Handbook Changes: Music at Church

When I was in high school, I volunteered to have my saxophone quartet play a special musical number in sacrament meeting.

My offer was declined.

I suspect it was declined on church policy grounds. The 1989 Handbook—the one that would have been in effect when I was in high school—didn’t have explicit policies on the types of music and the types of instruments permitted in sacrament meeting; rather, it limited its guidance to the requirement that “[m]usic and musical texts are to be sacred, dignified, and otherwise suitable for a Latter-day Saint meeting.”

But that wasn’t the last word in music; the church had a publication (a pamphlet, I assume) entitled Church Music Guide for Priesthood Leaders. I don’t have a copy in front of me, but, according to a late-1980s Ensign article, the Church Music Guide provided that “[o]rgans and pianos are the standard instruments used in sacrament meetings. Other instruments such as orchestral strings may be used. Brass and percussion instruments are not appropriate.”

(A quick aside: to be clear, though they are made of brass, saxophones are woodwind instruments, not brass instruments, so the prohibition didn’t apply. And at the time my friends and I were very good classical musicians. I was taking two saxophone lessons a week, one for jazz and one for classical.)

This limitation was expanded and codified by the 2010 Handbook; in it, we read that

Organs and pianos, or their electronic equivalents, are the standard instruments used in Church meetings. If other instruments are used, their use should be in keeping with the spirit of the meeting. Instruments with a prominent or less worshipful sound, such as most brass and percussion,[fn1] are not appropriate for sacrament meeting.

Last month, the church released a number of updates and changes to the Handbook, changes I didn’t bother blogging about because, well, the holidays were coming up. But I want to highlight two changes here, changes that are incredibly positive and that I hope we wholeheartedly embrace.

The first is this: the church has removed specific instrument prohibitions from the Handbook. Moreover, it has expanded the range of instruments that can accompany congregational singing in church. The updated Handbook says “[t]he piano, organ, or another instrument approved by the bishopric may be used to accompany hymn singing in sacrament meeting” [emphasis added].

Now I don’t expect that we’re going to see a massive shift away from pianos and organs. At least, not in the U.S. But it turns out that there are plenty of places where the church is that don’t have pianists. On my mission in Brazil, for instance, I played piano in every sacrament meeting (except in my first area, where my companion also played piano). Wards were devastated when piano-playing missionaries were transferred away because it meant some period of unaccompanied singing.

(I realize that today, theoretically, you can sing along to church recordings. But, and excuse my French, the church-provided recordings are LAME.)

But if they could be accompanied by a guitar? or a ukelele? or another culturally-relevant instrument? Wards wouldn’t have to worry about losing the one person who played piano. And frankly, piano and organ aren’t universally viewed as worshipful instruments, our prior notwithstanding.

Which takes me to the second change: “Sacred music that is written or sung in culturally diverse musical styles may help unify congregations. Music coordinators and priesthood leaders may include a variety of appropriate musical styles that appeal to members of various backgrounds.”

I don’t even know what to say about this, except thank goodness.

Again, I don’t think this is going to revolutionize our sacrament meetings, at least not yet. We’re familiar with the 19th century folk song-style hymnody we’ve grown up with. But this is a long-overdue recognition that our hymnody is not somehow True, and that music we’re unfamiliar with isn’t wrong. It’s a recognition that God does not center white Western aesthetic tastes.

And this move is going to take some work: as a people, I think we now face an obligation to search out sacred music from traditions other than our own. Not because we have to figure out how to put together a gospel choir, African sacred music, Shinto music, or other sacred music. But with luck, at some point, we’ll be exposed to it and we would do well to recognize the Spirit in music that doesn’t come from our own traditions.

As the church has become (and continues to become) more diverse, we need to recognize the things that bring spiritual uplift not only to us, but to our brothers and sisters who have different sacred backgrounds than we do. And inviting our brothers and sisters to experience and share music from their cultural backgrounds, music that speaks directly to their experiences and their hearts, is one way we can.

[fn1] This characterization of most brass and being somehow “less worshipful” is tremendously dumb and culturally specific. But even if we stick to white Protestant culture derived from the 19th-century United States, it just doesn’t make any sense. My wife was in New York years before I was. She tells me that in one singles ward sacrament meeting, a trombone quintet crossed the street from Julliard and played in sacrament meeting. And I can guarantee you that five Julliard trombonists was better than roughly 100% of orchestral strings you’ve ever heard in sacrament meeting.

