Music is powerful. It has been called the universal language, and it can contribute greatly to a worship service by inviting a spirit of revelation and reflection. Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles once said he was continually impressed with the power of music to comfort and counsel in a way that often exceeds the power of the spoken word.1
Some of my most memorable experiences during my mission were when I sang “Called to Serve” (Hymns, no. 249) with hundreds of other missionaries in the Provo Missionary Training Center. The excitement, enthusiasm, and zeal of the missionaries around me were infectious, and each time we sang, the Spirit of the Lord would bear witness to me that the gospel was true. I cannot adequately describe the emotions I had during those times, but somehow I felt closer to heaven.
It was the same when I reached my assigned area. I looked forward to our district and zone meetings, where we could sing the hymns together. They strengthened and fortified me and helped give me the spark I needed to continue the work. These and numerous other experiences have helped me realize and appreciate the vital role of music in our worship services.
Prelude music helps set the tone for Church meetings and is a call to worship. The 1984 Guidebook for Organists states: “The prelude should create an atmosphere in which communication with the Lord can readily take place, clearing the mind of worldly thoughts and inviting spiritual contemplation. It aids worship and is a background for quiet meditation.”2
Kathleen Reel, my former organ teacher, and an organist and music director for 30 years, said, “The purpose of the prelude is to communicate to the hearts and minds of the worshipers, to prepare them to receive the succeeding elements of the service, to create an atmosphere conducive for worship, and to bring unity of spirit to the congregation.”
Unfortunately, the prelude often serves only as background music for the congregation’s greetings and conversations. Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles emphasized the need for reverence in our chapels:
“Foyers are built into our [meetinghouses] to allow for the greeting and chatter that are typical of people who love one another. However, when we step into the chapel, we must!—each of us must—watch ourselves lest we be guilty of intruding when someone is struggling to feel delicate spiritual communications. …
“Irreverent conduct in our chapels is worthy of a reminder, if not reproof. Leaders should teach that reverence invites revelation.”3 Carefully selected prelude music can contribute to the sacred atmosphere of the chapel.
Music helps fulfill what Elder Richard L. Evans (1906–71) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said is the purpose of a good worship service: “to direct the minds … away from lesser things, and to focus … thinking and attention on our Father in Heaven.”4 It can serve as a form of prayer, for the Lord said, “The song of the righteous is a prayer unto me” (D&C 25:12).
The preface in our hymnbook, written by the First Presidency, states:
“Inspirational music 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.
“Some of the greatest sermons are preached by the singing of hymns. Hymns move us to repentance and good works, build testimony and faith, comfort the weary, console the mourning, and inspire us to endure to the end.”5
Special musical selections can also edify and show praise and gratitude. We need to take care to ensure that the message is appropriate for true worship of the Savior and that the music is not intended to be a showpiece for the participants.
Church members with music callings bear a significant responsibility in worship services. When I was the ward music director, I pondered whether the hymns I had chosen for the next meeting were appropriate for the meeting’s theme. I asked myself what I could do to inspire an increased love of music and hymn singing in our ward, and I tried my best to contribute to the spirit of the meeting.
Elder Packer said, “I believe that those who choose, conduct, present, and accompany the music may influence the spirit of reverence in our meetings more than a speaker does.”6
In any endeavor, we receive more satisfaction and enjoyment when we are actively involved. Participation is key to the restored gospel: we are expected and commanded to serve through leadership, teaching, visiting and home teaching, and music.
Elder Packer urged parents, Church leaders, and teachers to “maintain a spirit of reverence in meetings [and] encourage participation in congregational singing.” He promised that if we would do so, our spiritual power would increase and the Lord would “pour out his Spirit upon us more abundantly.”7
Unfortunately, many people don’t sing—or don’t sing out—because they think they don’t have “singing voices.” However, the purpose of congregational singing is to worship and praise God, not to perform. We should not be afraid to sing out, even if we have a less-than-perfect voice.
Alexander Schreiner, one of the great Tabernacle organists, recalled a story about someone who asked a music director how he could stand to hear Brother Stanton bellow off-key at Church gatherings. “The wise old leader replied: ‘Brother Stanton is one of our most devout worshippers, and when he bellows he is a supreme musician. … Don’t pay too much attention to the sounds he makes. If you do, you may miss the music.’”8
In a general conference talk on worshiping through music, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles emphasized the importance of sincere singing of the hymns. He said, “We who have ‘felt to sing the song of redeeming love’ (Alma 5:26) need to keep singing that we may draw ever closer to him who has inspired sacred music and commanded that it be used to worship him.”9
Sacred music can heal, inspire, teach, and edify. Let us all strive to make uplifting music a part of our lives. Let us “make a joyful noise unto the Lord” and “come before his presence with singing” (Ps. 100:1–2).
Questions for family home evening or personal reflection:
Why is music able to reach us at times and in a way that the spoken word cannot?
What attitude are we conveying toward the Savior and His gospel when we choose not to participate with others in congregational hymn singing?
How can we effectively use hymns outside our Sunday meetings?