Changing Mormon Musical Aesthetics?

I didn’t blog about it at the time, although I thought about it. But now it’s up on You Tube, so here goes. In 2006, New Years Eve fell on a Sunday, and the Church — in a laudable attempt to give the youth something to do that was consistent with the Sabbath — put on a huge New Year’s program at the Conference Center that was broadcast over the Church’s satellite system. The program contained the the standard sort of fare for such Major Mormon Events: large choirs — which now include a full orchestra — and sermons. All well and good. And then there was this number by Utah-based Mormon folk singer Peter Breinholt:

I thought it was surprising because I have always thought that the one, hard-core, non-negotiable rule in all Mormon meetings regardless of forum was “Thou Shalt Not Have Guitars.” Of course, this number may have been a one off event, allowed because of the odd dynamic created by the odd Sabbath-New-Year’s-Eve-Party-For-Youth-Fire-Side dynamic. On the other hand, as a law prof, I can’t help but think in terms of precedent. And here we have it: guitar music, in the Conference Center, in the presence of the prophet no less. In 2103, when some BYU student is doing a Master’s Thesis on the rise of pop-folk music in Mormon services, I suspect that this will be marked as the moment when the first cracks appeared in the old-aesthetic line against guitars in sacrament meeting.

117 comments for “Changing Mormon Musical Aesthetics?

  1. I thought the only rule about instruments in sacrament meeting is that they must be string instruments, flute, or piano. A guitar would seemingly fall under those guidelines. We had an acoustic guitar along with someone singing in sacrament meeting a few years ago – but LOTS of people freaked out about it.

  2. And in 2103, when the rest of the world (and other churches) will have moved to cerebral implant transmitters for sharing sacred music via Wireless-Q biotech-WiFi, we will have just approved the acoustic guitar for use in Sacrament meeting. :)

  3. The problem with your train of thought is that an event in the Conference Center does not equal a sacrament meeting. There are events all year long that take place there that would not be appropriate in a sacrament meeting. You\’ll also notice that there have been other musical events in the presents of the Prophet such as the annual Christmas devotional that also includes several different kinds of instruments which again would not be done and is in fact covered in the general handbook of instructions. I doubt you\’ll find drift in the church if you follow what is in the hand books, though I\’m sure there are wards that have done just this on their own already.

  4. So everyone understands this, I will state clearly:

    There is no official prohibition of guitars in sacrament meeting. It exists only in the minds of overzealous “Saints”. I forget the exact wording in the Church Handbook of Instructions, but it has something to do with maintaining the spirit of the meeting.

    You can look it up in the Music section, just like I did a few years ago — right before I showed it to the ward music director and the bishop (who happened to be a Democrat, FWIW) and then happily (yet solemnly) played my acoustic guitar while singing with my wife…in sacrament meeting.

    Sure, I was being a little rebellious, and I probably rankled a few listeners’ concept of What’s Right, but I refuse to place false restrictions on myself (which, again, only exist in the minds of the ignorant) when I had endure one sacred service after another that included pop performances that only kinda-sorta could pass for music, to say nothing of being actually spiritual.


  5. P.S. For those curious, we played and sang “Stille Nacht,” in German (where my wife originates, which everyone knows), at Christmastime, and after reciting the legend of the organ breaking down so he had to play it on guitar (look it up on Wikipedia). So our rebel-with-a-guitar act actually had multiple relevant tie-ins and turned out to be quite serene (more so than I expected).


  6. I’ve had someone perform a guitar number in one of my wards once. The novelty of it made it pretty memorable. I also attended Church once on my mission where the Stake President of the McLean Stake in Virginia allowed several high school students (and band members) to perform a number with brass instruments. That was downright shocking…. but certainly made Church that day a little more interesting.

  7. Are we talking about the performance on the video being jarring? Its not like Bob Dylan plugged in and played “Like A Rough Stone Rolling”. Is this a demonstration of why Mormon artists are fustrated?

  8. Back in Provo, our home ward got a bunch of the youth to provide music for the Christmas program. About five of them were in the nearby high school band – couple violins, cello, french horn, flute… stuff. They’re all setting up at the front of the chapel and in walks our Stake President (who was a member of our ward).

    His face went a bit stern when he caught sight of the brass, but he never said anything.

  9. I think it’s unfortunate that the choir had a role in this number at all. The juxtaposition of Breinholt’s James Tayloresque phrasing with 300 plus voices doesn’t sit well in my ears. But a step in the right, liberating, maybe even spiritual, direction.

    As long, of course, as the guitar is never strummed, only picked. Strumming is of the devil.

  10. I thought it a giant breakthrough when they added a whole orchestra to the Mormon Tab Choir on sunday mornings to help boost the quality of spiritual music.

    Now couldn’t any one of those orchestra instruments provide appropriate music for Sacrament Meeting? (Including the percussion?)

    I know I have seen guitars, etc in large sunday firesides by the stake youth.

  11. Here are the relevant passages from the handbook. Note that no instruments are strictly forbidden, just that organ and piano are the standard, and brass and percussion are generally inappropriate. Hey, if you know someone who can play something on the trumpet/trombone/etc. and make it sound appropriate for Sacrament Meeting, then I say go for it! Besides, it seems that half of what we here on a weekly basis played on the piano or organ is really inappropriate. (Most people don’t realize that it says right in the hymnbook that not all the hymns in there are appropriate for Sacrament Meeting!)

    Appropriate Music for Church Meetings

    Music for Sacrament Meeting

    Stake presidencies and bishoprics determine whether musical selections or instruments are suitable for a particular meeting. Careful selection and proper performance of music can greatly enhance the spirit of worship. Guidelines are provided in the following paragraphs.

    The hymns of the Church are the basic music for Latter-day Saint meetings and are standard for all congregational singing. Hymns are also encouraged for prelude and postlude music, choir music, and special selections. If other musical selections are used, they should be in keeping with the spirit of the hymns of the Church. Texts should be doctrinally correct. (See “Hymns for Congregations,” Hymns, pages 380–81.)

    Music in Church meetings should help members worship, feel the sacred spirit of the Sabbath, and feel the spirit of revelation. This music should not draw attention to itself or be for demonstration. Some religiously oriented music in a popular style is not appropriate for sacrament meetings. Also, much sacred music that is suitable for concerts and recitals is not appropriate for a Latter-day Saint worship service.

    Organs and pianos 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.

    Live accompaniment is normally used in sacrament and other ward meetings. If a piano, organ, or accompanist is not available, appropriate recordings may be used. Such recordings are listed in the annual Church Materials Catalog.

    Music in Church meetings should usually be sung in the language of the congregation.

  12. It’s brass instruments that a persecuted. Which always struck me as weird given pipe organs. But there you go…

  13. Two of the coolest sacrament services I\’ve ever attended involved non-traditional (for LDS) music. One was a family that played a musical number with Gutiar, Violin, Vioal, and Cello and mom singing. The other, the bishop\’s wife played something from the hymnal on the marimba.

  14. It’s brass instruments that are persecuted.

    This is my experience as well. Guitars are looked upon suspiciously (associated as they are with liberals, hippies, and overly earnest adolescents), but when push comes to shove, they are tolerated. But brass instruments, for some mostly unaccountable set of reasons, are driven out the chapel doors. The upside, I suppose, is that it saves us from “Jesus Christ Superstar.” The downside is that, as a result, there are no truly decent recitals of any portion of Handel’s Messiah given on the ward or stake level anywhere in the church today.

  15. It’s brass instruments that a persecuted. Which always struck me as weird given pipe organs.

    Clark, it’s even weirder, given that Moroni with his trumpet is the universal icon of the Restoration.

  16. I played in a musical number at my cousin’s mission farewell a few years back. His grandfather had been director of the BYU Philharmonic, and there were not only multiple string instruments and brass instruments, there was a conductor! At my own farewell a couple years later, we added a rain stick to the mix (but left out the persecuted brass…).

  17. I see nothing wrong with an acoustic guitar being played reverently in support of a spiritual message.

    I remember picking up an old hymnal for a Protesant church in an antique store and learning in the introduction that they did not believe that any hymn should be sung that was not basically a variation on one of the Psalms. Various churches have had limits on what kind of instruments could be used. On the other hand, many contemporary megachurches seem to have a full stage band for their Sunday services. Clearly, it is possible to go too far. But I think we LDS have a ways to go before we get to that place.

    I have known members who reacted negatively to having a trumpet play the trumpet solo in the number “The trumpet shall sound” from Handel’s Messiah.