Photo by Maxence Pira on Unsplash


  1. Raymond Winn says:

    Nearly 40 years ago, our Utah ward allowed a member to sing a few of his original compositions in our Sac. Mtg., accompanying himself on his guitar. They were not gospel-topic based compositions. I got the impression that the leaders reluctantly allowed it because he, a relatively inactive member, had requested it.
    When we visited an LDS ward near Nashville, we were pleasantly surprised to hear a musical number in Sac. Mtg., a song from the hymnal, sung in a lovely voice by a man who accompanied himself on a guitar. Surprising to us Utahns, but apparently not to the Nashville-influenced locals.
    I am in favor of any musical interlude that inspires, uplifts, or excites the congregation.

  2. With the stampede from the rather somber catholic meetings towards the pentecostal/evangelical/charismatic sects, this might be a wake up call for the LDS meeting format concerning music.

  3. We have always had a somewhat more progressive attitude towards church music in my suburban Seattle ward. Our bishop and I played a medley of Christmas songs on our acoustic guitars two years ago, and I have accompanied the primary kids singing on a couple of occasions. We also have a member of our ward that was a professional saxophone player at one time, and has played an extremely moving “Oh Holy Night” on his tenor sax a few times at Christmas. Still, just the idea of tacit approval for these things, especially recognizing the contributions of a more diverse church, is great.

  4. Kent Gibb says:

    Back in the late 50s to 70s, I regularly played my alto sax in Sacrament meeting. They were almost always taken from the hymn book and accompanied by the piano. As I was usually the sacrament music conductor, they were always approved. I remember playing “Amazing Grace” on the clarinet, accompanied by the organ, a very moving moment in the middle of sacrament meeting. On another occasion I and a trio of block-flute recorders played a medley of Christmas hymns. Again, a lovely, moving musical experience.
    Then travel forward in time to the 2000s. I was again the sacrament hymn conductor and the organist was the Ward Music person. I volunteered a couple of times to perform on either my alto or soprano sax and was told in no uncertain terms that they would not be allowed because they were “Brass”. I tried to point out that they were not brass instruments but were woodwinds but was firmly denied by a Bishop that knew his metallurgy but his musical knowledge was lacking. Sad how the understanding of music in church has changed but hopefully will slowly change back again.

  5. I’m so glad the music guidelines are changing. When I took private piano lessons at Ricks College in the mid-80’s I was given a reference list of appropriate classical music to play for a Sacrament Meeting special number. The only ones I can recall now were by Chopin. I was sad when a few years later there was a change that only church music, and mostly hymns, could be used as music for special numbers. There is so much beautiful and highly spiritual music that is far beyond our standard LDS Hymns. A few years ago, my daughter was in a choir for adults with disabilities that sang at The Grotto in Portland. While their group chose secular Christmas music, the choir directly before them sang the most angelic Christmas music I have ever heard in my entire life. Sitting and listening in the Cathedral (unlike our utilitarian churches) added even more beauty to the performance. People worship and feel the spirit in different ways, and allowing for some more diversity is a positive step in my opinion.

  6. This opening of guidelines for music is long overdue, and I’m hoping that the interminable delay in the rumored new hymnal is because the committee is actively searching for new hymns. Many Protestant denominations expanded their ideas about proper music for worship decades ago. For many people (including me), music lies at the heart of spiritual expression, and the pallid palette of our allowed musical repertory and practice has been one of the least joyful aspects of my participation in church. I’m a professionally trained musician and professor of music and have been active as a choir director in the church my entire adult life. I’ve been lucky to work under bishops who also valued music and allowed some latitude. I hope that the pandemic will lift to the point where singing joyfully and unrestrainedly in church will be possible, and that we will explore many new ways of worshipping musically.

  7. Paul Brown says:

    Boyd: over my dead body
    God: OK

  8. Our (23yo) daughter got to participate in a survey for the new hymnal a few days ago. It included lyrics and short sound clips (one verse) from about half a dozen songs. For each selection she chose from a random list of general comments but was then provided the opportunity to comment in her own words. We took the survey together and were really happy to hear “Amazing Grace” among the selections. I really want that to be included in the new hymnal.
    And I do agree that the current recordings are lame. Our main beef with the recordings in the survey was that they were too bland. Some (most) songs just require more soul.

