Music and the Church II: On Regulation and the Unfamiliar

by mr.mraynes

My first guest post was principally intended as an exposition of music’s role in spirituality and my own feelings about its potential to affect all of us. Now my aim is to explore some more specific issues regarding the Church’s complicated relationship with the art form.

First, let us note that music has always been an important component of worship in western religion and that church leaders have long viewed it with mistrust. One historical example: In the Counterreformation, as the Catholic Church struggled against the burgeoning Protestant movement, the Council of Trent convened to discuss changes that would bring back conservatives that had left because of the Church’s perceived decadence. Among the topics they discussed was whether liturgical music had become too ornate and complex and obscured sacred texts in their services. They worried congregations were beginning to focus their worship on the music itself rather than the message of the mass’s words. An oft-related legend (now considered spurious) is that Cardinal Borromeo, upon hearing the composer Palastrina’s new Pope Marcellus Mass, was so struck with its simplicity and purity of expression that he influenced the Council to pull back from its initially stringent regulations on church music.

Our own church’s conflicted attitude toward music is remarkably similar. As I noted in my first post, virtuosity and overly-complex musical performances are (at least tacitly) shunned for fear of distracting the membership from the Spirit. Also, popular idioms (unless somehow connected to EFY) are banned because they are (we must infer) somehow poorer in their capability to inspire devout emotion. (The music historian in me cannot help noting that the Council of Trent was also concerned with this issue. Composers of the day liked to use popular melodies as thematic material in their sacred and liturgical compositions [sometimes easily audible in the music, sometimes not]. Church leaders found that inappropriate and its practice was indeed suppressed.)

Before we all launch into a debate of whether music regulation is needful or regrettable, we ought to discuss the Church’s long efforts to establish worldwide correlation in the hopes of doing away with that most troubling, amorphous enemy: the Unfamiliar.

I have often heard Church leaders and lay members note with pride that they could enter a meetinghouse anywhere in the world and experience exactly the same worship service. It is no doubt comforting for long-time members to know that they (unlike visitors, investigators, and converts, especially those from other cultural traditions) would never be confronted with unfamiliar ideas, rituals, or music. But what about those who find our services unfamiliar? The attitude is get used to it or get out. Becoming converted is the idea.

Investigators undergo conversion when confronted with something new, come to terms with it (think search, ponder, and pray), become comfortable, and eventually become a changed individual.

Conversion isn’t just for non-members, however. We are all commanded to become converted. But is this possible in a correlated meeting style? Or, is it impossible without correlation?

As I noted above, the Church tacitly endorses one musical style as the most spiritually effective (hymns and reverent songs). All other styles (they’re unfamiliar!) distract from the Spirit. But I wonder if our musical practices don’t actually lull us into spiritual stupor. We sing the same 50 or so hymns week in and week out, usually without thinking about the text or trying to feel anything new. We could go to church in Brazil and have the exact same spiritually-numb experience.

I wish we were confronted with unfamiliar music more frequently. And rather than viewing it as “inappropriate” I wish we would become like an investigator and think about it before making an offhanded judgment.

In your comments from the previous post, it is obvious many of you agree that our musical experience should be more varied. I’d like you to discuss something different this time: What kind of music is inappropriate for Sunday worship services? What would you ban and why? Is there spiritual music and non? How do we differentiate? Or, what elements of church experience need to be correlated, and which do not?


Mraynes lives in downtown Denver with her husband and four children. She spends her time lobbying at the Colorado Legislature, managing all the things and preparing Gospel Doctrine lessons.

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23 Responses

  1. James says:

    What may be inappropriate for a sacrament meeting may not be inappropriate in a 3rd hour meeting or fireside…it’s all about the setting to me. I’ve actually been thinking about this a fair amount recently, because I agree with the sacrament meeting policies on music (though they are sometimes poorly implemented by local leaders who don’t have much musical background to discern what truly is appropriate). However, there are some musical offerings that would be appropriate in other church settings, and I think using the 3rd hour as an outlet for this may be one way to open up opportunities for sharing and experiencing other good music that ward members may be able to offer and experience.

