Course fosters musical worship

"Inspirational music" wrote the First Presidency in the preface to the Church's hymnal, "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."

As the gospel continues to fill the earth, that becomes a challenge in many areas of the Lord's kingdom.Acquisition of musical skill, in some places, has not been feasible or even possible for some members, who must struggle simply to obtain the necessities of life. Even among members of some wards in more affluent areas, musical proficiency can be at a premium, as the increasing of wards and branches thins out the concentration of available musical talent.

"If we're going to have music in every ward and branch, we really need some people who can provide it," noted Michael F. Moody, chairman of the general Church Music commitee. "And that's the purpose behind the new Basic Music Course."

Developed and field tested over a period of several years, the course is now being introduced in much of the Church. Some of the components of the course have been available separately, but it is now available as a kit. The kit includes these items:

A Keyboard Course manual with an accompanying audiocassette. The cassette provides recorded examples of exercises in the manual. Students are directed to listen to each example, follow the music in the book as they listen and then try to perform the music themselves. A "Handy Helps" foldout in the back of the book gives note names and associates them with the keys on a keyboard. It shows various notes, rests and accidentals, and explains a time signature.

Hymns Made Easy. This collection of 60 simplified hymns was already available before the Basic Music Course was ready, and is still available separately.

A cardboard keyboard for practice when a keyboard instrument is not available. Students are encouraged to practice every day or as often as possible with a keyboard, and to use a real keyboard instrument whenever they can.

Music note cards to help the student learn to read music notes, to recognize them instantly and associate them with the correct keys on the keyboard.

A Conducting Course manual with accompanying audiocassette. In addition to showing two-beat, three-beat, four-beat and six-beat patterns, it explains such concepts as a downbeat, a pickup beat and a fermata. It also gives guidelines for teachers on setting up Basic Music Course programs in stakes, wards, developing areas and in the home, and provides guidelines for choir directors. The audiocassette contains recorded examples from the book.

A $35 keyboard, that was already available from Church distribution centers, is useful with the Basic Music Course, Brother Moody noted, as is a chalk holder than contains five pieces of chalk for drawing a musical staff on a chalkboard for instruction.

Pertaining to development of the course, he said, "We started right at zero; we assumed the student knew nothing about music to begin with."

He said it has been developed and tested over many years, at various times in such areas as the Philippines, Hong Kong and Indonesia, and Mexico, Ecuador, Bolivia and other areas of Latin America.

"It has been through many revisions, and it's the kind of thing that every expert has an opinion on. We've finally had to say, in the words of Pearl S. Buck: `Perfection is all well and good. We only put one aim above it, and that's to get the job done.' "

In the early 1980s, missionary Cornell Green in the Philippines demonstrated its value, Brother Moody related. "He didn't know how to play the piano. But he saw a piano in the meetinghouse, and observed that many people wanted to learn how to play. So we sent him a draft of the course. He taught them while he learned himself. He stayed just a few pages ahead of the class. He sent me a tape on which each person bore testimony and said how much it meant to them that they could serve the Lord by learning to play the piano. And then they each played a hymn. It's quite touching to hear."

In Guatemala, wives of the Central America Area presidency began to sponsor a class last year to teach keyboard skills on the electronic keyboard offered by the Church. Laura Stay, wife of the area executive secretary, taught the class at first, assisted by the wives of the presidency. Recently the presidency has called a couple, Elder Robert and Sister Phyllis Whitmore, to work full time in teaching the music course.

In a letter to Brother Moody in December, the Whitmores wrote: "There are 16 students in the 8:30 a.m. class and 15 in the 10 a.m. class. Some are families. . . . There are two teenage boys who have learned enough piano to play Bach minuets reasonably well, who signed up for a class. They hoped for an advanced class, so we arranged to teach them individually if they would help us teach the class. This is working well. We feel we've made a start on training trainers.

"We announced a fourth class to begin in January without even having a schedule or location, and it filled up within hours. It's nice to have people eager to learn."

"In Hong Kong," Brother Moody related, "the mission president, Brent Armstrong, used the course as a missionary tool and had the welfare services sisters teaching the classes completely independent of gospel teaching. It brought a lot of interested young people to the chapel, and then they became interested in the Church."

Elder C. DuWayne and Sister Alice Schmidt, serving in Mongolia, wrote: "We have managed to get four keyboards here and believe it or not, DuWayne has added `piano teacher' to his list of jobs. He has found time to give two new converts one-hour lessons each week."

Brother Moody quoted a Welfare Services missionary in Mexico as saying that some people scoff at efforts to teach music, thinking that instruction in basic needs is more urgent. "But she said the pride of accomplishment that is sparked by their efforts helps them to want to begin to plant gardens and to improve their sanitation and eventually to live the gospel. It's a motivator."

As beneficial as it has been in other parts of the world, the Basic Music Course may also prove useful in the United States, Brother Moody commented. "I've had several General Authorities tell me that there are stakes in the United States where no one can play the piano."

Moreover, Church members in a ward or branch setting occasionally find themselves called upon to dust off and oil up a rusty musical skill or develop a rudimentary one.

At a meeting of representatives from various denominations sponsored by the American Guild of Organists in New York City, Brother Moody told the true story of an LDS bishop who called a woman in and said, "We'd like you to serve as the ward organist." She said, "But I don't play." The bishop replied, "But you will."

"To this day she is a fine organist because she put herself to the task and qualified herself," Brother Moody commented.

For members who find themselves in such a situation - building the boat while they cross the stream - the Basic Music Course may prove to be a basic survival kit.

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed