What was that, anyway?

This is going to take a minute to explain, and non-musicians may have a little trouble imagining what I’m trying to describe, but hang in there with me for a minute…

I sing in a little choir–a pretty decent little chamber choir, about 10 people to a part, not quite enough tenors (of course), but not a bad group. The director, Gary, is new this year, and very, very good.

This last Tuesday night, Gary was late to rehearsal. He’d had to go out of town for the weekend–some crisis with one of his parents to attend to–and his plane was late getting back. So he was frazzled, and we were poorly warmed up, and the rehearsal was a bit haphazard and sluggish. Until the last half-hour, when Gary, inspired by the music (Gerald Finzi’s Magnificat, if anyone’s wondering) and some degree of panic about our impending concert, cranked things up a notch. He managed to find some little extra bit of energy, and implored us to give a little more, to go ahead and make mistakes, to just *sing.* And he managed to make himself a little vulnerable–a goofy look here, an awkward big conducting motion there, trying to make a point. All of a sudden, everybody was really, really singing. There was music! It’s hard to describe exactly, but if you’ve ever been in a musical group, or a theater production, or (probably, I wouldn’t know) a sports team that just got it all together all at the same time, you know that magic.

The point is this: for me, the feeling in that rehearsal on Tuesday, when all 37 of us in that room were reaching, straining, for something ineffable and lovely, was indistinguishable from the few times I’ve been really sure I was feeling the Spirit in a church meeting. It makes sense to me that God would bless a bunch of his (their) children who are working together for something good and true and beautiful with his Spirit–why ever not? And yet, it feels a little strange to say “I felt the Spirit very strongly at choir rehearsal last night.”

So, two questions for you:

1) Was it the Spirit filling the choir room?
2) Why does it feel funny to say that?


  1. . . .some little extra bit of energy, and implored us to give a little more, to go ahead and make mistakes, to just *sing.* And he managed to make himself a little vulnerable–a goofy look here, an awkward big conducting motion there, trying to make a point. All of a sudden, everybody was really, really singing.”

    This part of your description rings true for me – self-forgetfulness is part of the gospel. It is interesting to me how the experiences we associate with the Spirit come unexpectedly, usually in the process of doing something else.

  2. 1) Yes.
    2) I’m not sure, but it shouldn’t. I feel the Spirit often while engaging in things other than Church stuff. There have been many movies, pieces of art, rock music (gasp!), speeches, poems, books, plays, etc. that have filled me with the Spirit. Although, not always in the “warm, fuzzy” way, but I feel it nonetheless.

  3. David King Landrith says:

    1) Was it the Spirit filling the choir room?

    I wasnÂ’t there, but my guess is no, it was not the spirit of God that like a fire was burning.

    Nevertheless, I am inclined to think that there is some spiritual aspect to such feelings. As spiritual beings, we are able to perceive spiritual things, and I think that there is a spiritual element to such human unity. I just donÂ’t think that such spirituality requires the active participation of the Holy Ghost. (Is this heresy?)

    2) Why does it feel funny to say that?

    I think that it feels funny because it is odd to attribute it to some amount of active participation by the Holy Ghost.

  4. anon, those are interesting possibilities. Have you read Owen Flanagan’s _The Problem of the Soul_? He posits that neuroscience will eventually be able to describe pretty exactly what chemical reactions, neuron activity etc. cause emotional and spiritual sensations (as we now can for some sensing activities like sight and hearing). Ultimately, he thinks that religion can cope with that kind of scientific understanding, but it would require new thinking about what we mean by “soul.” I suppose I could have added a three- or four-hundred page disclaimer about why I’m using this kind of religious language to describe what I perceived. However, that language is common to most of the people who read and comment here, so it’s an easy shorthand.

  5. As for why it feels funny to say that, I have a couple of possibilities to throw out there:

    1. it feels funny because choir singing isn’t something we normally associate with feeling the Spirit — i.e., it seems weird that you would feel the Spirit singing in a choir; or

    2. it feels funny to say that because it just feels funny to talk about feeling the Spirit, period. That is, we have no really adequate means of describing the ways of feeling the Spirit, and so it’s always tough to bring it up and to describe it.

    Which “funny” did you mean?

  6. By the way, Kristine, that little choir sounds really, really fun. How do you find something like that? You’d think there would be some chamber choir in New York that would welcome a (handsome) tenor who sung in high level choirs and musicals all through high school and college. That handsome tenor would love it too, I’m sure.

  7. DKL, I don’t think what you’re saying is heresy, necessarily, but you seem to want limits on when we can cite the “active participation” of the Holy Ghost. Why do we need restrictions of such a kind?

  8. Don’t have much to add here… Just wanted to point out that “…God would bless a bunch of his (their) children…” is so you, Kristine. You’re one of the few people I know bold enough to put in that parenthetical remark.

