God doesn’t only Listen to Organ Music: Where the (Heck) is our Band? I Want a Band in Church!

By: Graceforgrace
January 4, 2013

I’ve been waiting to write this for a while now, but I laughed out loud when reading a comment on this post , so I thought it was time to share my thoughts on the issue with music in the Mormon church.

When discussing the issue of Mormon church meetings lasting so long, one of the comments was:

…my friend has a full-fledged band in her Methodist church. Where the (heck)’s (he used a different expression) our band! I wanna band!

After reading this,  my thoughts went back to when I was 21 years old and just home from my LDS mission to Germany.  I had been asked to sing in church so I sang my own arrangement of the hymn “Beautiful Savior” on the acoustic guitar (playing guitar isn’t normally done in LDS churches, so I thought it would be a good thing to add variety to the worship).

I felt very moved when preparing for the song and also singing the song.  When playing the song, I didn’t go crazy on a blues scale or put a pop flare into it.  I simply did a simple picking and strumming pattern and played it softly and worshipful.    I truly felt the Holy Spirit when singing and playing the song during church.  After the meeting many people came up and mentioned how it had moved them too.  However, when the bishop approached me, he had other things to say.  He whipped out the bishop’s handbook (this is a handbook issued by the LDS church President that has guidelines and policies about how to conduct meetings in church and other issues leaders need to deal with) and was polite about telling me that I sounded good, but that sacrament meeting wasn’t a place for guitars (even though the book doesn’t explicitly state that).

I disagreed with him and I still do.

I have family members who attend various other Christian denominations including: Anglican, Foursquare, Presbyterian, and non-denominational.  I have been to their services when their band is playing songs and the congregation joins in.  The argument I have always heard against a full band in church from Mormon leadership is that guitars and drums drive away the Spirit.  However, when I have attended their church I have felt the Spirit during songs with a full band just as much as I have with the traditional organ-accompanied hymnals we hear in Mormon or traditional Christian churches.  Plus our kids pay more attention and enjoy it more as well!

The official policy from the latest Mormon Church Handbook states the following about music selection for sacrament:

Organs and pianos, or their electronic equivalents, are the standard instruments used in Church meetings. If other instruments are used, their use should be in keeping with the spirit of the meeting. Instruments with a prominent or less worshipful sound, such as most brass and percussion, are not appropriate for sacrament meeting.

I can understand not wanting percussion, although do not completely agree with them that drums are less worshipful.  I’ve been to meetings where drums are played and there is definitely a more worshipful experience with the drummer and congregation compared with what you usually see in Mormon meetings where people are half asleep as they play a slow hymn and fight kids during the song.

Where I do agree with the Mormon leaders’ philosophy on music in church is that before the Sacrament (Communion) it is appropriate to play reflective music.  This should be a very reflective time.  However, once the Sacrament has been conducted the other songs that are sung during the meeting can be upbeat with various instruments, I think.

Finally, I am a member of a band in our local Stake.  We play songs that relate to pioneers, Jesus, scriptures, missionaries, and the gospel in general.  The songs we play the range from very slow to very upbeat.  I feel a closeness to God as I express my praise through music and many other people have expressed how close they feel to God when listening to us as well.  We use a full band and I think there wouldn’t be a problem playing our stuff in sacrament meeting with most of the songs we perform.  Although they are more upbeat than hymns, they are worshipful.

I do not believe that God only listens to organ music.  Heaven wouldn’t be Heaven if that’s all we heard up there!

So in conclusion, I share the same sentiment to a certain extent with the comment on the other blog:

Where the Heck is our band?  I want a band in church!!!

21 Responses to God doesn’t only Listen to Organ Music: Where the (Heck) is our Band? I Want a Band in Church!

  1. ji on January 4, 2013 at 10:18 AM

    I like the preference for organ and piano in our sacrament meetings. Their purpose is to support the congregation in singing. But sacrament meeting is not the only place for music — your beautiful arrangement may work well in a fireside or campout or in your home and so forth.

    Even so, I regret the pharisee-ish approach taken by the bishop in your story — after all, the guidance he read was in his handbook, not yours, and there could be no expectation of you knowing of it unless he had previously told you. Any failure was his, according to your telling of the story.

    The current guidance does not absolutely prohibit a guitar for a special musical number — but the decision of appropriateness properly lies with the bishop, not the performer.

    I really do not want a band.

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  2. MH on January 4, 2013 at 11:06 AM

    The Mormon Tabernacle Choir gets all kinds of exceptions to this rule. I invited a Muslim friend and her husband to listen to Music and the Spoken Word. Gasp–they played several Christmas hymn with a guitar duo–and they had drums as part of their orchestra!!! They also quoted some protestant theologians in the service! If only they had the bishop’s handbook to guide them….. Obviously, Mo Tab is nearly apostate now…. (wink)

    I really don’t get the double standard. Music and the Spoken Word breaks the rules because they are trying to reach out to other Christians, so they quote familiar protestant theologians to appeal to them and –gasp–use Brass and percussion in their symphonies.

