I am our ward choir director. If you knew me in real life you might find this shocking—I am no great musical talent, I have no formal training, and most importantly, I sport no distinguished-looking facial hair—no mutton chop sideburns or flamboyant goatee—the true mark of a virtuoso conductor.
What I can do is read music and play the piano passably well, and that is about it…which apparently qualifies me as choir director. I am a warm body who can keep a beat and carry a tune. Praise the Lord and pass the earplugs!
I do have good choir director genes—my parents have both been ward choir directors, they like to repair hymnbooks, and my mom has been Janice Kapp Perry’s visiting teaching companion. I assume that my bishop took all that into consideration when he called me as choir director, but I digress.
Good ward choir performances require something of the miraculous. Now, I believe in miracles, at least some of them. I am not certain what I think about Jesus’ miracles, whether some of them were metaphoric tales of the apostles, but I certainly believe in the miracle of the Spirit working on human hearts. But although Jesus may have turned water into wine and raised Lazarus from the dead, I have my doubts as to whether he could have produced high-quality ward choir performances (and if he had, who would believe it in this skeptical age?). Some tasks are too daunting even for the big guy upstairs.
I’ll tell you what the problem is. The problem is not that wards lack musical talent. The problem is not that we have no great choir directors or accompanists. Nor is the problem that Mormons have no stirring musical heritage to draw upon. The problem is not even that some bishops don’t value choir enough to support it, though that happens often enough. No, the underlying problem is that there simply is not enough time for practice. As Mormons, we are too busy to make beautiful music.
Now, some may not care. To some, beautiful music is no more than an inconsequential garnish on the main gospel dish of faith, repentance, baptism, and boring meetings, mere parsley on the savory roast beef of salvation. It’s nice, but seriously, no one eats that stuff.
I beg to differ. I would argue that for many of us, perhaps even a majority, sacred music is one of our strongest connections to the divine, one of the most powerful movers in our spiritual lives, a deep source of joy and edification, bonding us to God and to those who join us in song.
But creating a wonderful ward choir is darn near impossible because people don’t have time to come to choir practice. To start off, at a minimum they have a 3-hour meeting block on Sundays. For those who remain undernourished after this ecclesiastical extravaganza, there are ward council meetings, firesides, and home and visiting teaching. Then on Mondays there is home evening, on Wednesdays there is Mutual (the youth program, for boys at least, formerly known as Boy Scouts), on Fridays there is date night (theoretically, anyway), and on Saturdays there is temple work. Any parent who also takes time out for choir practice is going to be ratted out to Child Protective Services, and rightly so!
I get it. I may stand on my head, beg and plead, and even resort to blackmail, but I understand why people don’t come to choir practice. Sometimes, in my more wicked moments, I have considered offering the choir budget as a lottery prize to some lucky winner who comes to practice. Nevertheless, I recognize that non-attendance is a rational choice even for the many people who love to sing. In our church culture other things are always going to come before music, and there are always other things. If you don’t believe me, when is the last time your bishop told a speaker to read only the first and last page of his or her talk so that the choir could have a few extra minutes to sing? I rest my case.
The solution, which should be obvious to both of you readers who have made it this far, is fewer meetings. Seriously, that’s it. Somehow we’ve developed this idea that more stuff is better, that longer sermons make us more righteous, that more content fills up our spiritual lives and makes them great.
But I don’t buy it. All my spiritual epiphanies have been just that—epiphanies—fast and furious, each a bolt of lightning whose warmth becomes a permanent part of my soul and whose image remains on my spiritual retina, reminding me of the searing event every time I close my eyes. In other words, they don’t take long.
So that’s what I think we should do—shorten our meetings so that members can participate in ward choirs without having to use Hermione Granger’s time turner. And with our better choir performances, our shorter meetings will have better music, leading to better spiritual experiences. Which is the whole point anyway.