    I personally have been very gratified by the creation of the Orchestra on Temple Square. It adds a new dimension to the sound of the Tabernacle Choir, and widens their repertoire significantly.

    I have never been clear as to why brass instruments were inherently unholy. I would agree that most secondary school students don’t play well enough to avoid unpleasant sounds that can definitely distract from a worshipful experience. And in even an average size chapel, the sound from several brass instruments can easily be way too loud. (My father was the drum major for the Salt Lake Letter Carriers Band, and the whole band played on the stage of their ward’s cultural hall for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary party. Having been trained to play while marching down a street, while motorcycle police zoomed by popping their sirens, the band was deafening inside the cultural hall.)

    But the French horn (my old instrument) is a standard instrument in woodwind quintets, providing a resonance that compliments flutes, clarinets, oboes and bassoon. I don’t see a reason why any of those instruments could not be included in a worshipful and reverent performance.

    I have always considered that one of the geniuses of the LDS organization is that it leaves great discretion in the hands of the local leadership, as guided by the Spirit. The key is that the combination of voices and instruments be one that contributes positively to the worship experience.

    Many of the Messiah choruses are deeply moving and direct paraphrases of scripture, so I would see nothing wrong with performing one with the full range of instruments, if one can do so competently, and without a lot of disruption of the flow of the meeting, perhaps for a Christmas or Easter program after the Sacrament is conducted.

    There is nothing inherently holy in music for the human voice and a piano, as anyone who has visited a hotel piano bar can affirm. It all depends on what music is being played, and how it is being presented. An organ played poorly can make one think about how much the player is suffering (or should suffer, if they are oblivious), rather than spiritual things.

    I think a more difficult issue is the desire of members like Gladys Knight to bring more of the music of their own experience into the Church. There is certainly no problem with performing spirituals in firesides and other special venues. Sister Knight has proven that Mormons of all races can sing them competently. We certainly have lots of precedent in traditional church music for getting loud and rhythmic, especially when we aspire to emulate the Tabernacle Choir (e.g. Battle Hymn of the Republic, Hallelujah Chorus).

    I guess some members feel threatened if they hear something out of the ordinary. Once when my wife was playing piano to accompany a choir, the choir director declined to consider performing a number because it was “too black”, apparently unaware that the Tabernacle Choir would perform it at its own Christmas concert. Short of something that would call for us all to start dancing and clapping, I think a lot of pieces in that style, if performed well, could enhance the spirit of a Sacrament meeting.

    Played poorly, bagpipes can be torture to listen to. But bagpipes skillfully playing Amazing Grace can have tremendous emotional resonance.

    You will note that the Tabernacle Choir recently added a handbell choir to its organization of supporting musicians, led by a member of the Choir who was my daughter’s choral teacher in high school and conductor of the handbell choir she played in. Skilled handbell players, with instruments of several different tones, can create an instrument with a remarkable range of expression.

    So I place my vote in favor of music from any instrument if it can be played reverently, beautifully, and with praiseworthy skill.

  18. Never understood the brass prohibition. Someone already mentioned Moroni. How about the resurrection? It’s the trump that shall sound, not a flute. And didn’t the Devil always play the fiddle?

    I guess the only brass most people have ever heard is John Phillips Sousa, but a good legato trumpet or trombone is just about the most reverent sound you’ll ever hear. Rumor has it that Mozart considered the trombone’s sound so sacred that he reserved it only for his masses, never used it in secular music.

    I understand people want a prophylactic rule to keep out little Dan deacon who just started trumpet lessons and craps on the high notes. The question is why we obey this ban so zealously when pop hits like “His Hands” aren’t slowed down a bit by the ban on pop.

  19. For what it’s worth, the Primary Children’s Songbook includes a guitat chord chart. Regarding brass, I remember a conducting joke. “Never smile at the brass section: it will encourage them.”

  20. The video you posted doesn’t have permissions set to allow embedding, so when I try to play it here it says it’s no longer available. But if you go to it’s youtube page it’ll play.

  21. #21

    Sounds like a quote from Richard Strauss: “Never look at the brass section; it only encourages them.”

  22. A few months ago I accompanied a trombone solo in sacrament meeting. The soloist was getting a DMA in trombone here in New York. We played an arrangement of \’Where Can I Turn For Peace.\’ It was absolutely beautiful and brought a wonderful spirit into our meeting.

    There are many talented musicians in our stake attending Juilliard, Manhattan School of Music, Mannes School of Music, CUNY, etc. and performing at The Metropolitan Opera, on Broadway, etc. Our stake performs a Messiah sing-in each Christmas, and the brass players sound phenomenal! (so do the vocal soloists) We may be one exception to #16 \”anywhere in the church today.\”

  23. #14 – “It’s brass instruments that a persecuted.”

    Not all brass… if you want to get lawyerly about it, it’s only “most brass”

    #22 – The embedded video still works for me. Perhaps it’s an issue with your browser.

  24. Its about time. I have been reading and waiting for a long time in the hallowed halls of the bloggernacle.for someone to open up the flood gates of music at church.

    The Church has one of the most inane and ridiculously mis-(if not “ill”)informed ideas about “appropriate music.” For a church that encourages its members to rise above mediocrity and do the best with what talents have been given them, the music in the church (at local levels) tends to be mediocre at best, incredibly dull and spirit-numbing at worst. This is indeed hit or miss, but in general, a musical number tends to be a huge cringe-fest for the congregation.
    All time and effort in church music seems to go toward the cultivation of the MoTabCho (unpaid) and the Orchestra at Temple Square (unpaid volunteers, who are professionals, but are “called” to play in the orchestra, even though they audition). I look forward to general conference so I can actually hear some decent church music. The organists, conductors and arrangers are first class. Yet, at a more local level, I feel a little more distraught.

    Why certain instruments are disallowed in sacrament services seems arbitrary. I understand the logic of discouraging the not-so-professional players to disrupt sacred services by their inept playing of difficult instruments (i.e. trumpet boy in Jason J–20). Yet, if disruption of a sacred service was the founding principle behind the Church music policy, why do we continually sit through awful versions of awful pop songs, sung awfully?

    I could write a lot more about this, and probably in clearer terms, but I am curious to see this discussion go on further.

  25. Regarding the Children’s Songbook (21), I love playing the guitar part to the songs my little kids choose. Much fun.

    Regarding the Handbells on Temple Square (19), they have already ruined a couple of my favorite songs. It seems the Handbell Lobby on Temple Square has gotten a little too powerful, as I have noticed their troops increasingly marching down the choir aisles, flanking the helpless singers in more and more performances. I hope they are soon tempered by restraint, wisdom, and better judgment.

    Some of the beautiful music with grand finales that the Bells have been written into end up being obliterated by an overpowering KLANG-A-LANG-A-LANG-A-LANG-A-LANG-A-LANG!! The frantic waving of those higher-toned bells easily drowns out the choir, the strings, the brass, and even the percussion. The resulting cacophony of noise is devoid of harmony, tonality, or even bombast. What started as a novelty and a unique addition to select passages woven carefully into a few pieces has become an incessant intrusion, annoying and shrill. The Bells must be stopped!


  26. While on the subject of guitars and church music, I’ve gotta confess that my favorite version of “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief” is the one at the end of the film New York Doll–complete with harmonica.

  27. Regarding appropriate music (26), I recall my wife telling me she was told she couldn’t play a certain classical music piece in sacrament meeting — something by J.S. Bach, I believe. My wife plays violin — she’s not professional, but she was trained in a decent conservatory in Germany and she has a good ear for what’s right and what’s just bad, both in musical selections and their performances.

    To further the “ironic” thread, there is plenty of Bach or Mozart or other non-Mormon compositions that are perfectly acceptable, religious, and even sacred in its original intent. Too much of this is avoided, I’m guessing, due to the ignorance of the ward music director, the local leadership, or members wishing to provide sacrament meeting music who mistakenly think such pieces are actually secular.

    And don’t even get me started on the Mormon-pop “music” that passes for inspirational or even sacred. That commercial drivel should never be let past the studio parking lot it was produced in. (Oops. I think I’m letting my musical snob show.)


  28. Sweet, he’s got a Taylor.

    I wish our services had more harping.

    Ours have plenty: “Do your home teaching”; “Pay a full tithe”; “Magnify your calling”; “Invite your neighbors to church”; “Take your wives on a date”; it’s never ending.

  29. “So everyone understands this, I will state clearly…”

    Jonovitch, I don’t understand. Can you please use shorter words?

  30. Too much of this is avoided, I’m guessing, due to the ignorance of the ward music director, the local leadership, or members wishing to provide sacrament meeting music who mistakenly think such pieces are actually secular.

