Follow the Prophet

I donned the mantle of Primary chorister yesterday. This was a first for me (and presumably a last). Our regular chorister asked me to sub for him the night before. Never in a million years did I imagine I’d find myself leading groups of children in song, so the invitation gave me serious pause. But I relished the embarrassing travesty I imagined might result if I participated, so I quickly said yes.

I was raised my whole life in the LDS Church, and as a result, I am perfectly competent at carrying a tune, maintaining proper rhythm, and singing in the right key. Also, I am marginally better at music conducting than the embarrassing arm-floppers you sometimes see on the stand, but only barely. My job consisted of leading two 20-minute “music times”, one with the under-6 set, the other with the 6-12 year olds. I was told I could pick any songs I wanted to sing, and since I’d have the music in front of me, I’d have access to all the song lyrics I should still remember from Primary but don’t. I decided I would simply ask the students what they wanted to sing, and then lead them in singing it. This worked well with the older children, less so with the younger. At times I seemed to be singing solo. Awkward. Trust me, I’m no Susan Boyle.

The Primary conductor helpfully provided me with various gimmicks and props to keep music time fun and engaging. One of these was a glass filled with popsicle sticks, each with a colorful, eye-catching ribbon on the end. Each stick also contained a single word or short phrase written on it in black marker: “quietly”, “loudly”, “every other word,” “eyes closed.” A child would be called on to pick a stick randomly, and then the children would tailor their singing of a given song to the stick’s instructions. What a clever idea to keep things fun and unpredictable!

We sang several songs in the conventional manner, and then I decided to pull out the sticks. I asked for a volunteer, and hands shot up around the room. One lucky soul was selected, and she in turn plucked a popsicle stick from the collection I clutched in my hand. “Pets”, it read.

“Pets?”, I inquired allowed. “What in the world does this mean?” I understood the other popsicle-stick instructions, but not this one. I turned to the pianist, the conductor, the teachers, but no one seemed to know what to make of it. Perhaps pulling out the glass of sticks was not as frequent an event as I’d imagined.

Finally, a teacher piped up, “I think it means that we’re supposed to pick an animal, and everyone is supposed to sing as if they’re that animal.”

“Oh, OK,” I said. “So what animal do we want to be?”

“I want to be a cat!” yelled a child.

“Sounds good to me,” I said. “Cats it is.”

“What are we going to sing?” asked the pianist.

I thought for a moment, and then said, “Let’s sing ‘Follow the Prophet'”.

What followed was one full verse of this classic Mormon tune, but with a slight lyrical change. Here’s a taste:

Meow, Meow, Meow, Meow, Meow
Meow, Meow, Meow, Meow, Meow,
Meow, Meow, Meow, Meow, Meow
Meow, Meow, Meow, Meow, Meow
Meow, Meow, Meow, Meow
Meow, Meow, Meow, Meow, Meow
Meow, Meow, Meow!

The song was a hit. Every child seemed to know the words, which was nice. And audience participation went through the roof. What a fantastic idea this was.

An hour later, I came back for singing time with the older kids, which proceeded in similar fashion. Except this time, the randomness of the popsicle stick draw was an illusion; I made sure that “pets” was selected. Also, a bit of controversy ensued regarding the animal choice. One boy wanted to be a “pig”. Another insisted on playing a “chicken”. Eventually, the porcine partisans were shouted down, but this led to a further controversy — Do chickens “cluck” or do they “bawk”? Eventually, the bawkers carried the day, and so it was:

Bawk, Bawk, Bawk, Bawk, Bawk
Bawk, Bawk, Bawk, Bawk, Bawk,
Bawk, Bawk, Bawk, Bawk, Bawk,
Bawk, Bawk, Bawk, Bawk, Bawk,
Bawk, Bawk, Bawk, Bawk,
Bawk, Bawk, Bawk, Bawk, Bawk,
Bawk, Bawk, Bawk!

Brother and Sisters, I want to bear solemn testimony to you this day, particularly to those of you who do not yet have a testimony of “Follow the Prophet”. Behold, you’re just singing it wrong. You should give it another chance, but with a colorful housepet or barnyard twist. I promise you that if you do, you will gain an appreciation of its charms that has so far eluded you.


  1. You totally missed an awesome opportunity here. You could have heard the song sung in a chorus of ALL the barnyard animals simultaneously. :)

  2. Alliegator, this is a Church of order and decorum. There’s just no place for that sort of irreverence and chaos!

  3. nat kelly says:

    Haha, Aaron, this is fantastic. I wish I had a primary calling so I could have witnessed it firsthand.