  9. “God does not center white Western aesthetic tastes”

    “we would do well to recognize the Spirit in music that doesn’t come from our own traditions”


  10. A Poor Wayfaring Stranger says:

    Paul Brown, right on brother! Packer, who had no musical training whatsoever set himself up as the All-knowing One when it came to church music. Despite this he single-handedly destroyed much of what made church enjoyable for many people. Why the various FPs never reined him in is beyond all understanding. I lived in a ward where I wasn’t even allowed to play my cello because the SP had thrown a fit when two returned sister missionaries who’d gone to the same Guatemalan mission and had been companions throughout much of their mission sang “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief” and they accompanied themselves on guitar for their joint welcome home mission report. On their mission there were no pianos that were in good enough repair to play or no pianos at all. Their guitars were the accompaniment for every church meeting that they had attended. After that the SP would only allow piano and organ, but they were often played badly-at least in my ward. By the time that the bishop learned that I just happened to also play piano my husband and I were packing up to move out of the ward. When I moved I reported the SP to a couple of friends on the Church Music Committee who promised to set him straight.

    President Benson was just as bad. I sat through a talk of his as a kid when he denounced the music of JS Bach “because Bach wasn’t a Mormon”. Of course he wasn’t. He died 80 years before the church was organized! My mom, a professional organist, was so upset by that talk. It was the only time I’ve ever heard her go off on a GA. Bach’s music, even his secular music, always had “All glory be given to God.” written in Latin at the top of every. single. work. Even as an adult I’ve encountered older musicians/choir directors who still consider Bach’s music as pure evil just because Benson said so years ago. However, if you listen to the preludes and postludes at conference you’ll often hear Bach’s beautiful sacred music.

    I’m sorry, but slow and sleepy hymns don’t equal reverence. Non member friends are appalled by our church music when they’ve come to church with me. The sooner the American portion of the church gets the message that a variety of instruments and types of church music (and tempos of the hymns) the better our worship services will be because, with the exception of the sacrament and saying “Amen” at the end of prayers, singing hymns at a decent, joyful tempo is the only way the entire congregation gets to participate in the service. The rest of the time we’re completely passive. Moreover, a beautiful well prepared musical number can be the most spiritual portion of the meeting. This is just my own opinion.🎵

  11. Paul the latter day apostle says:

    Ummmm……technically, the piano IS a percussion instrument. Just sayin

  12. Your food allergy says:

    And if there is one instrument with a “prominent” sound, it is the organ. Did the handbook prohibit using the organ’s trumpet, horn, and flute stops?

  13. The last time I reviewed the music guidelines brass instruments were (generally) proscribed. However, our ward had a professional French horn player. It was not uncommon to hear him play in Sacrament meeting. Our bishop wasn’t afraid to use his discretion.

  14. John Charity Spring says:

    I was a visitor in a ward in northern Davis County last week. The organ was played so loud that no one could hear a single voice. It was no better than a Bon Jovi concert. Just because the music is from a piano or organ does not mean that it is reverent.

  15. Egads, good brother

  16. Your story about accompanying throughout your mission brought back a lot of memories of doing the same in the Dominican Republic. While I was happy to play if they wanted, I really did enjoy listening to them sing a capella, for the same reason that accompanying them was difficult.

    They spent so much time singing without accompaniment that the songs had developed new rhythms and melodies over the 20 years since the first missionaries had taught the earliest members these songs. I loved it. Each ward was a little different. It was the telephone game, but with music and not lyrics.

    I’d heard the hymns sung the same way my entire life up to that point, and hearing them sing from their hearts, with all that history behind it was something I treasured. I hated the occasions when they’d get me accompanying when they would apologize for not singing it right like the song was supposed to go. I felt bad that I wasn’t talented enough to play like they sang, I can’t do much more than play the notes written in front of me.

  17. John Mansfield says:

    Many of you will recall 1980 when the church put the Sunday meetings into a 3-hour blob. For a couple years, the sacrament meeting would end with a hymn and a prayer, and then seconds later the Sunday School presidency would take the stand and conduct opening exercises with a Sunday School song. I don’t remember how long it took for that to fade away.

