Music in Sacrament Meeting

LDS Living’s Top 100 Songs

Posted on February 2, 2013. Filed under: General Church Music, Music in Sacrament Meeting, Ward Music Chairman |

LDS Living published a list of the top 100 LDS songs of all time, not including hymns. Okay, let’s rephrase that, what they probably meant to say was the top LDS easy-listening songs from the past 30 years. You have probably heard many of these in firesides, women’s conferences, and yes, even sacrament meetings. Using my strict standards for sacrament meeting music (aka Church Handbook 2), I put a * by music appropriate for a sacrament meeting performance. Music with ** could be appropriate if sung correctly, definitely not as performed on iTunes. Appropriate music includes songs that can be performed in the style of the hymns and primary songs, not music that were it given different lyrics, could easily become a love song played on the radio. Songs without a * are more suited for home listening, firesides, youth conferences, and background music for LDS-themed videos and LDS Bookstores. Enjoy.

1. “A Child’s Prayer,” Janice Kapp Perry *
2. “His Hands,” Kenneth Cope
3. “I Heard Him Come,” Jeff Goodrich
4. “You’re Not Alone,” Michael McLean
5. “He Hears Me,” Hilary Weeks
6. “Consider the Lilies,” Roger Hoffman *
7. “Line Upon Line” from Saturday’s Warrior, Lex de Azevedo
8. “We’ll Bring the World His Truth,” Janice Kapp Perry *
9. “Scripture Power,” Clive Romney & Sandy Freckleton Gagon *
10. “I Was Not His Father; He Was Mine” from The Forgotten Carols, Michael McLean
11. “Walk Tall, You’re a Daughter of God,” Jamie Glenn **
12. “Never a Better Hero,” Kenneth Cope
13. “No Ordinary Man,” Janice Kapp Perry **
14. “O Lord, My Redeemer,” Jeff Goodrich
15. “Together Forever,” Michael McLean
16. “A Window to His Love,” Julie de Azevedo
17. “Beautiful Heartbreak,” Hilary Weeks
18. “Angel Lullaby” from My Turn on Earth, Lex de Azevedo
19. “Love Is Spoken Here,” Janice Kapp Perry *
20. “The Greatest Gift,” Afterglow
21. “In the Hollow of Thy Hand,” Janice Kapp Perry **
22. “I Love to See the Temple,” Janice Kapp Perry *
23. “Let Him In” from The Forgotten Carols, Michael McLean
24. “His Image in Your Countenance,” Janice Kapp Perry *
25. “Hold On, the Light Will Come,” Michael McLean
26. “From God’s Arms to My Arms to Yours,” Michael McLean
27. “I Walk by Faith,” Janice Kapp Perry *
28. “Circle of Our Love” from Saturday’s Warrior, Lex de Azevedo
29. “The Olive Tree,” Felicia Sorensen**
30. “I’ll Build You a Rainbow,” Marvin Payne
31. “Greater Than Us All,” Kenneth Cope
32. “Homeless” from The Forgotten Carols, Michael McLean
33. “Like a Lighthouse,” Michael Webb
34. “I Never Stand Alone” from From Cumorah’s Hill, Steven Kapp Perry
35. “Face to Face,” Kenneth Cope
36. “Three Kings Found the Lord” from The Forgotten Carols, Michael McLean
37. “Emma,” Nashville Tribute Band
38. “It Passes All My Understanding,” Cherie Call
39. “Daughter of a King,” Jenny Phillips
40. “Warriors of Light,” Afterglow
41. “Do Likewise My Friend,” Brett Raymond
42. “Ninety and Nine,” Michael McLean
43. “Sisters in Christ,” Gladys Knight
44. “Captain of My Soul,” Afterglow
45. “Celebrating the Light,” Michael McLean
46. “He Came for Me,” Hilary Weeks
47. “Broken,” Kenneth Cope
48. “Mary Let Me Hold Her Baby” from The Forgotten Carols, Michael McLean
49. “My Story” from My Turn on Earth, Lex de Azevedo
50. “Women at the Well,” Julie de Azevedo
51. “I’m a Mormon,” Janeen Brady
52. “Let Me In,” The Osmonds
53. “Masterpiece,” Julie de Azevedo
54. “Another Witness,” Afterglow
55. “Come to Jesus,” Kenneth Cope
56. “Come Unto Him,” Daniel Carter *
57. “If I Only Had Today,” Hilary Weeks
58. “My Turn on Earth” from My Turn on Earth, Lex de Azevedo
59. “She Put the Music in Me,” Calee Reed
60. “The Rising,” Nashville Tribute Band
61. “Mercy’s Arms,” Julie de Azevedo
62. “Sometimes He Lets It Rain,” Katherine Nelson
63. “The Promise,” Afterglow
64. “Gentle,” Michael McLean
65. “Humble Way” from Saturday’s Warrior, Lex de Azevedo
66. “I Will,” Hilary Weeks
67. “Paper Dream” from Saturday’s Warrior, Lex de Azevedo
68. “He Was Here” from The Forgotten Carols, Michael McLean
69. “I Will Not Be Still,” Kenneth Cope
70. “Sailing On” from Saturday’s Warrior, Lex de Azevedo
71. “Taking It Home with Me,” Brett Raymond
72. “The Man with Many Names” from The Garden, Michael McLean
73. “One Voice,” Tyler Castleton
74. “Safe Harbors,” Michael McLean
75. “Shine On,” David Osmond
76. “Arise and Shine Forth,” Jenny Phillips
77. “Prayer of the Children,” Kurt Bestor
78. “Beautiful Life,” Jenny Frogley
79. “Go with Me,” Kenneth Cope
80. “Greater Love” from Women at the Well, Kenneth Cope
81. “Hands of Heaven,” Julie de Azevedo
82. “More Than Just a Boy,” Kenneth Cope
83. “Perfect Love,” Felicia Sorensen
84. “Be That Friend,” Michael McLean
85. “Born of God” from From Cumorah’s Hill, Steven Kapp Perry
86. “Feeling of Forever” from Saturday’s Warrior, Lex de Azevedo
87. “Just Let Me Cry,” Hilary Weeks
88. “Praise the Man,” Jenny Frogley
89. “Promises I Keep,” Cherie Call
90. “The Carpenter’s Son,” Kenneth Cope
91. “We Believe,” Bryce Neubert
92. “All My Days,” Hilary Weeks
93. “American Dream,” Nashville Tribute Band
94. “Bless My Son,” Nashville Tribute Band
95. “For Our Day,” Felicia Sorensen
96. “For the Love of a Woman,” Jericho Road
97. “How to Move a Mountain,” Cherie Call
98. “Keeper of the Flame,” Julie de Azevedo
99. “Let Him Heal Your Heart,” John Canaan
100. “Someday He Will Come,” Felicia Sorensen
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My Sacrament Meeting Talk on Music

