Music in our Congregations: Our Responsibility

by: Hedgehog

August 14, 2014

This last Sunday I was released as Ward Music Chairman, a post I have occupied for a year. I had also been asked to speak in sacrament meeting about the importance of music in the church and in the home. The talk (abridged & adapted) follows.

“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing. Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.” (Psalm 100)

Do we make a joyful noise? When we sing, are we singing to the Lord? Do we sing with praise and thanksgiving?

Many of the Psalms were written by David, and we read in 1 Chronicles his introduction of a psalm to the people:

“Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him, talk ye of all his wondrous works. Glory ye in his holy name: let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord. Seek the Lord and his strength, seek his face continually. Remember his marvellous works that he hath done, his wonders, and the judgments of his mouth;” (1 Chronicles 16:9-12)

David reminds them of the covenant God has with them and goes on:

“Sing unto the Lord, all the earth; shew forth from day to day his salvation. Declare his glory among the heathen; his marvellous works among all nations. For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised:” (1 Chronicles 16:23-25)

Singing praises to the Lord did not begin with David: the Jaredites sang praises to the Lord (Ether 6:9); the children of Israel sang praises to the Lord following their deliverance from Egypt (Exodus 15:1); in Judges we read of Deborah and Barak singing praises (Judges 5). And music continued to be an important part of worship after the reign of David. At the dedication of the temple built during the reign of Solomon:

“It came even to pass, as the trumpeters [there were 120] and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of musick, and praised the Lord, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever: that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the Lord; So that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of God.” (2 Chronicles 5:13-14)

When we sing together, we come together as one and can feel an increased unity as members of the congregation.

When Hezekiah restores worship of the Lord and has the Levites cleanse the temple, they have a service with music (2 Chronicles 29:25-30). Music has a role in the passover feast in Jerusalem to which Hezekiah invites all Israel (2 Chronicles 30:21). Jeremiah in the midst of his woes declares:

“Sing unto the Lord, praise ye the Lord” (Jeremiah 20:13)

On their return to Jerusalem, following captivity, Ezra and Nehemiah both record that an inventory of the people was taken; amongst the temple staff they needed to count were the singers: Nehemiah records 245 singing men and singing women, whilst Ezra records 200. Singing is clearly a vital part of worship. Music was a part of the dedication of the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 12:27-46). We also read:

“And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the Lord, after the ordinance of David king of Israel. And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the Lord; because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.” (Ezra 3:10-11)

Ammon declares:

“Blessed be the name of our God; let us sing to his praise, yea, let us give thanks to his holy name, for he doth work righteousness forever.” (Alma 26:8)

A hymn was sung at the last supper (Mark 14:26).

The writer to the Hebrews exclaims:

“I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.” (Hebrews 2:12)

And whilst in prison:

“…Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed.” (Acts 16:25-26)

That night they were able to both teach and baptise.

It was only 3 months after this the restored Church was first organised that Emma Smith received the instruction to put together a collection of hymns:

“And it shall be given thee, also, to make a selection of sacred hymns, as it shall be given thee, which is pleasing unto me, to be had in my church. For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.” (D&C 25:11-12)

At the time the church was organised there were many denominations. Some denominations sang whilst others did not. In this revelation the Lord tells us that the singing of hymns is a good thing, and in the instigating of a hymn-book wishes the saints to have a collection of hymns for their use.

The preceding religious reforms in Europe had led to the translation hymns into the vernacular languages for congregations to sing, as well as the writing of many new hymns in those languages often set to folk tunes that would have been familiar to the congregations, and which most of us now only recognise as hymn tunes. So there were hymns available from which Emma could make her selection. Music for worship continued to be important to the church once the saints settled in the Salt Lake valley. In addition to members being sent to medicine and agriculture and so forth a number of members with musical talent were sent to study the rules of composition at the Boston Academy of Music. Our current hymn book includes: hymns from Emma’s original collection; many restoration hymns written by members, some set to folk tunes popular at the time they were written or existing hymn tunes, and others set to new compositions.

Our current hymn book was published in 1985, now almost 30 years old. At the official launch Thomas S Monson said:

“My prayer is that we will learn once again in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to really sing. We simply must do something with our congregational singing to bring out the spirit of music in the heart and soul of every boy, every girl, every man, and every woman.”

Have we done this? One of my biggest frustrations serving as Ward Music Chairman has been the restriction placed on which hymns can and cannot be used in our sacrament meetings, because not enough people know them. There is a wonderful world of hymns out there. Our hymn book contains only 341, and some of those are duplicates, having a choir setting as well as a congregational arrangement. My dream would be to have a greatly expanded hymn book with some of those wonderful hymns that are not currently included. Can we hope for more hymns when we can’t even sing together much more than half the current hymn book?

