Sunday, April 25, 2010
And since I spent my creative blogging hours last night writing a talk, and since I spent an hour and a half writing something, you better bet it's going on my blog! (Especially since I've found myself unable to post anything even remotely interesting lately!) And everything went well today, thanks for asking. Aside from Max trying repeatedly to escape the confines of the pew to run up to me as I was speaking, there were no highly embarassing incidents. Which, you know, is really saying something!
I have been blessed throughout my life to be involved in music. I’ve been reading music almost as long as I’ve been reading words, and many of my best memories have come because of my involvement in music. My husband even proposed to me the night we met after he found out I played the violin! I’ve played in orchestras all over the United States and Canada, I’ve sung in the Tabernacle, and I’ve been teaching violin lessons since I was seventeen years old. I’ve been fortunate to learn and perform many of the great musical masterworks of composers such as Beethoven, Mozart, Bach and Brahms. But interestingly, the music that has touched me the most, that has changed my life and made the biggest impact on me, is the sacred music that brings with it the Spirit of the Lord.
When the bishop asked me to share experiences of when I felt the Spirit through music, I struggled to think of something profound to share. It’s not because I haven’t had experiences where I have felt the spirit when listening, singing, or playing an instrument; it’s exactly the opposite. It’s because there is rarely a time when I’m in the right frame of mind when singing or performing hymns and other good music hasn’t helped me to feel the spirit as well as uplifted and strengthened me.
Elder Dallin H Oaks has said: “Sacred music has a unique capacity to communicate our feelings of love for the Lord. This kind of communication is a wonderful aid to our worship. Many have difficulty expressing worshipful feelings in words, but all can join in communicating such feelings through the inspired words of our hymns. When a congregation worships through singing, all present should participate. As we sing we should think about the messages of the words. Our hymns contain matchless doctrinal sermons, surpassed only by the scriptures in their truth and poetic impact. We need to make more use of our hymns to put us in tune with the Spirit of the Lord, to unify us, and to help us teach and learn our doctrine. We need to make better use of our hymns in missionary teaching, in gospel classes, in quorum meetings, in home evenings, and in home teaching visits. Music is an effective way to worship our Heavenly Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. We should use hymns when we need spiritual strength and inspiration.”
When Tom and I were first married, we moved into a ward comprised entirely of people living in apartments. It was a ward filled primarily with young couples, a large amount of people with musical experience and a very determined and ambitious bishop. He decided that our ward choir was going to be the best ward choir that ever was, and enlisted nearly every person in the ward to join the choir. The piece he chose was “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” We had some great times rehearsing it, and were excited to perform it for our ward. Our bishop had even talked about recording it to a CD, and taking our ward choir “on the road” to perform for other wards!
I was a few months into our first pregnancy, and the week before we were scheduled to perform, we suffered a painful and unexpected miscarriage. I was devastated and grieving. When the bishop came over to check up on us, reminding me that we were scheduled to sing that Sunday, I told him there was no possible way I could sing that Sunday. I felt too fragile emotionally and spiritually, not to mention physically. He told me he thought the very best thing I could do was to sing, and allow myself to be strengthened and uplifted by the spirit.
The next day, I reluctantly joined the choir, mostly because of my bishop’s encouragement, and as we started to sing, I felt myself surrounded and uplifted by the spirit that was present, and I found myself doing more crying than singing. I was touched by the lyrics:
“O to grace how great a debtor
daily I'm constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here's my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above.”
The spirit bore testimony to me that day of the Lord’s love for me, and His ability to comfort me and strengthen me in times of struggle. And although I still grieved the miscarriage, I found that in the coming days and weeks, when I started to feel sad or discouraged, I was able to remember that performance, and the feeling I had of being wrapped in the Lord’s love, and it strengthened me. To this day, I still get teary-eyed when I hear that piece performed.
One of the inevitable things that comes with the territory of being a musician is taking the music callings. In fact, before we came to this ward and I got called to be in charge of the ward bulletin and newsletter, it had been almost ten years since I had had a calling that wasn’t a music calling. One of my most challenging and enjoyable music callings I had was being the Stake Choir director. The counselor from the Stake Presidency that was assigned to me was a professional choir director, and he insisted that we were going to have an excellent choir that was going to set the time for a very spiritual stake conference. Needless to say, I was feeling the pressure.
I don’t remember exactly what was going on in our lives at the time, but I do remember that I was struggling to feel close to Heavenly Father. Our rehearsals were on Sunday night, and I was having a hard time both feeling motivated to go and lead a rehearsal, and feeling intimidated and inadequate in my calling. I sat in the parking lot of the church before I went in and said a brief prayer, pleading for help, because I knew I didn’t have the energy or the ability to do it on my own that night.
One of the songs we were preparing was “Nearer My God to Thee.” We were rehearsing the rarely sung 4th and 5th verses to the hymn, and I was doing everything I could think of to get the choir to transmit the feeling and emotions behind the words into their performance. I started asking them to think about the beauty of the words in the 4th verse:
“Then with my walking thoughts, bright with thy praise,
Out of my stony griefs, Bethel I’ll raise.
So by my woes to be, Nearer my God to Thee.
Nearer my God to Thee, Nearer to Thee.”
I explained to the choir that when the hymn spoke of “Bethel” it was making reference to a monument to God; so in essence, we were singing about how because of our trials and struggles, we would be able to glory God through coming closer to him. Then we talked about the words of the 5th verse, which read:
“Or if on joyful wing, cleaving the sky,
Sun, moon and stars forgot, upward I fly.
Still all my song shall be, Nearer my God to Thee,
Nearer my God to Thee, Nearer to Thee.”
I became emotional as the truths of those words touched my heart. I love the images of being filled with joy so powerful that you are splitting the sky, and feeling the spirit testify to me of how joy will follow the struggles if we are willing to stay close to the Lord. As the choir sang those two verses, I was overcome with emotion and was barely able to continue directing. I left that evening grateful, not only that the Lord answered my prayer and sustained me through the rehearsal, but that I was blessed to feel His spirit and have my testimony of the Lord’s love for me strengthened.
Sometimes I struggle to express my feelings and my testimony in words. There are so many times where words feel inadequate to express what I feel in my heart. It is at times like that where I am grateful for my ability to express myself with music.
And here, you'll just have to imagine me playing an arrangement of "Nearer My God to Thee" that I decided to put together last night at 11 pm, with an accompanist who agreed to accompany me at approximately 8:53 this morning. I am so much more comfortable using music to express myself, and although I was lacking the 75-piece orchestra, I was glad I was able to bring my instrument to wrap things up.
Do you have a favorite hymn or piece of music? What about a time that you were strengthened or uplifted by music?