The music doesn’t play anymore

I distinctly remember laying down on my bed once when I was in high school. As I closed my eyes and relaxed, my mind was filled with music. A symphony, and one which I had never heard before. At that moment, I thought that I must have been experiencing what composers experience. Except I couldn’t control it, slow it down, or replay it. It just was.

I studied music, among other things; but as is common, when I left for the university, I hung up my sheet music along with my running shoes and the rest of my high school paraphernalia (doing everything is a wonderful luxury of that time). I still played my guitar and sang for myself, but the music quickly stopped playing.

My mother is something of a musician, and she once told me that she could hear music too. However, I quickly forgot, filling my life with other pursuits. Lastly, graduate school, a new business and an obsession with Mormon history. But, I had a conversation with my mom yesterday.

She is speaking at women’s conference and was interested in some historical context for a verse of scripture from which she was asked to speak, particularly the last phrase: “Therefore, let your hearts be comforted concerning Zion; for all flesh is in mine hands; be still and know that I am God.” (D&C 101:16) We talked about how Joseph’s vision of Zion, with its twelve temples, consecrated land, and revelations shattered as the citizens of Jackson met at the courthouse at Independence [1]. They issued an ultimatum dictating the expulsion of Mormons from the county. They crushed the printing press which promised the Book of Commandments. They tarred and feathered our bishop. We talked about what it must have been like to have invested your entire wealth and moved your family for a Divine cause that failed. The Lord’s response was to quote the Psalm. “Be still and know that I am God.”

My mother then told me how she thought about Elijah and his revelation. He did not find God in the whirlwind. He needed to be still to hear the voice of the Lord. As an aside, she wondered if this isn’t why we don’t have more Mozarts. Perhaps because in the cacophony of life, no body hears anymore. Then I remembered. And I mourned a bit. And I wondered if the Lord was silent because I had hung him up for other things.


  1. See Minutes and Resolutions of Meeting July 20, 1833, Missouri Intelligencer and Boon’s Lick Advertiser, August 10, 1833, quoted in William Mulder and A. Russell Mortensen, eds., Among the Mormons: Historic Accounts by Contemporary Observers (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1958), 76-80.

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  1. Beautiful, J; thanks for this.

  2. Latter-day Guy says:

    That was very insightful. (I find the music thing happens for me only on the edge of sleep, either coming or going.)

  3. nice

  4. Wow, J. This really resonated for me. That verse is one of my favorites.


  5. That was a truly excellent post. Wow.

  6. “Perhaps because in the cacophony of life, no body hears anymore.”

    This is a prevalent theme in the book The Artists Way. It’s a bit new agey, but I have found it helpful sometimes by reminding me of the importance of being quiet.

  7. I’ve written seven musicals and a lot of other works over the course of twenty years or so. But in the last six years I’ve written only one lousy mediocre tune. I’m afraid I’ll never get it back–that what ever it is: the ability to capture melody. And strangely, I haven’t been able to hear God very well either during these last six years. Frankly, I haven’t really wanted to. What to do…

  8. Beautiful. Now I need to find some quiet and let my thoughts wander…

  9. Nice personal insights, warm in its regret.

    I will question one thing. While I agree that Mozart is probably in a class of his own in the level of his musical proclivity (as is Shakespeare in literature), I don’t believe that we’ve seen an overall drop in musical contribution in recent generations. Yes, the baton has been passed to rock, folk, and hip hop, but the music is still amazing: John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Lauryn Hill, Billy Joel, George Michael, Paul Simon, Dixie Chicks.

    100 years from now, people will be saying “Techno Ambient Noise Band” has had a run of great tunes, but they’re no U2.

  10. Thanks, all.

  11. Stapers,
    This is brilliant stuff. Reminds me of how Elgar claimed he could hear music in the wind. There’s something very cool about this, reminiscent of the idea of “pure intelligence flowing into your mind.”

  12. Nice post. As a professional composer, I find that before I get to work (which is daily) I absolutely must take a moment to silence my mind. I literally take a few minutes to “hush,” and only then do I hear the music that is truly my own. Although I come up with snippets of inspiration throughout the day, they can rarely develop until I “be still.”

    Spiritually, I think the same principle (and process) applies. Most of us have very noisy minds, leaping from one thought to another, never able to pause, or “Be still.”

  13. Reminds me of American Chopper, when Paul Jr sits and stares at a bike frame, and Paul Sr yells at him for not doing anything. Paul Sr just doesn’t understand the creative process.

  14. I read this this morning, and then during a peer observation, watched a first grade teacher lead her class of twelve kids in meditation. The eventual silence was awesome, and the sharing afterward was astounding. Thanks for sharing this.

  15. Steve Evans says:

    Wonderful stuff, J. — so does this mean you’re going to start meditating?

  16. This reminded me of “Musicophilia” by Oliver Sachs – a really fascinating read.

  17. I used to hear music while riding my bike to school and back. Now I live too far away to ride, but it still comes in other quiet moments, much like you have described here. Thanks, J.

  18. Thomas Edison reportedly sat in a comfortable chair holding a rock. If he fell asleep the rock would drop to the floor and wake him up. Ideas came during his almost asleep time.

    I haven’t invented any light bulbs, but when I’m really calm my mind more likely to “tell” me about solutions to technical problems.

    So, I think this concept works for musical creativity as well as technical creativity. And perhaps there isn’t much difference between the two.

  19. Isn’t it interesting that stillness begets creation, whether of thought or of a spectacular chord, or of how to teach a concept like grace to early-morning seminary students. And isn’t it interesting that those sought-out bursts of creativity bring us a sense of joy and satisfaction, perhaps because we had to stop and ignore mortality for them? Perhaps that stillness is necessary to allow us to remember or access a part of us that links us to the One who embodies creation and opens doors to possibilities…

  20. Thanks for the comments, all (especially, Wen).

  21. dixie chicks? Randal I would not include them or honor them for any thing less than being traitors…modern day hanoi janes. I think you might need to listen to the silence some more pal….

  22. Depressed? says:

    Before my son died, I used to be able to hear the music. Then it was gone. After nine years the music is back again.