New for Christmas!
Available now at Jackman Music and Deseret Book stores
New for Christmas!
This arrangement of Patricia Kelsey Graham's beloved Primary Song was originally written for my family to perform at the Festival of Lights Christmas Concert Series at the Washington D.C. Temple Visitor's Center. We love to sing in parts and take turns singing solo. This is a very versatile arrangement for SATB Choir with soloists, duets, trios, and even children. It is perfect to use when creating a live Nativity Scene at your Christmas event.
Available now at Jackman Music and Deseret Book stores
The young law student stood up in front of the public speaking class in Law School and displayed a poster of a quarter rest. He told the audience that when he was in high school the band director explained that this was the most important element of music the band would play all year. The band director said that observing the rests was just as important, if not more important, than playing the notes. That analogy always remained with the young law student and he went on to relate how a potent pause in public speaking was just like observing the rests in music.
The silence, when appropriately observed, is where the audience participation happens. It is where thinking occurs. It is when their information processng catches up with the actor's line delivery. It creates suspense. It is when to expect an emotional reaction, even laughter or applause. It is when the Spirit testifies of truth.
The spaces between the notes in music are very important. Much like delivering the punch line of a joke or pausing just enough to emphasize an important point, the rests in music clarify the musical thought, delineate the articulation, build up the suspense, and a host of other great things. If the music went on and on with no rests the effect would be like an entire paragraph read as a run-on sentence. The emphasis and meaning would be lost to the audience. They need the pauses to help them process the information. The listener of music needs the spaces of silence to punctuate the meaning of the music.
Sometimes the performer or speaker doesn't get it. They ignore the moments of pause or rest and plough right through continuing with their message without giving the audience time to process, react, understand or even applaud. That's when they lose interest. No one likes to be run over by a steam roller! It's the same in music. When the dynamic levels stay the same for measure after measure, the audience gets bored, or worse, offended by the constant onslaught. A performance without variety in effects, tempo, dynamics, and moments of rest is simply ineffective.
When the audience is bored or lost or unable to process, they check out and begin to entertain themselves in other ways. The revered Baroque composer, George Frederic Handel, understood the concept of the "potent pause" very well. He often included measures of sudden and absolute silence at moments of important emphasis in his master oratorios. Unfortunately, not all audience members have an appreciation of the highly ornamented Baroque musical style. Once, during a community sing-along performance of Handel's "Messiah," two older women decided they had listened long enough to the very busy polyphonic music and decided to exchange holiday recipes instead. Their conversing got louder and louder so they could her each other over the music rising to a climax. Then, at the "Grand Pause" in the final measures of Handel's majestic "Hallelujah Chorus," one lady said loudly to the other, "I MAKE MINE WITH LARD!"
We as musicians really need to be aware of our performances and how the audience is responding. Hopefully, the audience will be receptive and stick with us. Hopefully we will include times of Potent Pauses for the audience to take in all that we are giving. Hopefully, the performance will be so riveting that no one in the audience will be lost! The best audience will have some knowledge at least of deportment and etiquette! Hopefully they will understand that moments of silence really are golden!
An example of using a potent pause for building suspense: In the Halloween song "We Are Out to Scare You," there are pauses for effect between the scary opening of the song and the funny follow-on part. When doing this song with a class, the teacher will ask the children for input of what characters to use in the funny part. The teacher will take those suggestions, but not reveal her choice until the instant it will be sung. She might even hold up pictures. The class will quickly join in. The scary part builds some suspense and suddenly there is a pause that builds more suspense -- and only the teacher will signal precisely when to begin the next part and what character to sing. It's a little like leading the group to the edge of a cliff and trying to hold them back before they jump!
Depending on how effective the teacher is,
this pause can be pretty potent and very fun!
Programming is everything. When you choose songs to perform for a choir concert, talent recital or even a Primary program, how the songs will work together in their order of presentation is very important. We were singing "Climb Every Mountain" yesterday getting ready for the Music and the Spoken Word broadcast, when our director explained the order of things. Because "Climb Every Mountain" ends in such a dramatic way, the song that follows it must be something extra special. "There are not many places you can go after "Climb Every Mountain." So, he talked a little bit about his thoughts on programming. "Whether you want to believe it or not, this is show biz."