In a talk given at Conference in 1994 Elder Dallin H. Oaks said:

“Sacred music has a unique capacity to communicate our feelings of love for the Lord. This kind of communication is a wonderful aid to our worship. Many have difficulty expressing worshipful feelings in words, but all can join in communicating such feelings through the inspired words of our hymns.”

“I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.” (Psalm 104:33)

For me, limiting the hymns we sing, limits our worship, our praise of the Lord. Borrowing from Psalms my plea is:

“Praise ye the Lord. Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise in the congregation of saints.” (Psalm 149:1)

“O sing unto the Lord a new song; for he hath done marvellous things” (Psalm 98:1)

We can worship with hymns in our homes as well as during our weekly church services. In the words of the Psalmist:

“Sing unto the Lord, bless his name; shew forth his salvation from day to day.” (Psalm 96:2)

In the preface to the hymn book we read:

“Ours is a hymn book for the home as well as for the meetinghouse. We hope the hymn book will take 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.

“Teach your children to love the hymns. Sing them on the Sabbath, in home evening, during scripture study, at prayer time. Sing as you work, as you play, and as you travel together. Sing hymns as lullabies to build faith and testimony in your young ones.”

Do we do this? Singing and learning hymns together with our families, or on our own, is easier than it has ever been. The hymns are available online. We can listen to the music. We can even separate the parts if we want to learn the harmonies. We don’t need our own personal pianist. We can download an app free of charge to our mobile devices and learn the hymns that way. For those who prefer, the hymns and accompaniments are available on CD. If enough of us know the hymns then those visitors and new members joining our congregations will be able to sing along with us. Everyone should be able to join in singing hymns. The preface to the hymn book encourages “all members, whether musically inclined or not, to join with us in singing the hymns”. The verses in Psalms don’t refer to a beautiful noise nor a perfect noise.

“O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.” (Psalm 95:1)

Let’s spend more time familiarising ourselves with the hymns in our homes. Let’s expand our repertoire of worship.

“Sing praises to God, sing praises: sing praises unto our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth: sing ye praises…” (Psalm 47:6-7)


  • Do you listen to hymns outside a church setting?
  • Do you sing hymns outside a church setting?
  • How many of the hymns in the current LDS hymn book would you be able to sing well in a congregation?
  • Do you use the LDS music app?
  • Do you go online to learn parts?
  • Serving as Ward Music Chairman I tried to introduce unfamiliar hymns as musical items, but at a rate of one musical item a month that’s over a decade to cover all those hymns it had been decided the ward don’t know well enough for congregational singing. How well does your ward know the hymn book?
  • We don’t have a ward choir because the vast majority of members are too busy with other responsibilities to make a regular commitment. For musical items I would assemble varied groups from a single person up to about 7 or 8 (at most) to learn a particular piece. The single most aggravating request was, “can’t we just sing something we know?” How would you respond to learning a new hymn for a musical item?


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43 Responses to Music in our Congregations: Our Responsibility

  1. Randy B on August 14, 2014 at 2:18 PM

    Bring back contemporary music. Janice Kapp Perry, Michael McClain route music. The hymns are tired. You can only song the same song so many times before it becomes boring especially when sung to an organ. We truly need to “revival”ize our hymns. The pianist always plays a peppy hymn too frickin slow that I give up. It’s painful.

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  2. Hedgehog on August 14, 2014 at 2:39 PM

    Nothing against contemporary music though both those you mention are not that contemporary now. I had to work within the constraints I was given though.
    On the plus side we always took the hymns at a zippy pace.

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  3. Yet Another John on August 14, 2014 at 2:41 PM

    Part of the problem is we don’t do practice hymns as we did in Sunday School in the old schedule of meetings on Sunday. People say they want to sing different hymns and be able to do them well, but every one of us would balk at going back to meeting like we used to for Sunday School. Heck, most of us are trying to convince the brethren that a 2-hour block of meetings on Sunday is all we need!

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  4. Ice plant on August 14, 2014 at 3:02 PM

    Lovely talk! One of my favorite things about visiting other churches is the opportunity to sing new hymns. Many times I have found myself standing in a church not my own, fumbling along to a song I didn’t know, while my heart just vibrated with the spirit as the song expressed my feelings about my own struggles or my praise to God. These experiences have ranged from contemporary worship music in a Bible church to traditional organ music in a Catholic church.