Posted on November 18, 2012. Filed under: General Church Music, Music in Sacrament Meeting, Stake Music |

A few weeks ago I was asked to speak in my ward sacrament meeting on the role of music in our worship services. I’ve talked about music in many stake music workshops but this is the first time I’ve actually done it in a sacrament meeting. I thought I’d share it with you….

The Role of Music in our Worship Services

My second day in the mission field was spent taking a 3 hour train ride from Barcelona, Spain to a town near Valencia. As I stepped off the train my district was there to greet me…my new companion, 4 Elders, and a missionary couple. Before they even said hello they asked me if I could play the piano. Apparently they were desperate in that small branch. They hadn’t had a pianist in quite some time and the members were anxious to have accompaniment in their meetings. When I replied that yes, I was a pianist, they informed me that I would be teaching piano classes starting in a couple of days. Wow, I could barely speak the language and I was expected to know a whole new set of vocabulary words that the MTC had not taught me like quarter note, half note, measure, and rest. I left those 7 students and that area 6 months later not knowing if I had made any impact on those budding pianists, It wasn’t until several years later when I received an email from the mother of one of those students letting me know that her son was the pianist for all of the ward and stake events. His parents made the great financial sacrifice to get him the additional musical training he needed. I was impressed by those families’ willingness to save up their money in order to purchase pianos or keyboards so their children could practice at home the hymns that they had been learning in their lessons. These were not families of great means but music was important to the members of that branch, so important that every Sunday night at 6:00 they all showed up for choir practice. It was the social event of the week. I remember working with that branch choir that typically sang in unison. They didn’t believe me at first, but I somehow convinced them that they were capable of singing two part harmony. We divided the men from the women, worked on their parts and when they were able to put it all together singing in harmony they were absolutely thrilled. Every two weeks when the choir performed they did so for their children because in that congregation of 50 there was not one adult that wasn’t on stage singing in the choir. The experience serving in that small branch of Castellón, Spain helped me gain a greater appreciation for the music in our worship services. These members were willing to sacrifice much for their music.

What does the music in our Sunday services mean to us? Are we full participants or do we ignore the call to “lift up your voice and sing”?

Dallin H. Oaks told of an experience he had visiting a sacrament meeting…

“I had finished a special assignment on a Sunday morning in Salt Lake City and desired to attend a sacrament meeting. I stopped at a convenient ward meetinghouse and slipped unnoticed into the overflow area just as the congregation was beginning to sing these sacred words of the sacrament song:

’Tis sweet to sing the matchless love
Of Him who left his home above
And came to earth—oh, wondrous plan
To suffer, bleed, and die for man!

