When we called a new ward music leader and ward pianist, we wanted to see the music in our ward change. We very rarely had any special music in our meetings, and always from the same source. The bishop told me he trusted my judgment and the three of us sat down and started to talk.
Besides the abstract brainstorming I’ve discussed before, we wanted to establish what we saw as the purpose of church music. We purposely ignored the CHI, wanting to generate these ideas ourselves and then compare them to the guidelines afterward.
We decided church music should have two goals:
1. Music in church ought to help listeners have spiritual feelings.
2. Music in church ought to allow the musicians to make an offering of their talents to God and the community.
While the first goal is much more important than the second, we both felt that the benefit of the musician was significant enough to consider when making choices. It also allows for great performances without people worrying about the implied pride of ‘performing,’ or drawing attention to one’s self.
What could we do to meet those goals? One thing was to emphasize spiritual music from this country. While members are fond of the Mormon hymns (some more than others), it seemed to both of us that most of our congregation would connect to traditional Finnish spiritual music just as well, if not better. We have some members who know that music quite well, and they have started to perform in trios and quartets.
We also wanted more people involved in music, and as we started thinking about it and talking to people, we realized we had a wealth of musical talent in the ward…but little of it using traditional sacrament meeting instruments. So with the approval of the bishop, we went to people and said, if you can play your instrument in a way that will help people experience greater spirituality, we want you to make an offering to the Lord of your talent. And the results have been positive. We started by modeling: V and I did a muted trombone/trumpet duet of ‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,’ and it was well received. Since then, we’ve had more muted brass instruments, acoustic guitars and other stringed instruments, even a harmonica: all have been used to produce spiritual music that edified the listeners. Most have chosen to play hymns, but some have done other religious music. We’ve encouraged musicians to preface their music with a brief explanation, educating the congregation about what was happening and the spiritual significance of the music if it was not clear. Visitors are surprised, but we’ve had few complaints. We had some unexpected visitors from Frankfurt on the day seventy-two year old Sister V popped out her accordion and played a mournful and sweet version of ‘I Need Thee Every Hour,’ and I thought for sure we’d get a warning, but the visitors praised her from the pulpit and privately.
Our next step is to have a meeting where the speakers are made aware of the theme and the music which has been planned to set the theme. In other words, at least in planning, the music is prior to the talks. It’s a nature/creation theme: we’ll have a piano & guitar duet of ‘How Great Thou Art,’ a quartet singing a simplified arrangement of Sibelius’ ‘Hymn to the Earth’ (Maan virsi), ‘All Creatures of Our God and King’ as a congregational hymn and back to ‘How Great Thou Art’ as the closing hymn. It will be interesting to see if the speakers rise to the occasion.
An interesting element of this process has been turning the decision making process of the church on its ear: rather than finding out what the authorities will allow in our meetings, we took it upon ourselves to exercise the judgment and, may I be bold enough to claim, the inspiration relative to our callings. We have a clear understanding of the relevant principles of the Gospel, and we have the ability to see how they can be best applied to our situation. Elder Packer’s talk from last October’s conference gave us confidence to continue on this course. The results have been unconventional, but always pursuing what we believe to be true and righteous.