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  5. RockiesGma on August 14, 2014 at 3:05 PM

    I’ve had occasion to attend other denominations over the years. Except for the Lutheran church I attended, they raised the roof. They stood in most congregations. They clap to the beat. They raise their arms toward Heaven. They had small to mid size orchestras. All hymns of recent years are shown on a screen with the words at the bottom. They’re all looking up and are enjoying themselves! It’s inspiring as well as invigorating!

    I think we’ve tried so hard (and overwhelmingly succeeded) to be different from the rest of the Christian world, and to make our Sacrament meetings soooo reverent that we look down at hymn books in our laps, dour expressions of boredom or distraction on our faces, that music seems to be a filler of time far more than joyful expressions of praise to God. I often see many people not even bothering to sing at all.

    There ought to be annual hymn writing contests. There ought to be submissions of praise from around the world! Why do we build malls and hotels for billions of dollars, but neglect the psalms of our amazing day yet to be written? Why don’t we have volumes of hymn books?! And why aren’t we learning new hymns every week?

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  6. Frank Pellett on August 14, 2014 at 4:00 PM

    RockiesGMA – there is an annual hymn writing contest.

    I try to have at least one hymn per week we’ve never done. Thankfully, my Bishopric gives me much more reign than the OP obviously got. I keep track of what we’ve selected, so I avoid anything we’ve done in the past 3 months. 6 months or over a year is even better. I had one this past week that it took til the third verse before even the organist could get the rhythm right. It happens, but that doesn’t stop our enjoyment of the music. My biggest goal for this year is to have no congregational/rest hymns between speakers. Every week, we’re going to have a special musical number, even if it’s people who think they have no talent. Better to ask and be turned down, rather than not ask at all.

    As for the wards not having a choir, it’s in the handbook that a Ward -will- have a choir. Not that it -may- (if there is enough interest), but that it -will-.

    Thanks for the double reference to the Psalm about making a joyful noise. It says nothing about “sweet music only” – it specifically says “noise”.

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  7. Hedgehog on August 14, 2014 at 8:51 PM

    Frank. I argued and argued that the handbook specifically says to unfamiliar hymns in our sacrament meetings, to no avail.
    I did win the discussion on having the musical item in addition to the intermediate hymn, as I hate cutting the opportunity for the congregation to sing. So pur musical items went before the first speaker.
    If noone is prepared to song up and attend rehearsals a choir isn’t possible whatever the handbook says. Rehearsals for the musical items were hard enough, were often a snatched few minutes available only because the participants knew it was just for a few weeks. Oh and it was insisted that the musical items had to sound good to be in the programme. So I enjoyed including those references.

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  8. Hedgehog on August 14, 2014 at 9:08 PM

    YAJ, the lack of a music practice time is a big problem I think. It has even been cut from the RS program now, though it lasted there longer than anywhere else. My RS president was happy to include practices for specific musical items though. It was harder to get the men involved, because leaders didn’t want to take time from quorum lessons, didn’t want me in there directing the practice, and several complained it sounded awful the couple of rehearsals they attempted because they didn’t know it. In the end, those men prepared to sing had to get together with me briefly after meetings, which was tricky because none of them really wanted to stay on and only did so for a couple of weeks until they’d done their bit.

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  9. Hedgehog on August 14, 2014 at 9:12 PM

    Ice Plant, thank you. I too enjoy the opportunity to sing hymns I don’t know, and would agree that they can still touch our souls, more so sometimes because we tend to pay closer attention to the words. An argument I tried to make, without success.

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  10. Hedgehog on August 14, 2014 at 9:19 PM

    RockiesGma, I agree that our interpretation of reverence is a problem. One of the attitudes I was constantly battling was the idea that badly sung music was a distraction to be avoided at all costs. Hence the injunctions on which hymns were allowed as congregational hymns. I was also instructed that musical items had to sound good too. I’d never have been allowed to take Frank’s route.

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  11. hawkgrrrl on August 14, 2014 at 10:42 PM

    “Do you listen to hymns outside a church setting?” Never.
    “Do you sing hymns outside a church setting?” Nope.
    “How many of the hymns in the current LDS hymn book would you be able to sing well in a congregation?” A lot of them, probably 80%.
    “Do you use the LDS music app?” Not generally unless a hymn is unfamiliar.
    “Do you go online to learn parts?” I’m not quite that good.
    “How well does your ward know the hymn book?” Maybe 50-65% of them sing, and they generally know the 50% of hymns that are most familiar. My home ward sang different ones (or different versions of some) than the ones I’ve heard in other wards. Our chorister was a professor of musical theater, and he could really create some rousing hymns.
    “The single most aggravating request was, “can’t we just sing something we know?” How would you respond to learning a new hymn for a musical item?” Our ward choir only sings unfamiliar hymns or ones that are arranged in a new way. That’s the difference between the choir and the congregation singing. I don’t sing in the choir though, mostly because they meet before church, and Sunday is already too long with the 3 hour block.