  9. FWIW, I had one of those sensations of communing with The Great Unknown in, of all places, SACRAMENT MEETING last week. This was a pretty surprising occurance, all things considered, but rather than try to figure it out, or hang on to it, I just went with it. It was awesome. I haven’t felt anything like it in years. It lasted about 40 minutes and ended when the talks started (we had lots of confirmations and music at the beginning of the meeting last week).

    A friend who is a former mormon, now a practicing Buddhist, told me that Buddhists describe The Great Unknown – what LDS think of as the Holy Spirit – as the Emptiness from which everything emanates and to which everything returns.

    It was quite uplifting to realize I am capable of communing with Whatever It Is, even in sacrament meeting. If I can do it, anybody can do it.

  10. How’d you know it was me? ;)

    Thanks, Kristine. I think I just might do that. One nice thing about being a tenor is that — as you mentioned — they’re always in short supply and directors are always excited to have you.

  11. David King Landrith says:

    I don’t see any special need. I just think that it’s much easier to account for the commonness of such feelings within and without the church. I find it preferable to saying that the Holy Ghost is at work in (say) Hindu temples.

  12. I don’t find it all that messy to say that the Holy Spirit is at work in Hindu temples, at least to a degree. Doesn’t the scripture say “by the power of the Holy Ghost ye shall know the truth of all things”?

    To the extent that anything they do is true (and from my experience with Eastern religion, there’s a lot that there that is true), shouldn’t they feel the Holy Ghost as well?

  13. Kristine:
    1. NO! It was a Rush of happy endorphin chemicals in your brain.
    2. Because it’s just as silly as saying an epileptic is posessed by an evil spirit.

  14. D. Fletcher says:


    I wouldn’t worry about Domingo’s NY activities so much.

  15. Logan, try ChorusAmerica.org. From there, you’ll probably find an NYC singers’ site or two or 17. If that doesn’t work, e-mail me, and I’ll e-mail some Harvard Glee Club alums in New York and see what they’re up to singing-wise.

    Or, consider commuting to Boston!!

    And, hey, Bob–I try to keep my heresy subtle. Shhhh!!

  16. My question is, Kristine, do you get similar feelings in other contexts as well? Or just choir?

  17. Not him, D., the really handsome one.

  18. So Kristine, do you take the scriptures regarding heavenly choirs literally? It sounds like something you’d look forward to.

  19. Steve, you know I take *all* the scriptures literally, but especially the ones about choirs :)

  20. David King Landrith says:

    Though there are clearly instances in which non-confirmed people feel the Holy Ghost (e.g., Joseph Smith’s first vision), I think that the Holy Ghost is only available as a reliable resource and steadfast companion to those who are given it by authorized priesthood holders (nowadays, by confirmation). Thus, I look to more human (though, I believe, no less spiritual) origins for the feelings that those in other churches feel with steadfast regularity.

    That said, part of this is my own Enlightenment bias that instinctively backs away from the needless invocation of the supernatural.

  21. D. Fletcher says:

    Too bad you’re not in the NY Stake, Logan. When I conducted the chorus at Carnegie Hall, in addition to the 100+ members of the Church, I had to hire professional tenors, because that section was so… thin.

  22. Was it the Holy Ghost you felt? Maybe – It may be you’re feeling a very normal human emotion that is often ALSO felt when the Spirit is present. Another possibility is that when that which is virtuous, lovely, or of good report (it sounds like you describe your group’s singing as akin to something celestial), your soul recognized something heavenly, much the same as you recognize the heavenly nature of the Spirit. So I couldn’t say yes or no to that question, ’cause it could go either way. I’ve felt that same feeling you describe when singing as part of an ensemble, as well as when listening to exquisitely beautiful and harmonious music (like BYU Singers’ rendition of Eric Whitacre’s “Sleep”, “Water Night”, or “Cloudburst”). In my personal case, I don’t think I was feeling the Holy Ghost, but I WAS feeling some of those exact same feelings and emotions speaking directly to my soul that I DO feel when the Spirit is testifying of truth or infusing light and knowledge. Perhaps it’s because the Spirit uses the light of Christ, and that which is good (perhaps worthy of the Celestial Kingdom) is also full of light?

  23. You know what they say about the “song of the righteous”… Logan’s dead on. Unity and harmony are the best part of the Gospel, I think, and the Spirit really shines through when we have those glimpses of togetherness. I’m jealous of your experience!

  24. You’re about to hear one of the most potentially radical rabbits I have in my hat here, but I think that’s exactly what the Spirit is — becoming one with others. We feel the Holy Ghost as we become closer to God, and we feel pretty much the same thing when our spirits are in tune with — one with — others. It’s like being “in the pocket” or “swinging” for a geat jazz band.

    So yes, in my mind you experienced what we call the Spirit.

    As for why it’s weird, I don’t know. But while I agree that it’s the Spirit, I feel weird writing this, too.

  25. You’re probably right that it’s much easier, but I wonder whether it’s more accurate to refer to things that way. I mean, if what’s going on is feeling the Spirit, shouldn’t we be able to call it such? Granted, it makes analysis of goings-on in Hindu temples more problematic, but religion has always been a messy business.