1990: James A. Smith - Music: "The Power and the Glory Forever

Watch Online Watch streaming video

1990: James A. Smith - Music: "The Power and the Glory Forever

J SmithWhile not the first musician selected as a McKay lecturer, James A. Smith was the first one actually teaching music at the time of his lecture; furthermore, his lecture, number twenty-eight, was the first to incorporate live musical performances. A mission to Brazil interrupted his college studies, but upon his return he completed his B.A. at Brigham Young University in 1968, his M.M. at Northern Arizona University in 1970, and his D.M.A. at the University of Texas at Austin in 1976. Smith joined the faculty of Brigham Young University-Hawaii in January, 1976, the middle of an academic year, having previously taught at Northern Arizona University. Founder of the Laie Choral Union, he directs the BYUH Concert Choir and the Seaside Singers, a group which he originated. In the Church he has served as a scoutmaster and bishop and contributes lavishly of his time to extending the campus community's musical awareness. He met his wife Linda when they were students at Provo; they have six children: Mike, Betsy, Rebecca, Emily, Meilani, and Amy.


I am honored to stand before you as the David O. McKay Lecturer for 1990. I am particularly grateful to two friends who helped prepare me for this day: Dr. Jay Fox, whose 1979 David O. McKay lecture "Art As A Way of Knowing" spoke to me as a kindred spirit, and Dr. Dale Robertson who with humor, energy, and contagious enthusiasm organized the honors class "War and Culture" and included me as one of the teaching team and gave me a chance to put into words my views on the value of art in helping man to learn truth. Those of you who know Dale's personality and teaching style will appreciate the comment of one participant in that class on War and Culture. "It is obvious," he said, speaking to me, "that you are part of the culture and Dr. Robertson is part of the war."

What I am going to do and say today has been said and done before. For some of you it will be new information and for that reason it is important that it be said. For the rest of you I am hoping that, as with a successful work of art, there is value in the repeated exposure to the idea that the arts are a handmaiden to truth, that they instruct the spirit. I have found it useful to speak of music in the context of the arts in general, and thus many of my references and examples will come from the visual and literary arts. I think the parallels with music and the importance of these examples to my presentation will be obvious.

My remarks will apply best to Western music and art, with which I am most closely acquainted, although my readings and ponderings have opened many avenues of interest in non-Western art and the universal nature of the art experience.

To give a lecture on music sets up a paradox, a dilemma. As Machlis has pointed out: "The language of music cannot be translated into the language of words. You cannot deduce the actual sound of a piece [of music] from anything written about it; the ultimate meaning lies in the sounds themselves" (Machlis and Forney 3). For this reason I have chosen to include in my presentation live performance, so that we may experience the subject directly rather than just talk about it.

Divine Music

The title for my address, "Music: The Power and the Glory Forever," was deliberately chosen, as I have come to believe that music is a divine art, given by God and approved by him, having its being in the very air we breathe for life, used by God as a means of communication and instruction--able to assist in the manifestation of important realities not presently tangible nor clear to us. While music has many forms, faces and functions, the best music has power, as with all worthy art, to stir our imagination to discover our better selves, indeed our truest selves, and our relationship to our fellow travelers in this human journey.

Dave Brubeck, the great jazz musician, has characterized my feeling and experience with music in a statement that may also ring true for you:

Music is the most profound form of communication. Its influence, sometimes subliminal, often supersedes language as a means of human expression. We celebrate the significant events of our lives--private and public-with appropriate music. We are lulled as infants by our mother's song. Our social life is brightened by it. Our prayers are lifted with it. Our most profound emotions and our most frivolous ones are expressed through music. Have you ever noticed that when an event of great magnitude is projected on the screen, or on the theatrical stage, when words, action and pictures have failed to express the immensity of the moment, it is always music that is called upon to express the inexpressible? Ask yourself why this is so, and in your answer you will understand how truly important music is. (qtd. in Potosky 19)

My life is and has been enriched by involvement with wholesome and appropriate music of all kinds. I love the exuberance and creativity of jazz, the down-home humor and simplicity of country-western, the vitality and instant communication of musical comedy, the grace and rhythm of Hawaiian chant and hula, the drama of the Tongan Lakalaka. The examples are endless! But today I wish to focus on that special kind of musical experience Brubeck mentioned in connection with "our most profound emotions" and "events of great magnitude." Let us focus on worthy music, music that has power to instruct us about life.

