"Worship through music" has become a common expression among Latter-day Saints.
"It really is a very valid little phrase because music is one of the most effective ways we have to worship," commented Michael F. Moody, chairman of the general Church Music Committee."In a sacrament meeting, it might seem that members of the congregation have little opportunity to give expression outside of partaking of the sacrament and saying `amen' after the prayers. Beyond that, we have quite a bit of opportunity through the hymns to participate and express how we feel about the gospel. We have hymns that express praise and thanksgiving, and we have hymns that are prayers and supplication."
In addition, Brother Moody said, music can do much to prepare people for the worship service, helping them to figuratively "come in from the outside world." He said the singing of hymns can unify members of the Church, bringing a feeling of brotherhood.
"Yet we tend quite often to sing without thinking," he observed, adding that such neglect reminds him of Isa. 29:13, which refers to people who draw near to God with their mouths but who have removed their hearts from Him.
"Hymns are sermons put to music with the benefit of memorability that music brings," he said. "If people are not thinking about the words when they sing, they are missing the blessings that come from music," he said.
The hymn singing period, recently instituted as part of opening exercises in Sunday School, has been effective at promoting worship through music in the wards and branches where it has been implemented as intended, Brother Moody said.
"It seems to work quite well where people are following the guidelines, where people realize that they should not be teaching music so much as teaching the gospel through music. It has been very successful where members of the congregation have been given a lot of opportunity to sing, with the chorister adding brief comments to enlighten their minds, and using creativity in presenting the hymn."
He cautioned against the chorister starting and stopping the congregation too often or getting caught up too much in technical aspects or history and background of the hymn at the expense of singing it.
Brother Moody, who earned a doctorate in church music, said hymn singing, when properly experienced, can be a channel for two-way communication between God and man.
"We express our feelings of adoration and prayer to the Lord through music, and He inspires us through the music," he explained.
In fact, Brother Moody said, hymns were originally created as paraphrases of scripture, a means of retaining and remembering scriptural concepts. Thus, in a strictly technical sense, many Latter-day Saint "hymns" are really songs.
However, many musical compositions that teach the gospel have also come to be regarded as hymns, he said.
"The new LDS children's songbook is a supplement to the hymnbook," he noted. "It presents the gospel message in a simpler, more childlike way."
He pointed out that three favorite hymns in the current hymnbook were originally written for children. As explained by Karen Lynn Davidson in Our Latter-day Saint Hymns, Cecil Frances Alexander wrote the words to "There Is a Green Hill Far Away," "He Is Risen!" and "Once in Royal David's City" to help her Sunday School class learn important Christian truths.
- Hymns . . . can fill our souls with heavenly thoughts and bring us a spirit of peace. – First Presidency, preface to Hymns, 1985
- Inspiring music may fill the soul with heavenly thoughts, move one to righteous action, or speak peace to the soul. – President Ezra Taft Benson, General Conference, October 1974.
- Can anyone doubt that good music is godly or that there can be something of the essence of heaven in great art? – President Gordon B. Hinckley, General Conference, October 1985
- A few years ago in New Zealand a tragic drowning claimed the lives of two instructors of the Church College at Temple View. The young widows and their children were overcome by grief and heartache. Many well-wishing and sympathetic friends offered words of consolation, but the remorse remained. There came a soft knock at the door; a group of Maori Saints entered the room. Not a word was spoken, but song came forth from their lips and hearts. The bereaved families received a sustaining influence that accompanied them through the lonely and long journey homeward and even today turns tears of sorrow to warm smiles of gratitude. – President Thomas S. Monson, from Pathways to Perfection, p. 19
Resources make music a means of divine worship
Many tools have been prepared by the Church for using music to enhance worship at meetings and in the home. The materials, available through the Salt Lake Distribution Center, include the following:
Hymns, 1985, the official hymnbook of the Church. In addition to the standard size with green cover, it is published in large print, in editions with spiral binding, in pocket-sized editions, and in Braille.
Hymns, 1985, Simplified accompaniments, a selection of 158 hymns from the standard hymnbook.
Audiocassettes, Hymns, includes musical introductions and all verses of each hymn in the hymnbook performed with piano, strings and other instruments. Available in a version with words and music and another version with music only. Each version contains 18 cassettes. Studio musicians who recorded the hymns were members of the Deseret Strings at BYU and other instrumentalists. Singers were members of the Tabernacle Choir or were University of Utah music students.
Selected Hymns, 60 from the standard hymnbook on six audio cassettes with an accompanying booklet. The booklet is being translated for use in countries where the Church is in the early stages of development.
How to Conduct a Hymn, a videocassette presenting basic information for the beginning conductor, but also useful for conductors with more experience. Designed for use in music training courses, by youth groups, families, missionaries, and others who wish to know the essentials of conducting.