    I think it’s safer to guess that there isn’t anyone in your average ward who can perform Bach et al. These guys give real musicians a hard enough time, to say nothing of the non-musicians that make up the bulk of the church.

  31. “We may be one exception to #16 ‘anywhere in the church today.'”

    Nah, Russell is, in fact, simply mistaken. Sorry, RAF, I know of at least two stakes that put on a yearly messiah production and musicians that play or have played in them, and they’re in different parts of the country, so I expect that it’s simply not a phenomenon you’ve ever lived near.

    (As an aside, and really, I’m not trying to single you out here RAF, but why are participants in the bloggernacle always so eager to commit hasty generalization with regards to their experience in the church?)

  32. I’m imagining the Messiah’s A Trumpet Will Sound being part of sacrament meeting. I suspect that there are few LDS trumpeters that could do it justice. Still, it would be great provided it wasn’t terrible The terrible part is a strong possibility

    Why wouldn’t Bach be appropriate in church There are tunes written by Bach in the hymn book. I heard a violinist, who will remain nameless, play Ave Maria by Gounod. No one complained. I bet she could play it in the conference center without making any waves either.

  33. Ours have plenty: “Do your home teaching”; “Pay a full tithe”; “Magnify your calling”; “Invite your neighbors to church”; “Take your wives on a date”; it’s never ending.

    I’ve never heard any of those songs. Are you sure?

  34. (30): “Too much of this is avoided, I’m guessing, due to the ignorance of the ward music director, the local leadership, or members wishing to provide sacrament meeting music who mistakenly think such pieces are actually secular.”

    Perhaps another reason could be one I experienced in my last ward. My previous bishop was particularly sensitive that musical numbers not be “performances,” but forms of worship. If he felt someone simply wanted to perform, he usually didn’t approve the musical number. As his counselor at the time, I actually agreed with him, and thought it went along with the principle mentioned in the CHI you quoted in (13): “Music in church meetings should . . . not draw attention to itself or be for demonstration. Some religiously oriented music in a popular style is not appropriate for sacrament meetings. Also, much sacred music that is suitable for concerts and recitals is not appropriate for a Latter-day Saint worship service.” In practice, he could have approved one song for one person and disapproved it for another.

    From my own perspective, I don’t know exactly how to describe when something becomes a “performance” (ok, so everything is a “performance,” per se – here I am referring to someone performing to try and demonstrate talent vs. share in worship/bear testimony through music). I believe my bishop tried to follow the spirit in discerning this, but the nature of the music usually only became apparent after the fact when it was too late. For many, I imagine it is a Justice Potter Stewart experience: “I know it when I see it.” While different bishops will interpret this differently, do others think this is a valid reason to disapprove a musical number?

    Don’t get me wrong: I blow chunks with the best of them when I hear Mormon pop as a musical number.

  35. (36) – “[W]hy are participants in the bloggernacle always so eager to commit hasty generalization with regards to their experience in the church?” This is one of the best statements I’ve seen today! In addition to the author’s genius use of self-implication on at least two levels, it’s also true. Thanks, ANM.

    To answer your question, I think it’s because it is so much easier than doing an advanced regression analysis. That would certainly be why I do it.

  36. Bleeding heart liberal that I am, I actually have played guitar in sacrament meeting a couple of times. Silent Night, at Christmas, seem particularly appropriate. We also had a former professional musician play “O Holy Night” on his alto Sax at Christmas one year. It was both stunning emotionally, and powerful spiritually.

    I think we have a tendency to remember things in the handbook that just aren’t there. The music, regardless of the instrument, needs to promote the spiritual atmosphere of Sacrament meeting. I’ve seen performances from talented musicians and singers that are clearly performances in the “Hey, look at me” category, which are not appropriate, and also seen struggling amateur youth performers give some of the best musical performances ever. Bishops and ward music chairs need to exercise some prior restraint, and bold imagination. I once vetoed a performance that our ward music chair questioned for the words/doctrine it represented. I read the lyrics, and decided that it was truly not appropriate, without ever hearing the singer or the melody. I often hear pop music that borrows heavily from popular Christian music that one would expect during the entertainment portion of the megachurch services in our area, and find those offensive. I don’t always understand why some folks seem attracted to that.

    I truly think the testimony of the performers can be heard through their music, and that’s what we should be looking for. Skillz and chops are not sufficient; heart and testimony is required.

  37. So, JT would you call the having the Primary children sing on Mother’s Day bearing testimony or sharing in worship?

  38. In my previous ward our bishop played an electric guitar solo in Sacrament meeting. He even quipped that he knew people would be complaining, and since he was the bishop, he wanted them to know that their complaints had been duly heard. It was moving and very spiritual.

  39. I have been in three different LDS-sponsored Messiah performances, one by our stake in Bellevue/Papillion/Omaha Nebraska, one by the multi-stake region in the East Bay at the Oakland regional center next to the temple in Oakland, California, and one by the Richland, Washington stake in eastern Washington.

    The first was a sincere but very amateur level performance, the second had an orchestra comparable to the one used by Handel, and the third was actually the best of the three in terms of the vocal performances. The trumpet player in the Richland performance was reaching to do the “Trumpet” piece justice, but was close enough.

    The conductor for the Richland choir was a local college music instructor, and he did a lot to teach us amateurs how to improve our range, tone, and breathing. The Richland choir also did a couple of the Messiah choruses in an ecumenical Christmas concert.

    With respect to bell choirs: My daughter’s high school bell choir was doing the “all bells at the same time” thing at the end of a Christmas number with the MoTab Choir (it’s on the CD with Charles Osgood), but there’s no reason handbells can’t simply be another instrument alongside the orchestra. Brass can get too dominant too. It’s just a matter of rehearsal and balance in the ensemble.

  40. “I often hear pop music that borrows heavily from popular Christian music that one would expect during the entertainment portion of the megachurch services in our area, and find those offensive. I don’t always understand why some folks seem attracted to that.”

    I have enjoyed alternative and edgy music for many years. When combined with uplifting, spiritual messages as it is in Contemporary Christian Music, I personally find it moving. I am not sure why it is more popular in the protestant evangelical culture than in LDS culture.

  41. Once, when visiting southern Germany, I attended Wednesday night services at the local Catholic church- and they had a 6 trombone band play hymns. Seriously. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.

    What gives with guitar? Classical guitar can be breathtakingly beautiful and spiritual.

  42. This “performance” vs. testimony distinction seems to me a tricky one. On the one hand, I heartily agree that musical numbers in sacrament meeting should be worshipful. They should be offerings to God and not a mere showcase of talent. And I agree that the spirit and heart of it is more important than technical proficiency.

    But at the same time, my experience has been that when people say something is a “performance,” what they often mean is that it was good. A very close family member of mine is a classically trained singer, and she worries about this all the time. She approaches musical numbers in the most humble manner, but, inevitably, some members of the congregation will be touched to the spiritual core, while others will brand her number as an inappropriate performance. Don’t we encourage people to develop their “talents”? And aren’t we supposed to develop gifts to share them with others and with God? I agree that mad chops aren’t necessary for a very heartfelt musical offering, but someone who has spent a lifetime developing musical skill has internalized the technique to such an extent that she can give herself over entirely to making the offering truly expressive. But it seems that too often their offerings aren’t accepted for the simple reason that they worked too hard on them. I don’t want to make any of those generalizations that have been mentioned, but I have seen this happen a number of times.

    And I wonder why we don’t talk about this as much in other areas. I know I have heard hundreds of sacrament talks and “testimonies” that seem to aim only to “draw attention” to themselves and are for “demonstration.” But that has nothing to do with how much “talent” the person has for speaking. Jeffrey R. Holland and Neal A. Maxwell are wonderful speakers, and they have used their gift to uplift and worship. In the same way, I have heard bad musicians “perform” to draw attention to themselves, and I have heard very good ones present humble offerings to God.

    So why is it that many people seem to reject the offerings of skilled musicians? My own guess is that there are so many of us amateur musicians in the church that many resent the true master. Not a generalization, but I think it happens a lot.

  43. Jason, I don’t mean to devalue the talents of skilled musicians, as I pointed out in my post about by saxophone playing friend. Talent is truly a wonderful thing, and a trained musician can bring their heart to their performances in a way that connects emotionally with the audience. But Sacrament meeting is about worship, and in some cases, the performance emphasizes the talent without bringing emotion or inviting the spirit, where it is more about their skills, than the worship. Certainly, Gladys Knight is a better singer than the two teenage sisters trying to stay on pitch. But sometimes, even those kinds of musical renditions can bring the spirit, as their emotion and testimony come into play.