My heart swelled as we sang this worshipful hymn and contemplated renewing our covenants by partaking of the sacrament. Our voices raised the concluding strains:

For Jesus died on Calvary,
That all thru him might ransomed be.
Then sing hosannas to his name;
Let heav’n and earth his love proclaim.

As we sang these words, I glanced around at members of the congregation and was stunned to observe that about a third of them were not singing. How could this be? Were those who did not even mouth the words suggesting that for them it was not “sweet to sing the matchless love” or to “sing hosannas to his name”? What are we saying, what are we thinking, when we fail to join in singing in our worship services?”

In the Preface to our hymnbook the First Presidency states: “Inspirational music is an essential part of our church meetings.  The hymns invite the Spirit of the Lord, create a feeling of reverence, unify us as members, and provide a way for us to offer praises to the Lord. Some of the greatest sermons are preached by the singing of hymns. Hymns move us to repentance and good works, build testimony and faith, comfort the weary, console the mourning, and inspire us to endure to the end.”

I brought a non-member friend, an opera singer, to a Christmas concert by the Orange County Mormon Choral Organization. She was really enjoying the music and afterward expressed how much she loved and was impressed by the choir’s performance of Magnificat, a very difficult and gorgeous classical piece often sung by choirs in the academia world. However inspiring she found that song, it was actually the final number, “I Believe in Christ” which caused tears to flow down her cheeks. As an Evangelical Christian she would likely not have heard that uniquely Mormon hymn before, yet the power of the doctrine in the words and music were overwhelming causing an undeniable emotional response.

We too can have powerful spiritual experiences when we listen to and sing the hymns, the primary songs, or other inspired music.

One Sunday I attended a sacrament meeting in another stake. My piano student was presenting the musical selection, a piano arrangement of a well-known hymn. He had spent several weeks practicing and preparing. It’s not easy for a 16-year-old boy to do something like that in front of his church friends so I was there to lend my support. I slipped in and sat on the back row. The ward was a little noisy. (But I think we all get a little spoiled in our ward which tends to be so reverent.) I was certain though, that things would quiet down when he began to play. After all he was well prepared and played so beautifully. I thought, surely this hymn would help invite the spirit into the meeting because after all, that’s what music does. As we heard the first few notes coming from the piano people started standing up, lots of people, and they walked out. Most of them were children and teenagers, perhaps wanting a drink of water or to stretch their legs or something. Two women sitting next to me had been chatting during the first speaker and they continued to chat during the musical number. When it became apparent they weren’t going to be quiet I tapped them on the shoulder and went shh. They stopped talking. While I said nothing, inside of me was crying, “Don’t you understand what you are missing? You are missing out on the best part of the meeting, an opportunity to feel the spirit. This is not an intermission, a chance for a restroom break, a time to chat with your neighbor. This is your opportunity to listen, to review of the words to the hymn in your head, to allow yourself to feel the Spirit of the Lord, and to teach your children to do the same.”

President J. Ruben Clark said  “We can get nearer to the Lord through music than perhaps any other thing except prayer.”

I believe the music we allow into our homes has a direct impact on the quality of the music in our worship services and in our ability to feel the spirit when listening to sacred music. If children and youth are exposed to nothing more than modern rock, country, or hip-hop music at home they are less likely to understand a higher level of music, instead thinking of spiritual and reverent music at church as boring, dull, and lacking a dance beat.  As I drive my kids around to their various activities I usually have music playing in the car. I’ve always loved listening to the radio but as my children have gotten older I’ve become increasingly aware of the lyrics and have found myself changing stations frequently due to inappropriate content. We discovered something wonderful that we bought for each car, a cheap little convertor that plugs right into the tape deck making it possible to listen to an iPod in the car (that tells you a little about the age of our cars.) After getting this fabulous contraption, we’ve been able to listen to the music we put on our iPods rather than leave what we listen to in the hands of some random radio employee. We’ve listened to Beethoven Symphonies, Chopin Concertos and hymns performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. There is a peacefulness present during our drives…a noticeable lack of yelling, teasing and contention, replaced by love, patience, and the spirit.

Elder Douglass Calister of the Seventy said:  “If we could peek behind the heavenly veil we would likely be inspired by the music of heaven, perhaps more glorious than any music we have heard on this earth.

When some music has passed the tests of time and been cherished by the noble and refined, our failure to appreciate it is not an indictment of grand music. The omission is within. If a young person grows up on a steady diet of hamburgers and french fries, he is not likely to become a gourmet. But the fault is not with fine food. He just grew up on something less. Some have grown up on a steady diet of musical french fries.”

