Ward Music Director

  • Obtains the sacrament meeting topics from the ward music chairman.
  • Chooses hymns that correlate with the topics under the direction of the ward music chairman.  The ward music chairman must then obtain the bishopric’s approval.
  • Consults with the organist about the hymns that are chosen.
  • Chooses appropriate opening, sacrament, and closing hymns, a good combination of well-known and lesser-known hymns (about 70% well-known and 30% lesser-known is a good rule of thumb,) and appropriate tempos and volumes of the hymns, i.e., not too fast, slow, loud, or soft, depending on whether it is for opening, sacrament, or closing.
  • Learns and practices good directing techniques, i.e., knowing the hymn by heart and looking out into the congregation, directing the organist as well as the congregation, and directing with big arms and lots of enthusiasm.

My Theories

I believe, next to the organists fantastic accompanying, that hymn selection will help a congregation to sing or not to sing.  When I was Stake Music Chairman, my Stake President wanted only familiar hymns sung in Sacrament Meetings and he told me to tell all the Ward Music Directors.  Needless to say it did not go over well and there were some pretty angry musicians.  So, I created a list of the 75 most familiar hymns, according to Holly, and passed it out to the Music Directors.  I suggested they use these hymns 70% of the time and use the other hymns 30& of the time (just at the beginning). Then, their jobs were to coordinate with Ward Choir Directors and Relief Society Music Directors to teach less familiar hymns to the RS and Choir.  After a while those less familiar hymns would become more familiar and move into the 70% category.

How to program hymns into a Sacrament Meeting

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.  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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3 Responses to “Ward Music Director”

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Thanks for this information. I don’t really understand why so many music directors in the church have such a bee in their bonnet about teaching the congregation lesser known hymns. In my current ward I would say we sing well known hymns about 10-20% of the time. In my opinion it’s losing sight of the purpose of music in the church which is to bring the Spirit. Teaching new music in my opinion shouldn’t even be on the list. The reason to do it should be to give variety but every music director I talk to (and I enjoy asking them why they do it) always has a chip on their shoulder and usually says, “The members hardly know any of the hymns and it’s ridiculous. I’m going to teach them every hymn in the hymnal!” And I always ask what does that accomplish? If the members knew every song in the hymnal what does that do? Sorry to say this but some of the songs in the hymnal are antiquated and not very fun to sing unless you are an amazing singer. They may be great for a musical number but having 300 people sing them really stinks. In my opinion the more popular songs are more popular because they are better and/or more enjoyable to sing. Also if you could do a post about playing the music at tempo I would love that. Most organists in my experience are either well below the suggested range or always play at the lowest part of it. We sang Guide Us O Thou Great Jehovah on Sunday and I got a metronome out to check and he was playing at 56. The song recommends 76-96. I just don’t get it. The guy is an amazing organist but insists on playing everything so slowly because he thinks it invites the spirit more. Singing Called to Serve at BYU with 15,000 students in devotional and playing it fast brings the spirit just as much. I just don’t get it. Anyways great blog and sorry for the rant.

At his point, we really shouldn’t have lesser-known hymns. The current hymnal was published 30 years ago. Is that not enough time to get to know most of the hymns, at least the ones we all think are worth singing? If your ward is only singing familiar hymns 20% of the time, then I fear your ward is terribly undereducated when it comes to the hymnal. After 30 years, is there really that many hymns that are unfamiliar? I agree, there are some hymns that aren’t the best, the ones people really aren’t going to like no matter how often we sing them. And yet, some of the ones I don’t like are the very hymns that hold a special significance to others. I agree that some hymns are better for choirs, some for Relief Society, some for Priesthood, and some for the youth.

As for tempo, I have one word for the organists, pianists, and music directors…metronome!

The Church leadership handbook instructs ward music directors to “achieve a good balance between favorite hymns and those that are not as well known.” .

Hymns are said to be like scripture. There are lesser known scriptures yet we should still study them. Each hymn brings a unique message and spirit. We are deprived of that if we do not learn them.

There was an exhaustive selection process for the hymns selected for the hymn book. By ignoring many of them we are ignoring the inspiration received by those who put the hymn book together. There were many more hymns considered than were actually selected for inclusion. There is a reason each and every one was included.

Why not try and improve and expand your gospel knowledge. The spirit is an important part of how we learn in spiritual things. Learning new music can also invite the spirit. Remember, we often confuse spiritualism with emotionalism. Just because a hymn doesn’t invoke feelings of nostalgia and give you an emotional response doesn’t mean that the spirit isn’t present.

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