Episode 128: ‘My soul delighteth in the song of the heart’ — Ryan Eggett, a music manager for the Church, on the power of music
Former MTC choir director joins the podcast to speak about the power of music, the role of music in general conference and sacrament meetings, and the ability of music to testify of Jesus Christ
Episode 128: ‘My soul delighteth in the song of the heart’ — Ryan Eggett, a music manager for the Church, on the power of music
Former MTC choir director joins the podcast to speak about the power of music, the role of music in general conference and sacrament meetings, and the ability of music to testify of Jesus Christ
In the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord declares: “For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads” (Doctrine and Covenants 25:12).
Ryan Eggett, a music manager for the Church’s Priesthood and Family Department — and the former director of the Provo Missionary Training Center choir and the choir at the Utah Valley Institute of Religion — joins this episode of the Church News podcast.
He speaks about the power of music, the role of music in general conference and sacrament meetings, and the ability of music to testify of Jesus Christ.
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Ryan Eggett: I learned a lot about the power of music while I was serving at the MTC [Missionary Training Center] with those missionaries. We did the rehearsal. We sang in the devotional. And tonight, the Lord revealed to me that it’s true. You know, I honestly could tell you so many of those experiences. I have one on my phone right now pulled up. I was in church three weeks ago and a young man in the ward, who just had moved in, grabbed me and said, “I want to tell you, I was in the MTC. I was struggling with a testimony and I came to choir. And the Lord revealed to me as I sang.” And I’ve often thought, “Why does it happen as you sing?” And I’ve harken back to President Boyd K. Packer where he said, “Sometimes a testimony is found in the bearing of it.” You have to get on your feet and speak for the Lord to reveal to you and singing is the bearing of a testimony. And as these young men and young women have sung, they’ve had that witness.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
For more than a decade, Ryan Eggett led some 100,000 missionaries in his calling as the choir director for the Provo Missionary Training Center. Those responsibilities coupled with his role as the director of the Utah Valley University institute choir, and both those choirs performances during general conference and other events have made Ryan a most recognizable face in Latter-day Saint music. Now working as a music manager with the Church’s priesthood and family department, Ryan joins this episode of the Church News podcast to talk about the power of music, of music’s ability to strengthen Latter-day Saints, of music’s role in the upcoming general conference and of the tens of thousands of young adults who have inspired him with their musical performances. Ryan, welcome to the podcast today.
Ryan Eggett: Thanks, Sarah. I’m happy to be here.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I am delighted to have you. I have watched you from afar for a long time and feel thrilled to be sitting in the same room with you.
Ryan Eggett: Well, you said I have a recognizable face. It’s really the back of a choir director’s head that most people recognize that’s, you know, because they usually take the shots from the back. And so I may have a very recognizable back of my head even a little bit more than my face, but I’m thrilled to be here.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I think all of us are eager to think about music, because we think about general conference. But before we go there, I want to start and have you just talked about the power of music.
Ryan Eggett: Wonderful, thank you. You know, music is one of those things that the Lord, Himself, has highlighted. And that is one of the things that draws me into music and wanting to use music as a way to help others come to the Savior. I think of when Emma Smith was receiving the revelation, specifically to her in Doctrine and Covenants 25. We often quote verse 12, right? This is the month that the Church is established. So right out of the gate, the Lord is giving instructions about music. So we’re talking 1830. And if you look at verse 11, in the Doctrine and Covenants section , the Lord says to Emma, “And it shall be given thee also” — so in addition to all the other things you’re going to do as the wife of the prophet of the restoration — “It shall be given thee also to make a selection of sacred hymns, as it shall be given thee which is pleasing unto me to be had in my Church.”
If you just look at that verse, specifically, two different times, He says, “It will be given you” and He says, “This is what I want in my church. I want hymns in my Church.” That this is a specific desire of the Lord. And you go, “Why, why is He so interested in that?” And then verse 12, makes so much more sense, where the Lord says, “For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart.” And I love that He said, “The song of the heart” and not “The song of the voice,” or “The song of the mouth,” or “Of the chords,” right? He doesn’t say, “You have to be a great singer.” That His soul delights when individuals sing, when they lift up their voice to praise Him in gratitude and to sing of His doctrine and of His goodness and greatness and, and of their love for Him.