    Since sacrament meeting was cut another 10 minutes in 2019, it feels like most of those 10 minutes have been taken from music. I have sung a lot of single-verse closing hymns the past three years, and there has been much less music between talks. My priesthood meetings no longer include any music, either. There are a lot of nice, gloomy hymns that for whatever reason were left in the 1985 hymnal, the ones about shadows falling, the day ending, it being time to leave the chapel and venture back out into a cold, dark world. They fit well for the end of sacrament meeting late afternoons in the fall; they didn’t fit at all for sacrament meeting in the morning or mid-day with Sunday School starting up in 10 minutes, and they were pretty much orphaned with no present setting. All those songs about elders gathering shoulder-to-shoulder are now in the same orphaned state without priesthood meetings to sing them in.

    This paring down of shared music at church suits most people just fine, but I feel a loss.

  18. It’s nice to turn a new page on music in the church. It does little good to wring our hands or beat the dead horse about whatever happened in the past.

  19. One of the most memorable sacrament meetings of my childhood included a guest musical group who sang the Beatle’s Let it Be. It was so beautiful. And it offended several ward members, who complained. But I’m grateful our bishop took a chance, it was meaningful to my family. This sounds like a very promising handbook change.

  20. Left Field says:

    My son is an excellent French horn player and now teaching high school music. When he was in high school, I encouraged our ward music director to have him play the horn in sacrament meeting. She declined, citing the handbook on brass instruments. I pointed out that the prohibition was “most” brass instruments and if the horn wasn’t the “less prominent and more worshipful” exception to “most brass,” I don’t know what is. She was not moved, and I didn’t press it.

    When I was scoutmaster, we were one of few troops to have an official troop bugler (again, my son). For courts of honor, I wanted to include appropriate bugle calls with the flag ceremonies, but I was told brass instruments were prohibited in the chapel. Actually, nothing in the handbook prohibited any instruments in the chapel. The prohibition was for sacrament meeting (whether held in the chapel or not). We moved the event, with bugle calls, into the Relief Society room.

    There has often been an assumption that guitars are prohibited, but as far as I know, that has never been in the handbook. I have occasionally heard guitars in sacrament meeting, but there is usually resistance to it. When I was HPGL, I had someone who wanted to sing a hymn with guitar in high priest meeting. I didn’t bother to check with anyone, I just gave the ok, and he did a fine job.

    I once heard bagpipes played in sacrament meeting. But bagpipes are a woodwind, so that’s okay. Just nothing “prominent or less worshipful” like a French horn, I guess. The old rules were mostly arbitrary and inconsistent, with tradition laid on top of them. Good riddance, I say.

  21. “I was sad when a few years later there was a change that only church music, and mostly hymns, could be used as music for special numbers.”

    This was never a rule, though it was (and is) widely believed.

  22. Roger Hansen says:

    I have attended LDS services in Africa, SE Asia, and South America. There is too much of an attempt to Americanize global services. Music would be an excellent way to make to infuse local culture into SM. I wider variety in instruments would be great. Drums are an important part of African culture. The world has a wide variety of interesting stringed instruments. South America has some amazing variety of flutes. And I love Andean music. Ditties like those of Jackie Deshannon would be fun. The global Church needs to abandon its neo-colonial ways.

  23. Bro. Jones says:

    I’ve heard a repeated rumor on Reddit that in many African nations, the piano is seen as an instrument of ill repute because it is usually found in nightclubs or brothels. Same rumor says that people visiting LDS services have been dismayed to hear piano music. Is this just internet drivel?

    As for the handbook update: change is going to be slow coming. I expect many bishops (in the US and abroad) to follow “the unwritten order of things” and change nothing at all.

  24. Time for all here to google “Trevor Southey” – a beautiful new film debuting in SLC this weekend about the life of this visual artist and former church member – includes some depressing bits about correlation, BKP etc.

  25. Bro. Jones, I heard that in the mid-90s from a music theory teacher at BYU. So it may be internet rumor, but it has been rumor for a long time.

    Left Field, though I didn’t get my sax quartet into sacrament meeting, we did play at my Eagle Scout Court of Honor. In the chapel. Also, I’m not sure how much more rigidly literalistic you can get than disallowing French horn because it’s brass (while ignoring the explicit exception).

    I have also seen bishops and ward music leaders ignore the rules. But it’s a great move that the church is no longer requiring it to be an exception.

    And Bro. Jones, I think you’re right that this change will organically spread out slowly. But if ward members volunteer to perform musical numbers using untraditional (for Mormonism) instruments or musical styles, maybe we can push the change a little faster.

