Sacrament Meeting Music…Mediocrity or Excellence?

Posted on March 29, 2015. Filed under: General Church Music |

In the LDS church, sacrament meeting is our most sacred meeting of the week. We are encouraged to invite non-Mormons to attend. It is the meeting where we renew our baptismal covenants via the sacrament, the place where we teach, learn, share testimonies, and sing praises to God.  Are those of us who are involved in the music for this meeting, presenting excellence or mediocrity. Are we throwing together a musical selection at the last minute so we don’t have to sing another rest hymn? Are we singing another rest hymn because we have procrastinated the organization of a special musical selection? Are we playing the organ or piano accompaniments with sloppy mistakes because we have failed to prepare and practice? Is our choir singing another free online song because we haven’t bothered to do our research and find a wonderful piece for them to learn? Are our efforts as musicians, living up to the sacred nature of sacrament meeting?

Last Sunday I rushed into the chapel to get to the organ for prelude music. I hadn’t prepared anything, thinking I’d just do the prelude I had prepared from two weeks prior (I play every other week). I opened the program to see that the opening hymn was one of the most difficult hymns in the hymnbook, with a ridiculous bass part that had my feet dancing all over the place. I took a deep breath as I began the opening hymn and started to play. The Deacons were sitting behind me (our Deacons who are passing the sacrament sit on the stand). They were talking and playing on their iPhones throughout the hymn. I could hear every word they were saying and could see them out of the corner of my eye. Then we had  few random disturbances that distracted me, like the autistic 18-year-old who started having a very loud fit in the congregation as her parents rushed her out of the chapel. And to top it off there was the music director, a 16-year-old boy (our ward leaders thought it would be a good idea to have the youth take turns directing in sacrament meeting), who was completely off beat, using a baton that was impossible for me to ignore. By the time we finished singing the hymn, I felt like I had been through a war zone and had a splitting headache. Now, I had no control over the noise from the congregation and I had no control over the rowdy Deacons. But, I should have come better prepared by practicing the hymn ahead of time and I should have taken the time to practice with the Priest who was directing the music. With those two things under control, I would have had a far different experience that Sunday (although I might have still snapped at the Deacons following they hymn, which is what I actually did).

I think most of us are guilty at one time or another, of falling into the trap of complacency. Let us renew our efforts to make sacrament meeting music truly excellent, inspiring, worthy of the sacred meeting in which it is presented.

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6 Responses to “Sacrament Meeting Music…Mediocrity or Excellence?”

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Thank you for this excellent article. I have been musically frustrated for a number of years in my home ward. When did the ward choir become an afterthought for many Bishoprics? When did it become something to avoid for those who can actually sing? When did we stop hearing beautiful vocal solos or piano solos at church? There was a whole different mindset many years ago. Superior, uplifting musical talent in Sacrament Meeting was presented on a regular basis, but that has become a thing of the past (at least in my ward). What would be a logical way try to get back what we once had??

If you want to restore good music in your ward sacrament meetings, it takes a music chairman who is actively doing his/her calling, planning and preparing those in the ward to provide music for the meetings. It takes a ward choir director who will rehearse and prepare the choir to sing every month. It takes an organist and music director who are prepared each Sunday, and who play or direct with confidence. The ward music chair is the glue that holds the musicians together, who provides the training, who provides the vision, or at least executes the Bishop’s vision, for music in the ward. To get the ball rolling, some ward music chairs will invite musicians from other wards in the stake, to provide a musical selection in sacrament meeting. This can help some wards catch the vision for what music in a ward meeting ought to emulate.

The term used in the LDS Handbook is “intermediate hymn”. “Rest hymn” has been common in the church for decades, possibly because we are taking a break or a rest from the sacrament meeting talks, but it would probably be more appropriate to call it a “wake Up hymn”, to wake those who were dozing off.

Well said, Holly. I’m one of the fortunate few to have an organ in my home, which makes practicing much more convenient, and thus probable! I have noticed, though, as have you, that certain music demands much more practice and coordination with the conductor than others. There’s only so much we can do about that If the conductor doesn’t make him/herself available. I’ve had a few like that. Still, we owe it to our congregations to at least perfect our part as much as possible. I’ve noticed that when I’m comfortable with the music I can actually focus on letting the Spirit help me with interpretation. Then, the members who are singing can have a better chance at having a spiritual experience.

Hi. As a recently called Stake Music Chairman, I am really enjoying your blog. However, I am not thrilled with the references to the “rest hymn”. The handbook refers to an “intermediate” hymn, never a “rest hymn”. I think the connotation of “rest” gives the congregation the idea that it’s a time to relax and not participate.

I read this article with amusement and frustration. You see, I have been our Ward Music Chairman for ten years. Yes, you read right. I am in what is known as the mission field, the east coast. And an adult convert to boot. If my organist came to sacrament and I hadn’t given her the numbers of the hymns
She would not have played it. We would have changed it. Oh, it’s in the program? So what? She would not have made us both look like incompetents. The young men on the stand? I would talk to my Bishopric AND the YM’s presidency. Rude is rude much less on the stand and certainly while a hymn is being sung. Yep! I too listen and try to get my Christmas music together months in advance. There is no such thing as buying music for us. If I buy it I pay. And my organist is a real stickler for copywrite. I search, search, and search more to find interesting arrangements and pieces. THEN, I have to go in the halls each Sunday we have practice and practically reel people in with a big shark hook in their jaw. Then, by the time December rolls around any music with a slight difficulty gets tossed for something easier (but no less beautiful). Due to the same group of people never being together more than twice. Then on top of that, four Bishops ago, he asked me to be in charge of the COMPLETE meeting and fill it with music and only one five minute talk. The first few years I freaked because of my non Mormon standards, (in other words something not thrown together the week before) my upbringing of sacred meetings and music, and just plain ole social manners. You know, it had to be done right and well. But as the years went by I came to finally realize it would be great because Heavenly Father would bless us. Just a few weeks ago my choir sang The Coventry Carol, with some verses rewritten by me, Bethlehem , with the original melody not St. Louis, and He Is Born, concluding with Angela we Have Heard in a simplified choir arrangement. They sounded great and I was totally happy. But this is the last Christmas hooraw for me. Hubby insists I be released. Ready for the clincher? I don’t read music or play an instrument! Oh yeah, I can see the notes go up and down and a while note is held a long time, but that’s pretty much the extent! Lol! I pick, arrange, and conduct by things I was taught in high school chorus and by what sounds Please if to my ear in regards to phrasing, tempo, volume and intensity. So HAH! I’m going to sorely miss it next Christmas!!!!

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