And then He follows that up with saying, “Yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me.” So it’s a way to talk to Heavenly Father, as well. “And it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.” You know, as I’ve talked to so many missionaries over the years saying, “Would you like a specific way to receive blessings from the Lord? One of the ones that He has told us is sing.” If you need blessings, and I can tell you a lot of, maybe we’ll get into some of those. But what I could say a lot of great stories for missionaries and other individuals, young adults and youth and people I’ve worked with have said, you know, as I saying, blank happened, and it turns out to be these wonderful blessings.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And I want to talk more about those potential blessings for using sacred music. But first, I want to hear what it was like to lead a choir at the Missionary Training Center, where every two to six weeks, you get all new choir members.
Ryan Eggett: OK, so maybe that’s why I love the phrase, “the song of the heart” and not “the song of the voice.” Because, you know, I loved doing this, especially if we had, often while we were rehearsing, we would have a couple of dozen of the senior couples that are working as ecclesiastical leaders. They would come in and watch the rehearsal. And it was always fun to say to the choir, we would often have 600 in the choir. You know, one night, we had 1,800. And there were only 2,000 missionaries, so only 200 were not in the choir and 1,800 were. But I would often say, “Raise your hand if you’ve never sung in a choir before.” And when most of the hands went up, you knew that it was going to be an evening of the song of the heart, and not a song of the voice, right?
And so it was always a thrill, though to, say we have an hour. And sometimes you’d have two rehearsals and sometimes you’d have one. We have an hour to learn the song, discuss the doctrine of the song, and fortify our testimonies through the song and then we’re going to sing it for one of the Church leadership that will come to the devotional. And it was always amazing to go from start where a lot of them, they were like, “I don’t even know how to sing a melody and I’m not sure why he gave me the music other than to read the words.” And then an hour later, they were saying, “Wow this is, this sounds glorious.” And we would always have those senior missionaries come up and say, “It sounds like there’s angels with you.” And I would have to often say, “I’m pretty sure there was. Just from the sound that’s coming out, I’m pretty sure there were some angels there.” So it was a wonderful experience to see that happen.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I have had a few assignments over the years at the Provo MTC. I have heard the choir. I never once thought, “Wow, that that’s a whole bunch of people who have never sung before.”
Ryan Eggett: Well, I’ve thought that during rehearsal, but never during the actual devotional. Yeah, it’s amazing. And they’re right in the middle of wanting to be close to the Lord. And so you see all of this blends together, it melds all together into this wonderful experience, where they’re saying, “I want to be close to the Lord. And for the first time my eyes are being opened to the fact that singing is one of the Lord’s preferred ways of approaching us and having us approach Him.” And participating musically is something that the Lord loves. And the more that we do it, the more we receive some of these promised blessings from Him.
Sarah Jane Weaver: So it really is the loaves and fishes kind of experience, where everyone brings whatever little they have, or maybe no experience at all. And you just hope the Lord amplifies that.
Ryan Eggett: Yes, and not only for missionaries, but we hope that the general membership, that all Christians even, will recognize this and say, “This is an opportunity for me to draw close to the Savior.” Even the Savior used music in His ministry. You know, and I don’t think a lot of people go, “I don’t remember Him saying He was singing.” But you know, the most significant event in the history of the universe was His atoning sacrifice. And it says, you know, in several books there in the New Testament, that before He went into the garden of Gethsemane, that they sang a hymn, that as He was preparing Himself, for the most influential experience ever, that He used a hymn to prepare Himself for that. That says something about how we should also conduct our lives. Wouldn’t it be great if in the mornings we were doing this, we were starting our days off by either listening to sacred music or participating in it?
Sarah Jane Weaver: And we do start or prepare ourselves for one of the most sacred things we do each week, which is the sacrament with a sacramental hymn.
Ryan Eggett: That’s exactly right. You know, I love looking up at the sacrament table with the cloth over the sacrament table and thinking, you know, that in a symbolism way that represents the Lord under the cloth, right? We know that when he was placed in the tomb, there He was under a cloth. And getting to sing about Him and about, I mean, you really think how much do we participate in the sacrament meeting? There’s two things that we do. Well, there’s really three. One, is we say “Amen.” And that’s a pretty brief one, like, “I’m with you,” right? The other one is we partake of the bread and water. But the third longest experience, is we sing. Most of the rest of the meeting is listening. But there is our opportunity to actually worship while we’re in the meeting. And to sit there and say, “I want to express my feelings for the Lord, my feelings for His gospel and for Heavenly Father.” And singing gives you just that great opportunity to do that. It’s a participatory activity, one of the few that we have in some of these meetings.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I’m hoping you can give sort of a shout out to all of our ward music leaders. I think a lot of them are frustrated. You know, they think that people change the hymns at the last minute or they cut them short when time runs out or that sometimes they feel generally under appreciated.