    Regardless of what we trained musicians might think constitutes “appropriate” church music, the fact of the matter is that different musical aesthetics speak differently to people. I certainly hope our ward can find a way to accommodate an investigator who desperately loves to sing to an accordion. It might not be in sacrament meeting, but there is room for that and we need to encourage it.

    I believe there is truly a difference between sacred/spiritual music and non, and that in my extensive and varied musical experiences, most of the most profoundly spiritual experiences have come through sacred choral music (I’m looking at you, Bach, Brahams and Mahler) that would not fit a sacrament meeting. I am ok with this.

    Lots more I could say here, but I’ll hold off for now.

  2. mr.mraynes says:


    Thanks for your comment. I’m curious, why wouldn’t Bach or Brahms’s choral music fit into a sacrament meeting (besides the obvious limitation of musical talent in a ward)? What criteria would you use to determine what is appropriate and what isn’t?

  3. NG says:

    To oversimplify, it’s the whole “I know it when I see it” (or rather hear it) problem. I have experienced amazingly inspiring musical numbers in church that came from non-traditional pieces or instruments, and others that were completely inappropriately performed or chosen for the event at hand. Without having members “audition” in front of a bishop or music director to perform in Sacrament meeting, it’s hard to tell which you’re going to get – especially if you don’t know well the individual who will be performing. I’m not sure any bishop wants to go down that road.

    In many cases, non-musically trained bishops choose to err on the side of caution and have boring or repetitive music simply because they lack the training to discern when something might not be appropriate. And I feel for them, I really do. But it cuts us off from a wealth of spiritual experience that could touch people too. Different music affects different people differently. 🙂

    I’m not sure what the answer is, other than an open mind, lots of prayer, openness to the Spirit, and a willingness to learn about those kinds of music with which we are unfamiliar. It’s just not always as easy as, “It says in the handbook that…” Sometimes we must put aside our own prejudices to give someone else the chance to feel the Spirit in the way that it reaches them best. Different is not always bad, sometimes it’s just different.

  4. Joanne says:

    Regarding “auditions” — I have a success story. I wrote a kind letter to the bishop pointing out that guitars are not prohibited by the church handbook — only by tradition (discussed the goods and bads of traditions and unwritten rules). I suggested that a reverent guitar number would invite the spirit, grab people’s attention, and stand as a symbol of inclusion (i.e., Elder Wirthlin: “The Lord did not people the earth with an orchestra only to value the piccolos.”). I proposed a private pre-listen. He listened and let us do it! It meant so much to the guitarist, who has never been able to share his talent in our most sacred meeting. I’m not sure how often or how far I can push the envelope, but I have a less-active musician in mind for my next attempt.

  5. James says:

    That’s a good question, and part of me says I have no earthly idea. It’s not the composer per se, just the specific works I had in mind at the precise moment I wrote this I guess (i.e. Mahler’s 2nd…it’s just too huge, even if it is about as celestial as it gets). Select sacred classical works would be fabulous in the right hands, just as select types of music from other traditions may be fabulous in the right hands. But NG nailed it with the “I know it when I see it.” Very fine lines, very hard to draw, and not even those with formal training would put it in the same place, I suspect. Also, for me, would just completely overshadow the sacrament for me, undermining the point of the meeting (but that’s just me)

    In part, I think it comes back to some of the ideas you’ve already touched on. The “masses” might be distracted by “high art,” the “musical elite” would be distracted by more “common” styles, so maybe it’s about playing it safe. All we have left is a somewhat limited “safe zone.” I think part of the solution is doing better within the constraints we have to work within, because few wards are even doing a great job there…most just get by, hence frustration.

    However, since the church has a strong track record of promoting all kinds of music that isn’t necessarily sacrament meeting material, I don’t generally feel overly stifled by a more narrow playing field. Some do, and I get that as well.

  6. Ben Pratt says:

    We sing the same 50 or so hymns week in and week out…

    Frankly, I think using so few hymns itself is borderline inappropriate. We have a huge hymnbook that we ought to use, but as you pointed out, most wards are not even using most of it.