    DavidH, I am certainly a great lover of music, including edgy stuff. I love blues, jazz, rock, grunge, ballet music, bluegrass, etc. But some of the pop tunes that gain some traction in Christian music, and sometimes even in our church meetings, don’t always seem to hit the mark. I love the frenetic, barely controlled musicianship displayed, for example, on the Layla album by Derek & the Dominoes, fueled as it was by cocaine and insomnia. But it’s not what I want to hear at church. In spite of some otherwise outwardly rebellious strains, I really am more traditional than I sometimes come off as here in the bloggernacle.

  44. The organ can be played in a way that destroys the Spirit, especially when the organist treats it as a chance to perform. Some of the most frustrating experiences in my life have been with an organist who played the congregational hymns as if she was playing a solo – changing tempo and volume regularly and making all the members pay more attention to the organ than to the hymns.

    The CHI doesn’t prohibit any instrument in sacrament meeting. It discourages instruments that tend to overwhelm voice and are difficult to play in a sacred, reverent way – like “most brass and percussion”. I have seen muted brass (and french horn) played in a very worshipful manner, but it takes tremendous skill to do so. There are certain instruments that are considered percussion that can be played worshipfully, but when most people read “percussion” they think bass and snare drums. I would allow brass if I was absolutely certain that the player could pull it off; I would allow certain instruments from the percussion section, played by skilled musicians; I would never allow bass or snare drums.

    Finally, nobody has mentioned one critical issue. I am open to just about any suggestion, but I would want a preview if I had any question. I have no problem telling someone that what I hear simply isn’t appropriate for sac mtg, but the politics of such decisions could get nasty in a hurry if a bishop allowed some and did not allow others. I can understand completely in many wards if a bishop simply bans all non-piano/organ/violin instrumentation simply to avoid offending those he would not accept on an individual basis. I sincerely wish that weren’t a consideration, but in too many cases it is.

  45. This discussion reminds me of an experience a few years ago and how strange (and sometimes twisted) ideas are in the Church about “appropriate” instruments. A friend and I (he a tenor, I a soprano) sang “The First Noel” with another friend accompanying on the acoustic guitar. It really came out quite nice–not perfect, but the blend of the voices (we both strive for the “pure” rather than the “belted”) and the guitar was very pretty and gave the whole thing a very traditional, old feeling, which seemed fitting. But our ward musical director had had some very major misgivings about us performing (sorry, “bearing musical testimony”) with a guitar and had made a big deal about “getting special permission from the bishop”, since she didn’t think that the guitar would be “appropriate.”

    However, oddly enough, during that same sacrament meeting, a male quartet ALSO performed The First Noel. They sang a non-traditional arrangement, lots of pianissimos and fortes, accompanied by the organ, which was at times doing that “bone-rumbling booming” in the lowest registers. It was a fairly cool arrangement, but a real contrast to what my friends and I had done.

    Anyway, the feedback we got? Ultimately everyone loved our simple (I felt almost “monklike”) version of the hymn–with our “inappropriate” guitar. I found it interesting that the instrument perceived by so many Church members as being “more appropriate” (the organ) in this case was much more of a distraction than anything. Whereas the guitar gave a much more simple spirit to the song.

    I have two sons who play guitar, and they can blaze a riff with the best of them. Yet some of the most beautiful, soul-grabbing melodies I have heard were from their electric guitars. Maybe it is because the human voice is ultimately a string instrument, and so the sounds from these instruments seem very “human”. I have a hard time condemning music that seems “outside the accepted” in the Church–there is so much that requires such amazing musicianship. No, it’s not all appropriate for Sacrament meeting–but talent, beautifully used, is still a glory to God. I will never forget the wonderful juxtaposition of the concert footage from New York Dolls and the choir music (I believe it was a BYU choir?). It was a really striking combination of human joy and divine beauty and brought tears to my eyes.

  46. We had a guitar performance at our ward once… but it was by a hippie liberal type mom. So I didn’t like it.

    My favorite performance was a young black man singing a traditional Christian hymn a cappella. He was so talented and I thought it was fabulous… but I grew up in a Southern Baptist community. The locals (Utahrds) were quite taken aback.

  47. “The organ can be played in a way that destroys the Spirit, especially when the organist treats it as a chance to perform. Some of the most frustrating experiences in my life have been with an organist who played the congregational hymns as if she was playing a solo – changing tempo and volume regularly and making all the members pay more attention to the organ than to the hymns.”

    This is nonsense. What makes the members pay more attention to the organ than the hymns is when the organist can barely get through the music, playing wrong notes, right and left. Proper hymn accompaniment includes changes in registration, but sadly, few organists in the church are acquainted with the principles of registration. Soon perhaps we can all sing along to the exact same approved recording in all the wards of the church and then some people will be happy.

  48. “But it’s not what I want to hear at church. In spite of some otherwise outwardly rebellious strains, I really am more traditional than I sometimes come off as here in the bloggernacle.”

    I suppose that is ultimately why local leadership is usually very conservative and traditional about music choices and instruments (and diverging from the green hymnal). Drums and electric guitar and grunge rock worship music don’t bother me (and I would welcome them) in a worship setting (and a lot of folks in other Christian traditions agree), but they do bother some individuals, and for those individuals this “out-of-the-box” music may distract from the feeling of worship. Similarly, I enjoy great classical religious music and masses, and personally would welcome it as part of our Sunday music, but some people would find it distracting or make them feel uncomfortable. ( For some reason, unknown to me, Mormon “muzak” or schmaltz does not seem to distract many local leaders or vocal members of the congregation, and that is about the only non-green hymnal music in most wards I have attended. But I have learned to retain an attitude of worship even with such music.)

    Other churches have addressed the “divide” in music and worship taste by hosting more than one worship service on Sunday–for example, one “contemporary” service and the other “traditional” or “classic” service. (I think even our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters offer different sorts of masses appealing to different groups of people.) Younger people tend to attend the contemporary services in much greater numbers than they attend the services in traditional style.

    For better or for worse, in our Church we only have one authorized “template” for services and only one core music tradition. The same seems to be becoming the case for meetinghouse and temple architecture. This uniformity means that when we go to another Mormon service, we have the same sort of comfort and “at-home” feeling that we do when we go to another restaurant or hotel in a chain. If we get too far from the standard worship template and the core music tradition, people may lose the feelings that they are worshipping “Mormon-style.”

    On the other hand, I am not sure that if follows that, because there is only one “priesthood” and one “Church”, that there should only be one template for worship services or music. Even hotel chains sometimes offer different styles or levels of hotels.

  49. Can we use the “texts should be doctrinally correct” line from the handbook to toss some of the dreck in the hymnbook that are either doctrinally incorrect or completely devoid of anything approaching doctrine?

    And, can we toss into the very depths of hell the notion that reverence equals quiet? I suspect that’s the back story on the discouragement of brass instruments in sacrament meeting.

    I agree that the best “Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief” was the one at the end of New York Doll. With organ and a whole mob of mumblers, it’s awful. If it’s ever sung again in a church service anywhere, guitar and harmonica should be mandatory.

    I sent my son a recording of Mozart’s Requiem on his mission. Overzealous (and totally ignorant) zone leaders told him it was not permitted. The mission president straightened things out, thank goodness.

    Finally, I had someone express reservations about playing the slow movement from the Bach Double Concerto in sacrament meeting because “the bishop in my last ward was Elder Packer’s son, and he was strict about only music from the hymnbook, etc.” Made we want to have a kazoo band play Who’s On the Lord’s Side Who? or maybe Scatter Sunshine. (Kazoos are tin, not brass, so they’re ok.)

  50. #56 – Bill, when the people in the congregation have no clue what the tempo is going to be from verse to verse, so they sing very quietly in order to not be heard out of rhythm with the organ, how is it nonsense to say that an organist can destroy the Spirit in a meeting? I have been singing in public since I was six years old, and even I struggled to follow the organist. I have been the ward organist off and on for decades, in wards in multiple states, and even I struggled to follow the organist. I generally embarrass my children because of the volume at which I sing the hymns, and even I dropped volume significantly because I had no clue what would be coming from the organ from one verse to the next.

    This is nonsense? Before you get sarcastic and throw nonsensical insults at people of whom you know nothing . . . never mind. I’m biting my tongue. Deep breath.

    The point I was making is that often it’s *not* the instrument that is detrimental to the Spirit in our meetings, but rather it’s the player of that instrument. That is the same point you made; I simply made it by using a personal example of an exceptional organ soloist who had no clue how to play for a congregation where the vast majority simply wanted to make a joyful noise.

