Important resources for LDS ward choirs.
Managing LDS ward choirs can be a little overwhelming. Many of us feel woefully inadequate, but as I mention in the previous article, we certainly are (or are becoming) qualified for the work. As part of that qualifying process, we must put forth our best efforts to learn our duty and then to act.
In the Doctrine & Covenants, the Lord chastens the saints because they “treated lightly” the things they received from him (D&C 84:54-57). Similarly, some of us fail to remember important music resources that the Lord provides to ward choir directors and church musicians, such as:
- Handbook 2,
- HYMNS (see the back),
- LDS.org (music.LDS.org),
- and Teaching the Savior’s Way (see below).
Read the handbook.
The Church provides two handbooks for leaders: Handbook 1 is for stake presidents and bishops. Handbook 2 is for members of ward and stake councils, and includes principles and guidelines that apply to multiple organizations in the ward—including (drum roll) music.
Really. It answers many of the common questions about music in the church:
- How do I choose appropriate music?
- Which musical instruments are acceptable?
- What is the real purpose of ward choir?
“Reading the instructions” sounds cliché, but it works. The Handbook often helps me make a good decision (or avoid a bad one) in providing music for ward and stake meetings.
LDS.org (music.lds.org) presents all of the official church manuals for music in digital format. For example:
- instructions for beginning music directors,
- tips for leading children’s music,
- explanations of musical terms and symbols,
- and a complete conducting course.
The interactive music player allows you to easily modify a hymn’s key or tempo or to highlight individual parts. (By the way, this comes in very handy for quick, do-it-yourself arrangements as suggested in “Using the Hymnbook.” I think simple arrangements of this sort are often overlooked by LDS ward choirs, but they can be very effective and fun, especially if you have a talented accompanist who can add a little ornamentation to the introduction and interludes.)
Remember the scriptures.
Though far less technical in nature, the scriptures teach a great deal about music. Carefully pondering those verses that mention music, hymns, singing, dancing, instruments, and choirs, invites revelation.
Also, many conference talks and other discourses from latter-day prophets focus on the power and purpose of music. (Among my favorites are The Arts and the Spirit of the Lord and Worthy Music, Worthy Thoughts by Elder Boyd K. Packer.)
I believe that any time spent reading—and prayerfully pondering—what servants of the Lord have said about music is worthwhile and produces both spiritual and musical blessings.
Teaching (music) in the Savior’s way.
My approach to music in the church changed powerfully when I realized that musicians in the church are really teachers. As musicians, we share the gospel using a special (and universal) language we call music.
LDS ward choirs are classes and ward choir directors are teachers on two levels. First, we teach music to the choir. Second, we teach the gospel to those who hear the choir perform. It’s important that we apply good teaching principles at both levels.
Consider a few principles from Teaching in the Savior’s Way:
- Love those you teach.
- Teach by the Spirit.
- Teach the doctrine.
- Focus on people, not lessons.
- Reach out to those who do not attend.
Surely we can also love those we sing to (and with), sing with the Spirit, and sing the doctrine? Certainly we should focus on people, and not musical technique or performance. And choir directors, like teachers, must reach out to those who do not attend—though, for many LDS ward choirs, that might include the active as well as the less-active.
A scriptural example.
Concerning the Savior and his apostles, Mark wrote, “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” (Mark 14:26). Consider that for just a moment. On the very night when the Jesus Christ instituted the sacrament, just moments before making his great and atoning sacrifice for them and for us, he taught his apostles by example that they could turn to music in their hour of need. He used music to comfort, strengthen, and teach them.
That should give pause to anyone who is called to teach using music in the church. It underscores just how important music is to our Savior and reflects his “delight” in “the song of the heart” (D&C 25:12). Surely, as we strive to teach and sing and play music in the Savior’s way, his help will come.