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  12. Hedgehog on August 14, 2014 at 11:30 PM

    hawkgrrrl, a choir would have been good, but no weeknight was suitable, and no one liked before or after practice on a Sunday precisely because of the 3 hours – either they had small children, or they were providing lifts to and from church to others, or their health didn’t permit them to stay the full 3 hours anyway, never mind extra.

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  13. Nate on August 15, 2014 at 1:09 AM

    My opinion regarding lesser known hymns is that there is a reason they are lesser known. They just don’t work as well with Mormon audiences, so they don’t bring the spirit. The well known ones have struck the right cultural chord. If I have a choice, I never play a lesser known hymn, but always stick to the top 40. I’m organist for a music director that puts one or two somber, lesser known hymns in each meeting, and it absolutely kills the spirit.

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  14. Hedgehog on August 15, 2014 at 1:58 AM

    So Nate, which are your top 40? I’ve been surprised by the number of really good hymns we weren’t permitted to use for the congregation.
    I definitely have my likes and dislikes as hymns go, but there were a lot of good hymns to cover.

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  15. Hedgehog on August 15, 2014 at 2:23 AM

    Also Nate, I think we make a mistake when we assume our own experience with the spirit is the same thing everyone else is experiencing. A particular hymn may not do it for you, but be just what someone else needs. Is it your reaction to the hymn that is doing the killing for you? There are some hymns I balk at that others love.

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  16. ji on August 15, 2014 at 5:13 AM

    I appreciate the sentiments. As an organist, I really appreciate the sentiments.

    But our “problem” will not be solved by bringing in new hymns. We need a foundational change to seeing hymns and hymn-singing as part of worship — worship of the Lord Jesus Christ. Generally, from my observation, singing in our sacrament meetings is not done worshipfully or joyfully — rather, it seems as part of enduring to the end. That’s sad. Our greatest need is for individual members to approach the singing in a spirit of worship.

    To whatever degree the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is an example for congregational singing, it is a poor example. This is not intended as MTC bashing. As a choir, it does well. But it is a poor example for congregational singing. When have you ever seen them SING with enthusiasm and joy? With happiness?

    I would like for us to stand for all of our hymns. It will make a difference. I’m an adult convert, and I always attended worship meetings growing up, and EVERYWHERE, everyone stood for the hymns. Sitting for the hymns is customary to born-and-bred Latter-day Saints, but to me, it is disrespectful, or at least not sufficiently respectful. The result of sitting during hymns is what we have now for our normal sacrament meeting singing.

    Let’s look at this in a missionary light — how man potential converts do we unwittingly turn away with our pitiful, even painful, congregational singing?

    YES, I listen to hymns outside of a church setting. Never MTC, though — I prefer real SINGING, like stained-glass-bluegrass and front-porch-fellowship (radio shows with American gospel music). I also like hearing congregations sing. There is power in communal singing, and we as Latter-day Saints haven’t realized that power yet.

    When I play for sacrament meetings, I play in a manner to help fellow congregants SING in worship. I want to help them sing with enthusiasm and joy and happiness. Sometimes a different introduction can energize a congregation. Last Sunday our opening hymn was Redeemer of Israel — my introduction was a sustained bass note pedal point, and then over that, the melody notes for only the last phrase — either consciously or unconsciously, the congregants heard/felt the difference, and wow! the singing was great! As an organist in a worship meeting, I can never stretch farther that the worship leader will allow — but I am always hopeful that worship leaders (bishops and branch presidents) and organists will stretch a little to improve our congregational singing. But to Latter-day Saints, stretching anything seems sinful, and that’s sad.

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  17. Nate on August 15, 2014 at 6:24 AM

    Hedgehog, I don’t really like any hymns myself, but I think I can recognize when they bring the right “LDS” style spirit to a meeting. If I want to feel the spirit personally, I listen to Olivier Messiaen, but that’s just me.

    My complete indifference to the hymns helps me to be the kind of artistic whore a musician needs to be at church. Our job is to do all within our power to raise the roof (within the very narrow confines we are given.) Opening hymns in general need to be rousing and well known, with big noisy organ, like Now Let Us Rejoice. The sacrament hymns are all pretty good, and all pretty well known. For the closing hymn, sometimes a beloved softer hymn like I Need Thee Every Hour is good to retain the reverence of the meeting, or else a noble, faith-promoting one like How Great Thou Art.