  51. Well, I’m sorry I jumped to conclusions. It looks like we were making a similar point. I do have my doubts about whether someone who is an “exceptional organ soloist” could be so oblivious, although it sounds like you were witness to a rare case. The type of egregiously erratic playing you describe, however, would, I think, be more often the result of incompetence and bad musicianship, rather than a desire to perform, which could be indulged in any case in the postlude. Nor do I accept a priori that changes in tempo or volume are a bad thing. Totally unpredictable changes, yes. But a thoughtful organist can often make subtle changes, easily followed by the least musically literate congregations, to increase the energy, to achieve a broadening effect, to build a cumulative level of sound, all while respecting the text, and without any lessening of the Spirit.

  52. Davidh #48-Ditto. Mormons have preconceived notions of how they absolutely “know” they don’t/won’t like contemporary or edgier Christian music. But I converted many at BYU after they rode in my car or we shared an apartment.

    Great song pick too.

  53. While we’re on the subject of Church music (OK – so it’s maybe a little bit of a threadjack…):

    Does anyone know of a recent directive that supposedly bans/discourages Ward choirs from singing as part of the prelude for Sacrament meeting? When I directed choir, it was a nice change of pace from time to time – and it definitely got the congregation to settle down.

  54. I’m a frequenter of “Times and Seasons”, but I never thought I’d find myself part of a discussion. Yikes. I guess I ought to weigh in . . .

    When I was approached to do that performance featured in the YouTube video, I initially told them I’d do “Abide With Me, ‘Tis Even Tide” sans guitar. Craig Jessop called me the next day and explained that they were looking for something a little different. He kept using the word “celebration” to describe the event they were envisioning. It was New Years, but it was Sunday, so they decided a concert but didn’t want it to be just hymns. There would be talks, yes, including one by the Prophet, but what they primarily envisioned was a kind of celebration. As some may recall, the Choir sang a song from “Lord of the Rings”, contemporary pop pianist William Joseph played, etc. I gave Craig Jessop a few English folk song titles and chose “The Water Is Wide”. So not only did he encourage me to pick a broader song, he steered me towards playing the guitar.

    As to the bigger question of whether the Church’s musical aesthetics are changing, I can’t say. I was part of a committee that produced a first-ever concert of it’s kind in the Salt Lake Tabernacle in 2003. It was a New Years Eve show for the Youth, but the producer (acting under the First Presidency) told us us he wanted to “open up the tent” musically. The goal was to do an spiritual concert featuring contemporary music. Is that possible? I was sure our committee meetings would dissolve into debates about whether a steel string guitar was appropriate vs. a nylon string guitar. Whether percussion would be allowed, or drums, etc. That sort of scientific approach to what is edifying. But to my chagrin, that discussion never happened. The committee focused on one type of question: When the audience goes home at the end of the concert, will they have felt the Spirit? Will they want to pray? Will it have enticed them to do good and love God and to serve him? Will it make them want to become rock stars? Or be infatuated with a certain performer ? In other words, the Moroni 7 test for what is of God and what is not. The question of instruments and which performer should be included sort of fell under that umbrella. The performers did the concert (yes, there were drums) and the feedback was good enough that the show was brought back the next year, and then the next, and eventually moved to the Conference Center.

    I don’t know the official rule on guitars in sacrament meeting, but as for a changing musical aesthetic in the Church, I think I’m seeing it in certain venues.

  55. A couple of thoughts on the topic.

    1. As a response to #48 &62, I too am surprised by the lack of popularity or even representation of Contemporary Christian Rock in the LDS culture. Jars of Clay had a short lasted ride in the eruditious circles of teenage Wasatch Front culture in the late 90s but none have taken hold. Perhaps K. Cope has a certain mob-style stranglehold on all LDS radio. Just a possibility. Mostly I envision a day when I have more choices than LDS pop excrement vs. my favorite talented hedonists when I need a break from more classical selections. Sadly the hedonists often win out.

    2. This entire discussion smacks of a clash with the cultural and the spiritual. I am positively certain that most of this nonsense speaks more to our Anglo Western heritage than it does anything else. At least most of the time I am certain. I think the finer points of brass or strings is irrelevant. White Western Mormons have a narrow definition of reverence and spiritual. Perhaps such definitions serve a purpose. Cultural biases are hard to shed, especially mine. The endless debate of whether something invites the spirit is even more of an invitation to permit culture to flow.

    Maybe as the diversity of the Church increases, sacrament meeting worship will sound more like the people that hold them. It would be better in my opinion if predominately black congregations continue to praise and rejoice in song. Admit there is something fundamentally wrong when I visit a meeting in the South and I still hear “In Our Lovely Deseret”.

    For advanced studies, find a friend who served in Germany (or better yet a German Saint) to tell you about their hymnal and how it came to be despite the Church correlation committee best efforts to go green in 1985.

    3. A brief syllogism:

    a) I like Peter Breinholt.

    b) Peter Breinholt reads and blogs on T&S.

    c) All T&S readers should now like Peter Breinholt, or at least should try out the Sundance concert.

    Flawless logic brought to you courtesy of my BA in Philo at BYU, Class of ’05.

  56. Matt,

    I like you point #2. Back in the 80’s when I lived in the S.F. Bay Area, My mother, because of her stake calling, would often go to the Tongan branch in the Oakland Stake and take me along. Since Sacrament Meeting was so regulated, most of the members would gather together 30-60 minutes before the meetings began and sing accapella four part harmony hymns in the tempo and style that best fit their culture. I remember sitting in the oews, mesomorized at the spirit and joy the branch exuded as they sang without the restrictions of the anglo version of “worshipful music.”

    When Sacrament Meeting began, the spirit remained throughout the service.

    Speaking of which – one area in which culture has infiltrated our church is the wide acceptance of saints from the islands, both polynesian or white, saying “Aloha” (or Talofa) at the beginning of a meeting and the congregation saying “Aloha” back. I’m not sure when that became okay, but I have never heard a congregation repeat “good morning” to a speaker.

  57. Peter: Thanks for your comments. Your experience with the planning comittee is encouraging. By the way, I have always thought that you should do a recording of “Hard Times Come Again No More.” Just a request from someone who likes your music.

  58. BTW, “In Our Lovely Deseret” is a genuinely popular and beloved hymn among Korean Saints (or at least those in the Pusan and Taegu Stakes). I sang it maybe two or three times growing up in Utah. In Korea they sang it ALL the TIME. This is not something that the Americans are imposing on them. They just really like the hymn. It is admittedly really fun to sing in Korean: “Sarang su ron De suh rhet Hananim ae yaksokhan dang…”

  59. #61 – Bill, we really do see this identically, I think. Of course, the bigger issue when it comes to the music in sac mtg is our dearth of excellent organists in each unit. I used one very specific example simply to highlight the fact that playing the organ, in and of itself, doesn’t guarantee the Spirit – and if you knew the organist of whom I speak (a wonderful sister, whom I love dearly) you would understand.

    I’ll quit beating this horse, since it is pretty clear that it has expired.

  60. “the bigger issue when it comes to the music in sac mtg is our dearth of excellent organists in each unit”

    Every time I see someone on the blogs complaining about slow music in sacrament meeting I feel like telling them to go ahead and learn the organ themselves. Then they have the right to complain. (Whoops, I just said it. And I don’t mean you, Ray; I know you’re busy with other things.)

    My problem is taking the music a little too fast. I keep meaning to buy a metronome and never get around to it. We were visiting my bro-in-law and my husband had me time some of the music to his metronome (something like Onward Christian Solders) and I was playing at about 160 bpm.

    I do try and restrain my enthusiasm in sacrament meeting, but sometimes I feel it’s better to take it a little fast, particularly if people are starting to doze (afternoon church) or haven’t managed to wake up yet (morning church).

  61. “In Our Lovely Deseret” is a genuinely popular and beloved hymn among Korean Saints (or at least those in the Pusan and Taegu Stakes). I sang it maybe two or three times growing up in Utah. In Korea they sang it ALL the TIME.

    The one I remember being sung all the time in Seoul was “Beautiful Zion, Built Above.”

  62. “Every time I see someone on the blogs complaining about slow music in sacrament meeting I feel like telling them to go ahead and learn the organ themselves. Then they have the right to complain.”

    I love that response. I’ll use it from now on.

