A Simple Rule for Church Music

April 17, 2004 | 14 comments
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Here is a rule I think we can all agree on: No song shall be performed during a Stake meeting to promote temple attendance if said song has been used as the background music to a makeout scene in a nationally released movie.

This proposed rule was inspired by a meeting tonight for temple-endowed members sponsored by my Stake. One of the musical numbers was a solo performance of the Lionel Ritchie/Diana Ross hit, “Endless Love.” This song was the title song for the 1981 film starring Brooke Shields. Abstracted from the movie, the lyrics are arguably meaningful for the topic of temple marriage. Unfortunately, for those of us who have seen the movie, the experience of listening to this during a Stake meeting designed to inspire more frequent temple attendance was jarring, to say the least.

(For those who have frequented this site for some time and are aware of my aversion to R-rated movies, I should note that I saw this movie prior to my baptism and at the request of my date.)

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14 Responses to A Simple Rule for Church Music

  1. Kristine on April 17, 2004 at 8:52 am

    Wow–Gordon, I think that’s a new low in church musical numbers. (And I say that as someone who has seen people get up with karaoke machines and sing awful, awful gospel pop!)

  2. Jeremy on April 17, 2004 at 11:05 am

    I think it’s entirely appropriate. After all, didn’t I hear that Lionel Richie was a Mormon? :)

    Totally, totally kidding. Hearing that would have ruined me for the temple for a couple months.

  3. Kaimi on April 17, 2004 at 1:01 pm

    Your specific example — definitely.

    Your suggested general rule: I actually don’t know about it. A lot of nationally released movies use real hymns, probably in part because there’s no ASCAP to pay for many of them. So you see “Nearer, My God to Thee” in Titanic, the Navy Hymm, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” in The Perfect Storm, and other legitimate-type music, like Handel’s Messiah or Ode to Joy, in dozens of movies.

    So I’m a little reluctant to adopt your general rule. But I agree completely about this specific instance.

  4. Kaimi on April 17, 2004 at 1:07 pm

    Though perhaps we can meet in the middle — there are issues that I have with the hymn book, such as my apparently irrational belief that “Go Tell Aunt Rhody” is not appropriate music for a hymn.

    So perhaps we could adopt your rule, and also a rule against “Go Tell Aunt Rhody” — that’s a package I might be willing to support.

    (If anyone is unfamiliar with “Go Tell Aunt Rhody” I just checked on Google; here is a web site that includes the tune: http://www.intech.mnsu.edu/moxnessp/RhodyPage.html ).

  5. Kristine on April 17, 2004 at 1:41 pm

    Kaimi, Mac Wilberg actually comes awfully close to redeeming that tune for me in his Fantasia on Early Mormon Hymn Tunes (or something like that–I don’t know if that’s quite the right title). Also, it’s in Suzuki Violin volume 1, so it’s a great first Sacrament Mtg. musical number for kids (she says, realizing how incredibly weak an argument that is!)

  6. Ivan Wolfe on April 17, 2004 at 2:25 pm

    I think Go Tell Aunt Rhody works great as a hymn, but that’s because of the arrangement done on the (Covnenant records) Mark Geslison/Geoff Groeberg release “Abide With Me” that uses the Banjo to play “Lord Dismiss Us With Thy Blessing”. (In fact, all their albums are unique in that they make heavy use of the banjo – an instrument generally not considered appropirate for sacrament meeting).

    Of course, I am a biased source as I appear on their Chirstmas album. So take my reccomendation for what its worth.

    But really – do you realize how many hymns use music from drinking songs?

    “If you could Hie to Kolob” is the perfect example. Ralph Vaughn Williams did not write that melody. He stole/borrowed that tune from the uptempo Irish Drinking Song “Star of the County Down.”

    I don’t think the origin of a tune necessarily defines what uses it can be adapted to.

  7. Russell Arben Fox on April 17, 2004 at 3:23 pm

    1) Nobody mess with “Lord Dismiss Us With Thy Blessing.” It’s the first hymn our daughter Megan learned to play, thanks to her Suzuki piano lessons, and was instrumental in getting her interested in singing and playing hymns in general.

    2) People! Let’s not get bogged down in musicalogical discussions. Instead, let’s take this golden opportunity Gordon has given us, and vent about our Worst Church Musical Number Experiences Ever!

    My nominee: a guitar-and-voice solo performance of “When You Wish Upon a Star” in our Virginia ward several years back. The young man’s guitar playing was poor; his voice was a strained croak. I don’t think the bemused horror experienced by our ward for those 3 minutes can be easily matched, though I’d like to hear Kristine’s karaoke story.

  8. D. Fletcher on April 17, 2004 at 3:57 pm

    I actually live for this kind of meeting! To hear “Endless Love” performed in a Church meeting would be a fantasy come true for me. It just adds to my voluminous supply of hilarious Mormon stories.

    Like the time a guy bearing his testimony told our congregation that the Lord had told him to go to bartending school.

  9. john fowles on April 17, 2004 at 8:15 pm

    Trying to think about worst musical number experiences got me to wondering why there was rarely a musical number in any of the German wards I’ve lived in/visited (both as a missionary and while a summer associate at a firm in Hamburg).

