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Lift Up Your Voice and Sing!

While I’m no expert on any religion not even my own I have made a rudimentary observation. The Amish seem to have determined that it was best to stop time. The inventions of some specific time in the past (ties and wheels) may be used at will. But the more recent ones (zippers and electricity) are somehow inappropriate.

In much the same way, certain Christian groups seem to have frozen in time claw-style bangs, denim jumpers, and blouses with big collars. Somehow 80 ?s fashion is acceptable (even though it was “modern” just a couple of decades ago), but updating to a current style is wrong.

In much the same way, our hymns seemed to have stopped in time. While I never took the time to research the average age of our hymns as I had planned, I think it’s pretty safe to say it’s somewhere way back in the olden days. Somehow “reverent” and “sacred” in the Mormon music world has become synonymous with “old” and “slow.”

What was it that Gladys Knight said to President Hinckley at the priesthood celebration performance? Something like, I really love the gospel, but the music could use some kick”? I’m sure the words are wrong, but that was the feeling I got and I couldn ?t agree more.

Would it really be a sin to pick up the beat? To sway a little in the pews? To throw our hands toward heaven now and again?

The two songs (both of which, incidentally, I sang in BYU ?s A Cappella Choir) I feel most connect me with God are:

The Path of the Just
A very dissonant (16 parts if I remember correctly) scriptural hymn written by a Jewish man ?in his head ?in a concentration camp during WWII.

Ain ?t Got Time to Die
A boisterous, joyful, negro spiritual (probably my #1 favorite genre if I have to choose just one).

After those two pieces, just give me something I can sing at the top of my lungs that makes me want to dance. That is pure religion.

{ 22 comments… add one }

  • Oregonian April 10, 2009, 12:15 am

    never thought about it just think all chur h songs have to be slow and reverent.

  • facethemusic April 10, 2009, 9:45 am

    Well, you KNOW I have to chime in on THIS one!!! :tooth:

    A little background first… (and I’ll include some links so those who may not be familiar with the music I’m talking about can hear it)

    I happen to be a HUGE fan of Contemporary Christian music– it’s what I listen to the most. The JOY that is expressed in the songs really move me. Certainly, feelings about faith, about the power of God, about the Savior and the JOY that the gospel brings to our lives can be expressed in a way OTHER than a slow, 4 part chordal hymn. There’s “quiet, humbled” joy and then there’s exhuberant, “make-you-want-to-dance-for-joy”, joy. I LOVE the story about David “dancing before the Lord”. Dance can be a expression of praise!! I REALLY WISH our youth would dance to THIS stuff at the dances in addition to all the secular stuff– better than dancing to a bunch of songs about boyfriends and girlfriends, (usually breaking up). I think it would be MARVELOUS for example, to have a hundred LDS youth at a church dance, dancing to this or this. instead of the latest hit about a sexy girl or a break-up by Justin Timberlake. There’s also alot of slower paced Contemporary Christian music that’s more “reverent’ by LDS standards, that I really like. I particularly LOVE Chris Rice’s music– (don’t care for his voice at ALL though)– so when Kenneth Cope does covers of Chris’s songs I’m in seventh heaven. I love Kenneth newer stuff— he’s REALLY blossomed as a writer. I also like the more upbeat style of spirituals as typically sung in black choirs, and have also thoroughly enjoyed singing them with various choirs. (Though I MUST insert here, that I can’t STAND the way they’re usually sung– completely out of control, NO balance whatsoever, it’s like everyone is trying to outsing everyone else, and it’s just 40 people singing very loud, obnoxious, horribly worbly solos all at the same time. So it totally depends on the director and how they lead the choir.) Gladys Knight for example, is a GOOD choir director.

    Some members are really sensitive about anything relating to God and Savior being set to drums, electric guitars, synthesizers etc and disco or pop rhythms. Personally, I don’t have a problem with it. I DO think there’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed. But I don’t think that “exhuberance” expressed in music, by use of rhythm or instrumentation automatically makes it “irreverant”.