Importance of Music

Do we as Latter-day Saints, who claim to have a greater measure of truth and knowledge about life, know the origin and purpose of music? We have some clues, but no doctrinal statement or official declaration has been issued on the subject. Statements by our prophets and apostles have been in general support of the arts: that they were given by God for man's benefit and that they are useful in helping us learn the Gospel and are part of our belief in seeking after all things that are "virtuous, lovely, of good report or praiseworthy" (A of F 13).1

It is a mark of the importance of music that in the meridian of time, God the Father chose to announce to the world the birth of his Only Begotten Son with music sung by heavenly hosts, in a musical and spoken language that men could understand (Luke 2: 13-14). In a revelation to our dispensation, God has reassured us that the song of the righteous is delightful to him and is equated with prayer (D&C 25: 12). Some of the most comforting scriptural passages for me are the many like Mosiah 2: 28 where King Benjamin declares: "I am about to go down to my grave. . . and my immortal spirit may join the choirs above in singing the praises of a just God." Some of you may be unemployed in the hereafter, but I, apparently, will have a job. And no one sings flat in the choirs above!

For centuries men have recognized that music is one of the most sensuous and mysterious of the arts, with power to speak to our emotions and our imagination and philosophers and scholars from every civilization have attempted to determine its nature and origin. The Greeks discovered that sound is carried by vibrations through the air. They also discovered the harmonic overtone series and the numerical relationships of musical tones. They, and those who came after them, particularly medieval scientists and scholars, saw in these physical realities a manifestation of the laws of nature at work. In the distances between tones they saw the ratios and proportions they were also discovering in the orbits of planets and the laws of motion and gravity. For this reason, music was for hundreds of years one of the quadrivium, the four essential mathematical arts in the medieval university. These were arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music.2

Numeric’s of Music

This numerical/mathematical basis for musical sound is invisible to the listening ear, and yet it fulfills a basic human yearning for organization, for rhythmical arrangement, for pattern and symmetry (in short, for beauty). Leibnitz explained it this way: "Music is an exercise in recondite arithmetic--it is the pleasure the human soul experiences from counting without being aware that it is counting" (qtd. in Roustit 21).

The Statement of Music

How does music make a statement? I offer a few brief remarks on a very complex subject. The two pillars upon which communication in music (and all art) is founded are repetition and contrast, or sameness and difference:

No work of art from epigram to epic, from cameo to Sphinx, from bagatelle to symphony, can exist unless it combines these two opposite qualities. For it must have sameness in order to be a work rather than an accidental jumble; and it must have difference in order to avoid complete monotony. (Brown, Calvin S. 102)

This principle of deriving meaning and structure from opposites functions extensively in music: loud and soft, high and low, large forces against small forces, tension and repose, major and minor, dark and bright, consonance and dissonance.3

Impressions of Music

Another essential principle in music is the impression of movement, of progression from one point to another. This is partly accomplished in tonal music with functional harmonies; that is, chords that have accumulated over the years various degrees of tension and repose, whose notes move and resolve to the next chord in a conventional way that our ear has come to expect.

The combination of these many features results in rhythm. This is not just the "beat" of a piece of music, but the ebb and flow of its life, the juxtaposition of the complex parts of its construction, the shape of the piece as it moves through time. Architecture has been called "frozen music," alluding to the symmetry, arches, anchor points and rhythms found in each (Goethe qtd. in Eckermann 303).4 Rhythm is an essential feature of all art, but in music it "finds its richest expression" (Machlis 25).

Values of Music

In every era of history, composers have utilized these materials and procedures according to the values and conventions of their own time to successfully make a musical statement or solve an aesthetic problem. In this sense, there have been high and lasting achievements in every era. It is important that a listener be aware of the values of the era and country that produced the music so that its success and effectiveness may fairly be appraised. There is no need to compare a Gregorian Chant from the 9th century with an aria from Händel's Messiah to decide which is best. Both can be "best" if they achieve what they set out to do.

In music there are three basic rôles a person may have: 1) composer (creator), 2) performer, 3) listener (receiver). The need for a performer points out a unique characteristic of music, shared by literature, poetry and drama. It is a temporal art that proceeds in time in a linear fashion. The whole cannot be perceived at once. Like literature and poetry, the product is preserved in a set of symbols like a recipe, depending on a skilled intermediary to reconstruct it, to resurrect it. Where is Beethoven's Fifth Symphony when it is not being played by the New York Philharmonic? It is not in the inkblots on the page. Is it whole in our mind, our memory? No, it only lives again in time and space when we perform it, when we live it. If we were to take a high-speed exposure photograph of a painting, even at 1/1,000 of a second, we could capture a fairly complete representation of the work. If we were to do the same with a musical composition, turning on a tape recorder for 1/1000 of a second during a performance, we would get much less than one tiny 64th note.