  4. I have been the primary chorister in our branch for over a year, and up until this point I have successfully avoided singing “Follow the Prophet,” but after reading this, I think we’ll sing it next Sunday using our best animal voices! Love it!

  5. I may not have understood the actual words, but I felt the Spirit as they were singing.

  6. Any chance the popsicle stick was upside down and it actually read “step”? Barnyard Follow the Prophet is fabulous though, especially since we’re all sheep, right? Baa, Baa, baa, baa, baa, baa……

  7. Thanks for the tip, Aaron. I’ll have to keep this in my repertoire. :

  8. Bless you for being willing to sub in Primary. As a Primary president in a very active ward finding substitutes is always an issue. And finding chorister subs are particularly difficult. I love the pets idea, as well!

  9. It’s not just the pet idea alone, that I like Rebecca. It’s the pet idea on that specific song. :)

  10. Thomas Parkin says:

    Alex came home from church one day singing Muffin was a prophet, first one that we know, in the land of muffins, he made muffins grow, follow the muffin, follow the muffin, etc. That’s my boy.

  11. Follow the muffin… LOL

    And Pets! What a great idea. I hope I get to sub in Primary music soon!!

  12. tlha’ leghwI’pu’
    tlha’ leghwI’pu’
    tlha’ leghwI’pu’

  13. Mossbloom says:

    Primary Chorister is one of the hardest jobs in the ward. You have to force dozens of children to learn all the verses of 8 new songs they don’t like or understand in time for the Primary Program, and still make everything superfun. I had to sing so many stinking solos in that calling. I think singing the program in pet language is an awesome idea. I’m totally going to do that next time. Can you imagine the participation?

  14. Barefoot Mike says:

    My 6-year old made up a new verse for the song: While he refuses to sing with the primary choir on most occasions, he doesn’t mind performing for the Internet.

  15. Andrew H. says:

    One night on my mission (this would have been in 1992) when my companion and I were bored we started making up new lyrics to primary songs (it seemed less irreverent then using regular hymns).

    “Follow the Prophet” became “Follow the Bad Guys.” First verse was “Cain was a bad guy first one that we know…” By the end of the night most of the “Bad Guys” in the scriptures had a verse. It was kind of fun, but no where near as fun as the time we turned Arrowsmith’s “Janie’s Got A Gun” into “Nephi’s Got a Sword.” Ah, mission humor!

  16. it's a series of tubes says:

    How does one smith an arrow, exactly? Is it similar to how one smiths a Wesson?

  17. it's a series of tubes says:

    Or perhaps to how one smiths an Aero?

  18. TaterTot says:

    Lorenzo was a prophet,
    He had a long beard,
    People back then didn’t think that it was weird,
    It kept him warm in winter,
    Covering his chin,
    It was the best beard that ever has been.

  19. We have a modified verse we sing in our family (and because our youngest is named Adam):

    Adam was a prophet
    First one that we know
    He lived in a garden
    He ran around naked . . .

    Then it sorta falls apart in hilarity. Sorry.

  20. Best singing time ever! I’m sure they all went home and sang the pet tunes. My kids would’ve loved it.

  21. What an awesome idea. I’ll share it with our Primary Chorister. I’m sure it will be a hit.

    Also, LOVE the new Adam verse.

  22. Our primary kids sing this:

    Joseph was a prophet,
    He had lots of wives,
    Emma didn’t like it,
    Caused a lot of strife,
    Emma threw a lady,
    Right out of the door,
    Eliza wasn’t married to Joseph any more.

  23. Andrew H. says:

    Hemi, I’d paymoney to hear that verse sung in a sacrament meeting program!

  24. We should do this for talks. Or at least the part of the talk that we all know anyway:

    Cluck cluck cluck cluck cluck cluck . . . but now I’m glad I said yes.


    Oink oink oink oink oink oink oink oink . . . The aristocrats!

  25. The classic “swallow the prophet” guaranteed the song was never sung in my presence :)

  26. Yes, teach the children early. Next time, be sure they do their best sheep voices while singing it.

  27. next thing you know these little angels will be sitting preparing to pass the sacrament while singing the hymns backwards, ‘in the tub’, or in animal voices. nice

  28. This reminds me of charlie brown’s teacher, who can never actually speak english. I’d post the link but didn’t know BCC makes a full-framed youtube video smack in the middle of comments. nevermind…

  29. #27 me: At least they’d be singing… ;-)

  30. My branch celebrates our enthusiasm for making fools of ourselves with an annual Non-Talent Show. Last year, a friend and I meowed “In Our Lovely Deseret,” in harmony. We really yowled on the “Hark Hark Hark.”