Gordon B. Hinckley said, “Enjoy music. Not the kind that rocks and rolls, but the music of the masters, the music that has lived through the centuries, the music that has lifted people. If you do not have a taste for it, listen to it thoughtfully. If you do not like it the first time, listen to it again and keep listening. It will be something like going to the temple. the more often you go, the more beautiful will be the experience.”

Let us allow the music in our homes to supplement the music in our worship services. LDS.org has an abundance of resources available. On that website you can listen to the hymns and Primary songs. You can learn how to sing the hymns including the parts using the interactive Church music player. You can even learn how direct the hymns using the interactive conducting course. On LDS.org you can order the hymns and Primary songs on CD, or purchase hymnbooks and Children’s Songbooks, and they are all very inexpensive. Our current hymnbook was published 27 years ago, and yet still there are many hymns that are unfamiliar to us. Why? Let us challenge ourselves to learn these hymns, sing them in our homes, teach them to our children and listen to recordings of them.

In my home we sing various hymns for Family Home Evening. Several months ago we opened the hymnbook to “Welcome Welcome Sabbath Morning”, not exactly the hymn you’d choose for a Monday night and it wan’t even familiar to our kids. But, we sang it anyway. It became my son Jonathan’s favorite hymn. He memorized the words and taught himself to play it on the piano. Abby reported that Jonathan and Madeline would sing “Welcome Welcome Sabbath Morning” at the top of their lungs as they walked to school each morning. I wonder what the neighbors thought.

Hark! the Sabbath bells are ringing;
Hear the echoes all around.
List! the merry children singing!
What a pleasing, joyful sound!
Ev’ry tender note entreats us,
Bids us come, nor longer stay.
On our way the music greets us;
Hasten, hasten, come away. 

We know very little about what our role will be once we leave this life. But we do know that it will involve singing and choirs.

In 1 Nephi 1:8, Nephi spoke of his father’s dream, “he saw the heaven’s open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God.”

In Mosiah 2:28, King Benjamin preparing for his death says, “at this period of time when I am about to go down to my grave, that I may join the choirs above in singing the praises of a just God.”

One Sunday evening I received a phone call from my brother who had moved to New York City and had just attended sacrament meeting in his new ward. He was so excited because he had never experienced music in a sacrament meeting quite like what he encountered that day. It was about the singing. He said, “everyone sings, LOUD!”. He was blown away by their enthusiasm, their volume, and especially the fact that everyone was singing. His wife received a welcome packet in Relief Society with a letter that read, “You’ve probably noticed that this ward loves to sing. We hope you’ll join with us and sing with vim and vigor”. When Joe and I visited New York we were so anxious to witness the musical phenomenon of the Manhattan 1st Ward, and we were not disappointed. The organ began (and if you think I play loud, I have nothing on that organist) and every single person in the congregation held their hymnbooks high and started to sing. I have never in my life heard a congregation sing with such power, such intensity, such enthusiasm. It gave me chills and I became emotional. The spirit was very strong in that sacrament meeting that day, I think in part due to the fact that every member was engaged in the music of the meeting.

My hope is that we as members of this ward, we will more fully participate in the music of our meetings. With careful planning it is not difficult to arrive a little early to sacrament meetings, to sit quietly in the chapel listening to the hymn preludes, allowing ourselves to be spiritually prepared for our most sacred meeting of the week. It is a simple thing to open the hymnbook and sing the words, teaching our children to do the same. It is not hard to listen to the musical numbers performed in our meetings with reverence and respect, listening to the words, allowing ourselves to feel the spirit. And for those who enjoy singing or want to learn how to sing better, it is an easy thing to stay after church an extra 45 minutes to sing with the choir.

The Lord, upon giving instruction to Emma Smith for the creation of a hymnbook said, “For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me an it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads. Wherefore, lift up thy heart and rejoice.”

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Musical Ward Touring

Posted on July 1, 2012. Filed under: General Church Music, Music Directing, Music in Sacrament Meeting, Organ Music |

On a recent trip I visited four wards in New York, Pennsylvania and Missouri. What were my observations regarding music in those wards?

1. Only one ward I visited, which was in upstate New York, had an organist who could actually play the organ, pedals and all. Of course the other wards had people attempting to play the organ but it’s just not the same.

2. Only one congregation sang the hymns with strength and conviction. Can you guess which ward it was? The one with the real organist.

3. All wards had rest hymns but only one ward had the congregation stand for the rest hymn. Yes, once again it was the New York ward.

So why am I highlighting that New York ward? I think it is amazing that in wards where trained musicians are directing and accompanying the congregation responds with increased participation in the form of hymn singing. So what can we as ward musicians do to get those same results? Training. If you are a music chairman please train the people in your ward music callings. If you are in a ward music calling and feel like you need more training there are several ways to improve your skills. Music directors can receive help through LDS.org/churchmusic, by practicing with these videos, or by taking directing lessons at a local college or from a private instructor. Organists can improve their skills through diligent practice at the church, by taking private lessons, or through online tutorials.