And now, a musical example. We have touched ever so briefly on some of the basic ways that a composer makes musical gestures. We will hear part of the Allegro from the 2nd movement of the Organ Symphony by Camille Saint-Sa‘ns. The concertato principle is at work here, learned from the Baroque, pitting contrasting bodies of colors of sound against each other. In this case, a symphony orchestra and a pipe organ. Our attention is riveted by a giant chord from the organ. The orchestral strings begin a determined march interrupted twice more by the organ. The tempo is vigorous, insistent, giving an impression of movement. A sublime melody is introduced by the orchestra. This main theme, once stated by the strings, is now taken up grandly and confidently by the organ, interrupted by the brass, in expansive, affirmative fanfares. The tension builds until it all spills over into a fugue. We are swept along on a musical journey. The use of the two grandest musical inventions of man together, the symphony orchestra and the pipe organ, signify an event of import. The organ adds a religious element. This is not music for quiet meditation or introspection. It is the triumph of good over evil; the heavens have been rolled back like a scroll and we see the Son of Man travelling in great power and glory over the clouds at the second coming. But, wait! This is my vision, my reaction. What is yours? It may be different than mine. Happily, Saint-Sa‘ns resisted the Romantic tendency to label everything and tell us exactly what the music is portraying.5

What you just briefly participated in is what is called the Art Experience.

How does it work?

Art Experience

The artist begins with an experience of his own--anything from Wordsworth's view of a field of daffodils or Leonardo's perception of a beautiful woman. . . or Shakespeare's reading of a story of ambition and murder among the Scottish nobility. In his own mind, he then works over the experience, organizing it in such a way that it can be made viable and be incorporated into some physical medium--words, tones, lines, colors, masses of wood or stone. When this physical medium has come into existence, it is what we ordinarily call the work of art, but the artistic process is only half achieved. It is. . . the task of the recipient to reverse the process of the artist. (Brown, Calvin S. 4) [But] no one can ever receive from a work of art an experience absolutely identical with the one which inspired it: some of the subtleties and private references of the original experience [are] necessarily lost, and some other elements will necessarily be added by the general background and character of the recipient. (Brown, Calvin S. 4-5)

An Active Participant

This ambiguity or inexactness is not a weakness or negative value. It leaves room for the imagination of the receiver to work. The receiver must be an active participant. He must struggle as the creator did to find the pattern, the significance. He must bring something to the experience.6

May I offer as a supreme example the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C.? What power does it have to make thousands stand in weeping wonder before it? It is a combination of the great moral issues involved in the war that touched a whole nation, the personal experiences and connections it represents to the individual viewer and the artistic choices made by the designer of the wall. In the designer's own words:

I had an impulse to cut open the earth. . . an initial violence that in time would heal. The grass would grow back, but the cut would remain, a pure, flat surface, like a geode when you cut into it and polish the edge. I didn't visualize heavy physical objects implanted in the earth; instead it was as if the black-brown earth were polished and made into an interface between the sunny world and the quiet, dark world beyond, that we can't enter. (Lin qtd. in Swerdlow 555)

The wall is laid out in a V shape with the angle opening to the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, uniting America's past with the present. The 58,000 names of the war dead are really the memorial, and are listed not alphabetically, but chronologically, according to the day and year they fell, surrounded by their companions. Rather than a static object to be looked at, it is more like a journey, a passage that can bring each person his own conclusions. The facing stone is polished black granite. The surface reflects the viewer's own face among the names, drawing him into the work in a living interaction (Swerdlow 556).

Would a proclamation have done as well? A triumphant warrior on a horse, as in the past? The memorial accomplishes many things in the best sense of great moral art, and it uses ambiguity as a positive value. If one obvious meaning were rammed down the throat of every person that sees it or experiences it, it would have few visitors. Instead, it has a profound quality that allows many levels and shades of meaning. It stimulates the imagination and contacts the human spirit at many different points of sensibility.

Need of the Spirit

The arts, then, fill a universal need of the spirit: they help man find order and meaning in the human experience. Machlis explained it this way: "Exposed to the caprice of a merciless destiny, man fashioned for himself an ideal universe where the unforeseen was excluded and divine order reigned. This universe was art" (Machlis 25). (I would add: "with the blessing of a God who is the greatest creator of all. . . who understands that creativity and imagination are closely linked to freedom and spirituality.")

At the recent funeral service for one of our colleagues, Michael Palmer, at the moment when a family and a community needed to understand an early passing of their husband, father, friend, what solace was there, what attempt to find order? There was scripture, the reassurance of reunion, the comfort of binding priesthood ordinances and happy memories. And there was poetry, some by Michael himself, visual art on the program, designed by his son, music, both instrumental and vocal: the arts. His friend and protégé, Darryl Jarman, attempted to express his love and admiration for Michael and found himself somewhat at a loss for words. He said, "there are certain things in life that cannot be symbolized, not in art, not in words, not in music" (Jarman). In response I felt compelled to write these words in my notebook:

We may not agree on the symbol or what it really portrays, but our best thinkers, poets, speakers, musicians and artists have always tried and continue to try to symbolize in art precisely those deep things of the spirit that are unspeakable. It is the special province of the arts to do this, and it is a need of the spirit to search for divine meaning, to dignify and give purpose to our life, to discern and verify the plan. (Smith)7

Principles of the Gospel

The basic principles of art embody many of the basic principles of the Gospel. The most obvious connection is the principle of opposition in all things taught by Lehi that gives meaning to the Gospel plan (2 Ne. 2: 25). Joy is meaningless without sorrow, pleasure unknown without pain, light can best be known in comparison to darkness. Lehi tells us that after God created all things, "it must needs be that there was an opposition" (2 Ne. 2: 15); otherwise all things would be "a compound in one" (2 Ne. 2: 11). It has already been mentioned that this same law of contrasts is the basis for coherence in the arts.

