Saturday, August 31, 2013

Why Our Meetings Don't Rock - and How They Appropriately Could

I wrote this post three years ago, and it came to mind this morning as I was realizing I hadn't taught Sunday School last week (Stake Conference) and didn't have a lesson summary to post.  I hope it helps someone, somehow, to re-post it today - updated in a couple of spots to reflect my current situation.  
Personally, I think the focus on hymns and little instrumentation in Sacrament Meeting is a position taken in opposition to what is perceived as over-emotionalization in worship - a substitution of emotionalism for what we perceive as spirituality - a perception of emotional manipulation compared to encouraging the still, small voice. I appreciate that concern (and share it), but I am not overjoyed (in the pure sense of that word) as much as I'd like in our meetings. 

I wish we were more open to expanding our musical experiences in church, but I also believe there is deep truth in the concern that governs what we do. That belief was reinforced every time I saw the commercials where I used to live for a "church that rocks" - commercials where 5-year-old kids were shaking wildly to the rock band's music as they were "moved by the Spirit of God". I appreciate differing expressions of worship among religious traditions very much, but that image disturbed me then, and its memory disturbs me still.  I think the brethren really do understand the concern of members for a broader range of musical expression in our worship, but I also think I understand their hesitancy to loosen the reins officially - especially when the actual Church Handbook of Instructions' guidelines allow for MUCH more than most members realize.

I believe if the CHI was understood better (especially the difference between "should", "may", "some", etc. and "shall", "must", "never", etc.) and followed more closely (especially the constant call to follow the Spirit in making real-life decisions), it actually would loosen up the Church musically.  (And not just musically, but in many other significant ways. That's a different post, however.)


Anonymous said...

Please post that different post ASAP. I'm the ward music director and would love to know the rules. Or, I guess since I requested information and no one gave me any rules about what is ok, then I can just do whatever.

Papa D said...

"I guess since I requested information and no one gave me any rules about what is ok, then I can just do whatever."

At least that's what I'd say when I schedule an all brass rendition of "As the Saints Go Marching In". *grin*

Seriously, I would nag the leadership for a photocopy of the relevant pages from the Handbook. They are told to provide all necessary information to everyone who accepts a calling, so I would ask every week - kindly and with a smile, but right on schedule.

Anonymous said...

They also have the guidelines posted online. This is the link you can cut and paste. (I don't know how links work in comments.),17631,4987-1,00.html

Otherwise, go to and click on Resources and then Guidelines. On that page there is a link to the CHI for music and also other resources.

Anonymous said...

I think that there are a few benefits for keeping sacrament music simple.

1. Sometimes the music can be more about showmanship rather than worship -which distracts from the spirit of the Sacrament.

2. Another thing - many people in the audience may not be the best appreciators of music. However, when we stick to the hymns, we are playing/singing/performing songs that most people are familiar with, and it seems to touch them because they are already familiar with the lyrics and don't have to listen as hard.

3. Sometimes it can be really tough for people (such as a ward choir) to pull off something really good that is also different than the norm.

4. Planning...Many people who perform in church just don't plan or practice. I'm a pianist, and I can't tell you how many times I've received a piece of music, and then been told, "Can we do it this Sunday?" - which leaves no time for me to learn the piece or for us to practice. So, when I accompany, I try to encourage the performer to do a hymn - especially if it is last minute...

Otherwise, I'd love to see more music and more types. My dream still is to have a really great alto and soprano sing "He shall Feed His Flock/Come unto Him"...(from Handel's Messiah). But I'm not sure that'll be happening in a ward near me any time soon... ;)

Papa D said...

That's a perfect link, Amy. Thanks.

Anonymous, I would read every word on that link. Personally, I've been the music chairman, and, if the ward can support it, I try to have one special musical number each month, one choir number each month and one "outside the hymnbook" number each quarter (or at least twice per year). That way, I was following both the letter and spirit of the counsel - by focusing on the hymns but also using other inspirational songs.

For the ones outside the hymnbook, I would have the words (and perhaps a tape recorded version, if possible) to give to the Bishop when I request it be approved.

chococatania, excellent points. Thanks for adding them. I agree with each one.