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  3. slowpoke on January 4, 2013 at 11:36 AM

    I think what they are really worried about is that with guitars and drums allowed there would be a few more rowdy performances. Whereas piano and violins steer people toward more reverent music. It’s just the stamp of rocknroll on our culture.

    I play guitar and personally would like to see more guitar performances. I don’t think it’d be a problem but I think thats what they worry about. there probably are more guitar players than piano players unaware of or else willing to cross the reverence line.

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  4. Jeff Spector on January 4, 2013 at 11:46 AM

    My observation is that the big Churches use their music to entertain the crowd and keep them interested in coming. It is as much a show as it is worship.

    In our service, the piano and organ are there to assist the members in singing the hymns. It is not a end in its own right. If necessary, the instruments could be eliminated and we could still have a spiritual meeting.

    However, I do also enjoy a good instrumental performance as a special musical number. but as a musician, I am loath to hear a performance that is out of tune and not very spiritual. That is not the time for Johnny to perform on his scratchy violin. I’d much prefer a tasteful Marimba solo.

    We don’t need a band, we need more spiritual worship.

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  5. Paul on January 4, 2013 at 2:03 PM

    I suppose I can see why one might wince at electrified guitars in sacrament meeting, but a classical guitar? Go figure.

    In any case, the purpose of music in our worship service should always be to invite the spirit rather than to highlight the talent of the presenter. For that reason, I suppose we ought only to encourage the mediocre to perform…hmmm. Maybe not.

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  6. Jenn on January 4, 2013 at 2:56 PM

    It’s really sad when my husband’s family’s biggest sign we aren’t attending a mormon church anymore was because he posted that he “really enjoyed the brass quartet at church today”. We all know that would never fly in a mormon church.
    As a harpist, guitarist, and vocalist, who experiences much of my spiritual uplifiting through music, I can definitely get on board that the very limited musical options in sacrament meeting are very frustrating.

    One big consideration left out of your post was how not-internationally-friendly our rules are. Why can’t African congregations use drums, which is part of their culture? Poorer wards may not be able to afford a piano (definitely not an organ), why not allow a guitar? Why must we dictate what music is allowed at mormon civil weddings (no wedding march allowed?! why the heck not?) and funerals (really, I can’t have billy joel’s “lullabye” sung at my funeral?). What it all comes down to is that the rules that work for a small section of old-fashioned folk in utah are the rules that must be held to by all, even if it is purely cultural.

    For a religion that relies so much on personal or hierarchal revelation, we sure have a lot of church-wide “blanket” rules.

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  7. fl Organ Player on January 4, 2013 at 3:04 PM

    We had a wonderful missionary Christmas arrangement with 2 guitars, a flute, and voice this year on the 23rd.

    It almost got derailed by the 1st Counselor (Bishop was out of town) who hadn’t realized the handbook had been changed to not explicitly ban guitars by name. Fortunately, he was willing to re-read and reconsider in time for the service.

    The instrument list, as it remains, is still pretty arbitrary. Most humorous to me is a good organ will have plenty of ‘brass’ sounds available and at least chimes or other ‘percussion’ – which can be used to good effect on the more vibrant hymns. I’ve never gotten a talking to after a rousing hymn or postlude.

    As much as I love playing organ, there are few in the upcoming generations with that talent stateside and even fewer internationally. Guitar is much more common and would be better than a recording I would think in most cases. Guitars are also a lot cheaper to buy and maintain than pianos/organs.

    I really don’t like the argument that Sunday meeting mediocrity is necessary so we don’t invite a ‘false’ spirit via showiness – or suggesting that other churches’ religious expression is less spiritual because it differs from ours.

    Heaven forbid we make church more enjoyable (while still being spiritual) to a broader range of people who might not have the fortitude to stick out painfully boring meetings.

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  8. lulubelle on January 4, 2013 at 3:51 PM

    The bigger question is why the HECK are every meeting totally micromanaged to the minutia level anyway???? AAARGH! All our meetings are bland, boring, colorless, tasteless, and have the reverence of your typical Superbowl party. Let local congregations pick the music and instruments that they feel is appropriate. Are we all so untrustworthy that Church HQ thinks we’re going to start rockin’ out with electric guitars and screaming lyrics?

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  9. Jenn on January 4, 2013 at 4:25 PM

    I’ll also throw out there, the most spiritually uplifting life I’ve ever heard was at a christian summer camp. There is no reason I can conceive that we couldn’t sing “Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary” other than it is too contemporary-sounding.

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  10. N. on January 4, 2013 at 5:08 PM

    but that sacrament meeting wasn’t a place for guitars (even though the book doesn’t explicitly state that).

    I sang and accompanied myself on guitar in Sacrament meeting not too long ago. A couple of weeks before I ran it by the bishop and asked him to check the handbook and make sure it was cool (I knew it was, but I was showing deference to his job in running Sacrament mtg). He came back and said “it’s not brass, so as long as the song is appropriate for a Sacrament meeting, it’s fine.” I told him it was a hymn, so it was fine with him.