  26. Jim Wallmann says:

    Do any wards have an “organ voluntary” or musical interlude after the administration of the sacrament but before a member of the bishopric introduces the rest of the sacrament meeting program? This is something I grew up with in Berkeley, California. My understanding is that at one time (1930s? 1940s?) it was the practice in at least some wards in the Church for music to be played while the sacrament was being passed to the congregation. This is common practice in other Christian churches during communion. It is also my understanding that Salt Lake stopped this practice because of abuses, namely inappropriate music being played. Berkeley Ward had a fine instrument (that is, a real organ with pipes) with good organists and it was never a problem, but complied with the directive by converting the music to a short “organ voluntary” after the administration of the sacrament. I always appreciated this chance to allow the congregation to collect its thoughts after having partaken of the “sacred emblems” and to bring in a couple of additional minutes of good music.
    As a trained organist, it was no surprise when my wife and I relocated to the Washington, D.C. area in the late 1980s that I was called to play the organ in our new ward. With a heads-up to the bishop, I introduced an organ voluntary after the administration of the sacrament in my suburban D.C. ward. This apparently unnerved the ward music chair and she called the music department in Salt Lake. She was told that Salt Lake had no opinion about this and that an organ voluntary was at the discretion at the bishop. However, someone in Salt Lake was aware of the practice because years later a revision of the handbook specifically called out as inappropriate music after the administration of the sacrament but before the rest of the meeting. (During this time, Berkeley Ward continued to enjoy its illicit organ voluntary.) I am happy to see that the current handbook (19.3.2, does not appear to micromanage the order of service to exclude an organ voluntary.

  27. In case musicians need inspiration and/or music to take up Sam’s suggestion of pushing change along, this website has great resources: https://worshipfulbrass.com/

  28. Bro. Jones, I think you’re spot on about the power of the Unwritten Order of Things, especially for music. In this thread, people have brought up several common prohibitions that were apparently never written (no guitar, metal instrument = brass instrument, only church music allowed in sacrament meeting). The Unwritten Order will retreat slowly.

    And this whole discussion makes me think that we need some new words to “There Is Sunshine in My Soul Today”:
    There is order in my soul today
    Too beautiful to write
    And Jesus reads my mind and sees
    Unwritten order of light!

  29. Moroni Gabriel says:

    I understand that all of the angels in heaven who play herald trumpets have always been bummed by the Sacrament Meeting prohibition.

  30. Bart Homer says:

    To this day, the greatest organ music ever played in church was In A Garden Of Eden performed in the First Church of Springfield, which included a 17-minute organ solo by Helen Feesh (Gertie), who fainted at the end of the song. Say hallelujah, Reverend Lovejoy!

  31. @Bart Homer. You’re right. And I totally remember making out to that hymn.

  32. eastofthemississippi says:

    Bring on the changes, and I know one thing… when I’m prophet the first thing I do will be to jettison the organ out of every chapel.

  33. nobody, really says:

    A fifth-grade flute player will generally sound worse than a college-level brass player.

    I recently got to play “Silent Night” in a tubas-only choir of 100 players, performing in a limestone cave. Soon afterwards, I found myself back in Sacrament meeting, listening to a electronic organ and that one sister who thinks her half-step-flat triple-forte vibrato is the only correlated way to worship the infant Savior. I’m pretty sure the church music is what made the Baby Jesus cry.

    And whatever they include in the new hymnal, I hope each piano or organ in the Church is issued a metronome. There is nothing less worshipful than “Onward, Christian Soldiers” sung at 22 BPM.

  34. I remember trumpets in a Manhattan singles ward Christmas program. It was very cool and very celebratory.

    On the other hand, I remember in that same ward an extraordinary (not in a good way) yowly original number in which the singer exhorted us to stick our necks out for the goose man. Our bishop did allow us a certain amount of leeway, and I guess that was just one of the risks.

  35. I agree whole heartedly with the comments I have seen. I have heard the comments in podcasts and other similar settings by black converts when asked about what they missed about their prior religious experiences was the music that they heard and participated in while attending worship services.

  36. Left Field says:

    nobody, I have to disagree with Onward Christian Solders at 22 bpm. What’s worse is Love at Home at 22 bpm. Even if the tempo seems not so bad at the beginning, when you get to those half-notes at the end, each note goes on for like 15 minutes. “Lo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-ve a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-at Ho-o-o-o-o-o…

    I think a few of my past wards are still working through the second verse.

  37. In the church, our basic attitude toward music presents obstacles that lead to some of the complaints we see in these comments. I don’t think there’s an easy fix for these attitude problems, but being aware of them can help musicians deal with the static.