    Like ji is saying, the conductor needs to be smiling, singing LOUDLY, and waving their arms enthusiastically. The organist needs to change registers on EVERY verse, making it gradually louder and louder for the big hymns. All intermediate hymns need to be cut, and the choir or soloists should sing every week. SImple stuff, like those easy hymn arrangements that can practically be sightread, SAB. There you can introduce some of the lesser known hymns. I find if I can get this to happen, people start singing more loudly, and there is a better spirit in the meetings.

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  18. Howard on August 15, 2014 at 6:39 AM

    The Tabernacle must have been something to behold in it’s early days with it’s pipe organ choir and superior acoustics. That’s where early Mormons churched! Where could one go to find a similar musical feast? Today the typical LDS Sunday fare does not even come close. When I ponder what could be done to improve things I’m struck by the talent of two musicians The Piano Guys performing How Great Thou Art as I listen to them on my inexpensive but audiophile electronics. Imagine this number being performed in your ward with similar sound quality. It would quickly move our music from boring and painful to delightful.

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  19. Hedgehog on August 15, 2014 at 8:16 AM

    Great comment ji. A good chorister and organist can help a lot, and we have both, thankfully. I wholeheartedly agree we should sing with a spirit of worship, and enthusiasm. I also love listening to recordings of good congregational singing, and tried to get across that power in my talk, but I don’t think too many grasped the point.
    Considering the size, my ward doesn’t actually sing too badly for an LDS congregation, and I had the can we stand to sing debate, and lost that one. I’ve attended a larger ward in the stake full of young vibrant people as well as older mature members, and I know for a fact there are a lot of musically talented people in that ward, including at least 3 music teachers, but the congregational singing was horrible. It baffled me. Do these musical people think if they sing up they are some how making a show of themselves? If so they have it wrong in my view. If those who know, and can read music sing up, it gives everyone else greater confidence to do the same.

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  20. Hedgehog on August 15, 2014 at 8:27 AM

    Ah Nate, therein we differ. I love hymns generally, so found it frustrating not to be allowed to sing many of the hymns I know and love in the congregation. Like you we always went for good rousing opening hymns. I generally favour hymns of praise for opening with. As mentioned before, I never cut the intermediate hymn, a practice I detest as a member of the congregation, because I want the chance to sing. A musical item every week sounds overly ambitious for a small ward. We managed it in December for Christmas, but it was unsustainable over the longer term. Not sure I know what you mean by LDS style spirit. Intermediate and closing hymns I tried to link to the topics given to the speakers, though sometimes we used a generic closing hymn to close. Of course, it was the chorister who generally suggested the actual hymns, we had a restricted list to work from, and I basically oversaw that process. Prior to my call we hadn’t had a music chairman for several years, and consequently had had no musical items during that time.

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  21. Hedgehog on August 15, 2014 at 8:41 AM

    Howard, prior to the introduction of the organ, local church music had somewhat different flavour, though pleasant in it’s way I think (Maddie Prior & the Carnival Band sing “To Be a Pilgrim” –

    I am familiar with the Piano Guys, and enjoy some of their music. Would that all wards had a collection of good musicians. As it is we have to make do with those we have. It doesn’t help that wards have been divided as soon as remotely possible here, so the congregation isn’t large to begin with. Of course in other denominations the musicians can be employees, and turn up to do their job, as opposed to being members sharing their talents on a voluntary basis.

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  22. Howard on August 15, 2014 at 9:41 AM

    Why can’t LDS musicians record these high quality hymns for use in local LDS meetings?

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  23. Rigel Hawthorne on August 15, 2014 at 9:55 AM

    My sister is ward music director in her ward and she follows a pattern set by her predecessor of having a choir or special musical number EVERY WEEK except fast Sunday. I was a bit flabbergasted as I contrasted that to our ward with no choir and only one vocalist who gets asked at the last minute to do a special number for Christmas and Easter every year. We did have a Young Women’s choir for a special number recently and that was, to say it politely, interesting.

    I agree with Nate in #17, but I don’t think most organists we have had are well-versed or intrepid enough to change the registers. I am an occasional organist, and without playing the organ consistently, I don’t have the know-how to do good register management and have to ‘dabble’ on the peddles.

