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
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).