Ryan Eggett: Yes, for sure. And so you go back to that scripture where the Lord says, “My soul delights in the song of the heart. And I want music in my Church.” And so as we look at planning out our church meetings and how significant different things are, you go, “We don’t want to eliminate something the Lord, Himself, has said, ‘I delight when you do this in meetings.’ Now show me a scripture where the Lord says, “My soul delights in a very long talk.” And I’ll take all that back, you may have to edit that out. But I think, here’s the Lord, Himself, saying, “I delight in this.” We certainly wouldn’t want to eliminate that from the meetings in His Church, to eliminate something that we know that He loves.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And I think for many of us, we have come to just expect music in our meetings, so maybe we take it for granted. It’s maybe a little like the sun, where we notice it in its excess or in its absence, but the rest of the time, we don’t realize that this great, amazing thing gives us light and warmth all the time.
Ryan Eggett: Yes. Oh, wow. That’s a really great insight. I taught seminary for 26 years before I became a music manager for the Church. I taught seminary and institute. And I had one seminary class that would not sing. And you know, it was always a mumble. It was like Brother Eggett and the backup singers. And you know, and I was kind of, if you’ve ever been in a seminary building, you know, that’s kind of how it is, right? It’s his whole class or her whole classes, kind of singing back up to them. And so I said one day, “If this is as good as we’ve got, we’re not singing anymore in this class.” And so I limited it for a couple of weeks. And pretty soon I had kids going, “Can we just sing a hymn?” And I’m saying “No, not until you actually sing will I let you sing a hymn.” And so finally, they all agreed, “We all commit to sing.” And so you know, I said, “Well, we’re going to learn this one hymn and I’m going to teach you to sing it in four parts.”
And we sang the same hymn for, you know, a couple of weeks, and then we branched out to other hymns. And, and whenever I had somebody come to observe, I’d say, “Let’s sing.” And it would always be that first hymn that they could sing in four parts. And I’d yell out in the middle, “Sing in four parts” and people are like, “You are the most amazing seminary teacher.” But it really came to that, once it was taken from them. And I think we saw that in COVID, didn’t we? A lot of wards and congregations that were unable to sing, suddenly went, “I miss singing” so much that people even started playing music, right on, like on different virtual meetings, they started playing it, just to, at least you could feel the feeling of music.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And you also played an important role as the choir director at the Utah Valley University institute. That was a job where you worked with young adults, and what was the choir like there? Did some people show up for rehearsals and some didn’t and come together?
Ryan Eggett: So that’s, yes. That, I directed two choirs there over a period of 21 years. One was not-auditioned. And the largest that choir I think ever got was about 600. And we would, just en mass, they would come out. And we had lots of great experiences there. Another was an auditioned group. It was one of the only church classes that you had to audition for. I would always tease them and say, “Aren’t you glad you don’t have to audition for your Book of Mormon class, like bear testimony, and you’re not good enough, right?” That, that would have been a disappointment.
But it was auditioned. It was good. And it was amazing, the experiences that we had with that group, because they really dedicated a lot of time. And we would say at the start of the experience with them, “This is about bringing others to the Savior. If the Savior loves this music so much, we’re going to go out and use music to help people get closer to Him.” And we really had some fantastic experiences with that, where, you know, I know people would say, “We, you can’t change hearts in a one hour meeting. You’re going to do a one hour concert. You’re not going to make that much of a difference.” But I can tell you a few experiences where truly people’s lives turned around in the space of one hour, you know, and it changed the direction of their life, listening to an hour of the music that the Savior loves.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and now you have a role where you’re actually helping to promote music throughout the whole Church, working in the priesthood and family department.
Ryan Eggett: Yes.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Tell us what you do and what your job entails.