What he meant was that most people associate the Mormon Tabernacle Choir with songs of a religious or classical nature, definitely not with "show business." And many classical musicians don't even want to think of themselves as functioning in the "commercial world." They serve the art not the public. Yet, music is meant to be performed for an audience and so it becomes a business, whether you like it or not, to please your "public" and keep them coming back for more.
So, in programming a finale number on the broadcast to go one step beyond "Climb Every Mountain," Mack had us sing "Come All Ye Nations of the Earth" which indeed goes well beyond the majesty and scope of "Climb Every Mountain."
Many school and church choir directors forget that programming is everything. They may think that it does not matter the order in which the songs are sung, or even their messages, or key relationships, or how much fussing with reorganizing the players or shifting music has to happen in between the numbers. But those things really matter very much! The ideal arrangement of songs in a concert should create a nice ebb and flow leading to a climax. The arrangement of topics, styles and genres should also take the listeners on a harmonious adventure. They should be arranged in such a way to engage the listener and keep their interest over the entire length of the concert without wearing them out.
So, whether in a choral concert, band concert, piano or dance recital, school chorus concert, church worship service, or even in a Primary Program, how the songs work together really does matter! It is show biz, whether you want to believe it or not, and PROGRAMMING IS EVERYTHING!
Last week, our missionary son sent us this beautiful photo of the Gilbert Arizona Temple. The area where he currently works is very near to the Temple. How wonderful to have the very symbol of the greatest blessings of the gospel that he is called to share with the people, right there, constantly before their eyes. Not long ago, I was searching for an idea for a Children's song, when I picked up a copy of the 2010 Temples Issue of the Ensign magazine. On the back cover was a quote by President Thomas S. Monson. It said, "How far is heaven? In the holy temples it's not far at all. In these sacred places earth and heaven meet and Heavenly Father gives His greatest blessings."
These words literally jumped off the page in melody. I was so excited, I had to grab a piece of manuscript paper to write it down. The first verse was beautifully and perfectly formed, but the song seemed short. There must be a second verse. So I picked up the Temples issue again and started scanning the pages for another quote by Pres. Monson. And, sure enough, there on page 10 was a quote that perfectly fit the melody. "In their gleaming glory, temples seem to say, 'Come home to heaven, home to family, home to God.'"
Yes, these words fit perfectly, but the song still seemed a bit short. During General Conference a few days later, I was sure if I listened intently enough, I would hear the words to create another verse. And sure enough, one of the brethren was talking about temples. He said, "In sacred ceremonies, covenants are made. These covenants create eternal families." Yes! I did not know I was searching for the body of the message. But it became clear. That was what had been missing. It is through sacred covenants that the greatest blessings Heavenly Father has to give his children will be given.
So, this beautiful song for children about the holy temple, "How Far Is Heaven?" was now complete. I had the occasion to present this song to President Monson himself. He sent a letter of appreciation to say that he is always pleased when the members of the Church create beautiful works that will help bring more people to a knowledge of their Savior. I am sure that this song can be instrumental in doing just that.
How far is heaven? How far is heaven?
In the holy temples it's not far at all.
In their gleaming glory, temples seem to say,
"Come home to heaven, home to family, home to God."
Several years ago I was asked to write a song to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the creation of the Baltimore Maryland Stake. The Stake President requested a song that would recognize the faith of the early pioneers of the Church as well as capture the strength and spirit of the new pioneers who are currently building the kingdom of God in the Baltimore area. There are many converts in the Baltimore area who are first generation members and truly new pioneers. The inspiration came in an instant. Of course, they were "Building on a Legacy of Faith" of those who went before, but they were also forging onward in new territory with new challenges and new triumphs.