    I remember reading in the Church News of Gladys Knight asking Gordon B Hinckley why the church music was not more invigorating. His counsel to her was to take on the task of contributing toward that vision. I have been waiting and wondering whether there has been any realistic ability to input towards a new hymnbook. As the temple films have been updated, the 30 year old current hymnbook is likely due.

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  24. Nate on August 15, 2014 at 9:57 AM

    I think the LDS spiritual style is a peculiar blend of earnestness, conservatism, and restrained joyfulness, with a touch of intimacy. Most of the unknown hymns don’t meet that criteria. A hymn like “Cast Thy Burden Upon the Lord” is exquisite Mendelssohn, a high German Protestant sound, but it doesn’t sound “mormon” at all, so it always flops. But it would be great for the choir to sing it.

    As far as the choir singing every week, it’s really all a matter of repertoire. If your arrangements are really simple, with members usually just singing out of the hymn book, SAB (or melody only if everyone is tone deaf), while the pianist does a little doodling, you don’t even have to rehearse. You can rehearse 15 min max after church. Make the music so easy that even people who missed the rehearsal after church can go up and just sight read it in performance. Just give them a sheet of paper that says: Hymn No. 124, Nancy sings first verse, women 2nd verse (soprano and alto), men 3rd verse (melody), little piano interlude, 4th verse everyone together, parts. Something like that. I think we are a bit too ambitious with choir. If no one can sing, just have everyone sing the melody. No need to practice that. If you have a decent pianist, maybe a flute or violin playing an interlude, or the alto part an octave higher as an obligato. Then if everyone is used to singing every week, it’s easy to throw in something more challenging and spend a little more time if necessary.

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  25. Hedgehog on August 15, 2014 at 10:35 AM

    Great in theory Nate, and those were the kind of rehearsals we were having, not even as complicated as that most of the time, but people just couldn’t make the commitment for us to do something every week. Add in the ward leaders only wanted one a month anyway. I pleaded a special case for Christmas.

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  26. Hedgehog on August 15, 2014 at 10:44 AM

    Rigel, I’m not an organist at all, so if the organist is absent the ward have to make do with me on piano. We could do with a much better piano, but I do manage to keep up the pace, and volume when necessary.

    Howard, I’m not sure recorded music helps as much. You can’t adjust the speed or volume so readily for the congregation. It’s not responsive. It isn’t the same as live music in a worship service.

    Nate again, yeah I’m not sure I like that description of the LDS spiritual style. Not really me. Is that my problem do you think?

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  27. Nate on August 15, 2014 at 11:36 AM

    Hedgehog, if you are doing choir once a month that’s already better than most wards. So kudos on that and also choir for all 4 weeks of December. Music in the UK seems better in general than the US, from my experience.

    I do think you have to submit (my favorite word) to the cultural language of the congregation you serve, so I think it is a problem if you program your own favorite music if it is going over the heads of the majority of the congregation. Or in moderation you can bring in some diversity, as there may always be a few others like yourself. I always have to remind myself that what Mormons respond to is correlated Mormonism, and Mormon culture, Janice Kapp Perry and Harry Anderson prints. That is the essence of the LDS cultural spirit so things need to inhabit that particular ethos.

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  28. Rigel Hawthorne on August 15, 2014 at 12:01 PM

    Hedgehog, I mention this just for a bit of humor. I am a more accomplished pianist than organist and have played several piano solos in church at different times in my life. When I was in the singles ward years ago, I played a piano solo I arranged from one of the movements of John Rutter’s “Magnificat” work, though I am not sure I would have the nerve to play any music from a work written about Mary (the mother of Jesus) in my current ward. The local college choir near that ward sang in sac meeting for us and after the closing prayer, as postlude, they sang “Ave Maria”. As the Bishop perseverated about how inappropriate that was in the weeks that followed, I thought he was going to have a stroke.

    I have also played my own arrangement of the hymn tune Abscheid, better known in our hymnbook as “O, God the Eternal Father” in sac mtg and I’ve played a David Glen Hatch arrangement in piano solo of “Love at Home” at a ward fireside.

    When I played those arrangements of familiar hymns, ward members would come up and tell me how beautiful the music was and how much they enjoyed it. Then they would ask me, ‘that music sounded so familiar, what was it?” I would then name the hymn and they would look at me with a blank look. It was just astonishing to me that something so familiar as those hymns would be unrecognizable if played with a different style.