    In fact, as I recently documented at Millennial Star, my ward sang 139 of the 341 hymns in the LDS hymnal in 2009, leaving 202 hymns unsung. I got some fascinating comments on why this might be, particularly those from Ziff and JDP. It’s possible that those choosing the congregational music do it by randomly selecting from among the hymns they know the best and enjoy the most. Ziff raises the possibility of something like Dunbar’s number for hymns.

    Anyway, I think there does exist a distinction between music which invites the spirit and that which doesn’t, but I couldn’t say that the division is the same for everyone, or even for the same person in different circumstances. So perhaps this question is still too broad, and we might instead ask whether there is spiritual music which dovetails with the revealed sacramental liturgy and spiritual music which does not. I think that there is a distinction, and that this is where correlation comes in, thus the existence of an official, published hymnal. However for solo, group, and choir performances, it seems to me that the ritual requirements are lessened somewhat, so it may shift then back to the realm of general spiritual music.

  7. NG says:

    One more thought and then I’ll stop.

    You know, it’s not all that different from choosing speakers for sacrament meeting. Some people, you just know are going to be great speakers and will give well thought out, impressive, researched talks. Some you aren’t so sure about and it might depend on the subject. Some you have your doubts overall. But the fact remains that any speaker has the ability to bring the Spirit and touch on something that SOMEone in the congregation needs to hear. It might not really be uplifting to me when Brother X is called to talk and he recounts the details of his recent vacation to Scranton, but a) it might help Brother X grow and b) there might be someone in the congregation that day who absolutely needs to hear what Brother X has to say in the way he says it. Every talk isn’t going to be exactly what I need to hear, but that isn’t to say that there can’t be some value for some one from every talk. I don’t see how it’s any different with music. I guess that’s why it’s so important for the leadership to be in touch with the Spirit and the needs of the ward members – all the members, not just a few.

  8. Jack says:

    Most folks who have special training in one field or another usually find themselves dissatisfied with the way the Church operates in those respective fields. Myself, being a musician, I certainly wish for this or that to be different in the Church’s approach to aesthetics. But even so, that doesn’t mean I can’t find other venues where a more satisfying aesthetic–and even spiritual connection with the arts, dare I say–may be found.

  9. VZ says:

    I think NG’s last comment is well spoken and very close to what I was wanting to express in appropriate words.

    Given what we ‘allow’ in terms of variance in speakers, it’s a shame we don’t encourage more variation in music. I think the downsides are pretty small compared to speaker selection (or Fast & Testimony Meeting for that matter).

    I was fortunate to get formal organ training from a mainline protestant organist in high school to help broaden my musical background and have some nice traditional organ material for prelude/postludes.

    The larger struggle, I think, is how to make Sacrament Meetings more worshipful/spiritual overall within the current meeting framework and music is really just one part.

  10. Bree says:

    It may be unfair to place the burden of determining musical “appropriateness” on bishops who don’t have much musical experience. However, in a ward where such experience or musical expertise exists, could the bishop not delegate the responsibility of determining appropriateness to a ward musical chair or the like? Or perhaps, the burden lies with the musically talented to take initiative like JoAnn in convincing ward authorities to allow something out of the ordinary.

    As someone without much musical talent or expertise, I would greatly appreciate any efforts made that reduce the number of times we have to sing “There is sunshine in my soul” or “Put your shoulder to the wheel” (the mormon communist manifesto:)

  11. Caroline says:

    Wow, well done. I love that you took such initiative.

    mr. mraynes,
    Thanks for this thoughtful post. It’s a good question — what music we should not allow. I’m not sure even how to begin thinking about that, since I so desperately want more variety than what we have right now. How would you answer that question?

  12. mr.mraynes says:

    Thanks again to all who have shared their thoughts on this complex issue.

    NG: Actually, I believe the “I know it when I see it” model is actually the one most Bishops use. The problem is, Bishops see things very differently. The situation that most worries me is when leaders reject music out-of-hand when it doesn’t sound like something found in the hymnal. I just can’t bring myself to view the hymns as a “closed canon” of spiritually uplifting music (not that I am saying anyone here does–but some out there certainly do).