    I do think however, that much of it IS inappropriate during Sacrament meeting. And I’m not even talking about anything with drums or a pop style.
    I think Sacrament Meetings are purposely designed to BE a place of “quiet, humbled” joy and reflection as we all participate in a sacred ordinance. Even then, we still have more upbeat hymns– We Are All Enlisted, There Is Sunshine in My Soul Today, Called To Serve, (Although we hardly EVER sing anything upbeat in our ward– I’m not sure why our ward music chairman ALWAYS picks slow ones. I know she purposely chooses hymns that fit the theme of the talks, but surely there’s a faster paced song for nearly every topic.) But you’ll notice that there isn’t ONE song about the sacrament that is “upbeat”. The song before the Sacrament is suppose to help us FEEL quiet/peaceful/humbled/submissive/reflective, etc– which is best accomplished by a slow, more tender style of music. And I think that’s the GENERAL feeling that the Church wants to be prevelant in Sacrament meeting. I think that’s WHY the extent of our “exhuberant joy” and worship during Sacrament meeting only reaches to the level of “There is Sunshine in My Soul” et al. I think the Brethren may be concerned about a slippery slope once you get into the realm of “spirituals” or anything too Contemporary where people are going to feel compelled to stand up, start clapping hands, tapping feet and/or banging out a percussion part on the back of the pew in front of them. :)

    I think “A Brand New Year” and “EFY” are good examples of how the church DOES incorporate more upbeat, even pop-style music as an expression of more exhuberant joy– so it isn’t that it’s ”inappropriate” at all, but rather a matter of the appropriate place and time.

    If there were ANY music in the Celestial room for example, it would seem entirely inappropriate for “Don’t Pass Me By“. (this is Gladys Knight’s choir singing, by the way– not sure I get the relation to the dancing– some German Christian youth group thing– whatever floats their boat… :) But music from The Testaments would seem totally appropriate, even fitting maybe. And yet there isn’t even the hushed recorded organ music playing in the background the way it is in the temple chapel area. I think it’s the SAME reason why we don’t have hymns playing quietly in the background while the Sacrament in being passed.

    There DOES seem to be a tendency, whenever a special musical number is performed that isn’t more “churchy”, for the song to seem like it’s more about the performance rather than the message. I remember once one an Elder wanted to sing Michael W. Smith’s “Breathe In Me” for a special musical number. (Kenneth Cope does a better cover :) I LOVE that song– about wanting to “come back” after losing faith, becoming “inactive” etc. But as much as I love the song, (and just about ANYTHING by Michael w. Smith), it just isn’t appropriate for a Sacrament meeting. And I’m not even sure I can put into words WHY, it just didn’t feel “right” to me. But I DO think that part of it was what seemed to me to be a “look how good I sing” feeling coming from him. It’s a song that can be very dramatic– like something done on stage during a play — and that’s the way he sang it, like he was on stage in a play. So after some gentle persuasion, we picked another song– i can’t even remember what, now. I’m not sure what it is, I can’t put my finger on it, but it just seems like there’s a greater tendency for ‘”other” songs to end up being more of a performance opportunity, and a focus on the style and talent of the singer, instead of the message– especially if it’s a solo. (Keep in mind who’s saying this– someone who sang professionally and has done many a solo in church.) And that can happen with classical style pieces as well “O Divine Redeemer”, “In My Father’s House”, etc. I think that’s at least a part of the reason why the church finally said, in effect– “we really need to stick with hymns and the children’s songbook for the most part.” They didn’t totally BAN anything that’s not in those resources, but they obviously felt a need to sharply cut down on all the “other” stuff that was coming in.
    On the other hand, I think there are PLENTY of “other” songs that aren’t in our hymnbook, the Children’s Songbook and the Choirbook, that ARE perfectly appropriate for Sacrament Meeting. There’s a TONS of hymns that we don’t have in our hymnal that are fantastic. (We’ve had that discussion here before— someone WILL be punished for leaving out Come Thou Fount :) But even outside the realm of “hymns” there’s a plethora of Contemporary style music that’s appropriate– I think we’ve ALL sung or heard a Sally Deford or Janice Kapp Perry piece done in church that was perfectly appropriate.
    And I do admit, as a musician/singer/songwriter– the “stifling” of “other” music is a little hard to accept, because sometimes I think it’s overdone and overused. But I DO understand it also.

