Preamble to 341 LDS Hymn Reviews
On the day before I begin my daily journey through the LDS Hymnal, I have a few words to say.
A Word About Congregational Singing and Unity
I won't get into the history of Hymnody. You can Google that or read about it on Wikipedia. It's an interesting topic, but not one I care to get into today. What I care about when it comes to congregational hymn singing is what it can do for the people in the congregation and the congregation as a whole. The spiritual, emotional, and physical affect of hymn singing and its overwhelming potential to transform hearts and minds.
Several studies have been conducted on choirs as they sing together with monitors recording the singer's pulses and heart rates. What occurs almost magically is the synchronization of the singer's heartbeats. (Click here to read a feature article on NPR: "When Choirs Sing, Many Hearts Beat As One.")
When it comes to congregational singing, the idea of hearts beating as one is profound. "I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine." (DC 38:27)
It's so challenging to get a congregation to be unified. There are so many interpretations of doctrine and policy and principal and on and on. But when we sing...ah...all the butting heads and bruised egos dissolve, and something magical happens. Something indescribable. It can only be understood heart to heart, melody to melody, soul to soul.
This is why we sing hymns in church. To unify us. To uplift us. To take us out of our everyday selves. To bypass the over intellectual and get straight down into the heart. And the more we sing, the more we feel. And the more we feel, the more we can empathize with others.
Some people get a little frustrated with me and my organ playing in our ward. I'm far from a real organist, and I make many mistakes. But I believe it is the organist's job to inspire the singing. So I'll continue to pipe away. Not to draw any attention to myself. Not to perform. But because I know there is a particular kind of worship that comes only through song, and only through the sort of song that can be sung by the entire congregation, in unity.
A Word To Those Who Think They "Can't" Sing
Now, many people think they can't or shouldn't sing. Some frustrated music teacher scared them off or discourage them from even trying. So they sit with their mouths closed while the rest of us sing away.
This makes me so sad. And even if you are tone deaf--which is much rarer than most think and occurs because of real trauma--you should sing anyway! Heck, make a "joyful noise" if that's all you can muster. Why? Because we need your voice. We all need to be "edified of all."
If we can open the pulpit for an entire Sacrament Meeting once a month, never knowing what sort of Pandora's box someone might open up, we should all be able to share our voice in congregational singing.
Don't be shy. Let it out. You need to sing. And we need you to sing with us. We can't be "one" without you!
A Word To Those Who Think They "Can" Sing
Get over yourselves. Hey, I'm as trained a singer as most and more than many. Congregational singing has nothing to do with poise and posture or passagio and portamento.
It has much more in common with the raucous crowd singing at a World Cup Soccer match or a College Football Fight Song. Like a charging army rushing into battle, they raise their voices as one and sing the hopes to the heavens.
If you're guilty of dirty looks at an out of tune singer, or of pompous comments about how superior your voice is to those around you, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.
St. Augustine is attributed as saying, "He who sings prays twice."
2 Nephi 32:8-9..."For if ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray, ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray. Behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint."
So, one interpretation in my mind is..."The evil spirit teacheth not a man to [sing], but teacheth him that he must not sing. Behold, I say unto you that ye must [sing] always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall [sing] unto the Father in the name of Christ..."
Let's not be the ones who block the way of the special kind of spirit our brothers and sisters can only feel through singing.
A Word To Those Who Want To Write A New Hymn But Aren't Sure They Can Pull It Off
Gird up your loins! Now's your chance! You can do it! And like we need every voice in the congregation singing, we need your voice too. We need your voice as a hymn writer or a primary songwriter.
Sometimes the most beautiful, heartfelt songs come from a source we'd never expect. You don't have to have a Ph.D. in music to write a great hymn. Sure, there are many things to learn, many things to avoid, but you might come up with something none of us hyper-educated musicians would think of because we're too much in the weeds of it all.
My friend and co-hymn writer Phyllis Wocher is the perfect example of this. I wrote to her back in January of 2012 asking if she'd ever tried writing a hymn text. "Me? I'm not a poet. Why would you think of me?"
Well, I'd been praying, asking for God to guide me to someone I could write hymns with. The prompting came, "ask Phyllis." So I did. Not knowing what the heck she was doing, she started giving it a try. And you know what, she's written a lot of duds. So have I. So did Bach and Beethoven. But on so many occasions, the sometimes "matter unorganized" she sends me contains some absolute gems in it. We dig them out, polish them off, and see where they take us. Some of my best and most spiritually powerful pieces I've written were with Phyllis. They are so personal, so special. And she's completely untrained.
And I've got a little guide for you if you're not sure where to start. Click the link here and get my Free Report: "9 Ingredients of Great Hymn Writing." This will get you started on the right track.
A Word To Those Experienced, Educated, LDS Musicians Who Are Capable Of Writing Fine Hymns
The hard thing about writing hymns for the highly educated musician is that the best hymns are often some of the simplest. Not "simple" as in "simple-minded" or moronic. Simple as in pure, and clear, and transparent, and incredibly memorable for their simplicity.
Us super-duper hyper-edumacated musicians love making things complicated. We can do complicated all day long with our hands tied behind our backs.
And some of the most educated musicians in the Church feel that to write a hymn is beneath them, or somehow looking back on a dead tradition that has no meaning or relevance in a modern society.
Well, so what?
I'm being a little harsh again, but, get over yourself.
You don't always have to be trying to push the envelope. You don't always have to be trying to line up for the next -ism entry in the music history books.
I'm not trying to make anyone angry. I'm trying to tell you that we need your voices too. Those who "can" do, "should" do. "Where much is given, much is required." We need your voice. You can do things with music only a handful of others can. I know you can combine your heart, your religion, and your music. Give it a try. You might surprise yourself.
That's all for today. Tomorrow starts the real fun.
Tune into our very 1st of the 341 LDS Hymn reviews.
We'll see ya,
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