Music Musings

music-note

“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 words, build testimony and faith, comfort the weary, console the mourning, and inspire us to endure to the end.” [1]

For my birthday a few days ago, my sweet husband purchased tickets for the local symphony’s holiday pops concert.  We certainly aren’t regulars at such affairs, but every time we go, we leave feeling impressed and inspired.  I dearly loved the concert.  I have not felt as connected with Christmas as I would like to this year, and listening to the amazing musicians as they played familiar and new favorites certainly helped.  I found myself looking at the program and realizing that a number after each musician’s name indicated their years of service in the orchestra.  One man had played for 50 years!  What a lifetime of service, that by necessity, has included thousands of hours of practice time to share his talents with others.

A tradition that my mom and I have enjoyed for years is seeing the Nutcracker ballet.  The last several years, that tradition has also included my daughter.  As I listened to the symphony play, my eyes filled with tears when they played a Nutcracker Suite because it brought those tender feelings about time spent with some of my favorite people to the surface.

What exactly ARE the advantages we gain from music?  Despite the marketing, listening to Mozart probably doesn’t make your baby smarter.  So says cognitive neuroscientist Jessica Grahn in a recent TED talk.[2]  Rather, how it makes you feel is what’s important because the positive feelings improve performance on cognitive tasks.  Grahn also describes other benefits from music, including reducing pain, helping people recover from stroke or injuries, help with endurance or with dementia.  “So music may not be the shortcut to producing brainiacs or mini Einsteins, but it does have powerful effects on our minds and bodies,” Grahn said in the TED Talk. “And scientists like myself are always excited to carry on investigating music so we can find other ways to tap into its potential.”  I know that it is the feelings that music inspire that are tender to me.

It is interesting to me that music, especially at Christmastime, is so often sacred and spiritual as a fitting offering of gratitude for our Savior.  There are many wonderful forms of music, but music of devotion and worship is uniquely sublime.  It is not surprising then, that Emma Smith was tasked with creating a hymn book for church use very early in modern church history.

11 And it shall be given thee, also, to make a selection of sacred hymns, as it shall be given thee, which is pleasing unto me, to be had in my church.

12 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.[3]

hymnbook

 

 

 

It’s hard to even comprehend what our Sunday experience would be like without music.

 

 

At this time of year, there are two films created by BYUtv that are really worth watching to help elevate appreciation for past sacrifices that created things we currently enjoy, and to help give background to increase our understanding of how Heavenly Father blesses his children with talents and abilities to better the world through music.

The first is Handel’s Messiah, detailing how the Hallelujah Chorus and the rest of the magnificent work came to be.  Beethoven once said, “Handel was the greatest composer that ever lived.  I would uncover my head, and kneel before his tomb.”  And yet, his path to musical brilliance was not easy.

handel

He was born in Halle, Germany in 1685.  His father hated music and wanted him to be a lawyer.  His aunt, however, gave him a spinet harpsichord that they hid in the attic, wrapping each string with strips of cloth so that he could play undetected.  He had many difficulties with his audiences, who could be very rude if they disliked what they heard.  However, one biographer wrote, “But he always found his feet again; he never gave in.” The situation was very bleak leading up to his composition of the Messiah, and had almost decided to give up and return to Germany in defeat.  The film is an interesting collection of scenes and commentary that will elevate your appreciation.  I invite you to watch it here:  Handel’s Messiah Film

original_church_oberndorf

Original chapel in Oberdorf, now destroyed.

The second is Silent Night, a movie about the young German priest Joseph Mohr and local schoolteacher, Franz Gruber.  Joseph had humble beginnings, as the third child born out of wedlock to his young mother.  Gruber’s father, like Handel’s father, believed his son should learn a “useful” trade and resisted his interest in music.  The path to the creation of this beloved hymn was not an easy one.  You won’t regret snuggling up with a blanket and some cocoa and enjoying the story.  Watch it here:  Silent Night Movie

silent-night-music

So often it seems that we struggle in the very parts of our lives that are so important to us.  It’s tempting to wonder whether we are supposed to just let it go and move on to something new.  Sometimes that might be the case.  But, as I think about these great composers who truly changed the world with their offerings, it also strikes me that they had to fight through doubt, fear, and disappointment from even their youth.  In fact, things were darkest for them right before they received the inspiration necessary to complete these works. To use a musical analogy, a piece of music requires some “dynamics” or variations in intensity, strength, and pace.  Life is probably like that as well.  Sometimes we are in the movement of the piece where conflict, doubt, and tension are explored.  That doesn’t mean that the piece ends there though.  There is nearly always another movement that brings all of these things into accord and includes joy and reflection about the journey.  Elder Neal A. Maxwell also used a music analogy when he said:

violin-stretched

Success doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t come easily.  Often it isn’t even appreciated in the moment that it first occurs.  My Christmas wish and prayer is that we can focus on the important offerings we have to make to the Lord, that we can be patient in our trials, and that we can do our best to have the spirit of the Lord to strengthen us and guide us to do what we can to add to His kingdom in our own unique voice and tenor.  Merry Christmas!

[1] (Hymns, 1985, p. ix).

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDfVsFxJXms.

[3] Doctrine and Covenants 25:11-12.

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One thought on “Music Musings

  1. I loved this. Thanks so much, Natalie. Now I need to go watch those movies. The Handel story amazed me…and I loved how you pointed out that their paths weren’t easy. They went through their darkest times before inspiration came to them. So like life. Have a merry Christmas.

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