When musicians are well-trained they provide the opportunity for ward members to enjoy the spirit of the hymns and the singing of the hymns without the distractions that come from issues like note mistakes, hymns played too slow/fast, or organ registrations that are ear piercing or slushy. How are you doing at improving your musical skills?

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Familiar vs. Unfamiliar Hymns

Posted on April 22, 2012. Filed under: General Church Music, Music in Sacrament Meeting, Ward Music Chairman |

Recently I asked my Ward Music Chairman if we could please sing Hymn #197  “O Savior, Thou Who Wearest a Crown” for a sacrament hymn. After all it is listed under the topic of “Sacrament” and it is one of my favorite hymns, the only one in our hymnal by J.S. Bach. Due to the changing harmonies I love playing it on the organ. My Ward Music Chairman told me we can’t do it because it’s not familiar. What??? I told her that was ridiculous, that it’s been around since the 1700’s and if it wasn’t familiar to some it ought to become familiar. Then we proceeded to sing a sacrament hymn that Sunday, one that was new to the 1985 hymnal. It too was unfamiliar just a few years ago until someone decided we should sing it once, twice, then it became familiar. That’s how it works.

Occasionally local leaders request that only hymns that are familiar to the congregation be sung in sacrament meeting. The problem is which are the familiar hymns? What is familiar to one may not be to another. To me, “O Savior Thou Who Wearest a Crown” is very familiar. It’s the main chorale in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. The music is in every Christian hymnal I’ve ever browsed. The hymn text describes the sacrifice of our Savior. It is a message central to our religion. Why then can we not sing it or any other hymn for that matter?

On the LDS Church Music website and in the hymnbook it states:

  • Achieving Balance in the Selection of Hymns: In addition to using hymns already known and loved, members are encouraged to become acquainted with new or less familiar hymns. Try to achieve a good balance between familiar favorites and less well-known hymns.
  • Hymns for Stake Conference: Standard, well-known hymns are often the best choice for stake conference, particularly if hymnbooks are not available for the entire congregation.

Notice that well-known hymns are suggested for stake conference but no such statement is made regarding sacrament meeting. However, achieving a good balance is suggested. I like the 80/20 rule I heard someone mention years ago, 80% familiar and 20% less-familiar hymns. When choosing a less-familiar hymn it is helpful to have the organist play the entire hymn for the introduction. Have the organist play it for prelude music. Have the choir perform it or ask the Relief Society sisters to sing it in their meeting the week before. Then, by the time the ward is introduced to this hymn in sacrament meeting is is no longer unfamiliar.

The Latter-day Saint hymns teach great doctrine. Each hymn is meaningful and sacred. We should strive for familiarity with all of these inspired hymns.

See also How to Choose Hymns for Sacrament Meeting

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No Tremolo Please

Posted on February 21, 2012. Filed under: Music in Sacrament Meeting, Organ Music |

Recently I visited a ward in northern California. The organist was quite old, it seems it’s the elderly who have this issue. She played the organ loud using the tremolo. A lot of organs in LDS chapels don’t even have a tremolo stop any more, and I’m sure that’s on purpose. The tremolo is absolutely obnoxious. A tremolo/tremulant is a device on an organ which varies the wind supply to the pipes causing their pitch to fluctuate, producing a vibrato effect.  On an electric organ it sounds like a warbling vibrato, a perfect style for theatre organ music. The tremolo is never appropriate for use in hymn accompanying. Personally, I don’t like when it’s used for any church use, ever. Perhaps on a first-rate pipe organ with a variable tremulant, rare in the LDS Church, it could be used with prelude/postlude music when on the lowest vibrato setting. But, overall it is a major distraction and, like I mentioned before, it can be quite obnoxious.

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Most Brass Instruments

Posted on December 26, 2011. Filed under: General Church Music, Music in Sacrament Meeting, Stake Music, Ward Music Chairman | Tags: , , , |

Which instruments are appropriate for sacrament meeting and which should not be used?  The instruction we have received is:

“Instruments with a prominent or less worshipful sound, such as most brass and percussion, are not appropriate for sacrament meeting.” (Handbook 2: Administering the Church)

What are those “most brass and percussion” instruments anyway?  Yesterday I visited a sacrament meeting in a Rexburg, Idaho where two French horns played with a violin, cello, and an English horn as part of the Christmas day program. It was very reverent and worshipful. I didn’t find anything inappropriate about the French horns even though they are brass instruments. I think there is a reason for the “most” in “most brass and percussion” instruments. There are exceptions. When played well French horns have a very worshipful sound. And what could be more festive in a Christmas Day sacrament meeting then the beauty of French horns?