Patty said...

You know me... I'd be happy just hearing something other than the organ!
Seriously, it would be nice to have a broader scope of musical numbers in Sacrament meeting, but I'm also glad we don't have full bands playing. I've gone to church with relatives where they had that and it was distracting and IMO irreverent. There's nothing wrong with upbeat songs in Sacrament meeting but we have to be careful not to drown out the spirit.

Papa D said...

I agree, Patty - on the points in both paragraphs.

The CHI doesn't prohibit other instruments, btw. I think the description definitely doesn't allow for trumpets, trombones, tubas and drums - but I also think it does allow for french horns (gorgeous and not "prominent"), most strings (probably not banjos and steel guitars - *grin*), woodwinds, etc.

That's one area where I would copy the guidelines and make the request.

Louann and Bari said...

I have friends who attend the largest church in the area. I guess it is quite a production, big screens, free coffee, and free cd's of the sermon (if you want to call it that). I've often thought of how this is truely more of a production, than pure worship. It's almost like the people attending are distracted from the true purpose they are there. I mean, they do believe in Christ, but as was stated in previous blog comments, it isn't a PERSONAL worship. If it is a big enough choir, band or loud enough-dramatic enough minister, it MUST be good. I hope they all take the time for personal prayer.
Just some thoughts, - thanks for the topic Ray.

Anonymous said...

In one of my BYU wards, I was part of a trio: vocalist, french horn, and piano. We did "O Divine Redeemer" and it was very appropriate. Before that, I hadn't thought any brass would be appropriate, but the french horn was very nice.

Ryan said...

Whenever people get too uptight about the (perceived) letter of the law my Mom likes to point out that the piano is a percussion instrument, saxaphones are woodwinds, and that organ pipes are often made of brass ;)

Instruments are tools, and how they are used is usually more important than which ones are used (within reason).

Two of the most amazing musical numbers I ever heard:

The first was an arrangement of 'O Come, O Come, Emmanuel' for handbells. It was technically percussion, but absolutely and stunningly appropriate for Sacrament Meeting.

The other was a French Horn duet of 'Oh, How Lovely Was the Morning' that left much of the congregation in tears.

As Chococatania pointed out, though, both pieces were striking in their simplicity and familiarity.

bubbatis said...

I would like to see a brief meeting for the sacrament by itself - opening and closing prayers maybe hymn or two and the sacrament. Put all the talks, announcements, musical numbers, sustainings etc. with an opening meeting for Sunday school.

Dana said...

Amy E.
Would you have any idea where I can get a copy of the music, Oh, Divine Redeemer for French Horn, Voice and Piano?
Dana B.

Papa D said...

Dana, I don't know if Amy will think to check this post, so I sent her a message on a group blog she frequents. If she doesn't respond within a couple of days, I'll try to remember to contact the blog admin and ask her to send Amy an e-mail.

Anonymous said...


I'm sorry, but I don't know how to get a copy. I was the accompanist when I played it about five years ago and the sister who had the music was majoring in french horn at BYU, I believe. I don't remember who the arranger was, either, except that I think he/she was connected with BYU. Wish I could help more.

Anonymous said...

I feel as if I'm sitting in my seat, waving my hand, desperate to be called on. I've been fiddling with a blog post on a similar issue since January. Church music generally bores me to tears. (I'm with Gladys Knight on that one.) I think music can be worshipful without the dirge parallels.

I've been music director in my ward a number of times. And, for what it's worth, in my home ward as a teen we did almost the entire Messiah--including the recitatives mentioned by chococatania. Why not?

My favorite was when I sang Amazing Grace in Sacrament Meeting, a cappella. I wasn't the music director at the time, but I lived in Boca Raton and a lot of the time people just assumed I knew what I was doing musically and let me decide.

I think we miss a lot of great stuff in order to "keep it sacred." And I'd rather hear a lot more rowdy stuff than another round of "In the Hollow of Thy Hand" (or any other "lds sacred pop") with the mandatory, incessant vocal scoop being the only styling. Ack!