Vladimir Ashkenazy, one of the greatest living concert pianists, feels that for him music is the "most important means" of not only "expression" but also "perception" (qtd. in Potosky 11). For a Latter-day Saint, however, revelation (that is, the acquisition of knowledge accompanied by the witness of the Holy Spirit) is the most important means of perception. But, the art experience and revelation are not mutually exclusive. Oliver Cowdery learned a great lesson about revelation (for the benefit of all) that is recorded in Doctrine and Covenants, Section 9. We (through Oliver) are told that we must use our intellect, our human senses, to study out a problem or a question. We must use our imagination to create a solution, which we present to God. The revelation comes as a confirmation, a burning in the bosom, that feels right (D&C 9: 8-9). The arts, with their ability to shape our viewpoint, instruct our feelings and organize our perception are part of the struggle, the emotional and intellectual studying-out process that sensitizes our spirits for the confirmation from the Holy Spirit.

Elder Boyd K. Packer spoke to this issue when he stated that

Our gifted people are greatly needed in the Church. . . . The work of the Lord has been moved by the members in the wards and stakes and branches who have been blessed with special gifts and who use them unselfishly. Because of what they do, we are able to feel and learn very quickly through music, through art, through poetry some spiritual things that we would otherwise learn very slowly. (Packer 5)

Brother Packer does not specify how that learning takes place, but I believe it is partly as I have attempted to describe above.

Shelley, in his A Defence of Poetry (1840), said that

A man to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must become his own. The great instrument of moral good is the imagination; and poetry ministers to the effect by acting upon the cause. (qtd. in Rader 68)

(Poetry here is used in its larger sense, as comprising the imaginative, the creative, in all the arts.)

Our Lord himself understood this very well. His imaginative use of parables, stories and allegories in his teaching accomplished exactly what Shelley described, and allowed the listener to respond at his own level of preparedness and sensitivity to the message.

Making Classics

All art has some of the features we have spoken of, but we are focusing here on great art, moral art, classic art. What makes it classic? It has been proven to be valuable and meaningful to persons and societies beyond its own time. Why? Because it incorporates values that touch on the great moral issues of life, and does it in an aesthetically unique or successful way, as with the Vietnam Wall already mentioned, or the Benjamin Britten War Requiem, undoubtedly one of the greatest works of the 20th century.

Consider this comment by E. F. Schumacher, who wrote A Guide for the Perplexed (1977):

All great works of art are 'about God' in the sense that they provide a Guide for the Perplexed, such as Dante's Divine Comedy. . . .To treasure art simply for its beauty is to miss the point. The true function of art is 'so to dispose [the] heart with desire of going' 'up the mountain', which is what we really wish to do but keep forgetting, 'that we return to our first intent.' (qtd. in Lambert x)

(The symbolism here, is, of course, Moses going up the mountain to meet God [Ex. 19].)

Or this from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

So is music an asylum. It takes us out of the actual and whispers to us dim secrets that startle our wonder as to who we are, and for what, whence and whereto. All the great interrogatories, like questioning angels, float in on its waves of sound. (qtd. in Potosky 122)

Awaken What is Already There

Aaron Copland, perhaps the dean of living American composers, is, however, skeptical of any moral quality in music. He says that absolute music, that is, an excursion in pure sound without text, has no extrinsic meaning. When we feel a sense of triumph or an ennobling urge or inspiration during a Beethoven symphony it is because "a masterwork awakens in us reactions of a spiritual order that are already within us, only waiting to be aroused" (Copland 17). On the surface, this would seem to be an argument against my thesis, but I find no quarrel with Mr. Copland. He is more correct than he knows. Music does awaken what is already there. May I give two corroborations. Hugh B. Brown said:

Sometimes during solitude I hear truth spoken with clarity and freshness; uncolored and untranslated it speaks from within myself in a language original but inarticulate, heard only with the soul, and I realize I brought it with me, was never taught it, nor can I effectively teach it to another. (435)

Merrill Bradshaw in his essay, "Toward a Mormon Aesthetic," takes this same thought even further, including his suggestion for an LDS concept of beauty:

We learned of the whole plan while yet there in God's presence before coming to earth. . . . We were happy to be allowed the privilege of mortal experience as a preparation for the still fuller experience to come. As we left that realm to come here into the flesh, our spirits brought with them some half-hidden memories of the nature of the celestial. These memories are mostly dormant within us, but from time to time we encounter things, people, situations, and experiences which awaken them within us. We are not always aware of their eternal significance nor their celestial source, but nevertheless we relate to them warmly because in their organization, their aspect, or the perfection implied by their inner relationships they remind us of what we already knew before we came here and will know again more perfectly after we leave earth. When this happens to us, we experience beauty. (93)