Generally, it is my opinion that the brass and percussion instruments most appropriate for sacrament meeting are French horn, piano, harp, and organ. I happen to think trumpets can be worshipful too, but I believe most bishops would disagree, so it’s best to leave them off the short list.

When determining what is and is not appropriate in sacrament meeting, we need to always keep in mind that it is our most reverent meeting of the week. We should keep the music as sacred as is the ordinance of the sacrament. If there is ever even a question as to the appropriateness of an instrument or a musical selection always rule on the side of caution and don’t do it. For me, there wasn’t ever a question over the appropriateness of a French horn. It’s lush sound was a welcome and worshipful sound to my musical ears on Christmas Sunday.

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Music Style for Sacrament Meeting

Posted on August 5, 2011. Filed under: General Church Music, Music in Sacrament Meeting, Ward Music Chairman |

Music in sacrament meeting is inspirational, or at least it should be. But what is inspirational to one may not be to another. Where do we draw the line? What style is the church looking for exactly?

The tradition in the Church is to sing in a conservative classical style, without scoops, licks, heavy vibrato, twang, and nasal tone.  The style preferred by Church leaders is best described as the manner in which one would sing a Brahms art song, or an art song of the late 1800’s, early 1900’s.  So, none of the styles we hear on American Idol are appropriate, neither is the style we would hear at the Met.  We are a church where choral music dominates our style, so the soloists’ style is expected to match the style of choral music.  The choral style has been passed down through the centuries, from the Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and Contemporary eras.  This style can produce a worshipful, reverent, and respectful sound that is not overly dramatic, nor overly sentimental, does not call unnecessary attention to itself, and allows the listener to contemplate the text without the performer showing off his/her skills.

This is particularly difficult because contemporary religious music is headed in a different direction, away from the choral and art song tradition, to pop, soul, and rock styles.  On the LDS scene, the music of Lex de Azevado, Kenneth Cope, Michael McLean, Jericho Road, and Cheri Call are some of the many examples of religiously oriented music heading in the direction of so many rock/soul/gospel artists.

So what does this mean for LDS musicians? As we are choosing music for Church meetings, particularly sacrament meeting, we need to keep in mind that our music choice cannot simply be the latest EFY song or a song from a best-selling album at Deseret Book. Music selections must be within the following guidelines outlined in the church handbook.

“Secular music should not replace sacred music in Sunday meetings.  Some religiously oriented music presented in a popular style is not appropriate for sacrament meetings. Also, much sacred music that is suitable for concerts and recitals is not appropriate for a Latter-day Saint worship service.”

Music in Church meetings should not draw attention to itself or be for demonstration.  This music is for worship, not performance.”

For specific music titles that are appropriate for a sacrament meeting performance:

VOCAL SOLOS/DUETS

PIANO SOLOS

CHOIR MUSIC

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Unfortunate LDS Music Stories

Posted on July 30, 2011. Filed under: Music in Sacrament Meeting, Organ Music, Primary Music, Ward Choir, Ward Music Chairman |

sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes embarrassing, always 100% TRUE

  • Arizona: a man sings Michael Jackson’s, “Man in the Mirror” for a Sacrament Meeting musical number
  • Idaho: Sacrament Meeting on the 4th of July, Opening Hymn, “God Save the King”
  • California: for a musical number in Sacrament Meeting a member of the bishopric puts a boombox on the podium and pushes the play button so the congregation can listen to Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American”
  • California: a girl accompanies herself on the piano while singing into a boom mic a pop-style version of “I Know that My Redeemer Lives”
  • Utah: in a 2006 Primary Program Presentation in Sacrament Meeting the children go retro singing a Mormon pop favorite from the 80’s
  • New York: the dress rehearsal for a Stake Christmas Fireside revealed one of the musical selections as “Baby It’s Cold Outside” (The Stake Pres. caught wind and canceled that song in the nick of time)
  • Utah: a girl sings an emotional “His Hands” by Kenneth Cope (a capella), using dramatic hand gestures, as a part of her testimony during a BYU ward fast and testimony meeting.
  • Pennsylvania: A woman has the congregation join in with her, swaying and holding their pointer fingers up as they all sing “This Little Light of Mine”
  • California: a congregation is confused when they can’t reach the notes of a hymn. The organist failed to see that the transposition knob had been turned to sound a 5th higher.
  • Utah: an over-zealous choir director convinces a struggling ward choir of 12 that they can perform Wilhousky’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic”. The performance left the congregation wishing for ear plugs.
  • Arizona: an over-populated ward fails to provide hymn books or print hymn text in the programs leaving 50% of it’s members (all those packed in the cultural hall) unable to sing the Sacrament Meeting Hymns each Sunday.
  • California: an organist leaves town with the key to the organ leaving a congregation without accompaniment for Sacrament Meeting.
  • Arizona: a woman sings the solo “The Wind Beneath My Wings” in Sacrament Meeting
  • Utah: July 24th (Pioneer Day), sacrament meeting opening hymn: “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”

Each of these little errors really happened, although I don’t think it’s appropriate to embarrass the wards/stakes so I’ve chosen to keep the exact location/date confidential.