The song needed to link the past with the future. It needed to be painted with broad strokes on a large canvas. It needed a heroic scope and concept. This song came about as if I was writing a screenplay and score for a movie. I knew what needed to be written because I could see and hear it unfolding in my mind like a movie in Cinemascope. The scene opens with the purple mountains in the distance and as the camera sweeps in closer, the wagon trains appear with many pioneers struggling, but ever pressing forward with faith, determined to reach their goal, ever seeking Zion. Then the scenes continue to unfold to see the growth of the Church due to missionary efforts in many lands around the world. Yet it is only through the faith, diligence and obedience of those new pioneers, those exceptionally courageous individuals, that the work rolls on.
Oh, how I wanted this song to be premiered by a large choir accompanied by a large orchestra, but I knew I was limited in scope to a 50 voice choir, piano, string quartet and two flutes. What we lacked in orchestration, we more than made up for in spirit and enthusiasm. The song was received well and the 30th Anniversary Celebration was a success. The song went on to win an Award of Distinction in the annual Church Submission contest and was performed on Temple Square in Salt lake City.
"Building on a Legacy of Faith" may be sung to commemorate the efforts of the early Pioneers of the church as well as to celebrate the many new pioneers throughout the world in our day who are bravely pressing on, ever seeking Zion. It is a stirring Pioneer Anthem as well as a wonderful Missionary Anthem. These words exhort us to continue onward:
"Serve the Lord.
Trust His word.
Make known His wondrous works in all the earth.
Learn of Him.
Call upon His name.
Prepare for the day when Christ will come again."
And then these words of President Gordon B. Hinckley provide the reason we do what we do:
"The time has come to stand a little taller,
To demonstrate our faith in the living God.
To do the work of His Beloved Son, our Master,
To follow in the ways that our Savior trod."
"Building on a Legacy of Faith_____
Ever moving forward; ever seeking Zion.
Servants of our God, working hand in hand,
Ever building on a legacy of faith."
Next week, my youngest son leaves to serve a full-time mission in Arizona. Thirty members of our extended family came to our Ward to listen to him give his farewell talk and help provide a musical number. Together we sang my new arrangement of "I'll Go Where You Want Me to Go" with piano and flute accompaniment. This hymn has become a wonderful missionary anthem. The message of going, doing, saying, and being what the Lord would have us be and serving His children throughout the world is a great send off for any new missionary. It also helps us resolve to remember to do our part on the home front.
After the meeting, a friend came up to me and said, "You are having a harvest day today." What she said was true. Five of my children and their families who live locally were there, as well as many of my brothers and sisters and their families. Not only did they come to offer support and encouragement for my son, they are talented musicians who love to bear their testimonies of the gospel through song.
Years ago, when the time approached for the return of our oldest son from his mission, I felt inspired to write a missionary anthem for his homecoming. "Go Forth in the Service of God" came about while I was contemplating some words of President Gordon B. Hinckley. He talked about how missionary work offered the joy of the gospel to the hungering souls of the earth. He went on to say,
The message of this anthem is not only for the departing missionary, but to all of us in fulfilling our callings and taking part in building the kingdom of God on the earth. In this respect, this anthem is not just a Missionary Anthem, but a song of exhortation unto all of us to "Press forward with faith and endure to the end 'til the work of the Master is done."
What a glorious weekend to sing in the Conference Center and listen to the words of Apostles and living Prophets! The messages were timely and many were meant just for me. I've been thinking of Elder Bednar's example of his friend's truck getting stuck in the snow. He said that the friend went about his work of cutting wood in the forest, loading up his truck, and praying that he could have enough traction to get out of the snow and back down the mountain. Turns out that the heaviness of the load provided the traction enabling the truck to get unstuck. How many times do we complain about our heavy loads, when all the time it is the heaviness of those loads that allow us to grow and gain the spiritual traction to move forward along life's path. What a great perspective! We should be grateful for our burdens that give us meaning and purpose. My dad always used to tell me that we need our troubles and problems. As a scientist, he well understood that without problems to try to solve, what a dull existence we would live. We need to have struggles and questions and hurdles to try to get over in this life. Without them, we would simply stagnate. Besides, "the idle mind is the devil's playground!"
