I guarantee that it will.
P.S. Feel free to comment and vent on the need for #PureMusic. I'd love to hear from you!
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).