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  29. Hedgehog on August 15, 2014 at 1:51 PM

    Well it wasn’t choir as such Nate, and the congregation were desperate for change when I was called, many of them made that very clear to me. So I don’t think they were at all happy with how things had been. I think correlation has become too much of a straight jacket, but our ward leaders feel bound by it, so I was quite constrained in what I could do. I think there ought to be far more room for local culture in our music. And I also think Pres Monson’s quote in the OP recognises a problem, even though a goodly portion of the cause may not have been identified. Anyway, part of my message to the members was that I had done what I could, and if they desired the change they had said they needed to do their part too.
    Thank you for the discussion.

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  30. Hedgehog on August 15, 2014 at 2:00 PM

    Rigel, that sounds lovely. Our local leaders would have had heart failure though. They were anxious enough about the musical items even though I let them know well in advance exactly what the hymn would be, and who would be singing.
    I’m a fan of Rutter’s music. Our organist likes to embelish hymns during prelude music. One week the resident SP member approached and demanded she stick to the hymnbook, and she pointed out she was indeed playing a hymn, just not one he recognised.

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  31. Rigel Hawthorne on August 15, 2014 at 3:38 PM

    “she pointed out she was indeed playing a hymn”

    Ah…love it when someone has the opportunity to set someone straight like that.

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  32. Jeff Spector on August 15, 2014 at 4:51 PM

    As a musician and especially a percussionist, I appreciate it when hymns are played at the proper tempo or slightly faster. I love singing the hymns and when we run across one that is unfamiliar, I kind of cringe as the congregation does not quite know what to do with it.

    Having said that, if more of the congregation would actually sing, it might be a better experience for all of us.

    Sorry folks are using the post to be critical. It’s a worship service, not a Broadway show. It won’t hurt you to actually participate and help bring the spirit of music into the meeting.

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  33. New Iconoclast on August 15, 2014 at 8:26 PM

    Thomas Monson said: My prayer is that we will learn once again in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to really sing.

    And he said that at the occasion of the release of a hymnal filled with simplified arrangements and recycled Primary hymns that makes of congregational singing a lame sort of children’s songs CD.

    I understand the desire of some Saints for “contemporary” music, but as an adult convert product of the 1970s Catholic Charismatic movement, I swear, if the LDS Church takes that tack, I’ll become a High Church Anglican just to get some decent music. I agree with the need to sing with gusto and emotion, but Jesus is not my buddy or my lover and songs that do not distinguish between who I worship and who I sleep with are not (IMNSHO) suitable for congregational worship.

    That said, I’ve tried to encourage our organist to pep up the accompaniment, and I’ve told our teenaged ward chorister that she runs the tempo and the organist should be following her. They end up following each other in an ever-slowing death spiral of funereal music that puts even the most well-intentioned to sleep. As choir director, a thankless job I hope to be released from now that I’m in the EQ presidency, I’ve tried to get out of the hymnal just to keep from dying of boredom – but only a half-dozen people show up for practices, and if I’m doing unfamiliar music, the usual suspects don’t come up from the congregation to join the choir at the last minute, which means that we try to do majestic old traditional hymns with a half-baked octet at best. It’s enough to drive one to suicide.

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  34. Hedgehog on August 16, 2014 at 2:45 AM

    Thanks Jeff, I agree on tempo, definitely. Some years ago in a different ward my husband and I were the music team, me as pianist, and my husband as chorister. We never had complaints about being too slow, but one week one member said he’d need his inhaler next time we sang a particular hymn, as we were apparently taking it too fast for comfort. I swear the speed indicators given at the top of the hymn in the hymnbook are downright errors in some cases. “Guide Me to Thee” in particular springs to mind. I’m perfectly convinced that quaver (at 100-120) should be a dotted crotchet (not sure of the US terminology for musical notation), and when this was done as a musical item (female duet) I certainly took the speed as if it were a dotted crotchet. A lightness of touch at that speed was very nice. The alternative is unbearable. We like a quick tempo in our ward. I’ve mentioned before that our last regional conference broadcast the volume of the music broadcast was too low to hear for the congregation hymn, and we all finished a good half verse ahead of the broadcast.

    My advice for hymns the congregation don’t seem to know is to sing up if you can (not that my leaders agreed, hence the restricted list), and the rest will catch on. And to those who didn’t know it, go home and listen to it so you’ll know it next time. Instead of complaining you didn’t know it.

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  35. Hedgehog on August 16, 2014 at 2:53 AM

    You have my sympathy NI. And I understand your point on the sentiments expressed in some hymns. Hymn number 102 is not one I favour, toe-curling.
    I relish the occasions we get to attend the cathedral services for my children’s school. Everyone stands to sing, sings out, and the acoustics are amazing.

