08 July 2012

Church Music

Musical worship is a powerful component of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  If you've ever attended one of our services, you'll know that while it's powerful, the musical worship is a pretty staid affair.  The image to the left pretty much nails it - that's about as rowdy as it gets as we sing.

We don't pipe in the Mo'Tab or any other recorded music, unless you are in a building that has a fancy organ that's pre-loaded with all the hymns, so that they can be played sans hands.  Aside from a piano and an organ that is the extent of the musical instruments for regular musical worship.  A violin, cello, or the rare flute may show up from time to time but you aren't going to see or hear a bass, a drum set, or an electric guitar.

Ours is a lay clergy and that extends to all who serve, so there is no paid music professional.  All the music is provided by people who have a range of musical talent, from none to the truly professional.  That's another reason why our services can be so interesting.  We've been in services where the most joyous of hymns sounds like a funeral dirge/chant by depressed Gregorian friars and in others where each member of the congregation sounded as if they'd sung with the Mo'Tab for twenty years.  It's made for some wonderful experiences over the years.

One in particular occurred in the last month of my mission more than twenty five years ago.  I was finishing my service in Ft. Lauderdale, which, after twenty-plus months in Miami, was like being in another country.  A country I didn't like, by the way.  I missed Miami and its crazy something awful.  The ward, or local congregation, that we'd been assigned to was a diverse one.  We had Haitians, Latinos of all stripes, African Americans, and a lot of uptight white people.  I loved it as soon as I walked in that first Sunday.  Then I set eyes on the organist and the woman conducting the music and I knew it was going to be awesome.

While this is not the woman I laid eyes on, this is pretty close representation.  She'd clearly spent many a year conducting music her way and she was not to be toyed with when it came to her church music.  The organist, on the other hand, was more than willing to revisit the old ways of church music.  He was an African-American man, who, by night, played jazz keyboards professionally.  The stage was set for a showdown and once I saw what the opening hymn was ("The Spirit of God"), I knew we were in for it.  Our conductress took her position, raised her baton, yes, her baton, and nodded to the organist.  With that nod, it was, in his mind, time to make sure each and every one of us felt the spirit of God.  He immediately began to reinterpret the hymn, causing no small consternation for the conductress.  Try as she might, she was not going to contain him. She held onto her baton with a grip that even the jaws of life would not release.  As she fiercely stabbed the air with her baton in a futile attempt to lead, a few members of the congregation stood and whooped for joy, something I've never seen since in one of our worship services.  Halfway through the second verse, our now completely frazzled conductress gave up, tossed the baton, and stood there until her head exploded the song was over.  It was, in a word, awesome.

I'm not sure that as a Church we are ready to bring in a house band.  There is a time and a place for that and I don't want anything to distract from the purpose of the service, which is to remember the Savior's sacrifice and to renew the covenants made with Him.  But I will always remember the wondrous spirit I felt all those years ago when I heard the "Spirit of God" reinterpreted in that meeting. It was pretty sweet.  Music and the Spirit really does make for some sweet experiences.  I'm glad to have had more than a few of those experiences in my life.

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