Things To Act
Friday, September 17, 2004
Given this week's Heber J. Grant lesson, some thoughts about hymns seem appropriate. This is one aspect of our meetings that (theoretically, if not in practice) we all participate in together, and I wonder if the act of singing sacred texts together is comparable to the congregation "cr[ying] aloud with one voice" in Mosiah 4 and 5.
This Dallin H. Oaks October 1994 conference talk discusses worship through music, and has its share of "I wish more people had listened to that" lines, i.e. that organists and choristers (either of which I may be at any given Priesthood meeting) should set appropriate tempos, that everyone in the meeting should sing the sacrament hymn, that some music is not appropriate for Sacrament meeting, etc. [Of course, the presence of an "I wish more people had listened to that" line in a conference talk should probably alert me to be careful not to focus solely on those thoughts and forget to listen to the other points of the talk, thus falling into the same error I'm so confidently pointing out in others. This would seem to be a topic for another post, though.]
One quote from the talk, and a story: "a hymnbook’s hymn is often the most inspiring and appropriate musical selection for a choir, a vocalist, or an instrumentalist". For one with much formal musical training, though, the fact that hymns are not always the most interesting pieces to sing or play sometimes becomes even more apparent. An ideal ward choir, for me, would perform hymns fairly frequently but by no means exclusively--perhaps half of its musical numbers. But the danger of presenting a piece that detracts, rather than adds, to a meeting for a large portion of the congregation is real. One BYU devotional I attended as an undergraduate comes to mind. President Hinckley was the speaker, so the Marriott Center was packed. The meeting began, and, as with most devotionals, there was a special musical number. This one was a vocal solo--a piece written about the Prophet Joseph. The style was operatic, though, so even though it was in English, most of the audience didn't understand a word, which makes an already long piece seem even longer. While the singer was very talented, and performed admirably, I wonder if a simply-arranged hymn, known to almost everyone attending, wouldn't have been a better introduction to President Hinckley's talk. It certainly wouldn't have led to the thoughts of "Finish already, and let us hear the prophet!" that I found myself uncharitably having.
Other interesting references: Orson Scott Card has written several columns for Meridian Magazine dealing with writing hymn texts. The latest includes a set of words for Primary boys, to the music of "There Is Sunshine in My Soul Today," that "you will never hear during a Primary program in sacrament meeting". Similar thoughts by Card about the hymn-writing process have previously been seen here (scroll down), while another discussion of humorous new words to old hymns, with copious examples, was in this Nauvoo.com thread.
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