So now the challenge is acting on the counsel we have heard. I have many projects ahead in the next few weeks. Instead of giving in to the feeling of being overwhelmed, I need to adjust my perspective and realize that it is the load that will give me the traction to move forward. I need to think about the wonderful knowledge and skills I will gain through the experiences. I need to be grateful that I have the opportunities before me and be happy that I can be productive and serve others. How wonderful to receive inspired counsel from our leaders every six months in General Conference!
The music was wonderful to sing, too. My favorite moments were when the men sang in four parts. The new arrangements by Ryan Murphy of "Come, O Thou King of Kings" and "I Stand All Amazed" were particularly meaningful for us to sing. Difficult, but meaningful. We even were given some kudos for how unified we were singing. The soft, unison sections are usually the most difficult to get unified. The next most difficult to unify are the ascending lines with sudden drops in pitch by dramatic skips. We worked very hard to do all that we were asked, and prayed that we could sing through our tears to make it all work. We have a difficult concert coming up in less than two weeks and a major recording after that. We are working hard on memorization and mastering difficult singing skills in order to sing Handel's Messiah. Our directors tell us that this diligence is what will give us the stamina to accomplish our goals. We are doing all this while continuing to try to also carry the loads of our regular daily lives. We are reaping great rewards, though, by trying to leap over these hurdles while carrying these loads. Once again, it's the load that provides the traction to move ahead.
March is the month which celebrates the anniversary of the founding of the Relief Society. This women's organization of the LDS Church is recognized as the largest organization for women in all the world. Through their efforts, much service is provided for those in need. And yet, the Relief Society is much more. It offers a place for all the women to gather together not only to love and serve each other, but also to learn and grow by teaching each other gospel principles in word and action.
A couple of years ago, a call went out for music to be created that reflected the history and mission of Relief Society. Many of these songs were premiered at a Relief Society Music Festival held on Temple Square that fall. One of my songs was sung, as well. "Come and Sit With Us" was inspired by a picture of African Relief Society sisters. It was obvious that this picture was snapped as the women were actually just getting ready for the picture to be taken. These women were indicating for the other women to join them for the photo. They were adjusting their positions on the benches to make room for everyone. Their smiles of welcome were infectious. The caption read "Come and sit with me." Is this not the great mission of Relief Society throughout the world? Do we not want all of our sisters to be included in the joy of our worldwide sisterhood?
As I was thinking through the ideas for the song, a friend of mine presented me with a lovely framed piece of art that she had penned in beautiful calligraphy. It was a quote by one of the first members of the Relief Society.
"We must cherish one another, we must watch over one another, comfort one another, and gain instruction that we may all sit down in heaven together."
-- Lucy Mack Smith
This quote became the perfect pairing for the other ideas for my song. I went to work and had the song finished relatively quickly. Lucy Mack Smith, mother of the prophet Joseph Smith and founder of the Mormon Church, knew how important it was for women to come together, to work together, to love and serve each other, and share that special bond of sisterhood. She also used the word "sit." (It isn't the physical act of sitting that is important, it is what sitting represents - making a comfortable place where love is a common bond.) Sister Smith talked of the hope that we will be able to sit down in heaven all together. That is the idea I wanted to connect to the first part of my song -- women making space for all to sit down together in love and sisterhood on earth connecting to the idea that we may someday also be able to sit down in heaven all together.
As you plan your celebrations for the Relief Society Birthday this year, give a thought to how we invite all to "Come and Sit With Us" in a worldwide sisterhood. Perhaps you could include this song in your celebration. Enjoy!
A newspaper, a few clothespins, a set of keys, a stack of blocks, an egg carton, a pitcher of water, a rock -- what do these things have in common?
They are all simple household items that can be used as marvelous teaching tools. Object lessons can be drawn from the most common items -- easily obtainable and of essentially no cost. The best teachers do not need fancy visual aids or elaborate hand-outs. They tend to draw attention to whatever is handy and make it an OBJECT LESSON. The Master Teacher, Jesus Christ, used the things in the everyday world to teach. "Consider the lilies of the field" was certainly an object lesson drawn from what the people could see as they sat on the side of the Mount.