  • jennycherie April 10, 2009, 11:27 am

    You know, I miss a lot of they hymns I sung growing up, particularly “Old Rugged Cross” and “In the Garden.” I also love several beautiful Catholic hymns. For the most part, however, in Sacrament meeting, I appreciate the limited musical choices. . . I just think we need more events where we sing the other stuff! Over spring break, I went to a “ladies night out” type of thing with my mom at one of the churches in my hometown. It was sponsored by the Christian Church and attended by people of many different denominations. Since this was sponsored by the Christian Church, they planned the program and the music. Their music is led by a woman singing at the microphone while they watch a music video (including the words) of the artist singing the song. So, when they introduced that “Jenny” (or whatever her name was!) was singing, I thought we’d get to sing a solo but it was really “Jenny” singing along with the video while the congregation joined in once they figured out the melody. For me, it was *very* distracting. . okay for an evening out but downright weird during a church service. Not to mention the standing and swaying and hallelujahs. . . There is nothing *wrong* with any of it, but *I* find myself uncomfortable in situations where people around me are really visible and vocal and physical about participating in the worship. My personal preference is not to participate in that way, so I am glad the Lord does not require that of us! Anyway, I do wish we sang the up tempo songs more. . . as lovely as the words are to many of the standard hymns that we sing at least monthly, I find many of them boring and draggy. . . but that’s just a preference. I sing the upbeat ones at home. :wink:

  • Amy E April 10, 2009, 4:58 pm

    face, I liked what you said. I also agree that generally when a special musical number is less “churchy” as you put it, there seems to be more emphasis on performance rather than message, and to me, more importantly, bringing the Spirit to the meeting. I also think when it’s more about the performance than the message, it becomes distracting. It reminds me of recent conference talks reminding us that prelude music in Sacrament Meeting is not a performance.

    Posted By: facethemusicsomeone WILL be punished for leaving out Come Thou Fount

    I don’t remember if I was here for that discussion, but it’s my understanding that this hymn wasn’t sung very often until after Mack Wilberg’s arrangement made it popular, which was after the 1985 hymnal came out. :)

    I was talking about this with my husband and we came up with some other thoughts about this.

    The hymns and the songs in the Children’s Songbook are doctrinally correct. Hymnbooks are meant to last a long time, in part because of the doctrinal vetting that has to take place to make sure the songs are correct takes a long time and it requires a lot of resources to compile. (We’ve already had this hymnal since 1985 and the last was written in the 40′s, if I remember right.) If we were to put more contemporary music in the hymnal, for example, that music may become dated relatively fast. Like face said, there are more contemporary arrangements and music that are appropriate, though there have been some arrangements of hymns that I’ve heard that were inappropriate for Sacrament Meeting, but may be appropriate for another setting.

    I hadn’t thought of this, but my husband mentioned that the hymns are made for congregational singing and many current contemporary styles are not made for or too complex for congregational singing. When face mentioned how upbeat spirituals are usually sung, I thought of how it might be the same in a congregation. Most of the congregation or at least some don’t even understand what the ward music leader is for, so I can’t imagine everyone singing like a trained choir. One of the stated purposes of the hymns by the First Presidency is to unify us as members. If we’re all trying to sing a solo together, that doesn’t seem very unifying. :smile:

    Plus, there are many less-musically-inclined/trained people that would even be more intimidated and have more reasons not to sing. (As an aside, that’s why I like to choose more familiar hymns to sing in meetings, so that everyone is more comfortable singing something they’ve heard before. If you want an unfamiliar hymn to become more familiar, introduce it with the ward choir or special musical number and then have it sung by the congregation or choose only one unfamiliar hymn per meeting. Nothing seems to stifle congregational singing more than unfamiliar hymns.)

