‘E’ is 25 years old. She received training as a singer at the pop/jazz conservatory and sang with a commercially viable pop group and a prestigious Lutheran cathedral choir before her mission. She now serves as the ward pianist.
‘V’ is in his early thirties. He has worked in several performance-related fields, including arranging music for television and stage managing for alternative theatre groups. He plays several instruments and sings. He serves as the ward music leader.
‘N’ is in his late thirties. As a hobby, he plays the trombone, and he has played in a big swing band, a ska band and a jazz trio. He is the bishopric member responsible for music in the ward.
It was at a meeting between these three that the idea for the ‘choir planted in the audience’ concept was discussed. All three thought it was interesting because it broke down the barrier between the audience and the singers and because it encouraged a measure of spontaneity, both which seemed like opportunities for emotional and spiritual interaction with music. N thought it was too manipulative, but both E and V argued that everyone would know it was a performance and appreciate it from that level: but we all realized most Mormons, especially in Finland, would never spontaneously stand and sing. (V pointed out that men had to be told to take off their jackets in hot weather.) We agreed to sit on the idea and to perhaps split the two concepts of a congregation-based choir and the encouragement of spontaneous involvement. (I showed them the comments from the first post, and they laughed at how seriously people took the concept of standing up to sing.)
It was a brainstorming meeting, looking at how we might reinvigorate music in our ward. All ideas were open for consideration. Here’s a rough estimation of part of that conversation:
V: What about dance?
N: Are you kidding?
V: I think the movement of the body has an effect on the spirit. We generally think of it as negative, but why couldn’t it enhance spiritual feeling as well?
E: What kind of dance would be spiritually beneficial?
V: I don’t know: we could do some research , maybe, and get going in a direction at least. Maybe the Hindus have something long those lines…
N: But would they be conducive to the spirit for us, in our ward?
E: Primary kids have hand movements during their presentation in sacrament meeting. Why couldn’t an adult choir?
V: On my mission, it was trendy to sing and use sign language. Considering the signing wasn’t intended for any deaf people, isn’t that the same thing we’re talking about?
N: I can’t see it working. It would be so unexpected that the feeling of impropriety would drive the spirit away, regardless of how spiritually, um, suggestive the movements were.
V: That’s the same logic that’s used to require white shirts for passing the sacrament.
N: Yes, but there’s a difference between a deacon in a blue shirt and a bunch of people waving their arms in an aquatic fashion while singing, ‘Master, The Tempest Is Raging.’
V: So in other words, it is possible that people would benefit from dance in church, but we’ll never know because we can’t experiment in sacrament meeting.
N: I think we can do some new things, but that’s a bit radical, without any precedent.
V: I Guess we’ll have to wait for The Mormon Tabernacle Dancers.
E: I’m more interested in the blending and interaction between music and speakers in sacrament meeting. As a practice, we speak, then have music, then a speaker says something nice but generally meaningless about the music and moves on.
N: We do sometimes plan music that has the same theme as the talks.
E: Yes, but what about having them intersect and interact with each other in a more meaningful manner?
N: Speakers often quote a hymn or base their talk on the concepts in the lyrics of a hymn. Why not sing it or have it performed during the talk?
E: Something like that: having music embedded in a talk, or having a talk embedded in music.
N: I’ve seen some good examples of songs embedded in talks: there was a singing high councilman a few months ago, and it was really touching.
V: He’s got a great voice, and he sang songs that helped him feel close to God. But I’ve seen some terrible attempts at this as well — sentimental, not spiritual.
E: Does the difference have to do with the quality of the music, or the choice of music, or what?
N: I think those things matter. Maybe its also the depth of interaction between the talk and the music … when done poorly, the music pulls away from the focus instead of maintaining or intensifying it.
E: It would take a fair amount of planning to be done effectively I think.
V: Is there any official objection to it?
N: I don’t think so. It’s not different enough to distract people excessively, and as long as the performances follow our normal guidelines I can’t see the problem.
V: Most people think of a meeting consisting of talks with music as a break — it would be good to mix that up.
N: While I like the idea of embedding music in a talk, I’m more intrigued by the idea of embedding a talk into music. We should have a think about that.
V: (laughs) Maybe we could go further: you could construct a soundtrack for your talk, with music playing softly in the background matching the tone of the talk, changing with the talk as you go along…
E: (laughs) With back-up dancers, moving their hands in a spiritually edifying manner!