    The attitude stems from our culture of simplicity in worship. Our reliance on untrained volunteers means that the standard of performance is low in just about everything—teaching, sermonizing, administration, and so forth. If a ward happens to find someone who can do one of those things especially well, we treat it as a lucky break rather than an expected outcome. But eventually we’ll probably release that person from the calling so that a less competent person can have a turn. The general quality of worship and service suffers, but the status of the average, unskilled member is reinforced.

    Music is hard to deal with because music absolutely requires training, and we have become suspicious of experts. In a religious culture that lacks skill in things relevant to worship, the important question is not whether a thing is done well. The question is whether it’s done “right,” meaning whether it’s done within prescribed boundaries. Many members who lack expertise in music are afraid to defer to experts on matters that affect worship; when we let experts do something really well, we can lose control over the boundaries.

  38. Cate, my wife has told me about that Goose Man special musical number! (While we met in NY, she was there a long time before I was.) I seem to recall her saying that it was basically interminable too.

  39. I think you are right that our music culture is sort of frozen in time (while obviously evolving at the margins).

    I’m not sure that’s a bad thing to have a distinct connection to the same saints of the restoration.

    For a Catholic to abandon a practice that has persisted for a thousand years merely so one of those modern generations can quite childishly claim “relevance” all to themselves in a chain in which they make up but a single link would be a real shame.

    What needs to happen in their case and ours is to reconnect with our heritage, not move on with it and embrace the changing pop culture of the day.

    What would you prefer, sing something that appeals to ever changing pop culture tastes? Or sing something that unites you across generations for hundreds of years or more?

    These things should not be so easily dismissed by modern progressives.

  40. Sute–we don’t have to throw away the hymns to play them better.

    The real damage to tradition is being done by the new schedule, where we sing (at most) 4 hymns/week. Today’s youth are unlikely to acquire basic familiarity with very many hymns, and it won’t be their fault.

  41. Kristine,
    I do agree that removing hymns from any spiritual meeting to save time is counterproductive.

  42. Sute, to be clear, I’ve been to Catholic services with Bach-era music. I’ve been to Catholic services with 20th-century hymnody. And I’ve been to Catholic services featuring electric guitars and drum sets.

    As for reconnecting to our heritage: it’s the heritage of a limited number of church members. If you don’t come out of a 19th-century tradition that imported the melodies of (at the time) contemporary folk songs, it’s not your heritage. Should we adapt to “ever changing pop culture tastes?” I mean, that’s what we did in the early church. Our hymns didn’t come out of nowhere. And the purpose of music in our services is to worship and to connect; while “Come Come Ye Saints” may feel worshipful and connecting to you, it may not to the person sitting next to you in the pew. And why should that person not have the opportunity to connect?

    It’s not a matter of discarding our old music; it’s a matter of embracing music that some of us our not yet familiar with. And that, I assert, will help us make all of our brothers and sisters feel welcome.

  43. One Christmas our ward was big enough/talented enough to pull off a bell choir and it was fantastic! Even some youth were in the choir. Bells are brass, but Jesus didn’t mind. Fast forward five years to new boundaries, and the same five musicians have to do everything (I know, I’m one of them).

    During COVID I’ve stopped playing the organ and play the piano instead. I told the bishopric it’s because the organ doesn’t sound good on Zoom and they don’t know. As someone who has played the piano since five but never had a real organ lesson in my life, church is less stressful now for me, and I consider that a win.

    This last Sunday the solo singer was accompanied by a ukulele so I think the good word is spreading.

  44. eastofthemississippi says:

    @Chadwick: Thank you for sharing that sacrament music can be excellent. As for me, I don’t think any organ sounds good… unless of course it’s Al Kooper playing a Hammond B3.

  45. 1) Amen, Paul Brown. Amen brother.

    2) Welcome, Moroni, to sacrament meetings. Now you’ve been kicked off the top of most temples, glad you can play with us no, bro. (How the heck did we have a trumpet player as our official governmental symbol and prohibit trumpet playing? Eye roll.)

    3) I’m an organist. If I had a nickel for every ward member that complained when I played something outside of the hymnal for prelude/postlude (Bach, Mozart, Etc.) I’d be sipping virgin pina coladas on a beach somewhere. Why is it that Monson could cite Broadway shows, most people use evangelical content or “chicken soup for the soul” and Oprah in church, and yet organists and pianists get ripped when thy play *inspired* classical music. It’s like people were just pretending when they raised their hands to sustain musicians and set them apart to LEAD the music. BTW, everyone who complained to me was smiled at and ignored. Sadly, I know many, many, many top-notch organists/pianists who simply quit or were chased out.