I wonder at the time and expense some Primary workers go to in order to prepare their lessons. Yes, a good picture and a well-delivered story are important, but the endless hours of coloring commercially prepared artwork or assembling elaborate handouts are probably not so important in the grand scheme of things. In my experience, most handouts for school-aged children get turned into paper airplanes or end up in the trash long before they are shown to parents or hung on the refrigerator door. If you are going to invest time and money in lesson preparations, one of the best investments would be in a book helping you learn how to use simple household Objects as Teaching Tools. Acquiring the knack of drawing from the common experience of the audience using everyday objects can be very powerful and stick in the minds of the learners.
Teaching songs in Primary might occasionally require word charts of some kind or a fun game, but no amount of fancy, elaborate and expensive visual aids will make up for the lack of good teaching strategies. And good teaching strategies do not have to cost a lot in either time or money after the initial investment in learning the skill is made. If I were a new song leader in Primary, I would spend my time memorizing the songs and learning musical skills and pulling out ideas from the songs that would teach the gospel and help ingrain the simple doctrines into the minds and hearts of the children. I would look for opportunities to model good singing and allow the words and music to be indelibly etched into the very fabric of the children's lives. Helpful in that quest is the use of simple everyday objects as teaching tools whenever possible. A commonly seen physical object can powerfully ignite a memory and bring the words and melody of a Primary song or hymn instantly to mind.
Simply holding up an object that seems to have no relevance to the topic can start the curiosity juices flowing. It can grab attention and extend it as the teacher asks questions to guide the thinking or listening of the group. There are many types of conclusions that could be drawn from and lessons that can be taught through the use of everyday objects. Having a collection of ideas is a great investment.
Some useful hardcopy sources are:
A Children's Songbook Companion by Pat Graham and Trudy Stewart and others
Our Children's Songs by Virginia B. Cannon (may be available on Amazon or other online stores)
Object Lessons Made Easy by Beth Lefgren and Jennifer Jackson
As I sit in the loft and sing the glorious music set before me in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, I reflect how in the everyday world of Church Music the reality is very different. I have occasion to visit many different church meetings in many different areas and wonder if church musicians are a vanishing breed. The quality of the organ playing and hymn conducting and choir performances and even the hymn singing of the congregations is generally very low and on its way to vanishing completely. As a visitor in the congregation, when I open my mouth to sing the hymns, I suddenly realize I am singing a solo. It is a rare occasion indeed when I get to visit a worship service where the congregation is truly uniting their voices in singing praises to God in a purposeful, joyous, and effective way. It isn't that they are unfamiliar with the words or the tunes. They just don't put forth any effort.
No, I do not think I am being a musical snob because I sing with a group of highly skilled musicians. This is not about wishing the lay ministry could be of professional quality. It is more a comment on our society as a whole nowadays. We are a consumer culture. We want to be entertained with no effort on our part beyond turning on our device. We want to do no work and definitely take no responsibility. How very selfish! What we are missing is so great.
Music is a gift from God. It has great power to lift the spirit and calm the soul. It can be used to motivate and influence mood and underscore life's dramatic moments. It can be used for good and evil. It has great power to unite people in a common experience.
Creating music is powerful, too. Live performance in creating worship music is a wonderful thing. It can channel thoughts and influence emotions. It can help invite the Spirit into your life. The simple act of hymn singing can do so much good.
My hope is that the people who play the organ and lead the singing will prepare themselves to reach a higher level of expertise and never stop working to get better and better. I hope that they will encourage better singing in the congregation by their preparation and example. I know that this can happen. I have witnessed it in my own life. I have moved many times in my life. In nearly every place we moved to, the hymn singing and musicianship of the members was pretty lack luster at first. But after a good dose of our family's example and encouragement, things improved. It can be done, but it takes effort and preparation and encouragement and a belief that there is a better way. Being a church musician is a great responsibility. Only you can make sure church musicians don't become a vanishing breed!
My name is Betsy Lee Bailey. I enjoy singing and writing all kinds of music. I have performed and directed or taught music all of my life. This blog is dedicated to all of the people who have been encouraging me to write about my experiences.