  31. Pet Sounds. Cool.

  32. Oh my… And I wonder what I’m supposed to say when my 10 year old says she hates Primary and gets nothing out of it. Makes me think she’s right. Spending 2 hours on this nonsense? What am I missing here? Serious question!

  33. anonym… i’m with you… the point at which we try to ‘win’ by entertaining, we have already lost

  34. Are you two on drugs? Seriously, imitating barnyard animals is surely more entertaining to most children than conventional singing. And if you don’t think “entertaining” children during primary is of primary importance, youve completely lost touch with what children care about.

    But if it makes you feel any better, I did assign them pages 1-51 of Mormon Doctrine to read before next time.

  35. Aaron – open your mind a little bit to 5 years down the road when the YW/YM activities are trying to ‘entertain’ and compete w/what the world offers. Sure, it could be ‘fun’ but void of spiritual nourishment they will not stick around. I’m not suggesting that there is no place for fun in primary or elsewhere – there absolutely is – however, ‘fun’ in and of itself cannot and should not be the aim of activities.

  36. I have often wondered what Following the Prophet entailed. (It heretofore has often come to mind: The Charge of the Light Brigade.)

    Thanks, Aaron, for a whole new perspective. I now have a new hero.

  37. Um, Aaron, if singing barnyard songs is what they’re getting in primary, I’d much rather take them home and spend quality family time with them, which is far more beneficial than singing ‘oink oink oink” which TRUST ME is not entertaining my child in the slightest tiny bit. While I haven’t heard of this RIDICULOUS waste of time happening in her primary, per se, I don’t think what she does in our home ward is all that much better. Great way to get my daughter to think that 1) primary is a collosal waste of time; 2) time spent in primary is boring and useless; 3) primary bugs her; and 4) primary is stupid. If that’s the aim, call me a druggy all you want ‘cuz I think you’re dellusional. Thanks.

  38. anonym and me, I have six kids. They LOVED this type of activity . . . as an occasional detour from the rest of the “normal” stuff. Nothing in the post said the kids spent two hours singing this one song. They had a one-minute or less diversion of pure fun.

    Seriously, are you saying we should never have any moments in Primary of simple, pure enjoyment?

  39. Ray: My 10 year old HATES primary. I mean, HATES IT. She says all the things about it that I listed above. Her class is more tolerable but singing time pushes her over the edge. I didn’t think that they sang oink oink for 2 solid hours, but I don’t think most of what they ARE doing is all that much better.

  40. I’m with Ray.

    Primary provides a wide range of ways to reach kids of an exceptionally broad range of ages. Some will respond to music (my 10-year old would be happy to sing the whole time), some to lessons, some to carefully planned sharing times, and even some to the talks that their peers give.

    No, we do not go to chuch to be entertained. And we do not go to play. But we do want to enjoy what we’re doing there. Just as we enjoy laughing at a speaker’s self deprecating humor or a teacher’s amusing story about a church leader, it’s easy to see that children might enjoy a brief diversion in singing time, too.

    Anonym, what does your daughter say would help Primary be less boring, less stupid, more useful and less a waste of time? If she’s like my 10 year old, she can easily point out her negative feelings, but might have a hard time identifying how to fix it. I think a lot of kids who are in the 10-11 group begin to find Primary a bit trying as they are approaching the time when it’s time to put aside childish things.

  41. Mommie Dearest says:

    I think anonym’s 10 year old may be getting some cues from mom (dad?) in superiority, the opposite of humility, and a real buzzkill throughout life.

  42. As a former primary chorister, I second what Paul said. That age group is particularly difficult to reach, especially the “cooler than thou” kids. I sometimes had more success with the “cool kids” when I treated music time as a serious exercise, but at the same time I’d loose other kids. It’s a hard balancing act.

    Wish I’d thought of this–there were several songs when I was a chorister where the music was difficult enough we’d sing without words to get that part right first. Might have been more interesting to use barnyard animal noises instead of ooh-ing.

  43. My daughter-in-law decided church wasn’t “fun” anymore and asked my g-kids if they had fun there, or would they rather stay home and watch cartoons. Now they have fun every week and are learning nothing about the gospel.

  44. Mark Brown says:

    Huh. Now I suddenly realize that in The Sound of Music when Julie Andews was teaching the von Trapp kids to sing Do-Re-Mi, she was doing it wrong. Rather than spending time teaching them to sing nonsense words and having fun doing it, she should have made them sing a funeral requiem.

  45. Primary Chorister= Worst. Calling. EVER!
    But it sounds like you had fun Aaron. I have never seen a male primary chorister before, and I’m 34. I bet the kids loved it.