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  36. Hedgehog on August 16, 2014 at 3:00 AM

    Oh and NI, on contemporary composers, I take it you’re more John Tavener than Janice Kapp Perry. Way more high church. I do enjoy that style, though I can’t see it sung in LDS congregations, more’s the pity. Just listening to it, conjures up the stone and stained glass, which I’d point out to Nate, are part of English culture.

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  37. ji on August 16, 2014 at 6:34 AM

    I may be going beyond the intent of the original posting, but I do want to respond to a thought above that the organist follows the tempo of the chorister. That really isn’t true, except in places like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir where they have professional paid full-time organists. In the rest of the pastoral church, the organists generally set the tempo, and the chorister needs to be happy trying to help the congregation to sing. I know many people will insist that the chorister MUST set the tempo and the organist MUST follow the chorister’s lead, but let’s be practical — our organists are not professional paid full-time organists. Where was the chorister all the time the organist was practicing? The organist is already engaging both hands and hopefully one and maybe even both feet, and he or she has already practiced the hymn several times without the presence of or any assistance from the chorister. For a chorister to assume on a Sunday morning that he or she will now set the tempo, with that setting the the first time the organist has seem the chorister, generally is not a tenable arrangement.

    Here are some extracts from some internet sources… (emphasis added)
    – An organist is trained to be an accompanist. This involves an empathy with the soloist, for the accompanist is trained to follow. The organist shifts into this mode when accompanying a choir and following a director, or when accompanying a soloist. . . .
    – As a soloist, the organist is free to interpret. Preludes, postludes, meditative pieces at Communion: these are individual, solo pieces. . . .
    – The third part of organist training is as leader. Here the organist is trained to set the tempo, give the breaths, etc. By strong, authoritative playing, the organist will pull the congregation along — and the average singer in the pew is less likely to be intimidated by sound of his own voice, hence more likely to sing out.
    – The organist serves as both the leader and interpreter in the singing of hymns by the congregation. Along with this role comes both authority and responsibility.
    – A conductor is employed to stand in a prominent position where congregation and organist can see him or her and, by a commanding presence and extravagant gestures, ensure that verses begin together. But it is to be deplored if this practice is adopted during normal worship. . . let us hope this practice does not percolate down to our churches and chapels.

    When a congregation has an organist and a chorister, well, one of the common outcomes is as described above by new iconoclast: “an ever-slowing death spiral of funereal music that puts even the most well-intentioned to sleep.” For congregational singing (in comparison to choir singing), we need to think of our organists as leaders, not accompanists. The chorister errs if he or she thinks the chorister’s purpose is to set the tempo for the organist; rather, the chorister’s purpose is to help the congregation to sing. A congregation that already knows how to sing really might not need a chorister. And our chorister tradition started back in the old days when we didn’t have organs and printed hymnbooks, and the chorister acted more like a cantor, to try to help the congregation to learn the song and sing.

    Others will have different opinions.

    But perhaps a lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities, and a lack of discussion in matters like this, contributes to the timidity of our organists? Organists don’t want to offend, but they know they will offend some if they do almost anything, so they do very little.

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  38. Hedgehog on August 16, 2014 at 6:57 AM

    Good points ji. I’ve accompanied on piano with both choristers who expect to follow me, and those who expect the reverse. Over a decade ago now I taught a conducting class in RS. One point I made was do consult with accompanist about tempos before the meeting starts, make sure you are both on the same page. I also said there is no point trying to conduct a piece faster than the accompanist is capable of playing it. Many years spent in a youth orchestra have ingrained in me a tendency to try and follow the chorister if possible however, though if I sense things dragging I will assert control.

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  39. Kristine on August 16, 2014 at 10:44 AM

    My solution to the “sing things the congregation knows” problem:

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  40. Hedgehog on August 16, 2014 at 11:01 AM

    Interesting idea Kristine. Painfully slow though.

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  41. Jeff Spector on August 17, 2014 at 2:41 PM

    I’d propose two things.

    1. Do we need a chorister at all? With our heads buried in the books, do we even watch, if only to watch an untrained chorister blow through a fermata. Or that they can conduct a 2/2 in four if it helps move the tempo along instead of a slow, unstructured arm wave.

    2. Practice the bloody hyms at home. Why do people always expect the Church to take the lead and arrange some time for them to do something easily done at home? Not all of us need to practice the hymns. We either know them or can actually read music.

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  42. Hedgehog on August 20, 2014 at 10:24 AM

    Good points both Jeff. The second point I did make in the talk I gave on person, rather more strongly than the edited version here.

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  43. […] New Iconoclast, commenting on Hedgehog’s post “Music in our Congregations: Our Responsibility” at W&T: […]

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