    It might be good to know that all isn’t lost, and cooler heads have prevailed elsewhere in the church.

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  11. Rigel Hawthorne on January 4, 2013 at 6:19 PM

    I have family members that play the French Horn beautifully so the relegation of brass instruments to the objectionable category has always been a sore point. I have heard guitar played in meeting once as part of someone’s testimony–it was one of those odd singles ward members–who was demonstrating a healing experience with hand pain. The quality of play wasn’t very good, but the motives were pleasing. I recall reading the Gordon B. Hinckley gave Gladys Knight the charge to make more livlier music in the church happen (in response to her question as to why it was so much the opposite). I have been waiting for her to run with this, but it appears that the change is not going to happen. It is rather disappointing that we have these nice expensive organs in all of our wards and often have no one that can play them with the training with which they are meant to be used. While I understand we have a ‘simplify music so participation can be extended’ mantra, it also seems to come with the mantra ‘we can’t have muscial performers that are too talented perform in Sac Mtg because it will draw emphasis to the performer and take away from the worship during the meeting.

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  12. Brian on January 4, 2013 at 10:14 PM

    It’s all cultural conditioning. Just like if someone reads out of a modern version of the Bible it doesn’t feel like scripture to most chapel mormons.

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  13. KT on January 5, 2013 at 1:04 AM

    Preachin to the choir!! Don’t get it either…. I think absolutely ANY kind of music with any kind of instruments and any kind of words can be spiritual.

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  14. hawkgrrrl on January 5, 2013 at 1:56 AM

    Uhm, piano is a percussion instrument.

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  15. Hedgehog on January 5, 2013 at 2:13 AM

    #11 Rigel,
    With you on the brass – my children and I are brass players, and the restriction has always irritated me – though I did get a brief outing this Christmas :-), for the carol concert. Still some people were worried the restriction applied to the chapel, not just sacrament meeting! Sigh.
    Anyone who thinks brass are only loud and fanfares needs to listen to this:

    They had 3 french horns in the RS General Meeting a couple of years or so ago. http://www.lds.org/general-conference/music/2010/10?lang=eng&session=6&song=3&media=audio#d
    I had hoped it might herald some kind of change…

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  16. Jeannine on January 5, 2013 at 7:34 AM

    The handbook says “most brass” instruments, not all. French horns can be reverent. I don’t think it’s as easy to find a reverent tuba. Technically, saxophones are reed instruments, but I don’t know that they would be terribly reverent.

    Of course, the thing that bugs me the most is that non-musical people are left with the ultimate decision. They don’t know music. They have no experience with it.

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  17. Hedgehog on January 5, 2013 at 8:36 AM

    Jeannine. First: tubas are very mellow sounding.
    Amazing Grace tuba solo here:
    Sounds reverent to me.

    Second: it *isn’t* a case of what instrument. Simply which piece of music of is selected.

    Also check out this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TXzPsRVF-Ew

    I’m as tired of instruments being stuck in boxes as I am of people being stuck in boxes.

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  18. FireTag on January 5, 2013 at 11:54 AM

    I think one issue for the LDS is that ward membership is purely geographical, so you can’t develop the specialized worship cultures that develop in denominations where, like the Methodists, there may be multiple churches catering to different groups of Methodists within easy commuting range.

    In the Community of Christ, we’ve tried to incorporate multiple styles into the same worship service, but that tends to devolve into no one getting enough of the style that reaches out to them — like eating a fifteen course dinner, but only getting 10 calories in each course.

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  19. OAK on January 6, 2013 at 2:53 PM

    I grew up in a ward where there was at least one or maybe two musical parts of the program.(very long sacrament meetings in those days) Don’t remember brass instruments but pretty much everything else was there. We had a few professional singers who no doubt would be cast out in today’s church services as being too much like a “performance”. I agree with many of the comments posted here. I don’t want a “house band” but would like to hear more music more often.Good music invites the spirit, be it froma guitar or a tenor. And thanks a ton to those who play the organs and pianos in the church. You are so appreciated.

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  20. John on September 9, 2013 at 6:50 AM

    We had a fantastic French horn rendition of O Holy Night in a recent Christmas sacrament meeting (we also had a harpist at our stake conference–gasp!). The policy governs culture and nothing else. A smart bishop will know when to not be completely governed by culture and when to have an awesome sacrament meeting.

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  21. James Andrus on March 16, 2014 at 5:42 PM

    I totally agree with this. And to the person who said it’s impossible to find a reverent tuba think again. Tuba gets an incredibly bad reputation as only being a polka and marching band instrument. I am a classical tuba performance major at my university and there is so much more to the instrument. I am lucky enough to have a bishop who is awesome and let me play at sacrament and everybody loved it and now they want me to play again. Please don’t stereotype an instrument based on limited knowledge of it.

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