  46. Both of my (now grown kids) were kicked out of primary so many times that they stopped going. My daughter, now at a top 10 college on a music scholarship had quite a career composing parodies of primary songs. I can not remember them as clearly now, which might be a good thing.

    She happens to have a 3 syllable name which I will change to “Amanda” to protect the guilty. Here is her version of the chorus of that old favorite, Follow the Prophets:

    Follow Amanda, Follow Amanda ,
    You’ll go astray.
    Follow Amanda, Follow Amanda,
    She knows the way.

    (right out the door and under the fence to play on the temple grounds). She wrote various descriptions of each of her friends for the verses.

    She also wrote:
    I’m so bad when daddy comes home,
    Drunk as he can be.
    (One version of this song described childish pranks and the other had incestous overtones).

    Another example:

    We have been bored like Nephi of old,
    By goodly teaches who go overboard.
    We have been taught but we don’t understand,
    Why all this crap the Lord didn’t command.

    We are as the armies of Samson,
    We have had fun in our youth.
    And we will be the Lord’s missionaries,
    Who bring the church back to the truth.

    Another song reserved for the full-time missionaries and other adult males who seemed to be overly interested in young teenage girls:

    Won’t chew take me to the temple,
    When I have grown a foot or two.
    By then I think I might be ready,
    To cook and clean and sew,
    Like Mormon housewives do.

    Irreverent substitutions (replacing foot with boob and sew with screw) may have been whispered at times by giggling little girls. Or I just imagined such.

    Just about any primary song or tune in the hymnal when played in a minor key sounds like “Halloween music.” Youth can pretend that they are just accidently hitting the wrong notes, every one perfectly in another key. Whoops!

    Aside from the humorous irreverency that children seem to unavoidably create, I think this discussion raises critical questions.
    -What is the purpose of primary?
    -How is it accomplished?
    -Does what we do actually work, or is it counter-productive?
    -How do we handle difficult children (all children are difficult in various ways).
    -How do we handle difficult volunteer teachers and leaders?
    -Do other churches with more elaborate children ministeries, preschools and private schools all the way from Kindergarden to high school have anything to offer that might be useful to us?

    I am sorry to report that in general in my ward we didn’t do so well. The seeds of problems in the teen years were planted during the time the children were in primary. The results are nearly irreversible when they reach adulthood.

  47. missOlea says:

    I think that singing “Barnyard style” is a great way to learn new hymns, without mumbling or resorting to singing “La” or “Ooh” over and over, especially if the kids enjoy it with songs they do know.

    I am studying Primary (Elementary) School teaching, and I see the way kids learn. In primaries where kids are supposed to sit perfectly still and follow as if in a professional choir, the focus is on the teacher being correct and the kids having no knowledge. In my current ward’s primary, the kids are allowed to have opinions (and fun), and there is a goal of having them feel the spirit individually.

    I think that ‘fun’ and ‘entertainment’ are separate from ‘feeling the spirit’, and that there should be a lot of opportunities for both (sometimes concurrently!) in Primary.

  48. meggle says:

    I realize that this post is older, so maybe no one cares anymore, but as a three time primary chorister (one of my favorite callings, next to YW), I have to say that barnyard sounds have their place. I used a lot of such gimmicks (although very few posters or visual aids that cued the words). I also frequently stopped the kids while singing to explain what a word meant, or why we were singing about a particular topic- in other words, I tried to put the music we were singing into perspective, and help them understand the gospel principle behind it. (ie: when we sing “hosannah!” in Samuel Tells of Baby Jesus- sing it like you are excited- you are singing praises! We are so happy that Jesus was born!).
    Maybe it sounds pompous, but I’m a dang good primary chorister. And part of it is because I use things like animal sounds to make singing fun, and to keep the kids engaged. When you are actually able to engage the kids, you can teach them! I can’t tell you how often I watched a group of attentive, involved singers (who were both listening and learning as they participated) turn sleepy or disruptive the minute someone started doing a sharing time geared toward adults in a whisper quiet voice.

  49. Kristine says:

    I’ll vouch for your skill at animal sounds, meggle. I taught you to do my excellent pig noise, after all :)

  50. Well said Paul #41! I hope the rest of you that are haters can be in charge of primary sometime and try doing a sharing time or singing time for a broad range of ages all at once. Obviously primary helps our kids, the exact way that it is designed, or God wouldn’t have set it up in his restored church. Now if you go home and complain about about it with your kids (#38), or teach them negative attitudes, or inappropriate language and crudeness to laugh about (Meldrum #47 with your drunk dad, boobs and screw substitutions- really? That’s appropriate at your house?) then don’t wonder why your kids didn’t turn out, or why they hate church. Don’t blame your ward! Look in the mirror.


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