  63. I think you may have overstated the rule on guitars, Nate. I have been in several (but not a ton of) Mormon meetings where guitars were played, with no freaking out. But not sacrament meeting. I always thought the rule was no guitars (or other insruments) in sacrament meeting – -although I remember my Grandpa playing “The Holy City” on a trumpet in his SLC ward sacrament meeting on the 1980s or 1990s. Once again, no freaking out. Amusement perhaps, but no freaking out.

  64. Peter (64), for the record, when I mentioned the “commercial drivel” that sometimes sneaks into sacrament meeting, I wasn’t thinking of your music. My wife had a CD or two of yours in Germany that she introduced me to (I had only vaguely heard of you at that point), and I rather enjoy most of what you write.

    As for the broader issue regarding Christian rock, I struggled for a while to figure out what it was about it that was so off-putting to me. At first I thought it was simply irreverent, but I listen to other irreverent music that I consider really good, so that couldn’t be it. Maybe it was disrespectful or too casual? I think that might be part of it. And after discussing it with a friend who was acting as devil’s advocate, I realized it’s because so much of it is just junk music.

    Most of it isn’t any better than any other commercial music form (whether country, rap, rock, even classical). I have heard a few pieces of Christian rock that were really well done, but that is the exception, rather than the rule.

    For example, I once happened upon “So Long Self” by MercyMe on the radio. I was just flipping through stations in the car and didn’t realize I was on the “inspirational” station. It had a catchy tune, a good melody, an exciting arrangement, and lyrics that certainly had a religious overtone, but were still subtle — it wasn’t in my face about being saved or something like that. I only later realized it was a Christian rock band.

    I had a similar reaction when I heard “Meant to Live” by Switchfoot. Very catchy music, subtly inspiring (not blatantly Christian) lyrics, and well produced. For what it’s worth, when I listened to other selections by each of these bands, I wasn’t as impressed. Some okay stuff, but nothing like these two knockout songs. Apparently genius and inspiration strikes just as infrequently when writing Christian rock music as it does with other genres. (This certainly applies for sappy/whiny Mormon inspirational stuff, too.)

    It seems that the best way to approach such music is to not try too hard to make it blatantly religious, but to make an effort (first) to simply write good music that (second) happens to inspire.


  65. In Our Lovely Deseret is a great song. Now that I think about it I can’t recall hearing it in my current ward. It was played regularly in various single wards I was in though.

    Regarding Christian rock all I can think of was that South Park episode where Cartman takes regular rock songs and just makes them singing about Jesus. The modified Marvin Gaye songs were quite disturbing…

  66. Re No. 15: That makes me recall a sacrament meeting musical number where a hymn was played on the vibraphone. Not my taste, but it seemed worshipful.

  67. The Japanese Saints also like “In our lovely Deseret” and “Beautiful Zion Built Above”. I had sung neither of them before my mission. (In fact, I believe “In our lovely Deseret” was not in the previous English hymnbook, but was restored in the 1985 edition. There is a scene in an old film noir in which Shelley Winters sings it.)

    I can’t speak for Korea, but Japanese culture has a tradition of group singing that has just about disappeared in America. Kids learn songs from their parents and in school, ones with simple melody lines, they sing them for recreation when they are in a group (as in Church activities), and the whole karaoke thing grew out of providing backup music for people who were already singing at get-togethers. Not that the Japanese produce any more exceptional professional singers in proportion than the US. But they like singing together in groups, they way they do a lot of things.

    I find fascinating the comments about how the Saints in other countries have adapted music to their meetings. In Japan, the original hymnbook tried to translate all of the words of the English hymns, but because there are so many syllables in Japanese words, they ended up playing hob with the melodies. After World War II, the Japanese members (including Sister Yanagida, the first Relief Society President in Japan) did a new adaptation that preserved the music and adapted the words more loosely. One benefit is that it allows Japanese and American saints to sing together.

    So with the classical music traditions in Germany and Italy, how have the Saints there approached the music in church meetings? What do Tongans and Samoans do in their own country? How about in Ghana?

    One final comment. How often have you seen a new member with little musical talent called to be a chorister? Yet the position is supposed to have authority for choice of hymns and songs, while the pianists and organists have a good deal more expertise. And I have only seen training for choristers once. In wards with a lot of growth and newer members, we could probably a better job of picking people and training them how to do their jobs.

  68. #43 Kevinf,

    Perhaps if a soprano sax had been used rather than an alto sax, many in the congregation would have thought it was just a sparkly clarinet.

  69. AMEN Mark B (58) and I agree with your other hand DavidH (57)

    It’s too bad the handbook can’t ask the same questions as the committee Peter referenced. We’re far too wrapped up in whether we are fulfilled by the music -I generally am not, or enjoy it -again, I generally don’t. But it’s really just a way for people to worship and praise deity, so being offended by music or an instrument offered in such a manner seems a bit over the top.

    We get way too caught up in whether music is appropriate, yet we let any sister and brother in the ward or visiting with no prior approval of topic nor doctrinal correctness speak their mind on open-mike Sunday. For the majority of the time, the public thank you cards and travel logs don’t even qualify as a testimony, but we let it slide. And while I have been privvy to this going very, very badly, it is rare. So rare, that even when it happens, we don’t demand pre-approval of testimonies the next month. So why do we find it necessary to micro-manage the musical numbers?

    I say, assign each week a musical number to someone like a talk and have them ask the questions Peter spoke of and maybe twice a decade they’ll be so off kilter we have to say something, but otherwise we’ll get some really good, some mediocre and some we wish we didn’t hear. While one person loves it when Sister Thusandsuch weeps when describing the block of cheese left on her doorstep when she paid her tithing, I prefer it when Sister Soandso spends 20 minutes dissecting a verse in Romans. Both are acceptable for sacrament meeting, even though I only enjoy and spiritually filled by one. Why must we move to the lowest common denominator in music, even if it’s only a farce that it really is common. I wish we could embrace more than what fits in our comfort zones and tastes and appreciate the offering, even if the musical number isn’t what we hoped for.

    I have found that music in sacrament meeting music can speak to a soul even more than any talk or prayer. My youngest son is truly not made to sit still or quiet and rarely makes it through the meeting, but even before he could talk, he has loved the musical numbers. We stand in the back and he watches and listens, and after a particularly moving Easter performance by our choir last year which included many other instruments and definitely didn’t fit into the “quiet” or “hymnal” form of reverence and made you just want to burst out into applause afterward, in the pause between when they ended and the closing prayer started, he looked at them and just said “aaahhhh”.

    And, just like talks, I don’t think we should get too caught up in the quality of the performer. Church should be a safe place to offer praise and worship for those of all musical levels. I have played the organ before when the congregation probably wished to sing a capela given my limitations, but it my version of the widow’s mite. I offered all I had, including for just those few minutes, my pride.

  70. As Kevin Call at Ricks College used to say, in the church we should try to worship at the altar with music rather than at the altar of music.

  71. RE #79 (Jabob F): One BY talk in the Journal of Discourses involves his criticism of lawyers, in which he winds up with “Their hearts are as black as the Ace of Spades. They love sin, and roll it on their tongues as a sweet morsel. They are a stink in the nostril of God and the angels, and all who agree with me, say Amen!” The recorder duly noted that 3000 voices unitedly said “Amen!”

  72. Mel – I like a lot of what you have to say in (81). For some reason, I actually feel the spirit more when I hear someone with very little musical talent try to express their devotion to God through imperfect music. In my ward growing up, there was a man who would conclude his testimony on fast Sunday by singing a hymn. The thing is, he had the absolute worst voice you could imagine. Couldn’t carry a tune worth a lick. If I had to describe his pitch, I would say “…screwball?” because it was downright nasty. Yet, for some reason it always touched me how much he tried and how seriously he took it. With a change in bishopric later down the road, he was asked to not sing as part of his testimony.

    In your proposal for assigning someone each Sunday, am I right to assume that, in addition to the questions in Peter’s post, there would still be some standards for the music? For example, when you compared it to letting people come up each week for testimony meeting, I would say that there are definitely standards for what is a proper testimony, and at least in the wards that I have been in, the congregation is reminded of them now and again (eg, focus on the Savior and His restored gospel, avoid travelogues, don’t declare false doctrine, etc.). And if there are standards, where do they stop? Will Johnny the Teacher’s grunge rock band be allowable, or Derell the Recent Convert from the Projects’ autobiographical lyrical rhymes to the beat of “Can I Get a What-What” by Jay-Z along with backup dancers – even if they do think it will make people want to pray (that they won’t get shot)? I would assume at least we could agree that there shouldn’t be any swearing or “taking the name of the Lord in vain,” etc. So there should be some standards, right? At the same, time, I do see some merit to the principle-based approach you mention, and realize that the examples I mention would likely fall in the “twice-a-decade” group. I just wonder if, with no other standards, music in the church wouldn’t be radically different in 10-20 yrs, and perhaps not in a good way. Then again, perhaps it would be in a good way. Who knows.