    That made me remember that actually some of the best musical numbers I’ve ever heard in Church were while a missionary in Germany–when a missionary played David Lanz variations a couple of times a month while he was serving in the same area as me. Aside from that, though, I’m not sure that I can remember a musical number in a German ward by a German (they probably think the whole idea of it is cheesy and American).

  10. Ethesis on April 18, 2004 at 1:32 pm

    Reminds me of a piano solo, “John Doe’s Concerto Number 95″ that was a hash of other people’s work and not a good hash.

    The speaker who spoke afterwards said that he had heard each of them, and that they just got better, with this being the best of all.

    Followed by a comment from the audience “You mean there are 94 *worse* compositions out there!”

  11. cooper on May 7, 2004 at 11:53 am

    Gordon I had to come back to this thread and make this comment. I just purchased a number one hits of mowtown cd and of course on it is Endless Love. I must say that now when I listen to this song I have to chuckle. The picture of a couple, him in a suit and her in a flowery floral, on the stand in the chapel just strikes me as the funniest thing to imagine. I just wish I could have been there!

  12. Patrick Faulk on June 1, 2004 at 7:05 pm

    In re John Fowles’ observation about not seeing German Saints perform music in their Sacrament meetings. I served in the Germany Hanburg Mission 1977-79. At the time there was a very prominent “Deseret Chor (Choir)” sponsored by the Hamburg Stake. They had even published some recordings. I had the opportunity to sing with them a few times (seems tenors are always in short supply!). Perhaps things have changed since then – that would be a shame.

  13. Patrick Faulk on June 1, 2004 at 7:05 pm

    In re John Fowles’ observation about not seeing German Saints perform music in their Sacrament meetings. I served in the Germany Hamburg Mission 1977-79. At the time there was a very prominent “Deseret Chor (Choir)” sponsored by the Hamburg Stake. They had even published some recordings. I had the opportunity to sing with them a few times (seems tenors are always in short supply!). Perhaps things have changed since then – that would be a shame.

  14. Gideon Hill on July 22, 2005 at 3:36 pm

    Good news and Bad News about “Lord Dismiss Us”–Just change the Tune to another Hymn

    The comment about “Aunt Rhody” is a “chicken before the egg” observation.

    Keep in mind that hymns are often a marriage of a verse/lyric and a piece of music. Many of the great Christian hymns were written as poems or anthems of praise before they were later set to music and adopted as hymns. In fact it is the exceptuion, rather than the rule, that a hymn was conceived lyric and music.

    English hymn books traditionally give names to tunes that often have nothing to do with the text, because one tune may be used with a number of different texts. “Lord Dismiss us with Thy Blessing” is sung by Latter-day Saints to the tune known as “Greenville,” which is derived from a theme from a French opera “Le Devin du Vil­lage” (The Village Soothsayer), by Jean Jacques Rousseau, written in 1752. This tune predates the words of “Go Tell Aunt Rhody” by several hundred years. “Aunt Rhody” is an American ballad that seems to have originated in the Civil War era. It can be sung to Greenville because the meter of the lyrics of Aunt Rhody matches that of the Greenville.

    Any hymn with a given meter can be sung to any tune of the same meter. If you can’t stand “Lord Dismiss Us” sung to the Greenville tune because you associate it so strongly with “Aunt Rhody,” just persuade your ward organist to substitute another tune of the same meter, which happens to be: “8-7-8-7-D.” It so happens that this meter is very common and there are a number of LDS hymns that are written in this meter. They are:
    o Brightly Beams Our Father’s Mercy (Men’s Choir) – #335
    o Glorious Things Are Sung of Zion – #48
    o Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken – #46
    o God Is in His Holy Temple – #132
    o Holy Temples on Mount Zion – #289
    o In Humility, Our Savior – #172
    o In Remembrance of Thy Suffering – #183
    o Joseph Smith’s First Prayer – #26
    o Lo, the Mighty God Appearing! – #55
    o Lord, Accept into Thy Kingdom – #236
    o Lord, Accept Our True Devotion – #107
    o Lord, Dismiss Us with Thy Blessing – #163
    o O My Father – #292
    o O Thou Rock of Our Salvation – #258
    o On This Day of Joy and Gladness – #64
    o Precious Savior, Dear Redeemer – #103
    o See the Mighty Priesthood Gathered (Men’s Choir) – #325
    o Should You Feel Inclined to Censure – #235
    o The Voice of God Again Is Heard – #18
    o They, the Builders of the Nation – #36
    o We Are Sowing – #216
    o What Was Witnessed in the Heavens? – #11

    Now there is good news and bad news….good news is that you can sing “Lord Dismiss Us” to the tune of “O My Father”. Bad news is you can also sing “O My Father”—one of the most beautiful tunes in hymnology—to the tune of “Go Tell Aunt Rhody”—don’t try it or you won’t ever get it out of your mind!

    This can lead to some very humorous interchanges. For instance…the theme from Gilligan’s Island can be used to sing “Amazing Grace” a popular (non-LDS) hymn.

    On my mission in the town of Picayune, Mississippi, the ward choir director had a keen sense of humor and would, with just a little urging, play “Master The Tempest is Raging” to the tune of “Soft Shoe Boogie-Woogie.” She didn’t do it on Church premsises, but we had several Family Home Evenings with her family and the kids just loved to sing the song that way. It was a great way to wrap up a Family Home Evening. I am pretty sure that Heavenly Father has a sense of humor and probably enjoyed it too!

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