He continues:

Have not many of us had. . . experiences with the arts when the beauty was so overpowering that it caused tears, a tingling up and down the spine, deep introspection, and feelings of swelling and warmth in the breast? What this suggests is that the ultimate experience of beauty is so closely related to joy that we have difficulty distinguishing the difference. When we experience joy it is beautiful; when we experience beauty it brings us joy. This joy is the object of all art and the portrayal of it is art's reason for existing. It may be man's reason, too: 'man is that he might have joy!' (see 2 Ne. 2: 25). (94)

A Plague or a Blessing

Much of the music I have referred to and the example I have played are instrumental music without words. This type of music allows us a great deal of individual response in the art experience. In the Mormon Church, when we say music, I believe we most often are speaking of music with words. There is a place for instrumental music in our worship, in the form of the organ prelude and postlude and the occasional instrumental solo, but we don't often utilize it to its fullest potential. It is usually marching music, to move us in or out of the chapel, music for visiting, music to fill awkward pauses in the service.

For a recent University Presidential Lecture, since it was not a devotional, no prelude music was used. A most interesting thing happened. Students hearing no music tip-toed in, whispering softly to each other, sitting quietly until the meeting began. At the next devotional, the customary organ prelude was sounding and they strode in comfortably, talking boisterously over the music until the person conducting stood up to begin the meeting. It has been suggested that the overabundance of music in our time is not a blessing, but a plague. We are surrounded by music, in elevators, in the supermarket, in the bank, at our work place until we are desensitized to it. It is no longer a special experience for listening, but music with which to do other "more important" things.

Music with Words

The union of words with music gives direction, specificity and concreteness to the listening experience. Now, all the mysterious possibilities and powers of music, the sensuous sound, the invisible mathematical underpinnings, the incredible range of rhythm (which is the heartbeat of music, in which we feel the flow of life most closely), are merged with ideas and principles that can be agreed upon. The words speak to the intellect and the music imprints them powerfully on our feelings. I wish to recommend two forms of vocal music for your participation: hymns and sacred oratorios.


Let us first consider hymns. In the words of Eric Routley: "Hymns are a kind of song. . . for non-musical people to sing together. They are a kind of poetry, but. . . such poetry as unliterary people can utter together" (1). For

many people [they are] the most intelligible and agreeable of all the activities they are invited to join in or witness; they are the most easily memorized of all Christian statements, and one who has not been in a church for most of a lifetime, but who was brought up in church when young, remembers some hymns, though everything else may be forgotten. (Routley 1)

Our Mormon hymns are an example of the merging of succinct Gospel truth, poetically packaged, with music that was made for our highest moments of worship and reflection. But hymns are not for listening, but for singing. Hymns have the potential to unify, motivate and inspire a body of believers. They represent that moment in our worship service when the whole congregation is potentially thinking and doing the same thing at the same time. Consider what these hymns mean to us in terms of history, testimony, and unifying symbols: "O My Father" (McGranahan), "Come, Come, Ye Saints" (Clayton), "Oh, How Lovely Was the Morning" ("Joseph Smith's First Prayer") (Pond), "The Morning Breaks" (Careless), "The Spirit of God" (Phelps), "While of These Emblems We Partake" (Nicholson), "I Am a Child of God" (Randall). Can these titles go through your mind without the accompanying tune? Could not the singing of these hymns suffice to define our beliefs, our hopes, our covenants?

But what if we do not sing them? I am concerned that we are losing the singing tradition in America (and in the LDS Church in America). Men do not sing, boys do not sing. Why? Is it because our families do not sing? (I don't believe this crisis exists in Tonga, or Estonia, or Wales where their national spirit and history are expressed through group singing). Is it because we have become a nation of spectators letting specialists on TV play our sports and sing our songs and dance our dances for us? The arts and religion demand participation. All the rôles in the art experience are active rôles requiring our attention, our awareness, our interest.

The Oratorio

One of the most dramatic forms of religious art is the sacred oratorio. Here music, word and drama merge. Some of the greatest artistic achievements of man have been in this genre.

I had a very poignant moment early last week. Upon arriving at my office for work one morning, I found a plastic shopping bag propped against the door. Wondering what this offering was and who had left it, I took it inside and opened it. There I found a stack of musical scores that turned out to be a documentary history of the Laie Choral Union. May I share with you what was inside? J. S. Bach: St. Matthew Passion, Cantata 140; Händel: Messiah, Judas Maccabaeus; Bradshaw: The Restoration Oratorio; Mendelssohn: Elijah; Vaughan Williams: Hodie; Saint-Saëns: Christmas Oratorio; Fauré: Requiem Mass. The name written on the cover of each: Jayne Garside, one of our charter members from the alto section who had recently passed away. Her husband, LaMoyne, had returned them to me.