Ryan Eggett: So my current assignment in the Priesthood and Family [Department], my current job in that department, is I’m working with member experiences with sacred music. So we have a music manager that oversees the creation of the new hymn products that we’re working on. And so, my role would be to help members actually connect to that product. So we’re developing products and processes and trainings and things so that you know, you have to think for most of the world’s population, when they open a hymn book, or let’s say it says when newly converted to the Church, they open hymn book, this may be the first time they’re actually seeing printed music.
And we expect to hand it over to them and say, “Oh, sing this.” You know, and that’s very difficult for most of the membership of the Church, especially outside of maybe, the Wasatch Front, what we would consider here. And so for most of the Church, it is, “Hey, how can you help me know what to sing?” So we’re doing an audio version of, we have one of those currently. You can get on and listen to the hymns. We’re doing new audio versions of that, and a few other things that. We’re just, we’re right in the beginning stages of preparing those. So just helping members connect with the Lord through the sacred music is my new job, which I just love.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I like to practice the hymns in my car, as I’m driving down the road, you know, with the Tabernacle Choir or whatever.
Ryan Eggett: So what, you’re saying, we should get you on these new recordings. Is that what I’m hearing?
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, no, then we hope that it’s acceptable when I try and sing in church.
Ryan Eggett: Yes. And that really is a benefit. As we have done a little research around the world, I was speaking with somebody in Kenya, about three weeks ago, and she said, “We were all coming to church and we had all been practicing the hymns for that week.” And I thought, “Well, I’ve never really thought of that.” She said, “I sent out the hymns, because most of our membership doesn’t know them. And so we get on, and we listen to the audio recordings throughout the week. And then we come in, everybody then can sing the hymns.” So, so there’s a lot of, in other locations, especially, around the world where we say, it takes a little bit of effort to learn the music of the Church.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And then there are places in the world where music is so embedded in their testimonies. You know, I remember the first time I heard the Saints sing in Tonga, for example, and I thought, “I didn’t even know people could sound this good.”
Ryan Eggett: Yeah, yeah. Isn’t it amazing? And you know, they really develop their own harmonies too, often in the Pacific Islands, as well. They’ll develop their own harmonies and you go, “This is even better than what we have written.” You know, you want to write that down some way. But, yeah, people, I think the world has a history of worshiping God through music.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And I want to ask you the question that everybody in the Church wants to know right now, which is, when are we going to get the new hymn book?
Ryan Eggett: So I am not the music manager over the new hymn book. So I really can’t speak to that. But I will say that we’re planning it to come before the Second Coming. That, I know that kind of opens up the timeline quite a bit. But, but we can’t give any timelines at this point. But I can tell you working very diligently every single day and it’s not just one person. We have reviewers that are reviewing the new music that came in all around the world. And you know, you’ve probably heard this was printed actually, in the Church News, that we received 20,000 submissions. So going through those has been quite the process. But yeah, I really can’t speak to timelines at this point. And, but it will be before the Second Coming. If not, it will be a really great part of the Second Coming, I like to say so.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m glad to know that that work moves forward on that effort.
Ryan Eggett: But it’s, it’s coming along, yes. And there are many teams working on this right now around the world.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, so let’s talk about something that’s going to happen a little sooner than that, which is general conference in April. Talk to us about what it’s like to actually stand up and lead a choir during one of those general conference sessions.
Ryan Eggett: Yeah, that’s an experience. The first time I conducted and maybe this isn’t exactly what you ought to hear, but here’s a great one. The first time I conducted it was just going to be one song, because I had a partner conductor, one song, and it was in the priesthood session. And I told my mom, “You know, I’m going to conduct this.” She said, “I’m going to sneak into the back of the priesthood session in our state building and watch it.” And so I conducted and she called me after and said, “Did you conduct?” And I said, “I did.” She said, “They didn’t show you a single time. Which one did you conduct?” And so, so of all the worry I had about people seeing me, I wasn’t even shown on camera.
Which was great, because the next time one of the main cameramen was one of my students, I mentioned the experience to him, the last 20 seconds were a shot from my toes to the top of my head. And he came and he said, “Well, was that enough?” And I had learned my lesson. I ate some humble pie that day. But really to stand up in front of what you think, the whole world’s gonna be singing along. And I love providing the congregational song as much as I do providing the choir music, because you think the whole world is going to have this experience with us. Like I said about the sacrament meeting, there are very few moments in general conference, other than when everyone says, “Amen,” where general conference is a participatory meeting. You get to sustain, you could say amen and then the song comes.