THIS IS WHY WE NEED MUSIC TRAINING.


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Solos in Sacrament Meeting

Posted on July 20, 2011. Filed under: General Church Music, Music in Sacrament Meeting, Ward Music Chairman |

On Sunday I attended a ward in Southern Utah. The musical number was “O Divine Redeemer” sung by a young soprano. It was lovely, reverent, memorized, obviously well rehearsed. The congregation seemed to be moved by that musical experience. Contrast that to some solo musical performances I’ve witnessed that made me want to run for the door. What makes a good solo performance for sacrament meeting?

1. Before asking someone to perform a vocal or instrumental solo make sure they are good at what they do. Sacrament Meeting isn’t the place to make the Saints suffer through an off-key screechy violin solo, or an older soprano who’s vibrato is so thick you can’t tell which notes she’s singing. Always remember the purpose of a musical number is to add to the spirit of the meeting, not detract from it.

2. Using the hymns and primary songs as a guide, choose a piece that will add to the spirit of the meeting. Stay away from music in a pop style, secular classical music, opera, etc. For a list of my favorite solos appropriate for sacrament meetings click HERE.

3. The ward music chairman should listen to ALL musical numbers before they are performed in sacrament meeting to make sure the music is appropriate and performed in a manner that would not take away from the spirit of that sacred meeting.

4. Vocal solos should usually be performed using a microphone, unless the singer has a really strong well-trained voice. The congregation has an easier time understanding the words when the microphone is used. A soloist should NOT self-accompany at the piano (Stevie Wonder style).

5. Instruments should tune with the piano prior to the beginning of sacrament meeting so they don’t have to take so much time tuning right before the performance. Hymns and primary song arrangements are the very best choice for instrumental performances. When an instrumentalist performs something familiar to the congregation, like a hymn, members are able to review the words of hymn in their minds while listening to the beautiful musical arrangement. When piano solos are performed the lid on the piano should be all the way up (using the longest pole). Click HERE for music ideas for piano solos.

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The Royal Organ

Posted on May 10, 2011. Filed under: General Church Music, Music in Sacrament Meeting, Organ Music |

I can’t stop thinking about the fabulous music at the Royal Wedding (William and Kate, May 2011). When the boisterous organ of Westminster Abbey began playing the introduction to “Guide us, O thou great Redeemer” (“Guide us, O thou great Jehovah” in our hymnbook) I thought I had died and gone to heaven. The sound of that incredible organ and the entire congregation singing was simply thrilling. Oh, the power the organist has. It wouldn’t have nearly the effect if the organ were soft and wimpy, with flute registrations. Instead there were principles and reeds which created a powerful and glorious sound.

We can’t, or really shouldn’t, get away with this exact sound in our reverent Sacrament Meetings. We can, however, learn to register the organ so we get a powerful combination of stops conducive to singing a majestic hymn such as this. Get rid of those airy flutes and slushy strings and pull out the principles (and possibly a reed or two) for a really strong sound that will encourage the congregation to rejoice through singing.

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How to Choose Hymns for Sacrament Meeting

Posted on March 20, 2011. Filed under: General Church Music, Music Directing, Music in Sacrament Meeting, Ward Music Chairman |

Opening Hymns…

If you really want to get the congregation singing choose an faster tempo hymn of a familiar nature like “Redeemer of Israel” or “There is Sunshine in My Soul Today”.  If you choose a slow unfamiliar hymn you’ll lose the congregation before the meeting has even begun.

Sacrament Hymn…

Not much to say about this one.  The back of the hymnbook lists appropriate hymns for the Sacrament…#169-197 and 146.  The sacrament hymn “should refer to the sacrament itself or to the sacrifice of the Savior” (Handbook 2: 14.4.4). Use all the sacrament hymns on a rotation; they should all be familiar.

Rest Hymn…

I have definite opinions on this one.  You should be singing about one rest hymn a month, so make it special.  This is the one time a month that the congregation gets to participate in the musical number.  I don’t like singing rest hymns sitting down.  The handbook says we can stand, with Priesthood approval, so get approval and STAND.  Standing a congregation is a sure fire way to get them to sing. They know they’ll look silly if they stay seated or if they stand and keep their mouths closed, so they sing.  If you are standing it better be a rousing hymn like “Israel, Israel, God is Calling”.  Those types of hymns are best for rest hymns anyway.  There was something going around the church a few years ago, a rumor I assume, that we weren’t supposed to stand anymore for rest hymns.  This is false.  We do it in General Conference and Stake Conference, and they handbook says we can, under the direction of the presiding authority.