These masterworks of choral/orchestral music utilize the only natural, God-given instrument. They represent the union of human voices performing artistic music joined to a truthful, worthy text--to hear it is a powerful experience; to be part of bringing it to life is a sublime experience. (But, do not forget! Even active, passionate listening is part of that experience.)

For me, sacred oratorio is an artistic vehicle that has great potential for inspiring and unifying the people of Christ. The St. Matthew Passion of J. S. Bach has been called one of the "divine dozen" greatest religious works ever written (Bernstein). Now, the St. Matthew Passion is not a baroque soap opera about romantic love. The word passion refers to the events in Christ's life during Easter week, his last week on earth, as found in the book of Matthew and set to music by the greatest, most profound composer of religious music who ever lived on this earth, Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach's inspired, dramatic music makes the "greatest story ever told" even more vivid and meaningful (Oursler). It is almost four hours long and was written to be performed in church as part of the service! Interspersed throughout the choruses, arias and instrumental sections are Lutheran hymn tunes with texts that comment on Christ and the Easter events. These were sung by the congregation, who often represent the crowd, the onlookers.

I take time to mention this because one of our greatest landmarks in LDS religious art is The Restoration Oratorio by Merrill Bradshaw. This grand work takes its texts from modern-day scriptures of deep significance and import to Latter-day Saints. It is the story of the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times, of Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, the martyrdom, and interspersed throughout are the hymns of the restoration, sung by the audience, drawing them into the artistic and spiritual statement made by the work. You will understand The Restoration Oratorio better if you know the St. Matthew Passion of Bach. Our own Laie Choral Union has performed both.

Joseph Smith’s Key

But, you say, I don't want to work that hard! I get my spiritual boosts from religious songs in an easy-listening style.

Joseph Smith gave us a key thought when he said:

The things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the lowest considerations of the darkest abyss, and expand upon the broad considerations of eternity's expanse; he must commune with God. (qtd. in Hatch 4)

Does this sound like easy listening, associated with fads and entertainment will do the job? Consider this from one of the giants of popular music of our day, Elton John: "I regard all pop music as irrelevant in the sense that people in 200 years won't be listening to what is being written and played today. I think they will be listening to Beethoven. Pop music is just fun. That's one of the reasons I don't take myself seriously" (qtd. in Potosky 124).

Risk with Appeal

Whenwe combine a popular entertainment style of music with religious words, we have a potential for wide communication, because the music is so familiar and appealing. However, we risk the distractions that come with music from the popular culture: dance rhythms, associations with television, the theatre, popular musical expressions of love and romance. I know that many of the young people of our Church are touched and inspired by soft rock songs with spiritual messages, as I myself have been touched. I do not question the personal spiritual feelings they may experience, but I fear their power will fade when the music goes out of style. I hope you will fill your shopping bag as Jayne did, with artistic treasures of lasting value. This shopping trip often takes effort, but the rewards are tremendous.

I would now like to invite the Laie Choral Union and the Concert Choir to come forward that we may perform two selections for you and with you. I have chosen pieces of importance to our Church by LDS composers. The first is a musical setting of "The Lord's Prayer" by Leroy Robertson from The Book of Mormon Oratorio. Since prayer is the pure sound of the human voice lifted to God, Brother Robertson chose to set these famous words in unaccompanied style. A somber tone is set by use of the minor mode. Rhythms are speech related. The highest notes, loudest volume and fullest harmonies are reserved for the words, "The Power and the Glory Forever." The restrained "Amen" frames the work with the same melodic/harmonic gestures used at the beginning--a perfect prayer, perfectly embodied in music.8

Will you please join with us in singing the last part of the Hosanna Anthem by Evan Stephens. Brother Stephens was one of our greatest musicians in the days of Brigham Young. When I was privileged to lead the choirs for the re-dedication of the Hawaii Temple, this hymn and anthem elicited a response from heavenly choirs that many of us felt.9 It was one of my most memorable experiences. If you will sing the two verses of "The Spirit of God Like A Fire is Burning," we will provide the "Hosannas." Please stand and sing with your voice, mind and heart!


In conclusion, I wish for you an active participation in the art experience, as a creator, a performer, a receiver. Break out of your comfortable music listening habits and challenge your mind and your emotions to a higher, deeper, wider contemplation of the human and the divine condition. Art is not religion, but moral art can prepare our hearts and minds to live our religion more fully. If you will use Moroni's teaching on how to choose what is good, you will find many expressions of truth in the great works of the past and the present (Moro. 7: 13-17).

Thank You.