    I really liked your comment that we need to learn to accept things might be different (or outside of our comfort zone) without judging them to be inappropriate or spiritually poor. As you note, different people will feel differently; all the membership deserve to be touched by the Spirit and exposed to new musical styles. I also think your analogy to the choice of speakers rings true.

    Joanne: Keep at it! I applaud your efforts to keep musical presentations fresh and am glad your hard work is bearing fruit. Your story reminds me of growing up in my parents’ ward. We had a brother who played the harmonica; he was no virtuoso, mind you, but his performances of the hymns (while striking me as a bit odd as a child) also universally brought the Spirit. There was always something humbly honest about his playing that has stuck with me.

    James: I think many leaders view music as having the power to overshadow the sacrament. I think that is an unfortunate attitude; I believe the sanctity of the ordinance speaks for itself and we need not fear some musical presentation will cause droves of members to forget to take it seriously. In fact, I wonder if more powerful music wouldn’t make the sacrament all the more effective. Also, your point about the “safe zone” between high art music and popular idioms sounds completely reasonable to me; I just feel our current safe zone is too narrow to the point of becoming a “snore zone.” Does our music really enliven our worship, or is it another routine we mindlessly repeat? I think we find ourselves in a “safe zone” there, too, to the detriment of our spirituality.

    Ben: Interesting analysis! Regarding your point about certain music dovetailing with revealed truth, I think many equate our Mormon musical traditions as part and parcel with the restoration of the Gospel. For this reason, as we gain converts in far-flung parts of the world, they are expected to assimilate not only our doctrine, but our musical language as well. I can’t help but feel other musical styles (even some that I don’t favor myself) could still transmit restored truth effectively.

    Jack: You make a valid point that there are other musical outlets outside of our worship. And certainly we don’t want meetings to become mere concerts. On the other hand, my brother has often said he’d love to go to a sacrament meeting consisting of the passing of the bread and water followed by a performance of Brahms’s Symphony No. 1. Would that merely be a concert, or might it become something more? (And of course, some in the congregation wouldn’t like it at all!) At the end of the day, you always win some, lose some.

    VZ: Hear, hear!

    Bree: I think, as always, this varies with Bishops. Some are happy to delegate musical matters to “more educated” folks; others are mistrustful of the judgment of artistic members. At the end of the day, no matter what policies are in place, the bishop does reign supreme, I suppose.

    Caroline: Thanks for the gentle invite to share my own “ideal” musical regulation. I wanted to avoid making the post a referendum on my ideas, preferring to let others chime in. But now I’m happy to give it a try and hear how it is received:

    1. If the hymnbook is to be our principal source for devotional music, I think it needs to be expanded to contain some more varied musical styles. If we already have “How Great Thou Art” we can stand to add some more styles and perform them unabashedly in their idiom.

    2. Most instrumental music should be welcome, brass instruments, etc. included. While ultra-modern styles might be ill-suited (meaning Schoenberg and other avant garde composers), instrumental music’s ambiguity of message allows it to be co-opted easily into worship services. Pragmatically, the judgment of the bishop and music chair have to be applied.

    3. For vocal music, so long as it testifies of Christ (again, the bishop and music chair will have some necessary discretion) it is appropriate. Of course, a song titled “The Bible is the Only True Scripture” would be inappropriate in the context of a Mormon sacrament meeting. But does “Ave Maria” really get nixed because of its use as a prayer in Catholicism? Can’t we appreciate its message without running out and worshiping the Virgin Mother?

    4. Because music is such a crucial element of our worship, music education needs to be incorporated into Sunday meetings. More on that in part III.

  13. Emily U says:

    Great topic, mr. mraynes.

    Since you asked, I’d love to say what I think is inappropriate for Sunday worship services: basically, anything secular or in bad taste. I know, easy to implement!

    I say AMEN and AMEN to your suggestion #1 in the comment above. We absolutely need more hymns and a greater variety of hymns in our hymnal. IMO, we desperately need a new hymnal. I think the reason so many of our current hymns don’t get sung is because, let’s face it, many of them are pretty awful. There are so many wonderful protestant hymns we could be using, including SPIRITUALS! My ward is about 20% African American, and I really wish we could sing music from the traditions they’re coming from.

