“Maybe, we can get the missionaries to sing.”
This seems to be the perennial solution to the shortage of men who participate in the ward choir.
The music in my ward seems to lie predominantly in the realm women. With very few exceptions, the ward music director, choir director and choir members are female. The Relief Society does a musical presentation every quarter, the Young Women seem to be on a similar schedule. Duets or quartets? Women or girls. Our priesthood quorums maybe get up there once a year. The Young Men? Almost never. What gives?
I have occasionally wondered why men don’t sing in the choir or sacrament meeting more often. I assumed it had something to do with the demographic of the women who participated. Frequently, the men stay at home to care for children while their wives come to choir practices. However, this does little to explain the lack of participation of unmarried or childless men as well as the Young Men. A recent reading of an essay in Proving Contraries: A Collection of Writings in Honor of Eugene England by Armand Mauss, has made me wonder if it’s something different.
In “Feelings, Faith and Folkways: A Personal Essay on Mormon Popular Culture” Mauss points out
…It is significant to me that I cannot recall the last time I heard a young man or boy, or even a male youth chorus, provide a “special musical number” for a sacrament service. By contrast, teenage girls are regularly featured, crooning at the microphone with loving words about Jesus set to melodies reminiscent of romantic ballads.
Mauss’ essay refers to Warrick Kear’s The LDS Sound World and Global Mormonism, Dialogue 34 (Fall/Winter 2001):77-91. Kear documents what he refers to as the “feminization” of both LDS hymnody and the relatively new genre of LDS popular religious ballads.
One has only to play and sing through a few examples of LDS sacred ballads and songs to recognize the deeply feminine nature of the vast majority. The LDS sacred ballad became especially popular with the young women both in church and at home, while LDS boys, in general, were left with only the hymn book as their sacred musical “standard” to which they could rally.
In a similar vein, he describes the greater inclusion of “feminine” hymns in the 1985 hymn book which he defines as “a gentler rhythm and pulse, slower tempi, less angular [and] more flowing melodic lines, with more introvertly personal or devotional lyrics” as opposed to a declining form of “masculine” hymn which is “generally energetic, with jaunty rhythms, fast tempi, strong pulse, wide-ranging melodies and powerful up-beat lyrics.”
Both Mauss and Kear point out that the designation of feminine and masculine categories is subjective, however, there are some trends which are undeniable. Mirroring an international decline of music making by young men in schools and churches generally, it would seem that LDS boys have less opportunity and perhaps even receive less encouragement to sing. Scouting and campfire songbooks as well as earlier music collections such as M.I.A. Let’s Sing and Recreational Songs have disappeared. These offered songs which were “geared for the outdoor, robust pursuits and aspirations of boys and men”. Since their discontinuation, apparently a very small amount of music has appeared to fill the gap in the male song genre in LDS culture.
Both these essays raise good questions. Has the LDS sound world become gendered and as a result, are Mormon men and boys musically disenfranchised by such a movement?