1Ed. Note. Merrill Bradshaw, composer-in-residence at BYU-Provo, laments that after so many years of development of Mormon thought "we still have no genuine Mormon aesthetic theory" ("Toward" 91). Two of the most influential statements are those by Boyd K. Packer ("Arts") and President Spencer W. Kimball "Gospel"). An interesting survey of the official uses of Mormon art in Church publications and visitors centers is found in Adams. He concludes that art is used basically in an instrumental way, as a means to an end, and has not fulfilled the expectations of President Kimball and others of being great art (Kimball 3), able to surpass even the great masterworks of the past (Adams 18-19). Back to Top

2Ed. Note.The quadrivium (including music) were "mathematical arts"-- as opposed to the trivium of "rhetorical arts"--grammar, logic and rhetoric. Music was thus a science "allied" with physics through acoustics (Apel 711). Back to Top

3Ed. Note. Albert Roustit, in a fascinating and detailed book, points out the interesting fact that the development of Western music has progressed up the overtone series: older musics (e.g., Hebrew, Greek) were essentially monophonic, working with a single-line unison melody. Gregorian chant eventually added notes a 4th and 5th above and below the melody. Other notes were considered imperfect consonances or dissonances. In renaissance times, the 3rd became accepted as a consonance, with the 2nd and the 7th remaining a dissonance. Eventually tonal harmonies were formulated with a much freer definition of dissonance until today, any combination is allowable. There is no dissonance. (Roustit sees in this a parallel with religion and morality. The world has gone from clear-cut truths and definite statements on what is sin and righteousness to our present times when there is no sin and almost any behavior is acceptable [287-288]). Back to Top

4Ed. Note. Eckermann supplies the date of 23 March 1829 for this particular "conversation" with Goethe (303-304). The adjective Goethe uses is "erstarrte," meaning literally stiffened or benumbed, which easily accounts for its typical translation as "frozen" as well as for the alternate translation of "petrified," the word Moorhead chooses for this edition. Back to Top

5Ed. Note. Here, a recording of the Allegro from the Second Movement of Saint-Saëns's Organ Symphony was played. Back to Top

6Ed. Note. Aaron Copland's short book, Music and Imagination (1952), is a succinct and articulate analysis of the character of music and the rôle of the creative and interpretive mind and the gifted listener. This short book comprises the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures delivered at Harvard University during the academic year 1951-1952. Back to Top

7Ed. Note. David O. McKay agrees, saying that:

there are feelings in the human breast which cannot be expressed in any language or words; so we must provide ourselves with other mediums of expression; for instance, music, art, architecture--the wonderful arts that do not belong to any nation, but which speak the language of the soul. Music is international. . . . Music is divine art. (McKay 184)

Back to Top

8Ed. Note. At this point in the lecture, the Laie Choral Union and the Brigham Young University-Hawaii Concert Choir performed Robertson's "The Lord's Prayer"; similarly, later in the lecture, both group sang the Hosanna Anthem, while those attending the lecture joined in singing two verses of "The Spirit of God," which Stephens incorporates in his anthem. Back to Top

9Ed. Note. Jay Fox, then academic dean of BYU-Hawaii, was in the audience on that occasion and left his description of what was felt and reported by many others:

Those of you who participated in the dedication of the Hawaii Temple last June [1978] may have had a similar, but more profound experience as you listened to our own choir from Laie sing the Hosanna Anthem. . . . It was a transcendental experience. Those angelic voices parted the veil and crossed the threshold between earth and heaven. (9)

Back to Top

Works Cited

Adams, Robert A. An Examination of Art Used Officially by the LDS Church. Honors Thesis. Brigham Young U, 1984.

Apel, Willi, ed. Harvard Dictionary of Music. 2nd Ed. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1969.

Bach, Johann Sebastian. St. Matthew Passion. BMV, 244.

---. Cantata 140. BMV, 140.

Beethoven, Ludwig von. Symphony no. 5, op. 67.

Bernstein, Leonard. Lecture. Columbia Masterworks Bonus Record. Columbia, VSM 75493, 1963.

The Bible.

The Book of Mormon.

Bradshaw, Merrill. The Restoration Oratorio.

---. "Toward a Mormon Aesthetic." BYU Studies 21.1 (Winter 1981): 91-99.

Britten, Benjamin. War Requiem, op. 66.

Brown, Calvin S. Music and Literature: A Comparison of the Arts. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1948.

Brown, Hugh B. Eternal Quest. Ed. Charles Manley Brown. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1956.

Careless, George. "The Morning Breaks."

Clayton, William. "Come, Come, Ye Saints."

Copland, Aaron. Music and Imagination. Cambridge: Harvard University P, 1952.

The Doctrine and Covenants.

Eckermann, Johann Peter. Conversations with Goethe. 1836-1848. Trans. J. K. Moorhead. London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1930.

Fauré, Gabriel. Requiem. Op. 48.

Fox, Jay. Art As a Way of Knowing. David O. McKay Lecture. [Laie]: [Brigham Young University-Hawaii], [1979].