    I see no reason why any particular musical instrument should be banned. Ones that are very rarely used (i.e. accordion) could be used for prelude music, in order to decrease people’s potential discomfort with them.

    I do not agree that any music that testifies of Christ is appropriate. Christian rock makes my skin crawl. It should be excluded on the basis of bad taste.

    And finally, YES, more music ed, please! My husband wrote his D.M. major document on LDS music and this was one of his major conclusions (the need for more training). It’s so difficult to educate a lay music ministry, but so very very needful. God bless you, truly, if you’re working on better ways to do this.

  14. mr.mraynes says:

    EmilyU, first let me say I am glad you have strong opinions about this and are willing to put them forth. I’m also pleased we agree so much!

    I’m not such a fan of “Christian pop” either, but “bad taste” is one of those judgment calls that can easily get us into trouble. By the way, I consider much of the EFY-genre music we often hear in Church meetings not much different, anyway. Sure, you and I don’t like it especially, but lots of others do. Part of the point here is to employ a wide array of musical styles so everyone feels musically stimulated, at least some of the time.

    I’m not sure I could dismiss secular music out of hand, either. First off, almost all instrumental music (classical especially) is secular. Now, secular vocal music might be problematic. But I can imagine there are some great art songs out there drawing on secular poetry that might fit perfectly well in a sacrament meeting.

    Anyone else care to sound off on this? Am I too permissive?

  15. jessawhy says:

    This is my 3rd attempt at this comment, so perhaps I shouldn’t even post it b/c it’s a little absurd and a little naughty.

    Regardless, the first thought I had when I read that they used to put popular music in church was trying to make Britney’s Three song into a song about the Godhead instead of what it really is, about a menage a trois.

    On a slightly less inappropriate but no less snarky note, when I read this post to Mark, his first comment was, “Only choral music should be allowed in church because it is the only instrument God created.”

  16. Ben Pratt says:


    That’s a good point about bringing in other musical vocabularies. Simply because the protestant musical tradition got into the church at the beginning doesn’t mean it must remain the only one we use.

  17. Michael says:

    May I ask why many of you are not also cheering for more “Catholic” (i.e. Adoration) type hymns instead of just more Protestant ones? There are millions of Catholic converts (such as myself) in the Church who would welcome some familiarity from our childhoods be incorporated into our Sacrament meetings. Why do we shy away from adoration and celebration in this church?

  18. Emily U says:

    mr. mraynes,

    I agree, there’s lots of lovely secular music that would probably be nice to hear in church, but I still think it mostly doesn’t belong in church. I think the purpose of music in church is to edify and educate, not entertain. That said, the Bach St. Anne prelude & fugue sounds sacred to my ears because I know the piece and know the hymn, but may sound secular to other people. So it’s always a judgment call. I’d hate to “ban” secular music for fear of having that rule too severely and nonsensically enforced. But I’m in favor of having sacrament meeting music mostly if not entirely hymn-based.

    And of course “bad taste” is a totally subjective thing. But I maintain that some music is simply garbage by any standard. That may sound elitist and intolerant. But part of the job of a ward music director is to educate others about what good music is, and to broaden horizons beyond EFY-genere music, if that’s what’s being done in lots of wards (thank heavens it’s not done in my ward). I think the SLC leadership needs to take a greater role in this. There could be satellite “master classes” focused on choral conducting, choral/organ rep, organ registration and technique, to begin with. Also regional (paid!) trainers to hold workshops throughout the country and world could do wonders for elevating and expanding music in the church.

    Michael, I agree, it would be great to include more music from the Catholic tradition as well. The LDS hymnal is a very slim volume compared to all other hymnals I’ve encountered. We’d really benefit drawing from other faiths to add to it.

  19. mr.mraynes says:

    Jessawhy: I love it! Mark’s snarky comment is not too far from the attitude of many people… more on that in a future post. That said, most instrumental music strives to imitate the human voice. It’s the source-spring of all music.