Closing Hymn…

Choose a hymn that goes along with the spirit and theme of the meeting.  But, watch it.  Many directors get so caught up in thinking the hymn has to match the theme exactly and we end up singing “In Fasting We Approach Thee” every Fast Sunday and “Called to Serve” for every departing missionary.  For Fast Sunday you would probably want to choose a hymn like “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” that matches the spirit and reverence of the meeting as opposed to something like “For the Strength of the Hills”.  Use the theme of the meeting as a guide, but make sure the congregation is singing a wide VARIETY of hymns.  I once went 6 years in a ward without singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “O My Father”, two of my favorites.  Yet our ward faithfully sang the fasting songs every single month.

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A Choir in Every Ward

Posted on January 15, 2011. Filed under: Music in Sacrament Meeting, Ward Choir |

Several years ago I served as a missionary in a small branch in Spain.  About 50 people attended Sacrament Meeting each week, 6 of those were missionaries.  Every Sunday evening the adults in the branch gathered at the chapel for choir practice.  Sometimes there was an accompanist (when a missionary could play) and sometimes they sang a capella.  But they always sang.  Choir practice was the ward social event of the week.  Almost all the adults participated.  When they sang in Sacrament Meeting there was rarely an adult left in the congregation, just children.  But, that was okay.  These Saints loved singing.  Until I arrived they had only been singing the hymns in unison.  I convinced them that they could learn to sing in 2-part harmony.  We chose a favorite hymn and after a month of rehearsals this small branch choir did it.  They sang that 2-part hymn in Sacrament Meeting and were absolutely thrilled.

So, when I hear of full-sized wards in the United States who do not have a ward choir I shake my head in disbelief.  Do they not understand the power of choral music in our Sacrament Meetings?  Do they not understand the blessings that come to members participating in a choir?  Do they not understand that singing in a choir is one of the few things we’ll do on this earth that we will continue to do beyond the grave?

“…at this period of time when I am about to go down to my grave, that I might go down in peace, and my immortal spirit may join the choirs above in singing the praises of a just God.” ~Mosiah 2:28
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A Model of Sacrament Meeting Music

Posted on January 6, 2011. Filed under: General Church Music, Music in Sacrament Meeting, Ward Music Chairman |

A couple of years ago I visited a ward in New York that became a model in my mind of how music in a Sacrament Meeting should sound.  The organist played appropriate hymn arrangements for prelude.  The congregation sang with gusto and the organist accompanied with a full and strong sound, varying the registrations  with each verse.  The opening hymn was a faster tempo hymn, one of strength and conviction.  Between the talks was a musical selection, “I Know That My Redeemer Lives”, performed by two violinists and a pianist, perfectly executed.  The Sacrament and closing hymns, although slower in tempo than the opening, were sung with no less strength and volume.  The organist’s choice for postlude complimented the spirit of the meeting and I left feeling spiritually uplifted.  It was that day I truly understood this…

A person can get nearer to the lord through music than perhaps any other thing except prayer ~J. Reuben Clark
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to sing or not to sing…the power lies with the organist

Posted on January 1, 2011. Filed under: General Church Music, Music in Sacrament Meeting, Organ Music |

I am first and foremost a pianist, but I absolutely LOVE playing the organ.  I believe if a congregation is not singing, at least 50% of the blame goes to the organist.  If the organist plays with confidence using correct registration and volume the congregation will sing out.  I have seen evidence of this in Sacrament Meetings all over the world.

There are two Arizona wards I attended last year that I’ll use to demonstrate the importance of a good organist.  The first ward was small, maybe 100 people total in Sacrament Meeting.  Their organist had been an organ performance major years ago.  She played on a tiny organ but used an intelligent combination of stops that was inviting to the congregation.  The members sang as if they were truly praising the Lord with all their heart and soul.   The second ward was enormous, at least 600 people in attendance at the Sacrament Meeting.  The organist used all flutes in her registration for all the congregational hymns, playing softly, at a slower tempo than the metronome markings in the hymnbook.  She used the bass coupler instead of the foot pedals which kept cutting out every few notes (a problem with bass couplers).   The congregation sang at the soft volume of the organist, those who were even singing.  I was amazed at the many people who didn’t even open their hymnbooks.  This left me wondering what would have happened if the organist from the tiny ward were playing for the large ward?  Would the tempo, volume, registrations, and confidence of that organist help invite all members to participate in the singing of the hymns?  I believe it would.

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