Today Sarah was one of the seven people assigned to give a talk (sermon) in Stake Conference (over 1,000 members from nine wards/parishes gathered in two buildings). It was a star studded cast: the just released stake Relief Society president, a counselor in the stake primary presidency, a member of a bishopric, and all three members of the stake presidency. All gave wonderful talks. Sarah's assigned topic was a perfect fit for her: How to worship through sacred music. It was a wonderful mix of how a talk should be: short, humorous, motivational and touching.
Hello, my name is Sarah Emmett, I’m a senior at SHS, and I’m the assistant choir director in the 18th ward. Today I’m going to talk about why participating in sacred music is important.
Well, first of all, sacred music is important because God says it is. In D+C 25:12, a revelation given to Emma Smith, the Lord said “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.” It’s definitely no coincidence that a whole book of the Bible, Psalms, is entirely made up of songs. The Lord hears and blesses us when we sing, play, or listen to sacred music.
Music in general has a special power over our human hearts. I know that when we listen to my Mom’s Carpenters CD in the car I usually end up feeling a little depressed. “I can’t smile without you?” Really? And I know that when my brother comes into my room listening to rap I always have a strange desire to move to Detroit. The Finnish composer Jean Sibelius once said “Music begins where the possibilities of language end.” All music, no matter what genre, has a power to influence our emotions like regular old words just can’t. So often, we get caught up THINKING the Gospel and forget to FEEL the gospel. No matter what questions I have about certain points of doctrine, I know that playing a hymn on my ukulele will help me to feel the spirit like nothing else ever could. My first ever spiritual experience that I can actually remember was when I was around nine, listening to I Am a Child of God. I have a distinct memory of sobbing for a good fifteen minutes all thanks to that one song.
There have, however, been a few times when I’ve forgotten this purpose for sacred music. A few years ago I performed a piano solo in sacrament meeting. Everything went fine until I failed the very last chord. I think it was quite a sight when I stomped off the stand. I was so focused on the details of the piece that I completely forgot that my job as a performer was not to get a standing ovation, or have to play Sweet Hour of Prayer as an encore; My job was to bring the spirit to the meeting. Some people may ask me to “define ‘sacred music.’” Well, there you go. Sacred music is any collection of notes that helps you feel the spirit. A celebratory gospel hymn is no less sacred than Ode to Joy or an EFY CD as long as it uplifts and strengthens the listener.
So, I’ve established that sacred music is important to us as individuals, but it’s also important to us as a group. Music is uniting. Christ said “be one.” What is more “one” than singing and feeling the same song together as brothers and sisters in the gospel? Do you realize that when you sing the closing hymn today, you’ll be singing it with a thousand other people who share your beliefs? Have you ever thought of how many people stand to sing the General conference rest hymn worldwide? And music isn’t just a tool for connecting Mormons with Mormons. Our hymns can also connect us with people of other faiths. No one is going to doubt that we’re Christians when they hear the Mormon Tabernacle choir singing Amazing Grace. When we share sacred music with others we share our testimonies.
Now this has been a good talk, right? Music is fun, the church is true, when can we leave? Well, wait just a second. My topic was why PARTICIPATING in sacred music is important. Yes that’s right. I’m on to you folks who don’t even move your lips during the sacrament hymn. I’m calling you out, you people who pretend you don’t play the piano in seminary. Some of you justify yourselves by saying “well, I’m just not that good.” When has that ever been a valid excuse in our church? When Moses tried to use it he got quite the talking to. The Lord replied to insecurities by saying “Who hath made man’s mouth? Or the seeing, or the blind? Have not I the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will teach thee what thou shalt say” or sing. Or play. Or download on your iPod if that’s really all you can manage! The Lord will help us when we seek to praise him through sacred music.
This year at our ward’s girls camp, we YCLs [Youth Camp Leader] wanted to do something extra special. The first, and best, idea that came to us was to learn to play Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing on our various instruments, and to sing it as a group after the faith walk and before testimony meeting. The faith walk was sort of a mad dash, and left me feeling harried and unsettled. It was as if the spirit was just waiting on the outside of me, but hadn’t made it in yet. The moment we began to play everything changed. The lights we had strung everywhere seemed brighter. Our unskilled, out of tune, strums sounded beautiful. I felt God’s love so strongly as I looked out over all of my sisters and sang the words “Come the Thou Fount of Every Blessing, Tune my heart to sing thy Grace.” And he did. We sang His Grace, He tuned our hearts, and then He came.
The Lord has blessed us with beautiful music. He has blessed us with the gift of the Holy Ghost. He has blessed us with a whole green [hymn] book full of wisdom that sometimes even rhymes. If any of you are struggling to “feel” the gospel, I encourage you to immerse yourself in sacred music. There is no better way to feel God’s love.
I know that when we participate in sacred music we will be blessed, and that Heavenly Father will hear us and smile—even if we’re just a little bit off key. I know this church is true, and I owe that knowledge, in part, to sacred music.
My three favorite preachers: Nancy Caulkins (l) talked about how from its beginning, service, love and compassion have and still should be the hallmarks of the Relief Society. Sarah Hodson (r) bravely talked about how we can make the Sabbath a delight--we can do it in part by reaching out to make sure that everyone (particularly women) feels welcomed no matter what their struggles, issues or doubts may be.
Sarah's talk had an immediate impact. The stake president duly noted that more people were singing during the rest hymn. It's my personal preference, but I think even more people would be inclined to sing if the chorister picked up the tempo a bit.