And you know, the brethren will say, you know, “At the signal from the conductor, please stand and join us in singing.” And there is that moment when you go, “I am leading the Lord’s Church at this moment. It is, sorry, that, that is one of those moments where you go around the world, “I am leading the Lord’s living Church in worshipping Him.” And it is truly the experience of a lifetime to get to do that. That congregational moment is amazing.
Sarah Jane Weaver: That is a beautiful thought to think of everyone around the world in one moment, joining together in that kind of sacred worship.
Ryan Eggett: Yeah, you know, we have five objectives of sacred music in the Church. And one of those five is to unite the Church membership.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, well tell us what the other four are.
Ryan Eggett: I would love to. And this is where as you hear these, you’ll go, “Oh, I see that sacred music can do this.” The first purpose of sacred music is, or the goal of sacred music, is to increase faith in and worship of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. So all the songs that we want to be producing as a church, right, one of our purposes, is to provide music. And so all the music that we provide, we wanted to increase faith in, in Heavenly Father and provide an opportunity to worship Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.
The second goal is to teach the core doctrine of the gospel with power and clarity. So we’ve had to look through and say, “Do the songs that are coming in, or do the songs in hymn book, the songs that we’re producing, do they teach the gospel well?” And you know, there are some songs that you think, “How do these teach the gospel?” And there are some in our Primary Children’s Songbook, as we’ve looked through to say, “Do these teach the gospel?” You know, I’ve tried to keep all the ones I love. And people have said, “Well, I guess ‘Once There was a Snowman’ is out, right? Because how does that teach the gospel?” And I believe I did say in that meeting, “Couldn’t this be a song about the Resurrection?” But I think that may not that may not have cut it.
Sarah Jane Weaver: As, as a former Primary chorister, I think good wiggles songs have a purpose in teaching the gospel.
Ryan Eggett: Yeah, well, and so the third purpose is to invite joyful singing at home and at church. And so we want songs that people really can connect to. And then comfort, the weary and inspire members to endure in faith is the fourth one. And then, like I said, the fifth one is to unify members throughout the Church. And it’s fun to drop into churches around the world. We’ve all been on vacation privately. You go to a different congregation, and they’re singing the same songs. And you go, there’s a sense of being home and the Lord’s Church, because you’re going to find the same music, and especially with the new products, you’re going to find the same music in every congregation, in every language, in the same order in the new book. What a wonderful thing.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I think anyone who’s traveled, there is something so sweet about walking into a Church in another country. And feeling like even though you don’t understand the words, you can repeat them in your head, because of the song is familiar, because it is what you know. It’s home.
Ryan Eggett: Yeah, I’ve often wondered what the experience is like for those who are hearing general conference in other languages. And then all of a sudden, the song comes on and the translation stops and we just assumed that they’ll be connecting in their heart, that they’re going to say, “I know this song.” And regardless of what they’re singing in English, “I am feeling and hearing these words in my native tongue.” Yeah.
Sarah Jane Weaver: One of the most powerful spiritual experiences I’ve had during my career was covering the rededication of the Tahiti temple. And in that congregation in the temple, as it was being rededicated that day, were Saints who spoke Tahitian, and then there were many Saints who spoke French. And then there were some of us from Salt Lake, including the official party that spoke English. And at the moment, at the end, everyone sang out in their own language. And those words sort of blended together in this beautiful tapestry. And, and those languages aren’t similar. I mean, Tahitian, and French and English, they wouldn’t be similar on the ears, but somehow music made them all blend.
Ryan Eggett: Well, when you think about it, music has two languages. A sung hymn is literally two languages. It is a language like English, that type of language, but it also is the language of the music. And so regardless of where you are, there will always be one of those two languages in common. So even though you’re thinking, “Well, well this is in a different language.” Well the words will change, but the music doesn’t change, because music has one language across the world. And so yeah, that, that’s an amazing way to unite members in saying, “We’re all going to sing the common language of music in our own tongue.”
Sarah Jane Weaver: I love that. My colleague, Scott Taylor, wrote an article about you and your years of service at the MTC. He’s actually one that suggested that we have you on the Church News podcast, so we’re grateful for him.
Ryan Eggett: Well, I don’t know if Scott’s any longer my friend.