    I also wonder if part of the problem might be that the upbeat hymns or at least the ones that are supposed to be upbeat is that they aren’t being played upbeat. Either the chorister and/or accompanist doesn’t know what the tempo should be or the accompanist is too focused on being technically perfect that they forget to keep up with the congregation.

    One more thought, I also agree with face that it depends on the setting or even the situation. I can remember times as an organist where the hymn that was picked for the closing hymn had a totally different feeling than the final talk that was given and it felt wrong. The hymn was totally appropriate for Sacrament meeting, but it still didn’t work because of the situation. Ah, the nuances of Church music.

  • davidson April 11, 2009, 5:56 am

    Just my two bits. This is honestly how I feel.

    I love the Church hymns. I love the reverence of them. I love the fact that many of them are slow and thoughtful. In a fast-paced world, I think it is refreshing to slow down on Sunday and do what we don’t do the rest of the week: sit quietly. Think carefully. Genuinely feel. Sing with conviction. I think the hymns are conducive to that.

    I also love the fact that some of them are upbeat, and I also feel the Spirit in those.

    I do think there is a problem with deciding that the Church of Jesus Christ needs revamping. The meetings are too long and too frequent. The music is too slow. The _________________ is too ______________. Part of our spiritual preparation for the last days is learning to be content with what we have. I am grateful we have what we have. I am GLAD it is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and not the Church of Serena Davidson. I think His plan is so much better than anything I (or anyone else, for that matter,) could come up with. It smacks of ingratitude to be constantly making petty complaints about the way the Church operates. Why not look for the good in what we have? Why not support it with all heart, might, mind, and strength? If we put the energy into upholding the Church that we often put into criticizing it, it would be a much stronger, better Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I think we owe Him that.

  • CamBendy April 11, 2009, 3:09 pm

    I do think there is a problem with deciding that the Mormon Mamma needs revamping. The articles are too infrequent and too critical. The pace is too forced. The _________________ is too ______________. Part of our spiritual preparation for the last days is learning to be content with what we have. I am grateful we have what we have. I am GLAD it is Mormon Mamma with the writers who are here, and not the Site of Cammie (or of Serena). I think Allison’s plan is so much better than anything I (or anyone else, for that matter,) could come up with. It smacks of ingratitude to be constantly making petty complaints about the way the site operates. Why not look for the good in what we have? Why not support it or find another site? If we put the energy into posting things we think are good that we often put into criticizing it, it would be a much stronger, better site for other LDS women. I think we owe others that.

  • davidson April 11, 2009, 10:28 pm

    Think what you like. And while you are busy criticizing me for being critical, please take note that although I don’t agree with your point of view, I never invite you to leave, as you regularly invite me to do.

  • partone April 11, 2009, 11:34 pm

    I think its good that we can say what we really like and also what we wish was different in the church. Churc music isn’t God and it isn’t the gospel its just a tradition.

    I like some of hte hymns but I think alot of them are boring too and the words are old fashioned. I don’t see a problem with having some old things and some new things. Like they said about the new years thing, it can be less funerally and still be reverent and spiritual.

  • jennycherie April 12, 2009, 1:19 pm

    Posted By: davidsonI do think there is a problem with deciding that the Church of Jesus Christ needs revamping.

    I see your point, davidson – it is important for us not to allow ourselves to fall into the trap of being critical of the Lord’s church. . . however, it is also important for us to progress, which we cannot do without recognizing a need for change.

    Posted By: davidsonIt smacks of ingratitude to be constantly making petty complaints about the way the Church operates. Why not look for the good in what we have?

    I agree – gratitude is important. . . but we are not asked to follow blindly. The Lord’s way is perfect but his people are not so sometimes we DO need to recognize when a change is necessary. I’m not saying that is the case with the music, just that it is OK to recognize imperfections and try to fix things as long as we are careful to do so appropriately.

