From our premortal days, when the sons of God “shouted for joy” (Job 38:7), music has been associated with worship. Many of us may have been numbered among the “multitude of the heavenly host” praising God at the birth of His Son, our Savior, singing “Glory to God in the highest” (Luke 2:13-14).
References to singing praises unto the Lord are found throughout the scriptures, starting with Moses, who, with the children of Israel sang unto the Lord following their deliverance from Egypt (Exodus 15:1-2), and include the hymn sung at our Lord’s Last Supper (Mark 14:26). The Apostle Paul instructed the Ephesians to ‘be filled with the spirit, speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord (Ephesians 5:18-19).
Ever since the first printed copies of the Holy Bible were made available for people to read centuries ago, composers have been putting scriptures and words about our Savior to music. Classical music often points to our Savior and His mission. Probably the most well-known is the oratorio “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel. It follows the scriptural account of his birth, his life, and his resurrection. “Messiah” was first performed at Easter nearly 300 years ago and continues to bring hope and inspiration to people around the world. Today, it is generally performed at Christmas and is a musical highlight of every Christmas season.
Music is an integral part of our sacrament services, conference meetings, and other activities in the Church. If we look around the world, almost all religions include music in their worship services whether they be Christian, Muslim, aboriginal and others, because music adds to the spirit of worship.
How does music affect our spiritual path?
Music has a profound effect on those who hear it, but it is most meaningful to those who participate. Singing our hymns helps us remember and internalize the words and messages of the hymns. It is so much more meaningful than merely following along and listening to others sing. The hymns invite the Spirit into our meetings and into our hearts. Singing hymns lifts us, gives us hope, reminds us of our Savior and His love for us, and brings us peace.
I sing in our ward choir. We are preparing to sing a new song in a few weeks. It tells of our gratitude and praise for all the Savior has given us. Our conductor becomes very emotional as the words are sung, and she always stresses that we think about the message we are singing.
We can encourage and support our ward choirs by attending rehearsals and participating in music, knowing that it will bless our lives. Also, we should acknowledge the contribution of the music personnel in our wards and branches. Thank them for their service. They enrich our meetings with music, and too often we take their contributions for granted.
Partaking of the sacrament is the central part of our Sunday services and is always preceded with a special hymn as the priests prepare the bread and water to be blessed and passed to the congregation. By singing along, and paying attention to the words we are singing, our thoughts are focused on His Atonement for us. I remember sitting on the stand one Sunday looking over the congregation during the sacrament hymn and seeing an old gentleman with tears running down his face as the hymn was being sung and the sacrament passed.
Music is a way to share our testimony of the Savior. When I was a young boy, our fast and testimony meeting followed Sunday School in the morning and lasted for one and a half hours. We children grew restless, waiting for it to end, when about halfway through the meeting, the chorister, Sister Johnson, would stand up and say; “I would like to share my testimony through a song.” Every month we all stood up and sang Sister Johnson’s testimony. It was a nice break for us, but now I realize that it really did add to the spirit of our fast and testimony meetings.
The hymns teach doctrine. Our Primary children sing songs of praise, and many of the simple songs learned by even the youngest children teach important gospel truths. What child in the Church has not learned:
“I am a Child of God, and He has sent me here.
Has given me an earthly home with parents kind and dear.
Lead me, guide me, walk beside me, help me find the way.
Teach me all that I must do to live with him someday”
When my wife and I served a mission in Vietnam, one highlight was the visit by President Russell M. Nelson. I was asked to lead the choir for the meeting. Of course, the choir sang in Vietnamese, a language that I did not speak. But the spirit of “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” (Hymns, no. 136), was there. I heard the English words in my mind as they sang the words in their native tongue. Music truly is a universal language.
Come to the Savior through music
We can increase our love of the Savior through music. Having a copy of the hymn book and the Primary song book in every member’s home is a way to do that. These books can be purchased and are also available on the Church website, with accompaniments. Sing these sacred hymns during home evening. Parents and grandparents, learn the Primary songs and sing them with your children at bedtime, while travelling in the car, and around the campfire.
Many of us have a favorite scripture. Do we have a favorite hymn? If not, choose one. My favorite is “Joseph Smith’s First Prayer” (Hymns, no.26). It tells the story of the First Vision, and my heart swells every time I hear or sing it. I often sing it to myself while driving.
We do not have to be trained soloists to participate in the singing of hymns. I’ve heard some singing enthusiastically on one note, but that is OK. Brother J. Spencer Cornwall, a former conductor of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir [The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square], once asked a class the question, “Why do we sing?” After listening to a few answers quoting scriptures and other lofty ideas, he simply stated; “We sing because we can” (personal notes from BYU Education Days, Lethbridge, Alberta 1967).
And because we can, we can feel the Savior’s presence in our lives and more fully live to be with Him again.