Sarah Jane Weaver: But we’ll link to that article from the podcast copy. And in that, there were a few things that stood out to me as experiences that may be worth bringing up. One was the special Church-wide leadership broadcast in 2013 called, “The Work of Salvation.” So you’re, you’re working with a missionary choir and then suddenly you have this worldwide broadcast.
Ryan Eggett: We had a pretty large choir at the time. We probably had 1,000 coming out to choir every night. And it wasn’t unusual for it to be that large. When the MTC would have 3,000 or 4,000, missionaries would have 1,000 or, or sometimes, you know, 1,800 or so in the choir. And we were meeting at the Marriott Center, because the MTC was so large at that moment, right at the hastening of the work, that they changed all of those things about coming on. So we’re trying to figure out this large group. And we found out that we were going to participate in this broadcast, which was going to be so exciting.
And as missionaries found out about the broadcast well, of course, they all wanted it to be in the choir, even though everyone would go walk down to the Marriott Center to be there. They wanted to participate in the meeting. And so we ended up with about 2,000 missionaries in the choir. And the original idea was the broadcast was going to be about partnering with members as missionaries. And so they said, “Let’s bring 1,000 members and 1,000 missionaries. Put them in one choir, so there’s a visual of members and missionaries working together.” Well, we got the 1,000 members, but then we had 2,000 missionaries. That was the problem, you know.
And so I went down to the Marriott Center and said, “We have 2,000 missionaries.” And they said, “We’ll look at the stage,” you know. It was the north side, so the wide side. They said, “We have lit up this area for the choir, and there are 2,000 seats lit up here. So you’ve got to cut your choir down to 1,000.” So I went back to the MTC president and said, “We have to get down to 1,000.” And he said, “Well, we’re going to all have the sacrament together that day. And then after, I’d like you to stand up and explain that there are only 1,000 will go in a house will not.” And I thought, “How does that fall on the choir director to be the person to say that?”
So I gave a talk called, “Sometimes you are chosen to be not chosen.” And it was, you know, it was just my, “Sometimes the Lord will not call you as part of His plan.” And when we finished, I said, “Here’s how we’re going to do it. If you have been in the MTC, six weeks, raise your hand, five weeks, four weeks,” till we got 1,000. So the new ones would not get to go, right, three weeks, two weeks, one week, and all those who had been in longer would get to go. I didn’t know how this would go, I thought, “I’m going to be the most hated person here at the MTC for sure.”
And as we walked out the door, I just found little pockets of missionaries getting together. And I could hear them saying, “Let’s not go, let’s not be chosen.” And, you know, as I moved from pocket to pocket, I thought, “Wow, this is, this is the missionary spirit.” You know, I heard them say, “Let’s let these new kids go. Let’s let the new group go,” you know. And, “If we all pull back.” And so, they started to, as we were walking down, they started to move off to the side. And pretty soon I thought, “We’re not going to have 1,000 down there” because so many were saying, “We will let somebody else have the opportunity.” And a lot of them knew their moms and dads were coming to the Marriott Center and would see them sing and still we’re stepping off to the side.
So we got down there. I eventually said, “You thousand, we’re,” you know, “I at least need this group.” We got down there and, and we started setting them up. And I just said to the person in charge of the lighting of the event generally, I said, “You know, we have 1,000 missionaries still standing outside that are prepared to sing, but there’s not room for them in the light.” And he said, “Forget the light.” He said, “I don’t care what they’ve said. You go get those missionaries and tell them they have been chosen.” And it was, it was just this awesome moment I ran out, you know, the Marriott Center and said, “You’re all singing.” I yelled out and they all cheered and came flooding in.
And so if you watch the broadcast, you’ll see, we tried to get people up in the rafters to expand the lights. But you’ll see the choir is much larger than the lit field there. So that was one of those where I went, I heard Elder Anderson tell the missionaries one time, “Just the fact that you’ve come on a mission makes you one in a million.” And I thought, “These really are heroic young men and young women who have left their homes to come and do this.” You know, since then I’ve, I have a son on a mission. I always say, “Remember not only you, but every missionary around you is a hero.” Yeah.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Yeah, you know, I know you probably have a thousand stories like the one we just heard. But hopefully you will share just one more with us.