    4) I always wanted SL to designate the Austrian/German Saints as our permanent general music committee. Why? They love and respect classical music, have the best LDS hymnal with the music of Mozart, Bach, Brahms, Mendelssohn, etc. Missed opportunity.

    5) I’m not sure about the new “one size fits all” hymnal that is coming out. Will it culturally appropriate hymns from other religions and cultures? (Making a worried face and breathing in through my teeth right now.) The primary hymnal included just 2 “ethnic” songs, a calypso song “I know you and you know me” (which no one ever, ever sang), and a kletzmer song “follow the prophet” which has brought about no end of anti-semitism and complaints. Not sure whether a “one size fits all” hymnal was the right solution, as opposed to developing out each language’s hymnal with more culturally-appropriate music. Then, (radical idea) putting all the hymnals on this thing called the internet, for everyone to use. The one-size fits all hymnal will actually be shrinking our cumulative music choices down considerably, even if it increases the number of hymns up to 400-450 or so. (If such a tome would even fit in the bench pockets.)

  46. Thanks Sam for pointing out the new Handbook guidelines. I’m really looking forward to the new hymnal with cautious optimism. Though I’m not encouraged by some of the comments about the survey on it.
    The Primary Songbook is definitely the greatest correlated book in tue Church outside of scriptures. FWIW, it contains preludes by Mozart and Schubert. I was Primary pianist for enough years that I was able to make good on a goal to either accompany or play for prelude/postlude virtually every song in the book, even the calypso “I know you, and you know me.” One time. I played during prelude “Morning Has Broken” made famous by Cat Stevens. It was actually written as a Christian hymn in 1931 by Eleanor Farjeon. I wished I had know that then when the Primary Chorister reprimanded me for playing a pop song. But I was vindicated about a week later when she told me she had seen the Tabernacle Choir perform it on Music and the Spoken Word.

  47. Bro. B., I agree. My first tentative step into Mormon Studies was a paper on Primary songs! https://www.dialoguejournal.com/articles/who-shall-sing-if-not-the-children-primary-songbook-1880-1989/

  48. Left Field, I don’t care what tempo is used. Love at Home is a TERRIBLE song. Many people complain that it is guilt inducing. That’s not an issue for me. My problem is that it’s sickeningly sweet. And incredibly trite. Ugh!

  49. Kristine, looks like an excellent paper I’ve got to read soon. You hooked me with the quote from 1994 from Elder Oaks, “ The singing of hymns is one of the best ways to learn the doctrine of the restored gospel. Thus, hymns and children’s songs published with the imprimatur of the Church bridge the gap between official Mormondom and lived Mormonism.” What a profound quote, that you wouldn’t hear him say at least in those words since 2018.

  50. @Mortimer, I’m curious about your thoughts on cultural appropriation. I’d rather have a clumsy attempt at pulling in hymns from other countries than retread our old English hymns for another 200 years. The idea that the hymns I know would be taken and adapted to be sung in other countries in their traditions sounds good to me too. I’m not sure what is appropriation and what is inclusion?

  51. @Marian,
    Good question. I don’t have the answer. There was a recent SLTRibune “Mormon Land” podcast w one of the church’s architects talking about how they adapted the standard small temple design to incorporate various countries’ architectural styles. So, one of our New Mexican Temples was designed to look like an old Spanish Catholic Mission. It irked some of the Catholic clergy in the community, who felt appropriated. On one hand, the church architects were trying to be sensitive and respectful to the locals. It’s beautiful, utilizes local materials and matches the surrounding architecture. They were intentionally breaking the cycle of unintentional cultural imperialism.

    On the other hand, by emulating Catholic history and culture and presenting ourselves to the community as the heirs to Catholic ecclesiastical heritage, we stepped on toes. We are young up-and-comers who converted several of their flock away. When we did so using our own cultural signals- it was one thing, but presenting ourselves as one of them? That’s uncomfortable. Not quite an olive branch.

    But, I understand the reception of the Mexican Temple (by the locals) was mixed- some appreciating the gesture, some being rubbed the wrong way. At the end of the day, the building is beautiful and thank heavens it’s not another indistinguishable “model a”.