    Michael: I admit I am unfamiliar with “Catholic” style hymns, but I am all for more celebratory and upbeat musical offerings in our services. I think we overdo reverence. Let’s have some more true rejoicing! But that’s a topic for others to discuss in another thread…

    EmilyU: Thanks for elaborating on your position. I understand why people advocate for hymn-only musical presentations; I believe that view is entirely reasonable. I disagree, however, that vocal music is the only form of music that can educate and edify. I also disagree that instrumental music only functions as entertainment.

    In my first post on music, I tried to lay the foundation about my musical-spiritual philosophy. In it, I explained how music communicates directly with our spirit just like the Holy Ghost does. In most cases, words have nothing to do with it–only feelings. Instrumental music is equally as likely to stir our emotions as vocal music. In fact, I think it has the ADVANTAGE of lacking words, giving it wider applications to more people.

    That said, many will disagree with me. I’m okay with that!

    Also, regarding your point about paid music trainers in the Church, look for a future post that discusses that issue in great detail.

  20. DavidH says:

    It is too bad that Church music seems to be so driven by avoiding offending people or exposing them to the unfamiliar.

    In answer to the question, I personally don’t find any type of music inconsistent with worship.

    As I watch various television programs with different styles of singing praises to God, including Christian rock (drums and guitars) and African American gospel music (with clapping, swaying, rejoicing), I feel God’s spirit in the music. Maybe that means I am not Mormon enough. Because a Mormon only feels the spirit when listening to Mormon music.

  21. CatherineWO says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, mr. mraynes, for this and your last post. For me personally, music has a greater potential for bringing me close to the Spirit than any other form of worship. I too would love to see more variety in our services, and I do see that variety in some wards when I travel, but, as has been said, it really depends on the local authorities and the musical training of the members. I miss the old Sunday School singing time, but I think there is still room for education in Relief Society and Priesthood meetings, as well as in auxiliary training meetings. It just isn’t utilized (at least not in our area). I hope in future posts you will have suggestions for change.

  22. EmilyCC says:

    What a great post with subsequent comments!

    I love reading about the ways people have been innovative in their wards, especially.

    I’ve never understood why we only allow certain instruments (namely: piano, organ, string instruments and the occasional flute) in sacrament meeting. Why not expand it?

  23. Jay Packard says:

    This is a great conversation. I have strong feelings about this, so I wrote the following letter to Elder Oakes (I haven’t heard back):

    Dear Elder Oaks,

    I appreciated your November 1994 General Conference talk, “Worship through Music” because of its reminder about the importance of sacred music in our worship. As a musician and composer, I also appreciated your comments on the attitude performers ought to have while contributing through worship music, as well as your suggestions on what music is most appropriate for worship. Unfortunately, recent attempts to contribute to the Sacrament Meetings through music that I feel is worshipful have been denied by my bishop and stake president. I had several in-person and email exchanges with both, the end result being that there is a large irreconcilable gap between our viewpoints. Through these exchanges I became familiar with the current LDS handbook of music. My basic impression is that the handbook strongly recommends LDS hymns but is open to other hymns and “other musical selections.” Because of the repeated emphasis of LDS hymns and because, as it says, “stake presidencies and bishoprics determine whether musical selections or instruments are suitable for a a particular meeting,” my leaders have been firm in interpreting it as: rarely should non-LDS-hymns be allowed. I would like to make the case that this is a tragic lost opportunity to feed Christ’s sheep, especially if it is widespread, and to make a plea for the encouragement of “other musical selections” rather than their marginalization from the top.

    I have utmost respect for J.S. Bach, a composer who, as President Kimball recognized, has done more for music—and I would add sacred music—than any other composer. His music has shown me a window into the glory of God, which has greatly contributed towards my testimony. He is the composer of the piece I requested to perform in Sacrament meeting; my request was denied by my leaders. So, I would like to use Bach to illustrate how music can “greatly enhance the spirit of worship” (to quote the handbook) in a way that just isn’t possible with performing mostly hymns.