Ryan Eggett: One of my favorites I don’t know that I even participated in. I certainly was not cognizant of what was happening. This is the back story. There was a missionary who felt like maybe he didn’t have a testimony or a witness and was questioning his desire to continue on with his mission. So he went to the MTC president and said, “I want to go home.” And you know, after counseling and encouragement, eventually it was decided that, that he would go home. And he spoke with his parents who were going to come and get him that night and this was a Tuesday night.
So without me knowing, the MTC president said, “Well, we’ve got several hours between now and when your parents can arrive here to pick you up, so I don’t want you hanging around. I’m going to have you go down to choir practice. You don’t have to sing, just go down there and sit and listen to them. And then stay there for the devotional and come back and your parents will be here to pick you up. And so he came down and listened to the choir. And we sang. We discussed the doctrine. And he finished the choir rehearsal, walked back to the MTC president and said, “I now have the witness. Call my parents and tell them not to come get me.” It’s amazing. That is the power that music can have in a life, even in this short space of one hour.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I love that. During the pandemic, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, who was then chairman of the missionary executive council said, “There’s two things that make a missionary.” He said, “The day they decide to serve and the day they accept a call.” And then he said “So much that happens to missionaries after that is outside of their control,” you know, like a pandemic, or like illness or like injury or family circumstances. But I love that, that everybody in the MTC actually said, “I’m going to be a missionary, and then accepted the call from the Lord to serve.”
Ryan Eggett: And it may not be what you expect at all. I had a daughter serve during the pandemic. And she got called before she could come to the MTC to sing with me, they shut down the MTC. And so they said, “We’re gonna do some online stuff.” She did a couple weeks online, and then they said, “We still can’t send you, so just hang out.” So for a month and a half, she wasn’t even called. She just didn’t have a name tag or anything. She just waited.
And then we were in the car one day in the stake president called and said, “You’re headed.” And she she headed out to her mission. She wore a mask every single day of her mission. And two days after she came home, they pulled back the mask requirements and, and I said, “How do you feel about that?” And she said, “This is what the Lord called me to do and I’m OK with it.” You know, what wonderful young people we have in this Church. I love them.
Sarah Jane Weaver: You know, my daughter had a similar mission experience. You know, she did home MTC, spent half her time in Ohio, and then half her time in Brazil, having not really learned the language.
Ryan Eggett: Yes, I’m sure. I went to Brazil and I have a son in Brazil right now. So I understand how that is. Yeah.
Sarah Jane Weaver: So, but you know, even then, bringing us right back to music. She talked about coming to Brazil, after nine months in Ohio. And the Spirit she felt that first week in Church when she recognized the hymns.
Ryan Eggett: Yeah, you know, I learned a lot about the power of music while I was serving at the MTC with those missionaries. One time after we did the rehearsal, we sang in the devotional and then I was just kind of milling around talking with the organist and waiting for everyone to go so I could clean up and go. And there was this great big elder just kind of humming, and there was like 15 minutes, and I, you know, he had a, he was probably 6-feet, 7-inches and 300 plus pounds. And I finally went over and I said, “Can I do something for you?” Because I could see his companion was getting anxious. And he just started to cry and said, “Can I hug you?” And I said, “Yes.” And he wrapped me up, you know, and I’m not too small. I’m a 200 pounder. And he wrapped me up. And he said, “I have not been able to have a testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith.” He said, “I have prayed and prayed. And tonight when we sang ‘Joseph Smith’s First Prayer,’ the Lord revealed to me that it’s true. And now I can go on a mission. And tell people I know it’s true.” And, you know, I honestly could tell you so many of those experiences.
I have one on my phone right now pulled up. I was in church three weeks ago, and a young man in the ward who just had moved in, grabbed me and said, “I want to tell you,” and it was very similar to that. He said, “I was the MTC. I was struggling with a testimony. And I came to choir. And the Lord revealed to me as I sang.” And I’ve often thought, “Why does it happen as you sing?” And I’ve harken back to President Boyd K. Packer, where he said, “Sometimes a testimony is found in the bearing of it.” You have to get on your feet and speak for the Lord to reveal to you and singing is the bearing of a testimony. And as these young men and young women have sung, they’ve had that witness.
