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Music & the Spoken Word: History — ‘a larger way of looking at life’

Author David McCullough said that history ‘is about people, and they speak to us across the years,’ Lloyd Newell shares this week

Editor’s note: “The Spoken Word” is shared by Lloyd Newell each Sunday during the weekly Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square broadcast. This will be given Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023.

When you hear the word history, what comes to mind? Many of us have memories of a high school history class, where we had to memorize dates, names and places. Because of such experiences, we might think of history as kings and presidents, wars and treaties, maps and timelines. But history is so much more than that.

Years ago, David McCullough, two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning author and historian, appeared as a guest narrator with The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square. On that occasion, he explained: “History is not only politics and military events but also includes art, music, literature, drama and architecture. To leave out music and these other elements leaves out the soul of the human story.”

In other words, when we read a poem by Elizabeth Browning or Gwendolyn Brooks, when we listen to the music of Beethoven or Gershwin, when we enjoy a painting by Michelangelo or Mary Cassatt, we are studying history. We are connecting with the soul of the human story.

At its best, history reminds us that the human story has a soul — that behind the names and dates are real people full of personality and passion. To paraphrase the Old Testament book of Job, “There is a spirit in man” — and in woman — enriched by “the inspiration of the Almighty” (Job 32:8). The more we learn about what these people loved, what they feared, and what brought them joy, the more we see in them that divine spark that lies within us all. We see that their story is our story. History, then, does more than detail the past — it bridges the past and the present.

In that sense, we are all part of a history. We each contribute to the stream of events that makes up the human story. Every time we take a picture, make a scrapbook, jot some feelings down in a journal, or tell a child about an experience from our own childhood, we’re adding an indispensable chapter to that story. In a sense, we’re making history.

McCullough, who passed away last summer, said it well: “History, I like to think, is a larger way of looking at life. It is a source of strength, of inspiration. ... It is about people, and they speak to us across the years” (see McCullough’s “The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For”).

Tuning in …

The “Music & the Spoken Word” broadcast is available on KSL-TV, KSL Radio 1160AM/102.7FM, KSL.com, BYUtv, BYUradio, Dish and DirectTV, SiriusXM Radio (Ch. 143), the tabernaclechoir.org, youtube.com/TheTabernacleChoir and Amazon Alexa (must enable skill). The program is aired live on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. on many of these outlets. Look up broadcast information by state and city at musicandthespokenword.com/viewers-listeners/airing-schedules.

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