    As far as music goes, I think it is important (especially for lifelong members who only know THIS way) to recognize the disparity between the music in our churches and others. This is REALLY hard for some of us who convert. At first, the music at church seemed so sparse and melancholy. I loved the words and the melodies but everything was slow and draggy (compared to what I was used to) and we didn’t seem to sing very much. And I missed the songs I was raised with. . . I still do miss many of those songs, in fact. How can it be Easter without singing, “He Lives” and “Old Rugged Cross”? That isn’t a criticism of the LDS church or the way we do things – just acknowledging a difference and a recognition that some of that difference is a matter of culture and tradition rather than doctrine.

  • agardner April 12, 2009, 2:04 pm

    It never ceases to amaze me the seemingly innocent topics that can get the pot stirring….

    My opinion? There is a huge difference between principles and programs. Programs (of which I consider music to be a part) change all the time. At one time, middle-of-the-week Primary was the “true” way, now it’s the block schedule. I would not be at all surprised if sometime in my life there is another schedule formatting change. In fact, I know of wards who are testing such as we speak.

    While Sacrament meeting music will never become “rockish” (nor, do I think it should, mind you), I think it’s not out of the question to introduce new music from time to time. We do it in Primary a lot. If you think about the programs for the last several years, almost every year there is a new song introduced that is not in the Children’s Songbook. This year we actually have three possible songs in the program that are recently written and not in the CS. There are also “oldies but goodies” that re-surface from time to time – like “Come, Thou Fount”. It’s been there, taken out, will probably be added again, who knows? The point being, if the doctrine of the song is correct and it inspires reverence and love for the Savior (and yes, I think this can happen even with something that is more spirited), why not?

  • facethemusic April 12, 2009, 2:13 pm

    some of that difference is a matter of culture and tradition rather than doctrine.

    Well spoken.

  • davidson April 13, 2009, 1:48 pm

    And what is doctrine, if not teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ?

    Here is one of the famous “teachings” of the Lord Jesus Christ concerning hymns, given specifically to Emma Smith: “For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.” He also said, specifically to Emma, “And it shall be given THEE to make a selection of sacred hymns, AS IT SHALL BE GIVEN THEE, which is pleasing unto me, to be had in my church.”

    Point being that Emma was the one assigned to select the hymns, at the Lord’s command, and she wasn’t free to choose any she wanted; she was to choose them only as they were “given to her” by the Spirit. She was the conduit. Singing the hymns that are in the hymn book in Sacrament meeting is, therefore, not a matter of blind obedience, or a salute to culture, or the keeping of tradition; it is wide-eyed, knowing, decided obedience to a true doctrine. We are to sing the hymns that are in the hymnbook and other approved resources, because that is what He said we are to do. It boils down to that. We can be obedient or disobedient. We can be critical or meek about the Savior’s church. Certain individuals were called to make a selection of sacred church music, as it is given them. It isn’t that we aren’t QUALIFIED to decide what we will sing in Sacrament meeting; it is that we are not CALLED to decide. If the leaders who choose the music occasionally publish new pieces that aren’t currently in the music books we have now, that is their right, as given to them by the spirit of God, and they will probably be included in future publications of new books.

    But why complain about what is given by the Spirit? Why decide that what we think is wiser, better, or more appropriate than what the “called” individuals think?

    Of course I’ll speak up! You’re my friends. We advise each other all the time, even when the advise isn’t necessarily asked for. We give each other the benefit of a different perspective because we care about each other–and I’m just saying, you’re my friends, and it isn’t a great idea to criticize the Lord’s work, even if it comes down through fellow imperfect human beings who have received a call to minister. Perhaps we have different opinions and ideas about meetings, or music, or any number of other things, but why promote them? It’s just a dangerous habit to employ, noticing things in the Church with which to find fault. People have left the Church over smaller things (like milk-strippings.)

    I wouldn’t say a word if I didn’t care.

  • agardner April 13, 2009, 3:44 pm

    What in the world are milk-strippings, and why would anyone leave the church over it?

  • jennycherie April 13, 2009, 3:50 pm

    Posted By: davidsonWe are to sing the hymns that are in the hymnbook and other approved resources, because that is what He said we are to do. It boils down to that. We can be obedient or disobedient.