You know, that’s very similar to what happened to President Gordon B. Hinckley. I don’t know if you remember he told the story about being a 12-year-old boy, I always keep this one somewhere close to me. He says, “When I was 12 years, I was ordained a deacon. My father was president of our stake, took me to my first stake priesthood meeting. He walked up to the stand and I sat on the back row, feeling a little alone and uncomfortable.” Do you remember this from general conference? It’s so, so powerful, He said, “The meeting was called to order. The opening song was announced and as was the custom we all stood to sing. There were perhaps as many as 400 there. Together, these men lifted their strong voices all singing these words with a great spirit of conviction and testimony, ‘Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah.’ They were singing of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and as they did so, there came into my heart a great surge of love for and belief in the mighty prophet of this dispensation.”
And now here’s the powerful part. He says, “In my childhood, I had been taught much of him in meetings and in classes in our ward, as well as in our home. But my experience in that stake priesthood meeting was different.” I think, “What was different?” He stood and sang. And at that moment, the Lord was able to reveal to him what you’re singing, what you’ve just said, is true.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I love that something that is as collective as singing with a congregation or in a choir can also be very, very personal. Which leads me to another experience that I actually witnessed at the MTC when Elder David A. Bednar wrote the words to the song, “One by One” and then sort of debuted that, that beautiful song with the MTC choir, talking about how the Lord blesses His children one by one.
Ryan Eggett: Yeah, that was a spectacular experience. And the missionaries were so excited to get to sing that. And for him to be there, and initially, they said, Elder Bednar is going to be here. He’s written this new song. Is there any chance that you could sing that new song?” And so we said, “Yes, but it’s really a children’s song.” Which would be great to have the missionaries sing. But I reached back to not Elder Bednar, but to somebody else that was arranging and I said, “Does he have any grandchildren in this area?” And they said, “Yes.” And I said, “How would you feel about us writing an arrangement for children being backed up by 600 missionaries?” And so we had three of his grandchildren come to our house, to my house, over the course of three weeks, and they just practiced, and they were the cutest thing you have ever seen.
And, and I just, they, it’s funny, because we had these little traditions, we would always have a little piece of watermelon candy, and then we would start. And when Elder Bednar came, I thought, it doesn’t matter how good this is, he’s only gonna be looking at those three wonderful grandkids of his and we can’t fail. And it was just so fun. Just the one that was the middle age, I just could see her face going, “One by one,” and just, absolutely adorable. But it was that opportunity to sing an apostle’s testimony, which is really unique. It wasn’t just singing your own testimony, which it becomes, you know, as Bruce McConkie would say, “Now it’s my testimony,” right, when he reads a scripture. But it was to sing the testimony of an apostle, back to him, was really quite the experience. Yeah.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I can’t even imagine how many more experiences like this you’ve had. And I wish we could talk about them forever and ever and ever. I have really, really enjoyed this.
Ryan Eggett: I probably could, but I’m sure we don’t want to, yes.
Sarah Jane Weaver: But maybe you’ll come back and join the podcast again. We always end with the same question. And that question is, “What do you know now?” And so, Ryan, after so many years of being involved with church music at different levels and at different occasions, what do you know now?
Ryan Eggett: I think what I know about music, and its influence, is that it can actually shape a life not only inform a life, like, “Oh, I got a testimony from this,” but it can literally shape a life. And, you know, one of my favorite stories from Scott is, after one particular concert, we had a young woman approached and say, “I want to be in this choir.” I happened to know her that she was not participating in the Church, and she had some ill feelings towards the Church. And I said, “You don’t want to be in this choir. This choir is all about singing about Jesus and about this, you know, this restored Church.” And she said, “I sat here tonight and felt the feelings.” And I said, “I need to be able to in class, bear witness and know you’re, I’m not upsetting you.” And she said, “I need to be in this.” And I said, “Let me hear you sing and she sang.” And I said, “That’s good enough. Let’s, let’s put you in the group.”
And watching her over the course of the next four months was the most amazing transformation. That everyday she came and sang, and the look on her face, the clothing that she wore the way she spoke, participating in the Lord’s music every day, totally transformed her life. And one day during the pandemic, I got a call from her that said, “I’m getting married. It’s in the temple. They’re only letting eight people come. Will you come and be one of my eight people?”
And just that literally, that it can transform a life, participating like this. And just going back to where we started. I love that line in the Doctrine and Covenants where the Lord says, “I want music in my Church, because I love it. My soul delights in the song of the heart.” And what more could we want to do in this life than delight the Lord who has saved us? And I just love Him so much.
Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News editor, Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests, to my producer, KellieAnn Halvorsen, and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on TheChurchNews.com.