    I am probably taking this way too far – I imagine your point is simply that the current standards are a bit too strict, at least in application, and I think you probably have a good point. I agree that music can speak to the soul even more so than mere spoken words, and that music can indeed by a powerful thing. For the same reason, I think music can also have a powerful negative influence, and that in a sacred worship service, a spiritually alert bishop should carefully oversee the music used to further invite the Spirit of the Lord into the meeting.

  73. JT,

    I’m not sure there need to be particular standards. Maybe I am naive, but I believe far and away, adult people who are not mentally ill have a conscience and they do their best given the principle. I actually sadly don’t think music would change that drastically given what people are currently exposed to I’m sure many of them still like it, but what would change would be how free people feel to express themselves in the way that stirs their souls the best, and to appreciate offerings that aren’t the cookie cutter norm – right now I fear many people who hear something really cool first think about whether it technically fits into the CHI instead of focusing on the offering. God speaks to me best through folk music and Rachmaninov, but others I know feel the spirit with traditional hymns. I admit there would be the VERY occasional blunder in judgment, but especially when these things were assigned like a talk there is only as much risk as you would have with the talk that person gave. And I would love to see the assignments, just like for speaking, not based on known talent, but asking people to offer a psalm to the Lord in the best way they can. Some would be too scared and decline – just like they decline speaking, but you would get a lot of people out of the woodwork, imo. My theory is that people’s testimonies would survive the occasional blunders and be blessed by the freedom.

    But I’m pretty hippy-dippy when it comes to rules. Save them for the really important stuff with eternal consequences. Otherwise, I think they foster an every member a mission PRESIDENT mentality rather than every member a missionary – I know totally off-subject but you have to admit it happens too frequently!!

  74. We do a very poor job with the music, in all the wards I’ve attended so far. We tackle hymns like we’re sawing through a log. I would love for the music in church to take a different direction. I hope Sister Knight starts something.

  75. #49 Tracy M.: “Once, when visiting southern Germany, I attended Wednesday night services at the local Catholic church- and they had a 6 trombone band play hymns. Seriously. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.”

    My dad had a 5 bone group who played lots of (non-LDS) church gigs. Their sound was very reverent and beautiful. I think all bones bands have a great, though they’re uncommon. I think my dad’s group did most of their own arrangements, since there aren’t many charts available.

  76. #7- in the mid 90s-late 90s I was in that same stake, in the singles ward. One time in our sacrament meeting we had someone who was a recent convert play Amazing Grace, he played it on the bagpipes! It was beautiful to hear and brought the spirit!

  77. I’ve heard guitars in sacrament meeting at least a couple of times that I remember. And I was in sacrament meeting once where the congregation sang Praise to the Man accompanied by bagpipes. As HPGL, I once gave the ok for someone to play the guitar in high priests’ meeting.

    I wonder if the widespread but unwritten aversion to guitars is more a visual thing. I don’t think there’s anything about the sound of a guitar that is inherently unworshipful. If you had Mormons listen to recordings of church music accompanied by guitars, I suspect that many wouldn’t notice anything remarkable, or even realize they were hearing a guitar. But the image of someone holding a guitar is an icon so strongly associated with rock and pop performers that for many people, just the visual effect may seem out of place in church.

  78. The trombone was traditionally used only as a church instrument and occasionally in opera. It was not until the early 19th century that Beethoven introduced it into the symphony orchestra in the last movement of his 5th symphony.

    “In Our Lovely Deseret” is sung to the Civil War tune “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, the Boys are Marching”. It was not in the 1948 (rev. 1950) “Hymns”, but it was in “The Children Sing” (Primary/Jr. Sunday School music) and had also been in the Deseret Sunday School Union Songbook before that.

    40 years ago in Oslo, Norway, I heard two guitar solos in Sacrament Meetings. The first guitarist played some transcriptions of pieces by JS Bach; the second guitarist played and sang Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind”. Since then I have heard selections with soloist(s) accompanied by guitar or lute in Sacrament Meetings.

    According to the rules of orchestration, the French horn is classified as a woodwind instrument. I have accompanied (on piano) a hornist on our Stake High Council in Sacrament Meetings.

    I stepped down by choice as Ward Choir Director after 35 years because the SP decreed that Ward Choirs should sing hymns/hymn arrangements only in Sacrament Meetings; thus invalidating about 80% of a robust ward choral library.

    I have also been a Ward Organist for the past 41 years and I change registration for each verse of a hymn. I have had a range of Ward Music Directors to work with over the years; they ranged from completely incompetent (“I don’t know what I’m doing, Brother Hansen”) to extremely professional (Brother Hansel Rayner, music director of the Burbank Symphony). I refuse to play the hymns like funeral dirges. I follow the metronome markings at the head of each hymn and attempt to follow the conductor, if they know what they’re doing.

    I play a variety of music for prelude. It can range from Bach, Handel, Mozart, Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, Wagner, Brahms, etc. The final five minutes are all hymns/hymn arrangements. The postlude is very upbeat. I play energetic hymns like “All Creatures of Our God and King”, “God of Our Fathers, Whose Almighty Hand”, and occasionally, music from “The Lord of the Rings” (at least until the Bishop put two and two together as to why the YM & YW were hanging out in the chapel, listening to the Postlude). ;)

    Once for Stake Conference the SP said he wanted only hymns for prelude & postlude. Since he didn’t specify which denomination’s hymns to play, he got a medley of Protestant hymns (I used to play for a Lutheran church). A number of LDS converts came up to me afterwards and said how pleased they were to hear the familiar hymns they had grown up with.

  79. #92. “the congregation sang Praise to the Man accompanied by bagpipes.”

    How appropriate since the music for that hymn is adapted from “Scotland the Brave”. I use the “krummhorn” stop on the organ to give the bagpipe sound.

  80. This reminds me of when Bart tricked Reverend Lovejoy into leading his congregation in “In the Garden of Eden” by I. Ron Butterfly, complete with 17 minute organ solo.

  81. Hans (93), what ward do you live in? I want to move in!

    Oh, that I could play the organ. *lamenting sigh*


  82. gst (95),

    Homer: “Hey Marge, remember when we used to make out to this hymn?”

    Rev. Lovejoy: “Wait a minute — this looks like rock and/or roll.”


  83. I never thought music would fall under looking beyond the mark, but as I read everyone’s posts, that is all that comes to mind.

    Are we over thinking this? Are we forgetting to leave it to the judgment of the presiding authority? The question at hand is regarding the use of guitars in meetings and it’s impact on the musical future of the Church, correct?

    I think whenever a piece of music is presented at a meeting we need to ask ourselves ‘Is the Spirit being invited?’ If so, then great! If not, nicely ask your Bishop his reasoning, and most of the time he will have a pretty good answer. I have to believe that this is a principle that applies to the Church be it past, present, or future.

    While guitars may not be the norm, but as has been stated are covered by the handbook, and in reviewing this piece, can any of us honestly say that the Spirit was not invited? Would any of us have rushed President Monson after the meeting to ask him what he was thinking when it was approved? If any of you have ever participated in a meeting in which the GA’s are involved you would discover just how strict they are in the decisions that are made from song choice to the orders in which they are played! I’m sure with the numbers of meetings they have attended they have come to understand how powerful music can be.

    I’ve heard beautiful string quartets in Sacrament meeting that gave me goose bumps, and I’ve heard choirs singing rearranged hymns filled with dissonance chords that in which you instantly felt the Spirit retreat from the meeting. Just as with Priests and the sacrament, we need to learn to let go of things that are out of our control.

    btw, it was great seeing Peter in a tux!

  84. I hate to threadjack, but I can’t resist the opening here.

    If any of you Utahns are interested in hearing a trombone ensemble (as mentioned in #49 and #89), Rusty McKinney directs an trombone choir that ranges from a dozen to 20+ voices. The group used to be an official University of Utah ensemble. Rusty now teaches at BYU, but he still conducts the group which typically performs at First Presbyterian on South Temple. The group plays a wide variety of music, but never fails to include some sacred music. I once invited my entire ward choir to hear a concert, and those who attended were completely amazed at the sound of twenty some odd trombones playing the Kyrie from a Bruckner Mass or Barber’s Adagio. We also played at the rededication service for the First Presbyterian Church. Elder Nelson attended, but apparently hasn’t been able to change the CHI yet. ;) The group usually plays a concert in the Spring and will play at Abravanel on May 31.