    If everything is correlated from SL, we’re darned if we do (appropriate) and darned if we don’t. Should we build onion domes for the Slavic Temples? Pagoda styles in asia? Copy Machu Pichu in Peru? Likewise, should we include pentatonic East-Asian songs, copy and paste Muslim songs used to call people to prayer, or incorporate beloved Eastern Orthodox hymns to respect our growing international membership? And if we don’t copy other faith tradition’s exact songs or closely mirror their styles, do we put our own “twist” on the culture with tropes and cliches? (E.g. Book of Mormon Stories emulates first nation’s musical stereotypes that arose in western music through the negative/racist vaudeville characterizations- namely moving/repetitive parallel fifths.)

    What I’m saying is that it’s a no-win situation. A world-wide hymnal is a recipe for disaster. The only way we could have avoided it would have been to call “Emma Smiths” in each language/culture to build each area’s unique hymnal. Let the people from those cultures write their own music, pull from their own cultural heritage. But, I don’t think SL trusts anyone outside the church office building with that type of power. And, to be perfectly honest, the affects of music are inarguably the most powerful force in a religion. Controlling music is a strategic and impactful leadership tactic. But as the church balances a world of cultures, it is painfully blind to cultural blind spots as they believe they are called to be global leaders and anything they say (thought out or not) goes.

  52. I need to amend my above statement.
    The one-size-fits-all hymnal needn’t be a disaster.

    I hope it soars.

    In thinking of some of the miraculous histories behind some of our sacred music and even some of the world’s inspired music, I pray that actual- astounding miracles are common for the people assembling it, that truly inspired stories of cross-cultural brotherhood/sisterhood abound. Not just little synchronicities, but that unparalleled and unquestionable interventions from on high grace us in this endeavor – with hymn after hymn, page after page, note after note. Not just little happy feelings, but true revelation and angelic interventions which resonates with the music of the universe.

    One of my favorite stories of hymns includes a dream in which a composer was visited by someone on the other side of the veil from another culture who played a tune- and said -there’s your hymn. Maybe saints from different cultures are working hand-in-hand with one another- realizing with each melody and harmony, Beethoven’s ode to joy and God’s ultimate hope for us…”Alle Menschen werden Bruder*” All people become brothers.

    *add an umlaut to the u.

  53. Mortimer those are worthy aspirations for the new hymnal. I also have those hopes for it. The sacrament hymns in my view largely rise to that level, words and music taken as a whole. Also IMO the Primary organization has shown how to successfully incorporate new, modern music, albeit not so much from other cultures.

  54. An underlying theme of many of these comments seems to be that the focus should be on people and the purpose of the music. One of the most uplifting sacrament meeting musical numbers I remember was a classical guitar rendition of a hymn. It was gentle and peaceful but a surprise to many that the bishop allowed it. Whereas, I was once in a ward where the organist was a master’s student in organ performance. His rowdy postludes more closely resembled Led Zeppelin than sacrament meeting music. (Fun but not really right for the situation.) Contrast that scene with the musical number in our sacrament meeting on Sunday by a 12-year-old flutist who played like a typical 12-year-old flutist. But since sacrament meeting music is more about worship than performance, her sincere (and courageous) presentation welcomed the Spirit and softened hearts. Mission accomplished.

  55. Alma Frances Pellett says:

    I keep wondering if the new hymnal will see a revival of “The Hymnal is Scripture”.
    The “pre-Mormon” songs in the hymnal are already few and far between, shutting out so many beautiful songs that didn’t make the cut, thus being “inferior” and not suitable for important meetings.
    I was so glad to hear about this change in the handbook, as the previous restrictions (crossed with bishop roulette) made it tricky to try to get the ward choir to do anything differently.
    (Lastly, I hope the updated instructions in the Hymnal for music directors has something about leading and keeping tempo, not following the sound produced by the congregation. Front to back, the distance is always far enough for the speed of sound to come into play. The congregation will -always- be behind you.)

  56. russell mackay frandsen says:

    i am late to the conversation. in our ward and stake, we have members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic who play often. we have members who studied at Julliard and other fine music school who play. we have one the top if not the top (french) horn players who often plays in church. we have not infrequently had guitar acoustic accompaniment (classical style but occasionally just chord accompaniment). Five trombonists from Julliard were undoubtedly wonderful, but they were not 100% certain better than music we have had in our La Canada First Ward.

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