    Because of hymn’s homophonic nature (all parts moving together), Bach used hymns at the end of his 20 minute cantatas to emphasize unity. It is the contrast between the preceding non-homophonic (or contrapuntal) music and the hymn that accomplishes this. Without the non-homophonic music, the contrast, and hence the emphasis on unity, is not as apparent.

    Through Bach’s expertise in contrapuntal music, he skillfully endows the individual parts (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) of a piece of music with independence while they work together as a whole, which teaches us that we can be individuals yet unified. We’ve lived in New York and Utah and have seen how there is a problem in Utah wards with an environment of pressure to be the same, that is, to use the same phrases and inflections in our testimonies and only discuss certain topics. I believe nobody has truth figured out, so we need to cultivate various approaches to the gospel. Bach’s sometimes wild lines within his contrapuntal music teaches us that there’s even a place for a wild man like John the Baptist.

    President Uchtdorf talked in the most recent conference about patience as being the way in which we work towards something better (such as a child getting two marshmallows instead of one by waiting, or waiting for sexual intimacy until marriage). Another speaker spoke of diligence, which is related to patience. Bach is the most skillful composer I know of that can take a theme and explore it for 5 minutes. Many other composers either give up before then and are on to something else or else repeat the same thing over and over. Through listening to this music, one receives a powerful lesson in patience, diligence, and work.

    It is a challenge to know how to bring the still small voice into our lives while we are in the “loud” world. Some seem to believe you have to separate yourself to a quiet place to feel the spirit. But we can’t just escape the world all the time. Likewise, some believe we should only perform quiet music in church so that we can feel the spirit. But the result of this is we aren’t being taught how to bring the spirit into the “loud” world. Bach has written some bigger more intricate music. Yet, I almost always find a few places where the music drops to something still and small, which you realize has been present all along, even during the louder sections. We should certainly have quiet music to bring peace at key places in the meeting, such as before the sacrament, but again, the quietness when it comes will have more of a peaceful effect when it is in contrast to the loud. The music manual unfortunately encourages only quiet music when it says brass is not a worshipful instrument. But this is not consistent with the fact that LDS organ’s are equipped with trumpet stops (which are used in conference) and that Psalm 150:3 says to “praise [the Lord] with the sounding of the trumpet.”

    Sometimes spoken teaching by itself isn’t able to take root in the listener. Music with enough freedom of expression has has the power to strengthen and depict the words to help it take root. Hymns simply do not have enough freedom of expression to fully accomplish this. Bach skillfully expresses joy with upward leaps, sadness with downward chromaticism (the opposite of leaps), and peace with gentle ups and downs like water. He depicts following Christ by having one line that represents Christ and another line that represents a follower who follows closely behind the Christ line by a few beats. He depicts sin with awkwardness and righteousness with beautiful lines. He depicts God’s greatness in his arrangement of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” through contrapuntal intricacy and orchestral variety that depict His intricate and varied creations. In short, the music is up to par with the richness and range of the scriptures.

    I deeply worry that people leave this true gospel of Christ because, as I’ve heard from multiple members, the meetings are boring. Music at the level of Bach is a powerful ally to spoken teaching to teach us gospel principals. It asks us as does Christ to not be bored, but instead, to become involved in growing spiritually. We should have a strong teaching tool like the type of music I’ve explained to counter the strong pull of the world and its degrading music that so many members are fine with. It may not be what people are used to, which is what my leaders seem to be saying, and which is why I suggested one of Bach’s more conservative pieces. But they rejected even this, and in so doing are suggesting that members are too fragile to handle pushing the envelope. Joseph Smith, on the other hand, emphasizes growth and depth:

    “To those who … can assist in this great work, we say, [they will] rise higher and higher in the scale of intelligence until they can ‘comprehend with all Saints what is the breadth and length, and depth and height; and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge. “

    “The things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God. How much more dignified and noble are the thoughts of God, than the vain imaginations of the human heart! …”

    I hope I’ve demonstrated I have the interest of the members and the kingdom of God in mind rather than a special interest of mine. If there’s anything you can do to improve the sad situation I find myself in in regards to music in church, I would certainly appreciate it.

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