    Even more interesting, trombonists from all over the world will descend on Salt Lake at the end of May as the city hosts the 2008 International Trombone Association’s annual festival.

    All types of music will be represented, but it shouldn’t be hard to find some solid sacred trombone music.

    Just a shameless plug from a trombone aficionado. Hope it’s not too much of a spam.

  85. In his younger days George Albert Smith played the guitar and sang comedic songs. I wish I could have heard him.

  86. #96. Jon: “Hans (93), what ward do you live in? I want to move in!”

    That would be the Valencia First Ward, Valencia California Stake. (about 40 miles northwest from Los Angeles), near Six Flags Magic Mountain. In addition to myself there are two other organists, several pianists, and two composers in my ward. One Sunday each month I play for the Santa Clarita First Ward (Spanish).

    Homer Simpson: “I’m not a bad guy! I work hard, and I love my kids. So why should I spend half my Sunday hearing about how I’m going to Hell?”

  87. I had a friend (a very very accomplished guitarist) play a classical guitar during my “farewell” sacrament meeting, and I don’t recall any outrage.

  88. #93 Hans Hansen: Your remark about atypical organ music reminded me of this.

    My last assignment on my mission in Japan was in the mission headquarters in Sapporo. My companion, Elder Monson, was an accomplished pianist and organist, and played the organ for the Sapporo branch priesthood meeting (this was in 1970-71 before the consolidated meeting schedule). It was a nice modern building at the foot of a mountain, with a ward-size congregation.

    In Japan, the garbage trucks play music as they go down the street so people will know they have limited time to set out their trash. Each city uses a different tune, some of them classical, but in Sapporo it was a jaunty little melody, very ricky-ticky, like what comes out of a jack-in-the-box when you crank the handle. It was a standard practical joke to send out new missionaries to get ice cream when the music from the garbage truck was heard.

    One Sunday morning, during the PH meeting prelude, Elder Monson decided to try an experiment. He played his own arrangement of the Sapporo garbage truck tune on the organ, in a low register, very stately, lots of pipe organ effects. After opening exercises a couple of the Japanese brethren came up and said “That’s a beautiful number. I’m sure I’ve heard it somewhere before, but can’t place it.” Then he told them it was the garbage truck song (“O-gomiya-san no uta”), and they cracked up.

    Over a year before, in the same chapel, I had been attending a missionary session of the district conference, where Bruce McConkie, then a Seventy, was teaching us. He wanted to illustrate a point, so he asked for one of us to sing a duet with him. My companion volunteered me. Elder McConkie (he was pretty tall, and I’m only 5’8″) in his booming voice, asked me to pick a song, so we did “Come, Come Ye Saints” acapella. Or I did. Elder McConkie could not carry a tune. It was all I could do to get through to the end of the first verse without cracking up. He let me sit down and then said “What did you all think of my singing.” There was not a sound. Nobody wanted to criticize a general authority, especially one as big as McConkie. Then he turned to his wife. “Amelia?”

    She grinned. “It was terrible, Bruce.”

    Then he told us that he could tell us all about how that song was written by William Clayton, but he had no talent for singing. He was making a point about how some people have more of a talent to hear the gospel, and that we should concentrate our missionary efforts on finding those who did.

    But it also taught us that even people with great talents, called as he later was to be an apostle, don’t necessarily have all the talents possible. We might be tone deaf, or not very experienced in musical performance and the ways in which reverent music can be produced in less conventional ways. If we are the ones with musical talent, one way we can share it is with a church leader who does not, building their confidence in us and demonstrating that worship can be enhanced by a wider range of music and instruments.

  89. #95 I am still chuckling… You have to admit that Iron Butterfly provided some awesome organ solos. I believe that one of the member’s father was a church organist from which he drew inspiration. It is a pity that the organ isn’t used much in rock ‘n roll these days. The Animals, Dave Clarke Five, and I Ron Butterfly proved that it is not such a boring instrument.

  90. #86 “God speaks to me best through folk music and Rachmaninov, but others I know feel the spirit with traditional hymns.”

    The basis for all music appreciation is familiarity. People like what they listen to. If they don’t hear anything but the traditional hymns they won’t feel the spirit with anything else; if in fact the spirit is what they are feeling. I am not sure most people can tell the difference between an aesthetic experience, an emotional response and a spiritual experience, especially when it comes to music. I like musical numbers that are well rehearsed and competently presented.

  91. On my mission, one of my Zone Leaders knew how to play the guitar. Whenever we met someone who had a guitar we’d find some reason to bring him over (on splits or something) and he would ask if he could play the investigator’s guitar.

    He’d play “Come, Come, Ye Saints” and it is one of the most beautiful songs on the guitar. It almost would feel like we were sitting around a campfire.

    There were some other hymns he’d play on the guitar too.

    I think the type of music is more important than the instruments.

  92. Where do you hear all this Mormom pop and contemporary Christian? I haven’t heard anything like that in sacrament meeting for over 10 years. True, five of those years I spent in a stake whose president didn’t permit anything other than hymns and Primary songs, but even after moving far away from there I seldom hear anything else, and certainly not pop.

    One of the most memorable talks I heard in sacrament meeting was 20-25 years ago when the speaker (a grown man, not a youth) played Jefferson Starship’s “We Built This City on Rock and Roll” from the pulpit on his boom box. The message was that each of us should remember why we are members of the church.

  93. DavidH @ #57 referred to the Church having one “template” for music. I have been troubled by this for many years, having attended services in wards and branches in many parts of the world. In the past, the ‘official’ approach seems to have been to take our (essentially) American hymnal and translate it into the local language. I’ve always felt we were missing out on the opportunity to integrate the local musical culture into worship.

    Elder Dallin Oaks declared: “We say to all, give up your traditions and cultural practices that are contrary to the commandments of God and the culture of His gospel, and join with His people in building the kingdom of God.” Sometimes I wonder if this doesn’t cut both ways: should new members in other parts of the world have to adopt our Anglo-Saxon musical traditions in order to embrace the true Gosepl of Jesus Christ? I don’t believe so.

  94. Marc #7
    In the McLean VA Stake, I heard the first counselor in the stake presidency play a very loud trumpet solo during the Christmas program. It was pretty good. Musical instruments are awesome. I wish we had more variety, and wondering why we don’t have more in meetings deserves some ponder-time. Maybe loud instruments are frowned upon because they are loud, and when people don’t perform well it’s that much more awkward. People have a hard time using their spiritual ears when their physical ears are bleeding.

  95. Patrick (109) – To further bolster your point regarding Elder Oaks’s comment cutting both ways, I believe most of the examples that he uses in his talk are ways _American_ traditions can be “contrary to the commandments of God and the culture of His gospel.”

  96. Peter, I’m not familiar with your music, but I thought the song and the arrangement were just lovely. (And now your day is complete, I’m sure.)

  97. I had a guitar play in a ward christmas program. The stake president was so touched by the program, he had us do the entire program during stake conference.
    at Easter I\’ve had a trumpet solo of the \”Lord\’s Prayer\” after getting permission from the stake presidency. I showed them all the scriptures where the trumpet
    is played and noted that a trumpet is in the hands of Moroni on the temples. The counselor came to our ward sacrament meeting to hear it. The brother who
    played the trumpet has given concerts. I\’ve also had a lovely french horn in a small orchestra. ONe just has to be careful that all are played well.

  98. I know this thread is getting old now, but following another dose of chloroform via satellite (General conference in Australia), I just have to say that the MoTab are designed to put people to sleep. More than one hymn for congregational singing over a two hour talkathon might be good! I wish dearly for a bit of musical variation that might just wake me up. Bring on Gladys Knight and the Saints United Voices and let the world know we are not a bunch of boring old tetotallers! We are a bunch of tetotallers who can tap foot occasionally!
    I remember a James Taylor concert where I felt the Spirit stronger than some LDS sacrament meetings. Nothing wrong with guitar or whatever if played with sensitivity. Obviously Hendrix style solos would not fit.
    Thank goodness someone in authority had the intestinal fortitude to give Peter Breinholt a gig with MoTab. Now if we could just up the tempo a bit!
    What if we could get Alex Boye out front of the Choir for a solo? (he is one of the Afro-Americans in MoTab)

  99. And yet, I know that a lot of people freak out when trumpets are brought to sacrament meeting, so maybe it’s because it’s not sacrament meeting? People are funny. I think guidelines are flexible if the Spirit is still able to be there.

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