    I’m not sure who you’re directing that at, so I’ll answer. I didn’t see anyone suggest otherwise, but things like singing certain songs over and over (when there are over 300 in the hymnal), singing them at the wrong tempo, etc. are not doctrine, they are tradition and culture. While hymns are the requirement for Sacrament Meeting, there is no reason why we can’t enjoy other uplifting music during other church events (such as a fireside or Christmas program). Recognizing things that can be improved is not necessarily fault finding. . . if it were, we would have to believe the church is perfect as is and can never change – but that’s not the case. We change meeting schedules and update hymnals and get new manuals for some classes. Recognizing a need for change or even for updating things (consider Church videos – the missionaries don’t use the same videos that were used years ago – they are dated and they have better ones to use now) is not a criticism.

  • Alison Moore Smith April 13, 2009, 3:53 pm

    Posted By: davidson“For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.”

    Incidentally this is one of my favorite scriptures and was put to music as the theme song for BYU’s A Cappella Choir. We sang a portion of it at the beginning of every concert and the entire thing at the end.

    But you might note that a “song of the heart” might actually be written in the current century.

    Point being that Emma was the one assigned to select the hymns, at the Lord’s command, and she wasn’t free to choose any she wanted; she was to choose them only as they were “given to her” by the Spirit.

    Wow. And with the 1985 revision some of those “given by the Spirit” were tossed, some reworded, some melodies were changed, and…hold your breath…some new ones were added. I suggest that the hymns she chose were supposed to CONTAIN words in accordance with doctrine, but simply do not constitute doctrine themselves. And I disagree completely with the idea that they weren’t a serious reflection of culture. Emma chose existing hymns. She didn’t write new ones.

    It isn’t that we aren’t QUALIFIED to decide what we will sing in Sacrament meeting; it is that we are not CALLED to decide.

    davidson, I understand your point, but ChanJo’s can stand equally here. You aren’t “called” to tell me what to talk about, either. It’s the circular notion of critiquing a critique that can be problematic.

    And, for what it’s worth, a whole heck of a lot of the people were talking about are hired, not called.

  • Alison Moore Smith April 13, 2009, 4:00 pm

    Let me just add that I have a serious problem with the idea that the church is–or should be–run with a “shut up and pray” attitude.

    Every new revelation that I can find was the result of addressing problems and asking questions. Even–horrors–questions from women who, by nature of the structure of the church, will never be in a position to be called to answer general questions.

    I suppose that Emma should have just shut her trap and gotten on to the woman’s work of cleaning up tobacco spit. She should have just been grateful that she was married to a prophet who wanted to teach godly men. But I’m glad she didn’t.

    Funny, I think we were all blessed immensely for it.

  • Alison Moore Smith April 13, 2009, 4:02 pm

    Angie, there’s a story about a woman cheating those she sold milk to by skimming off the cream. Martin Harris’ wife is what comes to mind, but maybe she’s become my catch-all early-church demon! I’m too lazy to look it up!

  • agardner April 13, 2009, 7:00 pm

    Gotcha.

  • Amy E April 14, 2009, 2:02 pm

    It was actually Thomas B. Marsh’s wife. He was president of the Quorum of the 12 at the time, if I remember correctly. :)

  • Alison Moore Smith April 14, 2009, 5:46 pm

    There you go. Thanks, Amy! My apologies to Sister Harris. But I do think she’s solely responsible for the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

  • agardner April 14, 2009, 6:17 pm

    LOL!

  • Alison Moore Smith April 15, 2009, 1:25 am

    Tonight we went to the BYU University Chorale concert in the Provo Tabernacle. Jessica’s in the choir this semester. Their finale was the song Cornerstone by Shawn Kirchner. (Text drawn from Psalm, Isaiah, John, and Corinthians–those radicals!) Drums and full voices and clapping.

    If you’ve got Scorch, you can listen to it here. Our camera filled up just before this song, but I’ll see if I can find a recording to post.

    Total chills. Oh, it was amazing.

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