Händel, Georg Friederich. Judas Maccabaeus.

---. Messiah.

Hatch, Verona Ursenbach. Worship and Music in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Provo, UT: M. Ephraim Hatch, 1968.

Jarman, Darryl. Eulogy. Funeral of Michael Palmer. Laie, Hawaii, 16 September 1989.

Kimball, Spencer W. "The Gospel Vision of the Arts." Ensign 7.7 (July 1977): 2-5.

Lambert, Neal E. Foreword. Arts and Inspiration: Mormon Perspectives. Ed. Stephen P. Sondrup. Provo: Brigham Young U P, 1980. ix-x.

Lin, Maya. Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Capitol Mall, Washington, D. C.

McGranaham, James. "O My Father."

McKay, David O. Pathways to Happiness. Comp. Llewelyn R. McKay. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1957.

Machlis, Joseph. The Enjoyment of Music: An Introduction to Perceptive Listening. Rev. ed. New York: Norton, 1963.

Machlis, Joseph and Kristine Forney. The Enjoyment of Music: An Introduction to Perceptive Listening. 6th ed. New York: Norton , 1990.

Mendelssohn, Felix. Elijah. Op. 70.

Nicholson, John. "While of These Emblems We Partake."

Oursler, Fulton. The Greatest Story Ever Told: A Tale of the Greatest Life Ever Lived. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1958.

Packer, Boyd K. "The Arts and the Spirit of the Lord." Arts and Inspiration: Mormon Perspectives. Ed. Stephen P. Sondrup. Provo: Brigham Young UP, 1980. 3-21

The Pearl of Great Price.

Phelps, William W. "The Spirit of God."

Pond, Sylvanus Billings. "Joseph Smith's First Prayer."

Potosky, Alice, ed. Testimony to Music. Reston, VA: Music Educators National Conference, 1986.

Rader, Melvin. "The Demands of Aesthetics Upon Religious Art." BYU Studies 3.3 and 4 (Spring and Summer 1961): 67-72.

Randall, Naomi W. "I Am a Child of God."

Robertson, Leroy. "The Lord's Prayer." The Book of Mormon Oratorio.

Roustit, Albert. Prophecy in Music: Prophetic Parallels in Musical History. Trans. John A. Green. Paris: n. p., 1975.

Routley, Erik. Christian Hymns Observed: When In Our Music God is Glorified. Princeton: Prestige Publications, 1982.

Saint-Saëns, Camille. Christmas Oratorio.

---. Organ. Symphony No. 3, op. 78.

Schumacher, Ernst F. A Guide For the Perplexed. New York: Harper and Row, 1977.

Shelley, Percy Bysshe. A Defence of Poetry. 1840. Shelley's Poetry and Prose. Ed. Sharon B. Powers. New York: Norton, 1977. 480-508.

Smith, James A. Journal. 16 September 1989.

Stephens, Evan. Hosanna Anthem.

Swerdlow, Joel L. "To Heal A Nation." National Geographic 167.5 (May 1985): 555-573.

Vaughan Williams, Ralph. Hodie.

Other Works Consulted

Bloom, Allan. The Closing of the American Mind. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987.

Boyer, Ernest L. "College: Making the Connections." BYU Today 41.4 (August 1987): 18-22, 36-38.

Bradshaw, Merrill. "Music and the Spirit: A Mosaic." Arts and Inspiration: Mormon Perspectives. Ed. Stephen P. Sondrup. Provo: Brigham Young UP, 1980. 83-93.

Coker, Wilson. Music and Meaning: A Theoretical Introduction to Musical Aesthetics. New York: Free P, 1972.

Dart, Thurston. The Interpretation of Music. New York: Harper and Row, 1963.

Davidson, Karen Lynn. Our Latter-day Saint Hymns: The Stories and the Messages. Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1988.

Hart, Edward L. "Writing: The Most Hazardous Craft." BYU Studies 26.3 (Summer 1986): 81-84.

King, Arthur H. "Some Notes on Art and Morality." BYU Studies 11.1 (Autumn 1970): 37-49.

Lynn, Karen. "The Mormon Sacred and the Mormon Profane: An Aesthetic Dilemma." Arts and Inspiration: Mormon Perspectives. Ed. Stephen P. Sondrup. Provo: Brigham Young U P, 1980. 44-52.

Mathews, Conan E. "Art and the Church." BYU Studies 3.2 (Winter 1961): 3-7.

Tanner, Stephen L. "The Moral Measure of Literature." BYU Studies 21.3 (Summer 1981): 279-289.

Van Orden, LaVonne, comp. Blessed by the Hymns. Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1989.

Wilson, William A. "The Need Beyond Necessity." BYU Today 41.5 (October 1987): 31-37, 47-52.

Winters, Charlene. "The Arts: Necessity or Frill in Education?" BYU Today 39.6 (December 1985): 38-43, 53.